I was in church pretty much every week from conception until about age eight. Most weeks after age three, I sat between my grandparents in big church and squirmed as children tend to do. I listened and was told that I often talked back to the preacher. Sometimes I giggled.
Our church, a few blocks up the Drag, said the Lord’s Prayer together each week, like we do here at UBC. But you know how it is when people say the same words week after week in a crowd, sometimes they just go through the motions. They don’t enunciate, and the words take on a kind of monotonous tone that sounds garbled. When they hit the part of about forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, I couldn’t read yet, and my little ears heard “pisspisses,” which made me laugh.
Way back then, women kept their nails long, which you may notice has come back in style. I call them “Adele” nails, mostly because I noticed the singer Adele popularized nails like my grandmother’s. Well, my grandmother’s talons extended out from her fingers about three quarters of an inch and were painted red.
Usually, a giggle earned me a Lifesaver to settle me down. But when I got hold of the idea of forgive us our pisspisses, I could not stop laughing. That got a pinch under my arm from Mema’s nails. I can assure you that my grandmother (I called her Mema) was the most loving and gentle person on the planet, but she insisted that I behave like a young gentleman, which did not include busting out laughing during the Lord’s Prayer. That little pinch adjusted my behavior immediately, and I’m pretty sure she painted those nails red to hide any blood drawn. Now, you know I’m exaggerating–she never drew blood, not even close, but it felt like it at the time.
Ever since then, and I have likely repeated the Lord’s Prayer three or four thousand times, I still ask God to forgive my pisspisses, and I forgive those who pisspiss on me.
Imagine how I felt a couple years later when I learned to read and saw that we were forgiving trespasses, which was a word I could read but did not understand. Two things happened. First, Mema congratulated me for reading and memorizing a rather long passage of Scripture. I remember her showing me in her old King James Bible with those see-through pages and gold edges, and us reading together from Matthew’s Gospel. You might grab a bible and look that up in Matthew 6:9-15 because that’s where I’ll focus attention if I ever get done telling this silly story.
The second thing Mema did was explain trespasses and forgiveness. I don’t know if you had a Mema or a Papa or a Daddy or a Mama who explained trespasses and forgiveness, but I do hope that you explain the concepts to someone else because it seems to be deeply misunderstood these days, don’t you agree?
The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most often repeated collection of words in the history of human literature. Some Christian traditions think it’s so sacred that it must always be repeated word-for-word. Others, like us Baptists, think it’s more of a model for how to pray.
I tend toward the latter, but do not mind one bit if someone believes the former. What I’ve found most interesting about the Lord’s Prayer is that every stanza is loaded with meaning. Jesus seems to have given these pithy statements as summaries of all his teaching.
Our Father who art in heaven, summarizes Jesus’ teaching on God the Father, and our adoption as God’s children. The idea of God as a model father is spectacular for those of us who had less than stellar dads–it’s freeing. It also models what a father should be like for those of us with children.
Hallowed be thy name, opens Jesus’ book on praise. Thy kingdom come, another book. Thy will be done, another book. All the way down to forgive us our pisspisses as we forgive those who pisspissed against us, which opens us to a big book–the book on forgiveness, which is the key to the whole prayer.
I say it’s the key because this is the verse that Jesus comments on immediately. In Matthew 6:12, we read …forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us… and then Jesus adds in verses fourteen and fifteen, For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
I’ll let you in on a secret. The earliest churches were Hebraic in their thinking and culture–you probably knew that, but did you know that people in church would work together in community to interpret the Scriptures? Yes, they did. They talked back to their preachers. Our church habit of having one person talk and everyone else listen and not talk–what I call the sage on the stage model–is more Greek than Hebrew, and has led to the idea that Scripture is quoted to stop a conversation. In the early church Scripture was quoted to start conversation, and the word of God was interpreted by the people of God. You may not be used to commenting in church, but it would be helpful if you did right now. How do you interpret verses fourteen and fifteen?
[During the service, we pause at this point and let people comment on what they see in the Scriptures. This yields some beautiful fruit. Now we also realize it might yield some rotten fruit, but that’s why the preacher (and other elders and deacons) lead the conversation and gently and lovingly restore those who speak in error.]
In verse twelve, the Greek text literally reads the “owes” and means that which is owed, or a debt of offense. A sin is really a debt. Many English translations say “debt” and “debtors.” In verses fourteen and fifteen, it reads, paraptOmata which means beside falls and translates “offenses” and “shall be forgiving” you. There’s a direct, conditional dependence in the text–one only happens when the other one happens. [Incidentally, all this was brought out by the brothers and sisters who commented–the people of God really do know how to interpret the word of God!] The parallel text in Luke’s gospel uses a different Greek word, ‘amartias, which translates sins. And it’s likely that while the Gospels were written in Greek (so that more people of that day could read them), Jesus taught in Aramaic, where the word that the rabbi’s used was choba’, which means sin. The Lord’s Prayer teaches Christ’s followers (us) that God forgives a person’s sin alongside their willingness to forgive the people who sinned against them.
Does this remind you of his parable about the unforgiving servant? Take a look, and see the parallel:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy [times] seven.
Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents [equivalent to multiple millions of dollars]. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [a few hundred dollars], and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:21-35 ESV).
What about Jesus’ statement when he’s dying on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34)? How’s that play into our understanding of who and how often to forgive? What do you make of Jesus’s statements regarding forgiveness?
Perhaps you agree that it’s easy, when pressed, to say the right thing and offer a measure of forgiveness. Later, though, when it comes up again in your mind, it’s hard to forgive isn’t it? It is for me. I have to keep on forgiving some people. We think about the offense and feel the hurt just like before, and we find it more difficult to forgive that person who hurt us. That’s why Jesus told Peter to forgive an infinite number of times (seventy times seven was the Hebraic way of representing an infinite number). You keep on forgiving until you’re done.
What about the times you offend yourself? Same process. Keep on forgiving yourself.
What do you make of the young man in the news who forgave his brother’s killer? A young man was murdered in his apartment by an off duty police officer who was sentenced to ten years in prison for her crime. Botham Jean’s (the victim’s) family spoke to the killer in the courtroom during the sentencing phase of the trial. Perhaps you saw this in the Austin American-Statesman on October 6,
Brandt Jean, the victim’s 18-year-old brother, told [his brother’s killer] she was forgiven. “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you,” he told her. “I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
I don’t know what you think about that, but I think that is about the best example of forgiveness I’ve seen in a long time. That guy gets it.
What’s it mean when we don’t get it? What’s it mean to hold onto an unforgiving spirit? Many of you know that I spent several years studying how the brain works and wrote a book about it entitled Mindset for Success. In my research I learned that the brain is somewhat like a battery in that it only has so much energy before it needs to recharge. Sleep recharges our brains, so does prayer, and meditation, and a calm walk in the woods. Work, stress, conversation, reading, studying, even watching a television show deplete the brain’s energy. But the key is you only have so much energy.
Rehearsing an offense depletes brain energy. Some people wake up looking for a reason to be offended and they’re never disappointed, nor do they solve many problems because they’re busy expending brain energy of pisspisses. When you do not forgive someone their trespasses, you use brain energy that you could use to creatively solve problems.
Do you have any problems? Free up your brain to solve them by forgiving people quickly and often. Focus on forgiveness, not on rehearsing the offense.
Let’s do that now. Bring to mind someone hard to forgive. Forgive them.
They said, “You’re not good enough.” They lied. Forgive them. They said you’re not smart enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, muscular enough, musical enough, talented enough, strong enough, tall enough, fast enough, manly enough, feminine enough.
They said, “You don’t have enough.” They lied. This is often you pisspissing on yourself saying you don’t have enough money or enough time. Forgive them. Forgive you. You have all the time and money you need to do what God wants you to do right now. And what God wants you to do is plenty.
Forgive the liars.
Forgive the oppressors.
Forgive the manipulators.
They left you. Forgive them.
They hurt you. Forgive them.
They hate you. Forgive them.
They used you. They judged you. Forgive them.
They labeled you. They cursed you. They imprisoned you. Forgive them.
They rent space in your head. Forgive them. Evict them and be free.
They can’t hurt you. God says this:
You’re enough. You’re loved.
You got what it takes. You’re loved.
God is not mad at you. You’re loved.