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“Forgive us our trespasses,

 as we forgive those who trespass against us”


          One evening Ellen and I went to hear Karl Menninger, famed psychiatrist and founder of the renowned Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. He was now well up in his senior years and was the recent author of a book, Whatever Happened to Sin?” His book protested the current psychiatric practice to downplay sin as something involved in mental disturbance, and it’s fading from our culture, even in the worship of the church. Menninger made the case that sin is real, destructive to the health of persons and the ways we structure our social systems.


          Menninger felt treatment of mental health slipped to the level of suggesting we merely are a tad maladjusted and a little tweaking we will see our troubles taken away and we and find the freedom to enjoy life and all its blessings. On the social front if we make our social arrangements more just, there will be fewer cases of mental disturbances. The mistreated will give up their resentments towards those who have erected the systems of injustice and society will live in harmony and peace.


          Menninger said much of our emotional troubles go much deeper, demanding fundamental changes in the way we live our lives and organize the way we live together. In short, we are troubled because we exist against the God who created us. It carries a huge price, not easily corrected by schemes of self-forgiveness and blotting out our neglect of our neighbors need.


A few years ago, Thomas Harris, a psychiatrist wrote a book, I’m OK---You’re OK. He said our troubles come from a low estimate of ourselves and our world and advised we go around chanting his little mantra, “I’m OK---You’re OK! This is not totally fair to Harris, yet his rosy optimism didn’t go to the core of our human dislocations, for it neglected the truth that living against the godly grain of life, exacts serious penalties. We are not free of these before we make radical changes in the way we live.




          Today we deal with this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive one another.”  Notice it does not tell us to pray, “If we have sinned, forgive us, just as we go around forgiving others of their sins against us.” This sounds like a statement offered by those who say, “If I have offended anyone by my remarks, I apologize.” This protects the apologist from facing up to the hard truth that the person did harm others, avoiding any responsibility that the words really were hurtful. Many of us will do anything not to tarnish our self-esteem. Few of us enjoy admitting we are sinners.


          Much of our religion has a soft core, making certain we never go to God and confess we live against God’s ways. We try not to admit that there are certain physical and social realities built into the universe which we violate at our peril. Biblical religion certainly proclaims God’s grace and forgiveness. But we need to face up to the Bible’s insistence that living against the ways of God’s personal, spiritual and social ways must be taken seriously. Long ago, Micah, one of the Old Testament prophets asked God what is required of us. He answered his own question by those famous words, “What does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God?” Micah implies anything short of these things is living dangerously.


          We sin against God by abusing our bodies. We don’t exercise, or take proper rest, we do not eat properly and we give over to deadly addictions. This is to sin against God and we are judged by these ways. We hold grudges, we control others, we give in to negative attitudes and we see the faults of everyone except ourselves. This is to sin against God and we are judged by these ways. We live amid economic, political and social institutions at the expense of the poor, the underprivileged the helpless, and we do little to call for reform for these arrangements. This is to sin against God. Just ask Jesus who lived against these things and called us to do the same.


          Before some recent trends in worship patterns we usually included a congregational Prayer of Confession in the morning service. The downside of this was making sin and confession having such a central place in worship crowding out balancing recognition of thanksgiving and gratitude. Yet I confess we have lost some realism in allowing ourselves to bump along centering on God’s mercy and forgiveness without recognition of our need for mercy and forgiveness.  The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t argue whether or not we are guilty of personal and social trespasses. It simply says we are trespassers---sinners. This is our human condition and we cannot avoid it. Until we become in the old song, “Perfect in every way,” we need to be very realistic about how we stand before God and neighbor.




          While Bible religion warns against that sin against God and neighbor, its deeper message insists God’s that forgiveness and mercy can redeem us from all our transgressions. Christianity has several explanations of the cross of Christ, none of them declared as the only true explanation. But all of them say that Jesus’ death and resurrection puts us in touch with the love and mercy of God with no questions asked. Our faith says in all our waywardness we were still within the love and mercy of God. This love and mercy against we were living comes prior to our admission of our sins. Christians call this “the prevenient grace of God”, something coming to us even when we are wandering in the confusions of our transgressions.


          Christianity is tough minded about our falling short of what God expects from us, but our faith says there is no sin excluding us from the love and mercy of God. Jesus got it so right in his Prodigal Son Parable. This young man took his share of his father’s estate early and went off on his own into the far country where no one knew him and he did as he pleased. After a time, his money was gone and his friends drifted away because he could not fund the partying. He became so hungry he took a job of herding pigs, a shameful thing for Jews who did not eat pork.


          Then Jesus said this young man came to his senses. It does not seem he moaned and groaned over his sin, he just knew he could go home, even if he had to re-earn his place under his father’s love. As he neared home, rehearsing his little speech of confession, his father saw him coming up the road, brushed aside his son’s confession and called for a real party saying, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and now is found.”


Our faith offers us this great good news. Good news is what “gospel” means. We are privileged to live within this good news in physical and spiritual health, bringing us to the second part of “Forgive us our sins” to “As we forgive others.”




          “As we forgive others means knowing the love and forgiveness of God we can become loving and forgiving persons and communities. “As we forgive others,” does not mean God will forgive us if first we forgive others. No, it’s the other way around. God’s love provokes us to love and forgive like God loves and forgives us.


          One way of understanding this is to experience the gospel as the renewal of our spirits. One contemporary Christian says when we accept the love and forgiveness of God, we are given a “heart transplant.” Our old ways of malice, self-centeredness, having a judgmental attitude, neglecting the needs of others and living in anxiety and depression are taken away. We are transformed persons. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold the new has come.”


          We should not expect this to be instantaneous like the little girl who wrote a spiritual advisor about her meanness toward his sister. She wanted to be changed wondered if it could happen before Christmas! But keeping ourselves in Christ the person, Christ the Church and Christ the meaning of the whole universe we can hope to make progress personally and socially, like our own John Wesley urged his Methodist converts to go on to Perfection.


          God “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”