Category: Pastor’s Message

Forgive Us Our Debts

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Matthew 18:2335; June 3, 2018

A few days ago a motorist in downtown Phoenix left a note on the windshield of his car.  “To the Phoenix Police Department: I’ve circled this block for 20 minutes.  I’m late for a meeting with my boss, and if I don’t show up on time, I’ll lose my job, so I really have  to park in this No Parking Zone.  Forgive Us Our Debts.”

When he came back to the car he found a ticket and this note: “I’ve worked this block for 20 years and if I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lost my job.  “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”  

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  This is the second of three petitions of the Lord’s prayer: 1. Give us this day our daily bread; 2.  Forgive us our debts.  3.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  It’s interesting to note that when Jesus finished teaching his disciples this prayer, he comes back and singles out this particular petition for further commentary: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  

    Why did Jesus highlight this one petition over all the others.  My hunch is that he wanted there to be no mistake about his meaning.  He isn’t saying that our forgiveness of others is a condition of God’s forgiveness.  This isn’t a business transaction where God keeps a ledger on each of us, saying, “Now Swicegood forgave Jones of this, so I will now forgive Swicegood of that.”

It’s not like that at all.  The Scripture teaches us that God’s forgiveness is inexhaustible.  “As far as the East is from the west, so far does he put our transgressions from us.”

So what precisely does it mean, “Forgive us our debts, AS we forgive our debtors.”  I think the key to understanding this is the location of our heart.   If our hearts are hard and unforgiving, if we are unable to let the past go, if we are unable to forgive people who have truly hurt us, then we aren’t soft enough, receptive enough, vulnerable enough to receive God’s forgiveness.

The one character Jesus pictured as the most impossible to respect is found in the parable of the unmerciful slave.  Can’t you just see the twinkle in Jesus’ eye as he deliberately exaggerates the details.  No slave in Palestine could possibly owe ten thousand talents ten million dollars at today’s rate more than ten times the total taxes of Palestine to Rome on an annual basis.  The salve owed a debt he couldn’t pay in a lifetime, or in a million lifetimes.  He comes begging on his knees before his master.  The slate is wiped clean.  Then with this unbelievable mercy still ringing in his ears, the slave goes straight to wring the neck of a poor devil who owes him twenty bucks!

Jesus tells this story to amplify the point that people who are unforgiving are not able to receive forgiveness. Jesus, ever the master psychologist, knew that people who have a hard time forgiving others have a hard time forgiving themselves.  He knew that if we hold onto grudges, we also are pretty tough on ourselves.  He knew that if we continue to stew in resentment and bitterness over the wrongs done us, our hearts are not ready to let God come in and take over and forgive us utterly. He knew that God’s grace cannot dwell in a soul that is essentially graceless.

    I read an interview with a young Palestinian.  As he talked about the

oppression of the Israelis, he said very simply, “I will never forgive.”  

          Is there any thing harder in the world than forgiveness?  It doesn’t come natural to anybody.  All of us, at some point in our lives, have been hurt and hurt deeply by someone else.  We don’t find it easy to forgive, and oftentimes don’t want to forgive.   We rehearse our grudges over and over again to keep the enmity alive.  .

A few years ago this ad ran in the personals section of the L.A. Times.

         “Would the man who lived at such and such address 19 years ago and walked out on his wife and six months old son please  contact me.  I am that son and I would like the pleasure of

kicking his teeth in.”

Something within us all resonates with that ad.  We like to see people get their comeuppance.  The only problem with that, Gandhi so astutely observed, is that if we keep insisting on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, the whole world will be rendered blind and toothless.

Here’s the question this prayer poses:

Do the Palestinians have to forgive the Jews?

           “Do I have to forgive the person who stabs a knife deep in my soul?”  

    These are not theoretical questions.  They are questions people deal with every day.  History moves in one direction or another depending on how these questions are answered.  Will the Palestinians and Jews move from enmity to amity.  It depends on how the forgiveness question is dealt with.  

        Do we have to forgive?  What are the consequences of forgiving, of not forgiving?  What is like living in a world where there is no forgiveness, only a downward spiral of retribution and violence?  What  is it like for you and me to have done something wrong, and never be forgiven of it?

    I can only frame the whole issue of forgiveness in light of what happened one Friday afternoon some time ago.  After we had stripped the man of his clothes, spit on him, whipped him, we had a legal trial and decided his punishment would be crucifixion.  And as he hung there, bleeding, he looked down at us in our eternal cycles of vengeance, and this king said, “Father, forgive them.”

         There was once this old rancher who lived in Texas.  He was a tough old bird, and mean as a steer that has just been branded.  One day, one of his cowboy was caught stealing a cow from the rancher’s herds.  When the cowboy was dragged before the rancher, and the old rancher looked down at him, the cowboy trembled in his boots.

    “Hang him,” the rancher said.  “It’ll teach him a lesson.”

    Well, time came for the old rancher to die.  He died and found himself standing before his maker.  When God looked down from the great throne, the rancher thought about his life, all the mean things he had done, the way he had lived.  He trembled in his boots.

    And the Lord said, “Forgive him. It’ll teach him a lesson.”


I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing

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I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says SingJanuary 29, 2017

 ​A little fellow was visiting his grandparent’s church. At the door the pastor asked him how he liked the service. With the brutal honesty of a four year old the kid answered: “I liked the music but the commercial was tooo long.”

​The Christian faith is a singing faith. Historians have claimed that Martin Luther won more converts through his hymns than through his preaching.

 There’s something about a fine old hymn

That can stir the heart of a man

That can reach to the goal of his inmost soul

As no mere preaching can

 So we thank thee Lord for the fine old hymns

May we use them again and again

That we may save from a hopeless grave

The souls of our fellow men.

 It’s an old poem and maybe a little hackneyed, but it has at its core the truth that St Augustine expressed, that when we sing, we pray twice.

 ​My mother and father took me to church from the time I was an infant. And after I was old enough to graduate from the nursery, I sat through church services yes the whole thing, from the time I was three or four. So after several years I knew all the great hymns by heart

​When I begain working as a parish associate at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale in 2012 the custom was for the ministers to process with the choir. We would walk down the aisle of that magnificent sanctuary hymn books in hand, singing our hearts out. Except I usually didn’t carry a hymn book in because there was so much to do just before the service that I often forgot. My boss, the senior pastor, would remind me during staff meetings not to forget my hymn book. I protested I know most of the hymns heart. But, he replied it’s a good example to the congregation to encourage them to sing when we have our hymn books and a bad example when we don’t. So to appease him I would carry my hymn book not turning to the correct page, not ever glancing down, and singing what I had known since I was six years old.  

  • Hannahs Song I Samuel
  • The Song of the Sea Exodus 15
  • The Song of Moses Deut 32
  • The Song of Deborah Judges 5
  • David s Thanksgiving II Sam 22
  • Hezekiah’s Song Isa 38
  • Jonah’s Song Jonah 2
  • Daniel s Praise Daniel 2

 In the NT the gospel of Luke opens with is Mary’s song, the Magnificat, Zechariah’s song, called the Benedictus and Simeon’s song, called the Nunc Dimmitis. Probably the most famous hymn in the NT, and this will surprise you is Philippians 2–let this mind be among you that was in Christ Jesus.

 And Jesus and his disciples concluded the Passover meal–the Last Supper– by singing a hymn and then going out to the Mt of Olives, where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

 People tell me they love the OLD hymns, like the Old Rugged Cross and I Come to the Garden alone. But they aren’t really old at all. The Old Rugged Cross was written in 1913. And I Come to the Garden also in 1913.

 If you really love old hymns you should sing All Creatures of our God and King, written by St. Francis of Assisi in the 12th century, or a Mighty Fortress is our God, written by Martin Luther as the national anthem of the Reformation in 1527.

One last word. There have been more Christian hymns and songs written in the past quarter century than in all the years of Christendom before. If you’ve been in a church with bands and contemporary Christian music, you’ve sung some of them. There are a several I really like: “You are my King”: and two of Bill Gather’s songs “He Touched Me” and my favorite Christian song: “The King is Coming.”