Old Testament: Hosea (1:2-10)
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
The Response: Psalm 85
1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
3 You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4 Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5 Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6 Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
The New Testament: Colossians (2:6-15)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
The Gospel: Luke (11:1-13)
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
Last Sunday, our gospel story took place in an unnamed village in the home of a woman named Martha. She welcomed Jesus as a guest. Her sister, Mary, was there as well. The names of the two sisters are ones that we’ve heard many times before, but I noted that things are not as simple as they seem. As familiar as these two women seem to be, they don’t appear at all in the gospels according to Mark and Matthew. And the role that they play in John’s gospel is very different from the way that they are described in the reading that we had from Luke.
Today, we have what many people would consider to be another of the most familiar passages in the gospels: Jesus teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Here, once again, things aren’t as simple as they seem. There is no Lord’s Prayer in either Mark or John. And the form of the prayer in Luke is noticeably different from what we find in Matthew. In fact, what many people refer to as “the traditional” Lord’s Prayer is actually closer to the form found in an early second-century document called The Didache than it is to either of the forms that we find in the New Testament.
At first hearing, Luke’s version seems short and incomplete, like we’ve missed a few things. Amy-Jill Levine (The Gospel of Luke, p. 179) notes: “The case with this prayer is similar to that of the Beatitudes [in Luke as compared with Matthew]. Matthew’s has more members, is more elaborate in language, and tends toward inwardness.” It seems more likely that Matthew has expanded on an earlier version of the prayer than that Luke has cut out lines that he didn’t think were needed.
The two New Testament versions begin more or less the same way, focusing on the holiness of God’s name and on a petition that God’s dominion in the world will come. Both ask, in different ways, for the bread to meet each day’s needs. They then address the topic of forgiving and being forgiven, before a final petition to be delivered from a time of trial.
In that plea for forgiveness, Matthew’s version literally means “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (I remember the late Canon Gordon Price’s preference for the translation that we now use, with its reference to “sins,” as opposed to “trespasses”; he used to comment that, when it spoke of “trespasses,” all he could envision was somebody walking on his lawn – hardly a central concern of Jesus!) Luke’s version, that we heard today, entreats God “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” That is a risky statement because it presumes that we actually do forgive everyone.
Forgiveness, genuine forgiveness, can be a terribly difficult thing. To put aside past injuries, or perceived injuries, and to refuse to allow them to determine our future, can be very hard.
The old saying has it: “Forgive and forget.” But, at least in very serious situations, genuine forgiveness does not mean forgetting. In fact, remembering along with forgiving are key elements of healing and of allowing for a new future to emerge.
One powerful example of that pairing of remembering and forgiving took place in South Africa from 1995-1998 in the work of the “Truth and Reconciliation Committee.” Perhaps its most influential member was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served as its Chairman. He and those who worked with him on the daunting task of enabling his nation to heal and to move on to a new future insisted that the horrors of the apartheid era must be remembered. They had to be exposed, and those who committed them had to be confronted with what they had done. The past must be remembered, and the truth must be told. But the past cannot be allowed to hold captive and strangle the life out of the future. And that is where forgiveness comes in.
The Archbishop and Nobel Peace-Prize laureate (No Future without Forgiveness) insisted that “one who forgives becomes a better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred… If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.” He and his colleagues recognized the power of forgiveness — for the one who forgives as well as for the one who is forgiven.
The late American theologian Louis Smedes expressed that same principle when he wrote (Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurt We Don’t Deserve): “The only way to heal the pain that will not heal itself is to forgive the person who hurt you. Forgiving stops the reruns of pain. Forgiving heals your memory as you change your memory’s vision. When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself. Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. [God] began by forgiving us. And [God] invites us to forgive each other.”
Those reflections seem to mirror what Jesus was trying to teach us in that important petition within the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus taught us the power of forgiveness, not just in that brief prayer, but throughout his life and ministry. And, according to Luke (23:34), he embodied that teaching himself as he prayed upon the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
Far too often, people withhold forgiveness until they first get what they call “justice.” The problem is that when many people say that they want justice, what they really mean is that they want revenge. The two are not at all the same thing. As Samuel Wells, the Vicar of the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London explains (“Forgiving Ahab” in The Christian Century, April 17, 2013): “Forgiveness says, ‘you can hurt me, but you can’t take away my allegiance to Christ. You can be cruel to me, but you can’t make me become like you. You can crush me, but you can’t put yourself outside the mercy of God.’ …Forgiveness is the justice of God.”