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Monday, February 17, 2014

02162014 Septuagesima Sunday

Gospel Reading Audio
Sermon Audio

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

We have before us this morning a table and two chairs.  One chair is behind the ‘desk’, the other is in front.  The person sitting behind the table or desk has more power over the person sitting in the other chair.  This could be a job interview, where we are trying to get a position to help support our family.  It could be a parent teacher conference, where we are discussing how our children are doing in school.  It could also be at a doctor’s office, where we will learn what the test results are from the blood draws and procedures that we have endured recently.  This could also be at the bank, where the loan officer who holds the farm loan holds the balance of our vested interest of the farm in the palm of his hand.  Or this could also be here at the church where we discuss the arrangements for our loved one who has entered the church triumphant.  Or this could be between husband and wife that are at odds with one another and trying to resolve their differences or seeking help to mend the brokenness between them.

Any and all of these situations occur on a daily basis, not only throughout the country, but even right here in Goodland, KS.  Yet what is a twist of irony is that today we cover the petition of the Lord’s Prayer that clearly deals with an issue that our world, our country and even our church struggle with on a daily basis.  No matter if it is between parents and children, husband and wife, fellow church members or even the church and our previous affiliation with the ELCA, the issue of forgiveness is one that the Fifth Petition clearly speaks about to us today.  It is the most difficult petition for Christians to truly own, understand and make use of in our relationships, whether in the church, outside the church or even with God.

Let’s pull out our bulletin insert for this morning and read responsively as a congregation the “What does this mean?” section.  “The Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer,  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  What does this mean?  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.  Let’s pray for God’s forgiveness and our forgiving those who sin against us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for not looking at our sins, but offering us forgiveness through the grace offered through Your Son Jesus Christ.  May we always come to You and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, seeking forgiveness and offering others good who sin against us.  For we only find forgiveness through Your Son Jesus Christ Who died for all of mankind, including all of us saints gathered here at Emmanuel this morning.  AMEN.

When we sit in positions where there is clearly power like with the table and two chairs before us.  Whether the power is tangible, only perceived by our feelings or even subtle by an authority figure, whether it is someone seeking counsel, guidance or forgiveness there is a clear and unmistakable tension that exists.  Clearly we know individuals, both men and women, who lord it over others and make us feel not only unloved, but also unforgiveable.  Whether it is matters of clear and manifest sin of murder or stealing or blasphemy, or if it is unknown sin of addiction to pornography, gossip, or alcohol or how we treat our family, spouse or children.  The tension that exists when someone feels they have the power over another can be cut with a knife and some use the knife clearly and unmistakably to gain the advantage over us in a most uncaring and unchristian manner.

But this petition of the Lord’s Prayer is clear, when we pray, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, we are praying for forgiveness.  We are praying for a clear and unmistakable change in our lives and ourselves.  We are praying for God to simply forgive us our sins as we forgive others.  Yet the reality is we are human and we hold onto the sins of others far longer than is needed or even healthy.  Or we revert to what we are used to or has become our standard response or actions because it will cause the least hassle, make the fewest waves with our neighbors, fellow farmers, friends, family or coworkers, or require the least amount of change in our individual or collective lives and the relationships we have with one another.  We do not want to be held accountable, by the church, by God nor by each other.

A prime example of this is the experience that we the congregation of Emmanuel had before my arrival in October 2010.  Emmanuel by the recollection of many who have sat here in the pew, were members and leaders of council and even extremely active in the church were collectively challenged in forgiveness, whether of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that were members by their actions or inactions, other churches that were part of the Penta-Parish agreement or the Bishop’s Staff and even the Bishop himself.  The feelings and emotions that the congregation individually and collectively experienced created the unhealthiest situation.  Many people were and still are deeply hurt and this changed the dynamic of the relationship they had with one another.  It even has caused some to leave the church not to return or darken the door, because so and so still goes here or they were hurt so deeply that they could not either seek forgiveness or offer forgiveness themselves.  For some it even changed the personal relationship between once close friends to a clear and tangible enmity that still to this day is unhealthy, unchristian and a clear sin in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of man an ‘excusable’ feeling.

Yet, in spite of the experience with the Bishop, the other churches and each other, the congregation here at Emmanuel endeavored to keep the doors open.  As was stated when I came and interviewed, ‘we are just trying to keep the doors open’.  What was needed was for a healing, a time to deal with the issues of the past and resolve the differences and unite the division that clearly existed and had fractured the church.  What was needed was forgiveness between brothers and sisters in Christ.  Not the image we have here of one person behind the desk or table on the side of power and the other cowering seeking forgiveness, but a mutual change not of venue, but of attitude, forgiveness of ego and clear and manifest change of our hearts by God through the Work of the Holy Spirit.

God calls us to this in our praying the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  We need to change the landscape and dynamics that we have today here in the church if we want to move on and return to health and vitality.  We need to change the landscape of our attitudes and interactions.  We need to remove power from the equation.  [remove the table and face the chairs squarely] We need to change from power, authority or lordship, to one of partnership, cohesiveness and collective good.  We need to pray the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer as co-heirs and inheritors of eternal life.  This is what praying the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer is all about.  It does not negate the experience, the feelings, nor condone the actions of individuals or groups of the past.  But when we pray this petition God through the Work of the Holy Spirit helps us to see not the sin, but our Savior.  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we change our collective glasses and refocus ourselves to the belief that God forgives us our sins as we forgive others.  We cannot change the past, but we can learn from our past and change our future.

This is why I challenge us as a congregation today to not return to our habits of years gone by of unresolved issues, lack of forgiveness, mistrust and lack of mission.  But change the course of our existence from ‘just keeping the doors open’, to ‘changing the from the power dynamic within our church to a healthy dynamic of mutual trust and forgiveness within our church’.  Change our church from being full of gossip, back room conversations, small clicks and not clearly communicating to visioning with one another how God can use Emmanuel Lutheran Church to impact Goodland.  From mistrust across the aisle or not listening to ideas of someone we do not trust to forgiving and listening not only with our heads, but our hearts for how God can use us for His mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And enabling us to be willing to dialogue not only with one another but for what will be the collective good of Emmanuel for years to come.  Through our praying this petition of the Lord’s Prayer we can become capable of being not only kingdom minded, but mission minded for God’s Glory.

We have the future to look forward to and every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, let us pray this petition, in true humbleness, humility and hope for tomorrow in the forgiveness we can find today with one another.  For when we share in this forgiveness and pray the Lord’s Prayer and especially this petition, we not only share in our hopes for tomorrow, but our potential we have today through Jesus Christ for all of mankind, but especially including all of us saints gathered here at Emmanuel this morning praying, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  AMEN.
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