The Forgotten Verses

 (Matthew 6:5-15)

Today's Gospel reading includes arguably the most well-known prayer in the Christian world. We call it the Lord's Prayer. It's called the Lord's Prayer because Jesus gave it to the disciples as a pattern for how to pray. And in general the pattern of the Lord's Prayer reminds us that when we pray we should praise God, pray for his work in the world, pray for our daily needs, and pray for help in our daily struggles.

So let me offer a brief primer as to what it is we actually pray when we recite the Lord's Prayer. Let's briefly look at a couple of the familiar phrases used in the Lord's Prayer so we have a better understanding of the pattern of prayer and what it is we're praying when we pray the Lord's Prayer.

The phrase "Our Father who art in heaven" indicates that God is not only majestic and holy, but also is personal and loving, like the relationship between a parent and child. This phrase is a statement of praise and commitment to honor God and his holy name.

The phrase "Your kingdom come" is a reference to God's spiritual reign, not Israel's freedom from Rome, which in the time of Jesus was something Israel was seeking. God's covenant, which was first announced in the covenant with Abraham (Matt. 8:11), is now present in Christ's reign in believers' hearts (Luke 17:21), and will be complete when all evil is destroyed and God establishes the new heaven and earth (Rev.21:1).

When we pray "Your will be done," we are not resigning ourselves to fate, but praying that God's perfect purpose will be accomplished in this world as well as in the next. And please realize that God's purpose is perfect, not arbitrary or incomplete. We may not always know or understand God's purpose, but God does, and we need to have faith in that.

When we pray "Give us today our daily bread," we are acknowledging that God is our sustainer and provider. It's a misconception, and down right arrogant, to think that we provide for our needs ourselves. We must trust God daily to provide us with what he knows we need.

Also, we must realize that God does not lead us into temptations, but sometimes he allows us to be tested by them. God tests us to build us up, to make us stronger in the faith.

As disciples, we should pray to be delivered from trying times and to be delivered from the influence of Satan on our lives. All Christians struggle with temptations, there are no exceptions. Sometimes the temptations are so subtle we don't even realize what's going on.

But God has promised that he won't allow us to be tempted by anything we can't handle (1 Cor. 10:13). So when we pray we need to ask God to help us recognize temptation, and to give us the strength to overcome it, and to choose God's way instead.

But today I don't want to focus on the Lord's Prayer per se. I want to focus on the two verses that immediately follow the Lord's Prayer. Today's message is based on a request by Barbara Branson who asked that I address verses 14 and 15 from our Gospel reading.

When reading the Lord's Prayer within the context of the Gospel we can have a tendency to blow by the last two verses of the pericope, because we know the Lord's Prayer so well we just kind of complete the reading from memory, largely ignoring what follows. But the last two verses are critical, particularly as they relate to forgiveness.

Jesus says, "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."

In Eugene Peterson's The Message, verses 14 and 15 read as follows, "In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part."

Notice in Peterson's paraphrase he emphasizes a connection between what God does and what we do. And notice God doesn't do the cutting off, we do.

It wasn't intentional on my part, but if I'm not mistaken during the past four weeks I have mentioned the need for connection between God and us over and over again. And again this week the word connection comes up. So I wonder if the Holy Spirit is trying to make a point to us.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants us to take seriously just how essential our connection to God is, and how easy it is to ignore the importance of this connection.

All too often we think of God somewhere out there floating around the heavens, and we're here in this finite place on West Main Street in Emmitsburg. But God, who came to us in Jesus Christ, and now resides with us through the Holy Spirit, very much wants to remain connected to us. And we see the importance of this connection played out again in our Gospel reading today.

Jesus gives us a startling warning about forgiveness: Jesus tells us that if we refuse to forgive others, God will refuse to forgive us. Why is this? I thought God was all loving and would forgive us no matter what, but now it seems there's a condition placed before us to be forgiven. So what do these forgotten verses mean?

The problem is, when we don't forgive others, we are denying our common ground as sinners in need of God's forgiveness. Now God doesn't forgive us based on our willingness or unwillingness to forgive others, but being forgiven is based on our realizing what forgiveness really means. Forgiveness is an act of God's great mercy, which is grace. Not something that can be earned, but a gift freely given.

It's easy to ask God for forgiveness, but it's another thing, and often times more difficult to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us over the years. As followers of Christ we already have the grace of unconditional forgiveness from God.

But here's the other side of the coin. Whoever receives God's forgiveness is placed in a new relationship with God that calls for and makes possible the forgiveness of others.

Although we have been forgiven, we do not yet have this forgiveness as a permanent possession. It can be lost in the final judgment. So in other words, as we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have received forgiveness. But if we aren't willing to forgive others, God in Christ will deal with us at final judgment.

Lewis Smedes puts it this way in his book, Forgive & Forget, "if you refuse to forgive other people when you expect to be forgiven, you can go to hell." Harsh words, but this emphasizes how critical forgiving others is.

Smedes goes on to say, "The gift of being forgiven and love's power to forgive are like yin and yang. Each needs the other to exist. To receive the gift without using the power is absurd; it's like exhaling without inhaling or like walking without moving your legs." In other words we can't truly be forgiven without forgiving others.

As we come to understand God's mercy, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we begin to get this desire to be more like him. As disciples this is our goal, to become more like God in Christ. So as we mature in our faith and recognize the forgiveness we've received from God and other Christians, we in turn will want to pass forgiveness on to others.

In the September - October issue of the Upper Room there is a brief write-up on what we tend to do instead of offering forgiveness. It says, "We use many strategies to avoid forgiving: We minimize life's hurts or tell others to do the same, saying, 'Oh, it's not that important. It's nothing.'

Or we become angry and plot revenge, sometimes exacting revenge and sometimes contenting ourselves by mentally rehearsing it. Or we 'banish' our hurts, sending them to some emotional 'far off place,' not realizing when we do that they will return one day, uglier and stronger, to disrupt our lives.

Or we coexist in angry silence maintaining superficial civility, with hurt and anger seething inside or churning to manipulate them into being reconciled, at least in appearance. These behaviors can be seen as a symptom of lack of forgiveness and a call to face our need to forgive.

None of these strategies offers true and lasting peace. Only by forgiving can we be free. Forgiveness is a gift God gives us and asks us to give to ourselves and to others.

Forgiveness begins in recognizing the hurt and wrongdoing that limits our lives, naming behavior that grieves God and saying, 'This is wrong.' We admit our wrongs and the wrongs others have done to us. It's only in this truth-driven process that healing and reconciliation can begin.

Moving toward forgiveness asks us to change hurtful behaviors, and to change our attitudes toward those who have harmed us. And even if reconciliation with those who have hurt us is impossible, we still can name the hurt and forgive. To be whole and free we must do this.

Forgiveness also asks us to seek support in continuing to deal with hurts in healthy ways that bring life to us and to others. Often this means talking with other Christians, with a pastor or pastoral counselor, trusting God to continue to heal us and others.

When the hurts have been deep and repeated, healing may come slowly. We may have to begin by admitting that we don't want to forgive; our first step may be asking God to help us become willing to forgive.

All of this implies, forgiveness isn't easy or automatic. It's a process, sometimes it's a long and difficult one. But through it all we find release from the past so we may live fully and joyfully in the present, serving God with our eyes set on what is before us: the promise of abundant life."

Whenever we ask God to forgive us for our sin, we ought to ask ourselves, "Have I forgiven the people who have wronged me?"

The truth is those who are unwilling to forgive have not and will not become one with Christ, who was willing to forgive even those who tortured and crucified him.

This may be the cross you bear. Is there someone in your life you need to forgive? Perhaps a friend, a family member, a church member, or co-worker? Is forgiving this person the one stumbling block that keeps you from getting closer to Christ? Is the unwillingness to forgive, causing you unnecessary burden?

These are the tough questions we each need to address and deal with. Don't allow these two verses following the Lord's Prayer to fade from thought and action. Don't allow them to become forgotten or unimportant. God wants us all to live full and abundant lives, and this is only possible if we are willing to receive God's forgiveness, and are willing to forgive others.

Please join with me as we pray the Lord's Prayer together.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade