The Lord’s Prayer/The Prayer of Jesus (II)

Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | May 24, 2020

Psalm 103: 8-13; Matthew 18: 21-22

Two weeks ago we looked at the first part of the Lord’s Prayer.  We continue today starting with “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Some commentators try to spiritualize the idea of bread here, declaring that since Jesus called himself the “bread of life,” then the prayer means that we are to daily seek Jesus.  Well, certainly we are to do that, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.

He was speaking to folks who lived on the edge, for whom having enough literal bread to eat was a big thing.

Give us this day our daily bread.  

Daily bread, bread for today.  A reference to manna in the wilderness?  Came every day.  Just enough for today.  Twice as much on Friday so you’d have it for the Sabbath.

Our Daily bread.  Enough for today.

But we are like the Israelites who, though God had promised to supply daily manna in the wilderness, insisted on collecting more than they needed.

In James Mulholland’s words,

We call this prudence, but for the children of God it is really distrust.

We are like the rich fool.  Jesus said, “The ground of a certain man produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops’”  (Luke 12; 16-17).  He decided to build bigger barns.  He was unwilling to trust that the God who had supplied his needs today would also supply them tomorrow.  It didn’t occur to him to see those who were hungry and feed them.  He didn’t consider the priorities of God.

He sounds remarkably like us.  When we have excess, we don’t even ask, ‘What shall we do?’  The answer is so ingrained.  We store it away.  We invest in mutual funds.  We establish endowments.  We build bigger houses and more opulent sanctuaries.  We seldom do what a church in Texas did.  After sending mission teams to Mexico to build housing, they decided to take the building fund for their new sanctuary and use it to build dozens of more homes.  Far more often we rationalize our greed and selfishness.  We fail to understand the proper use of prosperity.  (p.75)

Daily bread.  I think of parishioners in my first congregation in Stillwater.  The couple was in their 50s.  The kids were through college.  They were both at the peak of their earning power.  The husband wanted to build a new house, a bit bigger and overlooking the river.  The wife was deeply disappointed.  “We’re just at the point where we could give away some serious money and really make a difference.”

I remember a sermon by my home pastor from forty-five years ago.  He asked, “How can I put $2000 in an IRA for retirement some day when there are people starving right now?  How much is enough?  Where is true security?”  Now, I have a retirement fund, but those are compelling questions.

I may have already shared this story about Tony Campolo.  Back in 1978 he chose to live on $18,000 a year, equivalent to $72,000 today.  In Philadelphia, with three teenage kids.  He probably made three times that much.  He did not decide to give away ten percent of his income.  He and his wife decided that the $18,000 was enough and they committed to live on that and give the rest away.  Daily bread.

If we’re praying “OUR Father,” and “OUR daily bread” and recognizing that we are all brothers and sisters, then we have a responsibility to see that others have daily bread. 

Brothers and sisters.  I had a colleague for a few years who did not speak about the kingdom.  She used the term “kindom.”  Kin.  Our relatives.  In doing so she emphasized the community aspect of God’s kingdom.

Kindom.  Daily bread.  In Luke (12:48) Jesus challenges us, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

There is much we can do as individuals.  There is much we can do as a congregation: supporting our local and worldwide missions.  The new Free Little Pantry is such a wonderful program.  Thanks to Cathy Donovan and Jim Maciazka for making that happen and for all who keep it filled.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Forgiveness.  Emo Phillips is one of my favorite philosophers.  He said, “When I was a kid I prayed for a bike, but that didn’t work.  So, I stole one and then prayed for forgiveness.”

Some recent scholars suggest that Jesus meant literal debts.  The very oppressive Roman economic system led many of Jesus’ listeners to crushing debt and they deeply wished to be rid of it.  But most scholars believe Jesus was talking about forgiveness of sins.

“Forgive us our sins.”  

Most of us know that we are in need of forgiveness.  I know a lot of tremendous people, but I have not met a single sinless person.  And certainly not a married one!

We commit individual acts of selfishness.  We say hateful things.  Or we are silent when we should be saying something.  We take shortcuts at work that will help the bottom line, but hurt employees or the environment.  We take credit for others’ work.  We gossip.  We commit sexual sin.  We turn our backs on neighbors in need.  We spend more money on personal entertainment than on social justice programs.  The list goes on.

And more than individual sins, we are a part of a culture that worships money and violence and sports and physical beauty and possessions and sex and power and convenience while desecrating the environment and allowing 10,000 children a day to starve.  Even in the US, one in five children is hungry.  We need forgiveness for our complacency and complicity in systems that are evil.

We are sinners.  We all fall short of the glory of God and are in need of God’s forgiveness.  So Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins.”  And from one end of the scriptures to another we see that God is eager to forgive us and to restore us to a right relationship with God.

Forgive us our sins, yes.  Regrettably, Jesus adds a kicker.  “As we forgive” that is, “in the same proportion” as we forgive those who sin against us.  Ouch.

I was at a Christian conference years ago in which the speaker asked that question.  How many of you have been sinned against?  14,000 hands went into the air.  The speaker said, “I’m not surprised that you have been sinned against; I’m surprised at how fast you all remembered.”

A number of years ago when our children were small, I was standing at the sink, doing dishes and watching the children and some neighborhood kids playing in the back yard.  It was so charming, right out of Norman Rockwell.   Then I look a little closer and I think, ‘What are they playing with?’ It looked like little kittens or something.  I looked a little closer and it was a family of baby skunks!  So, ever the calm one, I carefully and quietly open the window, take a deep breath, then scream, “Run, children, run!!” 

The kids looked at me, then they looked around in terror, and finally they each picked up a skunk and ran!

We carry the past with us and wonder why in the present something stinks. 

When we refuse to forgive, who is hurt? Over the years I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say they lie in bed at night and can’t sleep.  Some because they are worried.  And some because they are so angry.  The sinner isn’t necessarily bothered.  It’s the one harboring bitterness.

My friend Brad McNaught suggests that it’s not that God CAN’T forgive us if we don’t forgive others, but that we can’t receive God’s forgiveness if our hearts are filled with bitterness.

I know that you have been sinned against grievously.  I know that you have.  I urge you, for your own sake, to forgive.  (Now, a little aside here, I think people who have experienced abuse are in a separate category. It’s better not to move too quickly to forgiveness, and they should seek professional help to find healing.)  But for the rest of us…

Listen to the stories of some others who have suffered grievances.

Bud Welch’s daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.  When he heard of Timothy McVeigh’s arrest, he felt only rage and a desire for vengeance.  McVeigh’s lack of repentance only made his anger hotter.  He said, “I just wanted him fried.”

Bud’s hate took him on a journey of sleepless nights and drunken binges to numb the pain.  It also led him to visit the bombing site.  On that visit, he vowed to change.  He remembered watching Bill McVeigh, the bomber’s father, on television and suddenly recognizing his pain and grief in that father’s eyes.

He arranged to meet Bill McVeigh.  They sat together and talked about their children, one who was dead and one who soon would be.  Forgiveness and mercy overwhelmed Bud Welch.  He said, “I never felt closer to God than I did at that moment.”  When asked later about those who resented his forgiveness of Timothy McVeigh, he said, “They think they’ll get some kind of healing.  There’s nothing about killing that’s going to help them.”

Revenge never solves anything.  The cycles of violence in Northern Ireland, Israel, Bosnia, and Rwanda witness to a cross-cultural commitment to revenge.  Generations of death and misery also testify to revenge’s impotence.  Mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation are far more than personal issues.  When societies fail to value these acts, the fabric of human interaction is torn.  We begin to relate to one another from the least common denominator—hate…

When in our personal and international interactions we choose judgment over mercy and revenge over reconciliation, we thwart the will of God and postpone the establishment of God’s kingdom.  After World War I, the Allies chose revenge and demanded reparation as their response to German aggression.  This contributed to bring about Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust , and millions of deaths less than twenty years later.  

Fortunately, the response of the Allies to Germany and Japan’s defeat in World War II was reconciliation instead of revenge.  The Marshall Plan sought to restore families, cities, and countries.  Some would argue that the battles at Normandy or Iwo Jima were the most courageous acts of the war.  I believe it was the mercy we extended to our enemies after the war.

Abraham Lincoln set an example of such mercy at the end of the Civil War.  Many were arguing for swift and terrible retribution upon the South.  They wanted their enemies destroyed.  Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?”  (Praying Like Jesus, James Mulholland, pp 97-100)

James Mulholland notes different types of forgiveness:

There is an eyedropper of forgiveness.  We say, “When you repent on bent knee, admit it was all your fault, and finally accept that I am better than you, I will forgive you.  Now open your eyes because this is going to sting.”

There is a teaspoon of forgiveness.  We say, I’ll forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you did.  In fact, I’ll probably remind you of your sin nearly every day.  Now open your mouth and take your medicine.”

There is a cup of forgiveness.  We say, “I’ll forgive you this time, but never again. I’m going to watch you like a hawk because I don’t really believe you’ve repented.  Drink up and don’t mind the bitterness.”

There is the cup of forgiveness with two straws.  We say, “I’m sorry for what I did as long as you’re sorry for what you did.  I’ll stop my sin if you stop yours.”

The problem with all these measures of forgiveness is that they fail to measure up to the grace of God…Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive as many as seven times.  Jesus said, “No, Seventy times seven!”  (Mulholland, p. 104)

Paul said, “God has poured out his love into our hearts.  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5: 5,8) (Mulholland, pp. 104-105)

As the great Christian writer George Herbert said, “(The one) who cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has a need to be forgiven.”  

A few of you old-timers might remember the name Eddie Schorr. He played defense for the Boston Bruins.  This is back in the old days when even the goalies didn’t wear helmets.  Eddie Schorr didn’t wear a helmet.  He stopped a lot of pucks with his face.  He caught a lot of sticks in his face.  He had a lot of stitches.  His face was just covered with scars.  A sportswriter ran into him about 15 years later at a banquet and Eddie’s face was entirely smooth like a baby’s.  The sportswriter asked how he did that. Eddie said, “I found this really great skin cream and I’d rub it in really good every night.  It took about three or four years for each injury, but the scars eventually went away.”  Some people pick at their scars and keep the wounds open.  But the wisest among us know to use the skin cream of forgiveness.


Pastoral Prayer

Loving and Gracious God,

We thank you so much for Jesus and this day we thank you for his teaching on prayer.

We thank you for our daily bread. And for most of us, so much more than daily bread.  Help us to share with open hands with those in need.  Help us to do the hard work of forging new systems so that no one need be hungry.

Thank you for your eager forgiveness.  Forgive us when we are slow to offer mercy and give us your supernatural power to do so.

We continue to pray for all those affected by Covid-19.  We pray comfort for those who have lost loved ones.  We pray for health for those who are currently suffering.  We ask blessing and protection for all the medical folks who are doing their courageous work on the front lines.  We thank you for all those providing essential services. We pray for those whose jobs and businesses have been affected.  We pray for children and parents and all of us. Give us a strong sense of your presence, your calm, your light and peace.

All these we pray in the name of Jesus and we pray together as you taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed…

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