Every Hour of Every Day We Need Forgiveness
By God's grace coming to you through these sermons, you will be led to daily prayer with the Lord's Prayer as your guide. If you're not doing this already, what are you really saying? Not only don't you need daily bread, you don't need daily forgiveness. But you know you do. You know you need not just daily forgiveness but hourly. Yet, this very petition for forgiveness could be the one that has the whole prayer stuck in your throat.
That's a problem, because forgiveness is our most basic need. With David can't you say, "My sinfulness is ever before me?" Where does it end? It goes on and on. Sins are always present to the tender conscience and always visible to the convicted one. "For we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment." Did you catch that? We confess in the Catechism that we "deserve nothing but punishment." So much for saying God's unfair when sickness or tragedy strike us. How can we who deserve nothing but punishment ever complain? So much for thinking we didn't sin that much today. No, just enough so that we "deserve nothing but punishment."
And so much for being mad at God for not answering our prayers. We confess in this petition that God could deny our prayer because of our sins. God doesn't owe us a hearing. God doesn't owe us an answer. Shake your hand at the heavens all you want, beg and plea towards the cold, grey sky all day, be as sincere as Linus in his pumpkin patch, and God would not be hardhearted for not hearing your prayer. He would be just.
Notice that we don't say that God could deny our prayers because of the sins He sees in our lives. We say not prayers, plural, but prayer, singular. God could deny our prayer because of our sins. What prayer? Why this prayer our Lord taught us. Because of your sins God could say, "I'm going to let him continue to not hallow my name with his "O My God's" all the way till he's calling that out in agony in hell." Because of your sins, God could say, "She has no part in the kingdom of grace." Because of your sins God could say, "Okay, it's your will that is going to be done. Have a nice eternity in hell because that's where your will takes you." Because of your sins of just today, just the past hour, God could say, "You'll no longer see daily bread as coming from My hands by grace. Now you'll think it's up to you to be worthy of it."
Still not clear to you, is it? Your old Adam, your sinful flesh, is a tough nut to crack. That's who this battle is really with. It's not about me and you, or my personality and yours. It's about your sinful nature and God's holy Word coming from my lips. Your sinful nature doesn't think you're that bad a person. It believes it is worthy of the things for which you pray and that you have deserved every one of them. Your sinful nature wants nothing from God by grace but all by rights.
Do you want to see what by rights you deserve? Want to see what you're really worthy of? Want to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell what you deserve? Then listen to the Passion reading. You deserve to be wrapped in a purple robe, have a crown of thorns jammed on your head, be repeatedly struck, and then spat on till it runs down your face. And you don't deserve to have this happen in your private little mind. Your sins of just the last hour make you worthy of this happening to you right here, right now.
You know what tears me up? Church members who get bent out of shape when they believe they've been the least bit slighted. "He didn't talk long enough to me." "She wasn't even listening to me." "They don't pay enough attention to me." This tears me up because if you truly knew you were a guilty sinner you would know that what you deserve to have happen to you at church is what happened to Jesus at the hands of the church. You should be ushered in, stripped of your clothes, beaten till you're bloody, mocked, shamed, and humiliated. But your sinful nature doesn't even think it's worthy of a slight, a snub, an affront!
Every hour of every day we need forgiveness because we are that guilty, and because we are so incredibly, intensely, and thoroughly guilty we need to be forgiven completely, constantly. Hour by hour, minute by minute we need to be awash in the forgiveness of sins that Jesus purchased for us. If we see our life as the wretched mass of sinfulness it is, we will see that we don't need a dip every now and again in the pool of forgiveness. No, we need to live in it, swim in it, wallow in it.
When we pray this petition for forgiveness, we're asking that God would answer our prayer out of grace not out of our rights or worthiness. Grace means it's free to us but it cost God. To deal with us by grace, God had to deal with His Son according to the strict standards of the Law. But notice, according to the strict standards of the Law Jesus was innocent. Three times Judge Pilate declared that there was no basis for a charge against Jesus. Jesus is even declared innocent according to God's standards. God sends Pilate's wife a dream that testifies to her that Jesus is innocent. Yet, what happens? Barabbas, the notorious criminal is freed and Jesus executed.
You are Barabbas. You are in the dungeons of hell where Satan daily prods you with your guilt, rubs your face in your sins, and keeps before you the fearful judgment that awaits you. But what's this? The guard comes and opens the door. You're free. You are led to freedom because Jesus was led to the cross. You're hands are unchained because Jesus' were nailed to a cross. While you see and sense nothing but sins about you, God sees and senses nothing but the holiness, the righteousness, the sweetness of Jesus.
See the Baptismal font filled with the blood of Jesus to cover your sins. Hear Jesus' blood not just pleading to the skies for your pardon; hear it in my voice forgiving your sins. Taste forgiveness on your tongue in the Body of Christ. Smell forgiveness in the sweet Wine that is the Blood of Christ. See that as the Barabbas Jesus went to the cross for, the last thing Jesus would want you to do is to wallow in your sin and guilt as if He didn't really take your place, as if your sins really weren't all the way forgiven, as if He didn't want you to be to sure of your forgiveness.
You know why the complete comfort of this alludes you? Because of the "as" clause. You might not even pray the Lord's Prayer at all because you can't bear to say, "as we forgive those who sin against us." Or you might be doing as 4th century Church father St. John Cassian said some in his flock did. "When this prayer is chanted by all the people in the church, some silently omit this clause."
It is absolutely true; if you will not forgive those who sin against you, God does not forgive your sins. Perhaps it's better to say He has not. In the Parable of the 2 debtors, the one who owes God billions is forgiven first. But when he goes out and grabs the man by the throat who owes him hundreds, he shows that he doesn't believe God has really forgiven him.
But praying the Lord's Prayer is not the time to be thinking about that. Likewise, when praying for God's kingdom to come it's not the time to be thinking of how little you do for the kingdom. Or when you're praying "Thy will be done," it's not the time to be thinking of the time you did what you willed. The Lord's Prayer is a gift from Jesus; it's a privilege He gives us. He didn't teach us it to remind us of our sins but to remind us of the gracious way God the Father deals with us because Jesus is our Brother.
Yes, you may struggle to have the forgiveness of Christ apply to another who has wronged you terribly, but that will never happen till the real meaning of the "as" clause hits you. What trips so many of you up is that all of sudden in the Lord's Prayer we start talking about what we do. "Forgive usas we forgive others." Then you start thinking of this or that person who really did hurt or harm you in a very wicked way. Their sin, perhaps their smug impenitence, maybe even their air of superior righteousness looms over you, and that's all you see. That's what you should see if in fact Jesus had directed you to pray, "Forgive us our sins BECAUSE we forgive those who sin against us." Then, quite properly, the emphasis would be on the forgiveness coming from you towards someone else. But thanks be to God, Jesus didn't say because He said as.
Jesus doesn't direct you to think of that person you have a hard time forgiving. He doesn't direct you to that person you still see sneering or leering at you. You are directed to think of that person who it is easy for you to forgiven. Think of your child who felt terribly bad he broke your favorite lamp. Think of that person who knocked all your groceries out of your hand. Think of your spouse who brought you a thoughtful gift 3 sizes too big. Think of how you longed for, ached for them to receive your forgiveness and totally forget they ever did it. That's what you're to be thinking of when you pray this prayer because that's how earnestly and completely God in Christ has forgiven you.
With the "as" clause Jesus is giving you a comforting illustration. Where would we be if Jesus had taught us to pray "forgive us our sinsas long as they aren't too serious, as long as we are sorry enough, or as long as we never, ever do it again?" Jesus taught us to pray the way He did, so we would think of sins that our easy for us to forgive and of sinners we hurt for till they believe they're really forgiven. Why? Because that's how God in Christ feels about us and our sins.
You think I exaggerate? You saw how terribly they purposely and willfully mistreated, abused, and tortured Jesus in the Passion reading. In the very depths of His suffering on the cross, when all the weight of their hell is on Him, what does Jesus say? "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Don't think He speaks a more limited or less rich word of forgiveness in that font, at this altar or from these lips. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas