Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sunday Reading “The Lord and His Prayer” by NT Wright #4

15830This is the fourth week for my Sunday reading series on the book, The Lord and His Prayer, by N. T. Wright. The book was a result of a series of sermons preached in 1995 for Advent and published in 1996. In this book Dr. Wright looks at the Lord’s prayer phrase by phrase in six chapters. Each week we will look at one chapter. My plan is to pray through the book as well, each Sunday focused on one phrase of the prayer. This week, we focus on the 4th petition in the prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I have already posted some quotes from this chapter on my Facebook page and there will continue to be a weekly chapter summary here on my blog. I welcome comments on my Facebook page. It would be cool to hear from you as you pray the prayer along with me. Quotes from the book are in blue.

So the Lord’s Prayer contains, at this point, a most unusual thing: a clause which commits the pray-er to actions which back up the petition just offered. ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Prayer and life are here locked indissolubly together. And, please note: this isn’t saying that we do this in order to earn God’s forgiveness. It’s a further statement of our loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom. Claiming this central blessing of the Kingdom only makes sense if we are living by that same central blessing ourselves. 54–55

Wright begins the chapter on this phrase with a discussion of the story of the Prodigal Son. The Father runs to the son (a most undignified act) who betrayed him, and welcomes him back into his home. This is a picture of how God welcomes sinners into the kingdom. Christ, at the cross, opened the door for a complete forgiveness, a fulfillment of the Jubilee in Israel when debts were forgiven and slaves and prisoners were set free. When we come to God, we come because we are already forgiven, can be honest about our sins and fully experience God’s forgiveness.

This prayer was supremely answered when Jesus was crucified. In the light of the resurrection, they came to see that the cross was indeed the great act of liberation, of forgiveness, for which they had been waiting, even though it certainly didn’t look like it at the time. 56

The Lord’s Prayer clears away the paranoia and gets us down to business. The sequence of thought in the Prayer is designed to clear our eyes to see which bits of our guilt are purely imaginary, and which bits are real—and how we are to deal with the latter. Once we face up to real guilt, we can deal with it: by confessing it frankly and honestly, and by waking up again to the forgiving love of God as we see it in the life and death of Jesus. 61–62

Praying this prayer also obligates us to action. If we have truly received God’s forgiveness we are obliged to offer it to others on both an individual and corporate level. One of the key indicators that we in the church are really redeemed and that the Spirit is active among us, is that the church becomes a forgiving community. Our job is to live this out in front of the world as a witness that the kingdom of God is among them.

The second clause in the prayer is, therefore, a prayer of commitment to live in love and peace with all our Christian sisters and brothers. It is the prayer that should both undergird the ecumenical movement and remind us daily of the need to be reconciled within our own communities. 59.

We are now called to be the people through whom the unique victory of Calvary and Easter is implemented in and for the whole world. The church is to be the advance guard of the great act of Forgiveness of Sins that God intends to accomplish for the entire cosmos. Justice and peace, truth and mercy, will one day reign in God’s world; and the church, who could almost be defined as the people who pray the Lord’s Prayer, is to model and pioneer the way of life which is, actually, the only way of life, because it is the way of forgiveness. 57

This obligation is a little scary to me because I know how hard it is to forgive. But I have seen God break through my hard heart to move me to forgive and I have seen him do it in individuals and groups. I think that praying this prayer has a part in that. It is joy to be forgiven. It is love to offer forgiveness to others the way Christ has offered forgiveness to us.

In particular, having received God’s forgiveness themselves, they were to practice it amongst themselves. Not to do so would mean they hadn’t grasped what was going on...Failure to forgive one another wasn’t a matter of failing to live up to a new bit of moral teaching. It was cutting off the branch you were sitting on. 54.

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