The Lord’s Prayer July 8-9, 2023
“Forgiven and Forgiving” Matthew 6:12
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Is asking for forgiveness easy or hard? I think it can be one of the most painful and difficult things we can ever do. Asking for forgiveness from another or asking for that from God can be hard.
I spoke to a Roman Catholic Christian who had not been to communion in months. The barrier for them was making confession of their sins. Without making confession of sins one cannot receive the sacrament. Confession, recounting our sins, transgressions, trespasses, debts – whatever you call them – calls us to be honest with self and honest to the person whom we have sinned against, and also with God, our judge.
Asking for forgiveness is hard. In Psalm 32 we hear of the pain of unconfessed sin, “When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Verses 3-4) Guilt, right? Regret, right? Desiring a do-over, right? But dealing with our sin, honestly, is often avoided. Paul in II Corinthians uses two terms that are unique in the New Testament, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (II Corinthians 7:10) I think “worldly sorrow” is the pain we experience when we get caught in our mischief. We were fooling around, we were lying or cheating, and eventually we got caught. Our sorrow is that we didn’t plan our coverup as well as we should have.
Peter had an interesting experience when he came face-to-face with Jesus after Jesus did a miracle. He and his friends had been fishing all night. All they caught was a bunch of mosquito bites. But Jesus tells them to let their nets down once more. Peter knew this wasn’t going to do anything. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5) The result? So many fish that they had to call in another boat to haul in the catch. The response? “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8)
Asking for God’s forgiveness can be hard and emotional and painful. It isn’t anything that we deserve. We haven’t earned what we are asking for – the full and free cleansing of our souls and our consciences. Like Peter we’d like to run away. Honesty in repentance is difficult. But it is where we have to go. Jesus said that we have a prayer that we have to pray, “Forgive us our sins…”
In some of the translations it uses the word, “Forgive us our debts.” Who are you in debt to? I don’t mean financially. I mean indebted with matters of right and wrong. I bet that list may be quite long. A spouse, a co-worker, a neighbor, a child, a parent, somebody a long time ago who you didn’t do right by? Certainly, you owe a debt to God, you owe your life to Him. Psalm 90 says, “We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Verses 7-8)
This petition in the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t get any easier as we speak the second part of this: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12) Asking God for forgiveness is hard; forgiving others who have sinned against us might just be harder.
A number of you told me last week that you were anticipating this sermon. It was one that you have had the hardest time doing. How can you forgive a person who has stolen from you, hurt you or makes your life miserable? How can you forgive your ex who cheated on you, emotionally or physically abused you, and has made you feel like dirt? How can you forgive a person, someone you once trusted, who planned and plotted to bring evil into your life? How can you forgive someone who has decided to remove you from their life?
Forgiving another is hard. Maybe impossible. Jesus, following the Lord’s Prayer, addresses this petition once again. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
I guess Jesus means it. He wants us to ask for forgiveness and receive the gift of free and full forgiveness. He wants to take away the burden of guilt. He wants us to know the freedom of His gift of cleansing and forgiveness. And He wants us to give that gift to others.
You know what it is like to hold a grudge. You know what it is like to live trying to avoid seeing that person who hurt you ever again. You know what it is to purposely not answer the phone and not to return their request for you to call them back.
The Bible addresses this darkness in our own soul, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27) “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)
You know how difficult being forgiven can be. You know how difficult forgiving another person can be. But is there anything better, greater, more satisfying than forgiveness received and given? It is a gift. It is freely received, and it is freely given.
Ask for God’s forgiveness – for everything and anything. For the biggest sin and the smallest. And receive it from Him. The prophet Micah has a wonderful picture of what forgiveness from God looks like, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)
Pastor Helmut Thielicke, in his sermon on this fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgiveness means: This shall not separate us. The bond of love is stronger than the separating power that would come between.” (Page 111, Our Heavenly Father) Sin separates us from God and from each other, but God’s love in Jesus, on the cross, brings us together. It is the true picture of what love is. Do you know what the first word from the cross was? It was a word of forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24) His first word is also His final word to us. Ask for forgiveness – it is given to you in Jesus through His death on the cross.
Give forgiveness. Can you? Will you? In the book of Genesis the giving of forgiveness was a central theme as the book came to its end. Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, in fact, his favorite, was despised by his eleven brothers. They hated him and decided to get rid of him. They hoped that he would die and they would never see him again. But he didn’t die and God raised him to a position of prominence in Egypt. Joseph forgave his brothers and spoke this word to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
Can you forgive another who has hurt you to the bone? Dr. Jeff Gibbs, a great communicator of the gospel, writes about this, “There is an important distinction between finding it hard (and even for a time, being unable) to forgive and being unwilling to do so. There will be times when all the disciple of Jesus can offer is a broken and a contrite heart: ‘I know, Lord, what you require of me. I long to do it, but cannot, unless you help me.’” (Concordia Commentary, Matthew 1:1 – 11:1, Page 336)
There is a difference between one who struggles with offering forgiveness to another – the one who is unable at the time, the one who says, “Right now, I can’t forgive” and the one who is unwilling and has vowed never to forgive. They had promised that they won’t forgive.
Forgiveness is a divine gift both received and given. The power to do such divine things isn’t ours, but His. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) He can transform the bitter, broken and angry heart. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Jesus has taught us to pray a great prayer, “Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Amen!!