For the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer.
Forgive Us Our Sins, as We Forgive Those Who Sin Against Us
Of all of Jesus’ parables probably one of the best known is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This story that Jesus tells is a powerful story of betrayal and forgiveness. And the betrayal is so great that it makes the act of unconditional forgiveness extremely radical. Which is the point. God’s willingness, even compulsion to forgive us is excessive and radical, completely beyond human comprehension. God is not only willing to forgive in this story, but God as the father, is eagerly waiting throughout the story to forgive. The difficulty of this story for us is that often we are like the youngest son who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge our failings and our need for forgiveness. We tend either to be so self-righteous that we refuse to recognize and acknowledge our need for forgiveness or, on the other hand, we get so used to feeling guilty and put upon that we begin to enjoy wallowing in our guilt and use the excuse that we are unforgivable. Both attitudes are wrong – both attitudes lead to broken relationships both with God and with others – Neither attitude is consistent with the Gospel.
Perhaps it would be useful to offer a couple definitions at this point. Forgive us our sins. The word “sins” is a loaded, churchy word that carries a lot of baggage. But in the Lord’s Prayer it refers to the condition of human self-centeredness that puts us, ourselves in the center of our own universe at the expense of our relationships with others and with God. This leads to brokenness. And so when we pray this petition we are asking God to restore our broken relationships to wholeness and to heal the brokenness in our lives.
The Good News is that God, like the father of the parable of the Prodigal Son, is ready and willing and even anxious to heal our brokenness and to restore our broken relationships. This image of the Father from this parable is an important one, and one that we must all keep in our minds whenever we pray for forgiveness. The Father is always ready, willing and anxious to forgive us and heal our broken relationships. The real question is not about God but about us – do we want God’s forgiveness? Are we willing to be honest about the way we are – the hurts we have caused and the brokenness we have created? Are we able to see in ourselves the one who is self-righteous, always right and never wrong; or the one who is happy to wallow in the mud of guilt and self-pity? Are we able to see our self-centeredness that refuses to see anything in terms other than our own narrow self-interest? Are we capable of seeing the apathy and lack of concern that we show for others? Do we refuse to recognize our own culpability for much of the misery that surrounds us?
The point is that we stand in the way of God’s forgiveness. We refuse to reach out for it, we refuse to take it, we refuse to come home.
There is a scene in John Bunyan’s “A Pilgrim’s Progress” where the Pilgrim, after being arrested and condemned is found to be languishing in a prison cell. There he moves between two poles – Self-righteousness and self-pity. After wallowing in this much for a while he accidently touches his heart and realizes that in his breast pocket he has a key – the key of promise. And this key will unlock the prison in which he is confined. Not only that but he has had this key with him the entire time. But he had forgotten it. But this key represents the promise of forgiveness, the promise of love and the promise of grace. “Oh fool that I am. In my bosom lay the key of promise, wherefore shall I lie in bondage, when I might walk at liberty on the King’s Highway. The key, the way of freedom.” Then taking the key he unlocks the prison that disappears and the Pilgrim now finds himself in a beautiful, open and sunlit expanse. And now he sings praises to God who has restored him to wholeness.
We too have the key of promise in our hearts and this key will unlock the prisons we have created for ourselves. The question which this petition of the Lord’s Prayer asks is the same one the Pilgrim asks: “Wherefore shall I lie in bondage, when I might walk at liberty on the King’s Highway?” Why do we refuse to acknowledge our need for forgiveness? Why do we insist on continuing to live in a state of brokenness? When God is ready and willing and anxious to restore us to wholeness.
The promise of the Kingdom come is that the age of forgiveness is not off in the distance but it is here in our midst now. And God is ready and anxious to receive you, to set you on the way of wholeness and freedom and to welcome you home.
An audio recording of the preached sermon can be found on the media page at wartburgparish.com