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Be the Church: Forgive Often

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Today’s passage from Luke is packed with multiple mini-sermons.

Soooo… Where do you think we should start? One option would be to jump right into a reflection on the Lord’s Prayer. But, which version should we use? Luke’s? Or maybe we should use Matthew’s which is longer, but has words with which we are more familiar? Or… should we focus translation each of us knows best? Which of those prayers should we pick? In the bulletin each week we print the Prayer of Jesus. We include the text because not all of us regularly use the words “debts and debtors.” Some of us that are here grew up saying “forgive us our trespasses.” And yet others (like me) are more familiar when we use the words “sin and “sin against us” in the prayer.

What if we did something really different and explored the Lord’s Prayer as it is in the New Zealand prayer book? In New Zealand the prayer begins with:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven…[1]

What do you think? Do those words resonate with you? Should we should start there…?

On the other hand, it might be interesting to delve into the persistence nag, that persistent someone, this friend who knocks on the door and doesn’t give up even when we say “go away, I am tired…”

Then again, for me, having been a youth group leader and having participated in the middle school retreat at Pilgrim Center with teenagers for many years, I always LOVE rifting on the “ask, search, knock” thread (for those of you that aren’t familiar with the UCC’s middle school retreat in the fall, it is called Knock, Knock…).

But wait—there is one more twist in the narrative. There is that final part of the reading, that catches my attention with a “what does THAT mean?” For me, the question pops up when we hear Jesus ask, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead? Or if she asks for an egg, a scorpion?” All I can do to those questions is smile, shake my head, and think, “Hmmm… have you, Jesus, ever watched my husband Steve’s parenting skills?” I can just hear our 3-year old granddaughter’s voice saying, “Grandpa…” (cue the cute toddler eye-roll and sigh) as Steve hands her something unexpected.

As I prayerfully reflected on where the Word is leading us, I filtered the reflection through the lens of our Be the Church series. Today we come to the faith practice of “forgive often.” Thus, I reread today’s bible passages and prayed event more deeply. All too often forgiveness is a very challenging, emotionally charged topic. The faith practice of forgiveness can deeply test us as individuals, and as community.

And so, I prayed. Actually, I “prayered.” I like that word. Recently I met with a family here, in the sanctuary. The 6-year old in our midst said that, “I prayered, even when (mom and dad) aren’t around.” I prayered. This is an act of praying that happens, even when mom and dad, others, aren’t around. And I then heard again from the reading in Luke:

“Jesus was praying in a certain place…” (Luke 11:1-13)

Thus I “prayered” really hard this past week to figure out “forgiveness”.

Atonement. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. These are words intertwined in our faith journeys. These are words on which we can become ensnarled. But I kept focusing on this directive: “forgive often”. Another pause. Isn’t there something about forgiving “seventy times seven” in the Gospels? (There is, in Matthew 18:22). And the writer of Mark retells another of Jesus’ instructions as being, “whenever you stand praying…whenever you stand prayingforgive, if you have anything against anyone (Mark 11:25a). Whenever you pray. I must admit, I do not have a list of “those whom I need to forgive” regularly engraved on my prayer list.

Then of course, in addition to Luke, Matthew and Mark, there is John. John complicates the story further by submitting Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23).

But… what about “forgive often”?

And so, just as Jesus was praying in a certain place… I too “prayered”. I prayered really, really hard on this idea of “forgiveness.” As the week wore on, I found myself using the familiar phrases of Jesus’ prayer with the unfamiliar format found in the New Zealand prayer book. I invite you to hear the beginning of the prayer again, as I read a bit further:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven. The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth. With the bread we need for today, feed us…

Sustain our hope.

Come to earth.

Feed us.

Sustain. Come. Feed.

Forgive often. While we might not think about the act of forgiveness involving a grief process, there are structures embedded within grief that I think do intersect with the relational aspect of forgiveness. In his book, Listening to Grief, Dow Edgerton points to Augustine who said that “There are gashes in our understandings of this world” and notes that the word “gashes” is a “wound word. (These are) Not empty spaces, blank places on the map, omissions, any of which might be benign enough, unimportant enough, but gashes (which are never unimportant or benign): cuts that are deep and long, through the surface down into the muscle, perhaps even deeper. Our understandings of the world—mine, yours, mine and yours, the understandings we… share, recognized and unrecognized—are wounded.”[2]

Edgerton understands grief to be not only “an emotion or set of emotions (although grief is full of emotion), not only as a process or path (although there are many process and paths it may forge or follow), but even more importantly as a relationship…”[3]

Forgiveness is also intertwined with relationships. Our relationship to the one who has wounded us. Our relationship with ourselves in the woundedness. Our relationship with God in the pain. Another layer of these interconnected threads is reflected when the Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg notes that in Judaism, repentance, forgiveness, and atonement are three different processes. “The Jewish tradition teaches that repentance is really hard work… Forgiveness is up to the victim and the victim alone. Atonement is up to God.”[4] Repentance is up to the person who did harm.

These relationships, these complex webs of who we are, and whose we are, and how we are, are beautifully summarized in the conclusion of the Lord’s prayer from our siblings in New Zealand. For the supplication that they lift to the Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be ends with this:

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen

The hurts we absorb from one another. Forgiveness is a spiritual practice, but it is also potentially one of the most difficult spiritual practices of our faith tradition. Forgiveness is up to the one who has been hurt, wounded… and up to that person alone. It can be challenging. It can be freeing. It can be emotionally painful. It can be nearly, if not, impossible. Yet the good news is found in the truth that we are in this together. The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss says that, “Christianity is a recovery movement… People want to know you’ll stand with them in the pain.”[5]

And so I pray:

Come, O God. Sustain us. Feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

And may we forgive often.

In times of temptation and test, strengthen us…

O Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, hear our prayer this day.


~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Psalm 85 and Luke 11:1-13 offered on July 28, 2019

[1] “A New Zealand Prayer Book.” ANZPB – A New Zealand Prayer Book. Accessed July 25, 2019. http://anglicanprayerbook.nz/.

[2] Edgerton, Dow, Rev. Dr. Listening to Grief. Exploration Press, 2014. 2.

[3] Edgerton, Dow, Rev. Dr. Listening to Grief. Exploration Press, 2014. 3

[4] Ruttenberg, Danya, Rabbi. Twitter. September 6, 2018.

[5] Moss, III, Otis, Rev. Dr., lecture, Festival of Homiletics, Minneapolis, May 14, 2019.