How important are you? How much status do you have on the grand scale of life? Are you a person of power and influence who is above certain things in life? Isn’t that the goal of some? To attain the level of being “on top”? Head of the division at work? Supervisor? Lead? So you don’t have to do the work that no one really wants to do anymore. So that you can call the shots and others have to jump when you say how high?
Does that ever happen in the life of a Christian? Are there levels and ladders to climb? Where you eventually get to the top and you are above it all? That’s what we are going to ponder today as we explore the prayer our Savior taught us.
To get you thinking, there is a story about our first President, George Washington that I’d like to share with you. We’re told one day President Washington was riding horseback near the capital city with a group of friends. Eventually their route took them to a place where their horses were forced to leap over a stone wall.
One of the horses didn’t leap high enough and knocked a number of stones off of the wall. Washington stopped his horse and suggested to the group, “We better replace those stones.”
The rest in the riding party didn’t want to bother with it. They objected, “Let’s keep going and let the farmer do it.” Washington didn’t feel right about that.
When the riding party was over, he went back the way they came. He found the wall, got down from his horse and the President replaced each of the stones.
His riding companion saw what he did and said, “You’re too big to do that.” And to this, Washington responded, “No – on the contrary, I am the right size.”
As a Christian, do you ever attain a level where you outgrow your need for forgiveness? The Lord’s prayer teaches us, “your never to big for that…”
The Scripture lessons today tie together with the theme of HUMILITY. “Hey – look at me!” is not the cry of the Christian. Instead it is, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”
What we’ve explored so far in the Lord’s prayer underscores WHO God is. Our loving, merciful Father. The Holy One who is has all power. But this one has promised to care for our needs. He brings His saving power to us through His Word and Sacraments.
And now that we are clear about WHO we are turning to with our needs, God reminds us WHO we are… people in great need. Not self made, strong, self reliant people who just need a little help from God. Instead we confess that we are helpless, hopeless sinners – who stand naked before a holy God with nothing to offer Him but messes to clean up.
And from what we’ve prayed to this point, we are without excuse. Our good and gracious God promises to provide our daily needs – our daily bread – so we have the energy to praise His holy name than thank Him for his gifts to us. That rich promise should free us from fear – fear of not having enough today and free from fear of tomorrow. God promises to provide. So we have no excuse for worry, greed and selfishness. God did not place me here to fret about providing for myself, by myself. But yet we worry. We are anxious. Because I don’t listen too or trust God’s Word of promise.
Why do we do this? Why do we doubt God’s promises? Why do we fear we’ll be left without?
Well that has much to do with our marinating in how this world works. We live in a culture filled with jealousy over not getting our fair share. We think we have something coming to us. God it’s not fair! I want a little heaven on earth. I want my life to be better in the here and now. But God knows us too well. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. So we struggle. Because the more we set our heart on the temporary things of here today and gone tomorrow - the more we aren’t in tune with the Kingdom of God – and His will and gifts and plans and REST that last for an eternity.
Did you feel the tension in the Gospel lesson? Since we live in this world, we are tempted to follow the rules of the world. We try to assert ourselves. Grab our piece of the pie. Run to the front of the line. Sit at the head of the table. To show the other people around here we really are someone.
But in His prayer, God has us come clean and confess we are nothing more than sinners. Sinners who struggle. Who don’t have their lives together. Who’s lives are so messy that if others knew what we know about ourselves, no one would give us honor or esteem. They would just be disgusted. Our nature doesn’t need just a little help from God – we need divine intervention and renovation.
So back to the President and the stone wall story. Don’t think you are above it all. Daily we all fall and fail. So Christian - humble yourself. Luther has a great line in his large Catechism. “In the presence of God, all must lower their plumes…” in other words, you can’t pretend you are something of importance before God when you are nothing but a beggar. He gave you life, health, wealth your last heart beat and that last breath. All you have and are gifts from Him – so humble yourself.
So in this petition of Lord’s prayer we are pleading that the Lord not look at our sin and treat us as our sins deserve. Instead we are pleading that God have mercy on us! Forgive us our sins and tune his ears to our desperate prayers. Not because we have deserved God’s help or mercy. But solely because He is our good and gracious FATHER in Heaven - who is limitless in mercy. We plead that the God who has promised to provide for us – will even provide the forgiveness we desperately need!
Listen to Luther’s explanation in the small Catechism: What does it mean when we pray, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
Humbling ourselves before God has a way of leading us to humble ourselves before others. We live in a world of levels. People treat each other based on status. We don’t treat a plumber the same way we treat a pro athlete. The President of Pepsi has more perks in life than a pre-school teacher. The car a person drives, the clothes they ware are signs and signals of status. And the even in Jesus day, the higher the status the more perks people got.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus uses the picture of a dinner party. The people with status get certain seats at the table. And Jesus warns, don’t think too highly of yourself. Don’t put yourself higher on the ladder of life and get humiliated. Instead, humble yourself. Put yourself under the level of others. Love and serve your neighbor. Even when it comes to forgiving their faults and failures.
But there’s a problem. I don’t forgive very well – and maybe you are stingy with your forgiveness too. I argue and wrestle with God about forgiving others. Do you hear yourself saying things like, “But God, you don’t realize what they did to me! And they did it after all that I have done for them!”
If I have such a hard time forgiving the mole-hill sins others commit against me - compared to the mega-mountain sized sins I committed against God, how then do I dare expect that God will ever forgive me anything?
What a lesson God teaches in this petition of His prayer. He calls me to forgive others as God has forgiven me. And oh do I have work to do. I forgive with a struggle; I forgive only as a sinner can forgive: weakly, imperfectly, grudgingly. But the more I ponder the greatness of God’s full and free forgiveness for my failures – the more I plead – Father help me to forgive as only you can forgive – completely, perfectly, willingly. Because Lord, you have even payed the price for my weak forgiveness – because your Son paid that price on the cross.
What a gift God gives in His full and free forgiveness. The more I appreciate this gift that God has graciously given to me, the more I grow in forgiving others as God has forgiven me. And that is how God’s Kingdom comes! Just as God gives us daily bread so that I may grow in keeping your name holy – praising Him for His providing (the First Petition), so God’s kingdom comes (the Second Petition) when sins are forgiven. Through the forgiveness that God gives in Word and sacraments He establishes His throne and rule in our heart and life. And it is that forgiveness that we share in our lives with one another day by day, even though weakly and imperfectly.
So dear Father - grant me the grace to treasure all the more the gift of forgiveness that I both receive and give here in church every Sunday. For here I confess with all my brothers and sisters in Christ that I have sinned. And here your called servant forgives me in your name. And I say “Amen” as he forgives also those around me who have made the same confession; I say “Amen” to acknowledge that indeed my sins are forgiven and so are their sins, forgiven by you and yes, forgiven by me too!
And so God’s kingdom comes! And His throne and rule in my heart and in theirs is confirmed and strengthened. And so God forgives us our trespasses even as we forgive one another.
Lord - how blessed is your kingdom; it is all about forgiveness; it comes and continues as you forgive and as in your name we forgive one another. So Father, dear Father, forgive perfectly as we forgive in your name that your gracious rule may be established grow in our hearts and in our lives. Amen!