"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us..." [Matthew 6:12]
Imagine being right where this image was taken. Can you feel the freshness of the morning. The crisp air, the moisture hanging in the wisps of morning breeze that brush your face. The earthiness that rises from the lush green beneath your feet. And the warmth of that sun, penetrating through the branches and leaves...reaching towards you to warm the deepest parts of you. It's quite visceral for me at least. I'm drawing in part from the recent mornings we have been enjoying here in Sydney.
This is a picture of freshness. The freshness of this natural landscape. The freshness in the air. The freshness of a new day dawning. And it is this kind of freshness that the notion of biblical forgiveness should evoke in our hearts and minds.
You have been locked away in prison for a white collar crime - you were caught and gaoled for 2 years for embezzlement - taking your companies travel allowance over a number of years and using it for building a private collection of luxury items rather than travelling as officially arranged. The above image has been your home for the past two years. That small cell. Plus the common areas, eating areas, and exercise quad. You have not been as near to tasting the freshness of real freedom - without an impending return to cell #268 - as you are now. The door opens to your cell, and your two gaol officers come to collect you and your meagre belongings and escort you out of the prison compound. Imagine the first steps you take out of into the open air - free from your rightful imprisonment without any required return. That's a fresh freedom indeed.
Putting these together...
...the freshness of morning and your first steps out of rightful imprisonment...and you have some sense of the biblical notion of forgiveness. This is what God offers all who come to Him, who return to Him. This forgiveness is most powerfully storied in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). Forgiveness from God is a fresh start, a clean slate, a cancelling of all debt accrued by us, a releasing from the prison cells of our own making. And it is permanent offer for every single one of God's children - up until the day of His final return to usher in the fullness of our coming eternal destiny.
Forgiveness for your life is like the freshness of a beautiful morning to your day. Forgiveness for guilty and condemned souls is like the complete release from prison that a criminal who has served their time walks out with on that first day of freedom. Forgiveness is ours, through Jesus Christ, and it is total, restorative, and eternal.
Wow! Just wow!
Possibly the Most Important Part of The Lord's Prayer
This release of fresh life, this cancelling of debts and freeing from imprisonment - this is quite possibly the most potent, life-giving, and powerful part of the Lord's prayer. In a very real sense, forgiveness is how we can know the Lord, and know who He truly is. Forgiveness is how we come to experience His Kingdom, and extend His will in the Earth. Forgiveness is the crucial assurance we need in our hearts in order to be able to come to Him, and seek His provision of our daily bread. In short, forgiveness is key to personal, communal, national, and international healing, renewal, and restoration.
Maybe the freshness we all need to be reminded of is not to be found in our circumstances changing (although a walk in the Blue Mountains in the freshness of one of these Spring mornings would be wonderful) but to be found in knowing the depths and fullness of the Lord's forgiveness - for us, and through us.
Bishop Desmond Tutu, a pioneer of forgiveness and reconciliation at a national level for the nation of South Africa, describes the power of forgiveness so eloquently here as the renewing of a relationship:
“Renewing a relationship is a creative act. We make a new relationship. It is possible to build a new relationship regardless of the realities of the old relationship.”
The only way that this is possible is through the power of God-inspired, God-shaped, God-breathed forgiveness. This is what God has done with us - He has, through the forgiveness given us in Jesus, created a new relationship. Paul describes it powerfully in Romans 5:1-2:
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God."
The work of forgiveness is to give us peace with the God of all creation we have all at some point been thoroughly at war with. But God's creative act of forgiveness actually gives us a complete, ongoing, and eternal peace with God through Jesus, that means we can stand in grace before our God and King, and more than both of these, boast in the hope of eternal glory with our living God.
God has made a new relationship for us to enter - His sons and daughters, from now on into eternity. God is intentionally building towards us, and in us, a new relationship that is, as Bishop Tutu describes, regardless of the old relationship realities - because of the forgiveness won for us by Jesus.
So what do we do with this, for the week ahead? Well, let me suggest a few things, and then finish with a quote from N T Wrights book, "The Lord and His Prayer". Firstly, the suggestions:
Make sure you take some time to pray, "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." John tells us, in his pastoral letter, than none of us are without sin. So take time to acknowledge and confess yours, and forgive others that have sinned against you.
Imagine the forgiveness you receive and offer others in prayer, perhaps using one of the images given above. We need to see forgiveness in our minds eye - the fresh morning and release from prison images above are just two images available to us that really do picture the realities of biblical forgiveness for us.
Secondly, and finally, the quote from N T Wright, with a brief comment afterwards:
"We, as the people who pray this prayer for the world, are called to be the people who live in this way ourselves. At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends the disciples to announce ‘the forgiveness of sins’ to the whole cosmos. The church is to tell, and to live, the Jubilee-message, the forgiveness-of-sins message. The church is to embody before the world the disgraceful, glorious, shocking and joyful message of the arrival of the King. When the world sees what the church is doing, it ought to ask questions to which the proper answer would be a story about a father running down the road to embrace his disreputable son."
[From "The Lord and His Prayer", pp. 58–59]
In other words, we are to live as a people forgiven, and a people who forgive to the world around us, including our church community. That is, we live as a people who bring freshness to the world of relationships around us. We see people set free from the prisons they create in themselves and towards us. We act creatively to begin new relationships with people, irrespective of the old relationships.
Let's lean into this prayer together this week church.
"Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."
Written by Ps. Rob