Devotion for Thursday, May 7, 2020
1 John 1:5-10
Collect: Most Merciful Father, our sins make us unworthy to ask anything of You. For the sake of Your dear Son, do not condemn us for our sins, but hear our cries for mercy and forgive us our trespasses. Enlivened by Your forgiveness, we too, pledge to sincerely and gladly do good to those who sin against us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Hymn of Reflection: “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” (LSB 843)
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. (Small Catechism – Lord’s Prayer – 5th petition)
During this quarantine, I’ve had to move to online confirmation classes. Since school is also still out, this is giving my students and I a chance to catch up, and so we’re doing two petitions a class, two lessons per lesson day. That means today, we’re covering both – give us this day our daily bread, and the one listed above.
While I could go on and on about the fourth petition about looking to God for our daily bread, especially in this time of quarantine, I think that all of us are realizing just how much of God’s daily gifts we were taking for granted before this time, and are looking forward to the days where God lets us once again partake of them. I do pray that at that time we all realize where those gives are coming from, and give thank to Him for them, but I’ll save that little devotion for another time.
Today, I wanted to focus on the second lesson, the one we need most right this very minute…actually, the one we need most every single minute of every single day if we’re being honest: Forgive us our trespasses.
It’s why we’re Christin after all. It’s how being a Christian is even possible really. We are brought into this relationship with God not because of anything we have done for ourselves, but what Christ has done for us. His death paid for the sins of the whole world and with that, through grace, we have forgiveness – rightness with God once again. It is this forgiveness that we live our Christian lives under and with. We are covered over by that forgiveness, by Christ’s righteousness, in our Baptism, and we are encouraged to daily return to those waters; confess our sins, and be forgiven. It should be old hat for us by now, and in many ways, it is. We love that free forgiveness of God, we revel in it as we come to Him in prayer, and praise Him for His love towards us. But in other ways, we still don’t really get it.
You see, we really like the first part of this petition, and then cringe, or just breeze over that second part, trying not to pay it too much attention, or think about it too hard: as we forgive those who trespass against us. What we often fail to remember is that the two go hand in hand.
“But pastor!” I know some of you are thinking, “Does that mean that I have to earn my forgiveness by forgiving others? Does that mean that my actions earn my forgiveness? I thought we were saved by grace through faith! That’s what your devo last Thursday said after all.” And you would be right, that this what the devotion last Thursday said, I’m so glad you read it. As for the first part of the imagined comment – does my forgiveness of others earn my forgiveness from God – the answer is no, it does not – but that doesn’t mean that we can go around not forgiving others either.
If you read the second passage from Matthew that I listed above in the readings, you’ll read the parable of the unforgiving servant, and in it you’ll see what I’m talking about in Jesus’ own words.
Now that it’s fresh in your head once again, lets go over the details. 1 – the servant was forgiven not because he promised to forgive others, but because he asked the master and the master had mercy. 2 – the servant, high off of the grace of his master found a fellow servant, someone in the same boat as him, and demanded repayment of a much, much, much (and many more muchs) smaller debt than what was just forgiven him, and when the other servant asked for patience to pay him back (not forgiveness even, just more time to pay him back) the first one refused and had him punished for it immediately. 3 – when the master found out, he rescinded his forgiveness and had him thrown in jail for his own debt to him.
So…with the facts before you, did the first servant earn his forgiveness? No.
Another parable, this one from someone much less omniscient and wise than our Lord and Saviour: myself. I’ll be using this one in the lesson today to help explain to the younger ears. It’s your birthday, and your parents have given you a baseball bat as a gift. It’s one you’ve had your eye on, and have really wanted it for some time but haven’t been able to afford it. The day after you get it, your sibling really bothered you and you hit them with it (not serious, I’m not sending anyone to the hospital for a parable). Once your parents found out, they took the bat away from you – because you hadn’t used it in the way they intended for you to use it when they gave it to you. So…did they only give you the bat because they didn’t want you to hit your sibling with it? No. But you should have known there would be repercussions if you did, and there were. The bat was taken away.
Ok, so not the best of parables, I personally like Jesus’ much better, but you get the point. Our forgiving of others, our actions following he forgiveness, isn’t what earned it, but not doing it can lead to it being taken away. How? The questions and answers at the back of the newest catechism explains that one quite nicely:
279. Does our forgiveness from God depend upon our ability to forgive others?
No. It may appear that Jesus makes our being forgiven dependent upon our forgiving others when He says, “forgive us…as we also have forgiven” (Matt 6:12)…but… God has forgiven the sins of the world solely for Christ’s sake…[however] if we stubbornly refuse to forgive others, we reject God’s forgiveness for them and us.
Meaning that all forgiveness comes from God, even the stuff you share with others. Your forgiving of someone else is God forgiving them through you – and so when you reject to pass on God’s forgiveness, you are rejecting it for yourself also. Essentially, you are rejecting Jesus and His gift of forgiveness when you reject His teaching about who He is and who you are in relation to that. He is perfect, you a sinner, and He calls you, as part of being covered over by Him, to be like Him in your actions to others. By rejecting this, you reject Him.
Or as Colossians 3:12-13 explains it (again, much better than I):Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Which brings us to the next question in that book:
280. Does forgiveness mean that I must “forgive and forget”?
It’s a good question, and one that I’ll write the answer to in a bit, but first, I need to talk about this just a bit. The number of times I have heard a Christian say “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget!” (or something similar) in such a way that it made me question whether or not they are actually forgiving that person in the first place, is quite often. No, not always towards me either. Often, it’s when I’m talking to them about forgiving so and so, so that they can let it go and move on. This clearly shows that they are not moving on at all, but letting it fester. I’ll write a bit more about that in a second, but first, the catechism answer:
Forgiveness does not mean having no memory of past wrongs. But we ask our Father in heaven to free us from the anger and resentment that may accompany those memories. We relinquish them into His merciful hands and trust Him for healing over time.
That’s what I’m talking about. No, you can’t develop the power of ‘selective amnesia’ whenever you want, but you can let go of all the emotions that are attached to it. No, you’re not going to forget that the last four times you lent your friend 20$ he didn’t pay you back, and when he asked, you forgave him, and told him not to worry about it any longer. You told him that you wont ask him for it anymore, or think any less of him for it, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lend him another 20$ the next time he comes to you! Or a recovering alcoholic who comes to you and apologises for their actions against you, and tells you that they are now recovering. You forgive him and invite them in for a bit, if he asked you for a drink, you’re not going to pass him a beer. You forgive and forget, putting it behind you and starting fresh, but don’t forget their weakness and lead them to a place where they may repeat their folly.
God does the same. He forgives us our sins, and He separates them as far as the east is from the west, but He knows what you are most tempted by and susceptible to. He will do His best to lead you away from them, and help you avoid them, so that you won’t be led astray by them again. He too forgives and forgets, but doesn’t forget so that He can continue to help you with it, not hold it against you.
I say this is an important thing to know and remember all the time, and that’s true, but especially in this time of quarantine I encourage you to remember this and take it to heart. You are stuck in close quarters right now with people you love very much, they are your spouses, your children, your parents, your family. Times like this, in frustration, people can often say and do things they don’t really mean, they let their sinful nature get the better of them, and lash out – I myself am guilty of that from time to time as well, just ask my family – and this is when you need that forgiveness the most.
Remember, that next to the sins you’ve committed against God, your loved one’s transgressions against you aren’t even a drop of water in the ocean by comparison. Remember God’s forgiveness of you, and pass it along to your family and friends in love – not necessarily forgetting why it happened, and maybe being able to help them avoid it in the future, but not nag them, or lord over them. Forgive them, just as they forgive you, and continue to live under the grace of God, covered over by the righteousness of His Son.
I pray God’s healing and forgiving hand on each and every one of you this day, and every day, as we continue to walk together though this life.
In Christ and His service,