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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Forgive Us Our Sins    audio

Luke 15:11-32

If you’re driving around on a Saturday morning, chances are you’ll see men jogging along the footpath keeping fit and it’ll be nothing particular to comment on. But when Jesus told a story about an older man running down the road it would have had the opposite effect. It would have shocked his audience. In his day the older you were the less likely you were to even walk fast let alone run. To run was to show a failure of dignity. But when they realised the reason he was running down the road it would have been even more shocking. Jesus story tells of a father whose son has disgraced the family, brought shame on them. Yet when the father sees this rebellious son coming down the road he runs to greet him and to welcome him back.

Jesus tells this confronting story to illustrate the nature of the forgiveness that God offers to his people. It’s that story that explains what Jesus meant when he told us to pray “Forgive us our sins”.

It’s interesting that in this postmodern world we’re a bit conflicted about the notion of forgiveness. When it’s all just a matter of personal choice, when the social mantra is “If it feels good do it!” why would we need to ask for forgiveness? If you feel hurt by someone you’re likely to be told that that’s your problem, get over it. When someone does say sorry, too often they’re expressing regret for the consequences, not for the action that was the cause of the offence or for the hurt they’ve caused.

In fact, rather than talking about forgiveness, we’re more likely to talk about tolerance, putting up with someone’s poor behaviour, their lack of understanding of social norms, etc. But imagine if the father in Jesus story had shown tolerance to his son: he wouldn’t have been running down the road would he; he wouldn’t have killed the fatted calf to celebrate. He’d have been more likely to have accepted the son’s offer of working for him as one of the hired servants. As the older son recognised, forgiveness is much deeper, much more costly, much harder and more confronting than our human substitutes.

So how does that help us as we think about this section of the Lord’s Prayer? How does this fit in with Jesus’ mission.

Forgiveness is a major theme in the gospels isn’t it? Mark begins his gospel with a series of encounters by Jesus, one of which is the healing of the lame man lowered through the roof by his friends. Do you remember what happens? Jesus tells the man that his sins are forgiven. Only after the Scribes criticise him for that does he tell the man to get up and walk. When John the Baptist comes to the Jordan he preaches a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the fact that John is continuing in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets in that he calls the nation to repent but in his case his message isn’t one of coming judgement but of forgiveness, of salvation arriving. He’s “3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:3) His baptising in the Jordon is a clear reference to the exodus, to God’s people entering into his kingdom. But notice when Jesus arrives he moves the stage from the Jordan to the streets of Jerusalem and the other towns and cities of Israel. What’s more he moves the clock forward to the arrival of the kingdom. John’s ministry is redundant once Jesus appears. So when he tells that lame man his sins are forgiven it’s as though he’s saying God’s promised salvation has arrived. The things that have separated you from God the Father are being dealt with. The father has run down the road to greet you and to offer you total forgiveness; and then the man’s legs are healed as the sign of that kingdom arriving.

Likewise Jesus eats with publicans and sinners, not because he enjoys their company but because he’s come to bring God’s forgiveness for the worst of human behaviour. When a woman comes in and washes his feet with her tears and the Pharisees object because she’s a sinner, he tells them that it’s because her many sins have been forgiven that she’s shown him this great love.

Jesus went from town to town proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom, announcing the forgiveness of sins, healing and driving out demons, explaining that God was calling out a people who would be the salt of the earth, light in the darkness, part of a new community of God’s people, an exodus people, a forgiveness of sins people.

But you see this is the crunch, the confronting moment of this part of Jesus’ prayer. If we’re to be part of this community of the forgiven, then we need to practise that forgiveness towards one another. The moment we refuse to forgive someone, we’re saying “I don’t believe the Kingdom of God has arrived”; “I don’t believe the forgiveness of sins is real”. You see the failure to forgive isn’t just a moral failure. It actually undermines the whole basis of who we are, what we believe. The core foundation of being kingdom people is that we’re forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross and that that forgiveness draws us into the life of Christ. So if we don’t live out forgiveness we deny the very basis of our new kingdom existence.

So Jesus links our petition with our behaviour. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This isn’t a conditional statement as though we were bargaining for our own forgiveness with the forgiveness of others. Rather it’s a statement of our loyalty to Jesus and everything his kingdom represents.

As I said, this is quite confronting. We all know people who have done terrible things to us or to our friends or family. It can be a very difficult thing to forgive someone when you find it hard to even be in the same room with them. It may kill you to forgive them, but then, isn’t that what Jesus went through to forgive us?

You know there are lots of churches where someone has done something that offends someone else and it causes such a breakdown in relationships that the whole church is damaged by the fallout. And the people involved aren’t terrible people. They’re mostly just like you and me. But when I come across these sorts of places I think to myself, why can’t they see what’s happening here; what damage this is doing to God’s kingdom?

Still, as I said earlier, forgiveness is a costly commodity. Jesus’ story of the waiting father isn’t just a warm and fuzzy story of a father who missed his son and was glad to have him back. No, for the father it involved shame, embarrassment and loss of face as well as damage to his relationship with his older son.

For us forgiveness for someone who’s hurt us badly involves us taking the pain onto ourselves and letting it be; giving up the right to recompense or vengeance and showing just a little of the unbelievable grace that God has shown us.

This petition rests on what Jesus did on the cross, taking our sin on himself and thus allowing God to declare us to be without sin. But he didn’t just die to forgive our sins, he died to bring us back into the life of God. That means that we’re called to join Jesus’ mission of bringing God’s forgiveness to our world. We’re to model Jesus’ way of life, the way of forgiveness, because it’s the only way to live in God’s kingdom.

I think there’s also a sense in which when we pray this prayer we might also be praying for our world: praying for forgiveness for the things that humanity has done that have spoilt God’s good creation.

For example, it’s right that we ask for forgiveness for the way our nation has treated our indigenous brothers and sisters in the past. It’s right that we confess our mistreatment of asylum seekers. It’s right that we confess our misuse of the world’s natural resources, our nation’s blindness to the dangers of climate change. And as we pray that prayer for forgiveness, as we realise that our nation, our government, our businesses are not unlike that young Jewish man feeding the husks to the pigs, caught in an inescapable dilemma, perhaps then we’ll be reminded of that father who gathered up his robes and ran down the track to welcome his son home. And maybe we’ll see that Jesus has called us to a new vision of what his world could be like. Perhaps as we pray in the old version for our debts to be forgiven,  it might encourage us to pray for the worlds debts perhaps to be forgiven, for people who are tied down by their country’s indebtedness to wealthy countries to be liberated, so all might enjoy the bounty of God’s world. It sounds like a pipedream, doesn’t it, but isn’t that what the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is asking – for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as in heaven?

Imagine if Christians all over the world fulfilled the second half of this petition in their everyday life. Imagine if they/we never held a grudge, if we offered forgiveness and understanding to everyone who wronged us. That would have to have an impact wouldn’t it? Imagine if all the churches of the world could work together to show what God’s kingdom is all about! That would be a miracle, I know, but wouldn’t it have an impact. I saw this week that the Pope is visiting the United Arab Emirates for an interfaith conference. By doing that he’s making a statement about God’s desire for peace in our world and for all people to come to faith in Jesus – even if his hosts don’t understand the last bit.

If you think this is all too hard, too far-fetched; that the world has gone too far off the tracks to ever get back; that the multitude of denominations and independent churches could never get together, you could be right but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray. Remember the third character in Jesus tale of the waiting father. The eldest son sits in the shadows sulking because he reckons there’s no such thing as a free fatted calf, but the father doesn’t ignore him does he? He goes and pleads with him, reasons with him, to bring him back into the family as well. So continue to pray that all of God’s people, starting with you, might be able to live up to this second half of the petition for forgiveness.

Finally a reflection on this prayer in our devotional lives. I mentioned last week Cranmer’s prayer of approach in the communion service. I think I said what a great help Cranmer was to us in our communal worship, and today we’ll find more help. When we come to the main part of the communion service he gives us a prayer of confession, where we confess “we have broken your holy laws and left undone what we ought to have done,” or words to that effect but he doesn’t leave us there. He then goes on in the full version, that we don’t normally use, with what are known as the “Words of Assurance”:

Jesus said: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11.28

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3.16

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1.15

If any one sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins.  1 John 2.1-2

He wanted the grace of God to shine through in the liturgy but he didn’t want to lessen our understanding of our need for that grace. It’s as though we come to God’s celebration knowing his love and care; we praise him and thank him for his goodness to us, but we then stop and say “God, I know there are things in my life that aren’t up to scratch.” And God says, “Yes, that’s true. Let’s put them on the table and deal with them.”

Can see what this does for us? It helps us sort out the false guilt, the denied guilt and the ignored guilt. Just as we saw last week that Jesus wants us to ask for specific needs, so too he wants us to think about specific guilt and bring it to him to be dealt with. If you’re someone who has too tender a conscience so you take on guilt for everything that goes wrong, this may be your solution. If you’re someone who never admits guilt, praying this prayer may be a help in facing up to what you’ve done wrong. If you’re someone who suffers from guilt that you’ve been living with for some time but have never dealt with it, bring it to God in this service today. Lay it at the feet of Jesus, accept his offer of forgiveness, symbolised in the bread and wine, and walk away breathing the fresh air of forgiveness.

Isn’t that something we all need in this guilt laden world, to breathe in the pure fresh air of God’s love and forgiveness? And maybe if we start to breathe it in we might also breathe it out as we begin to discover the joy of forgiving others.

 

 

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