The Common Good

Sermon on Forgiveness

When I was growing up, there was a house down the street from us which had slightly tattered window coverings and the front lawn was like a graveyard of broken things. Posted on the fence was a "No trespassing" sign. I remember asking my mother what trespassing was so I could be certain not to do it to anyone who lived in that weird house. When she explained that it meant going into their yard uninvited I thought, no problem. Soon after that, when I first learned the Lord's Prayer, I thought it was weird that out of all the sins that Jesus would suggest we ask God to forgive it would be our trespassing. I pretty much made it a policy to stay out of strange yards, and since no one seemed to wander into ours uninvited, I thought I was covered. Only later did I realize that trespassing was only one of countless was to trespass against others. And now I get it -- kind of. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus always seems to be pairing God's forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others.

But why? Why is he always pairing them together? I kind of always thought that it was a way of guilting us into forgiving others -- like the parable from today -- hey, I forgave you 3 trillion dollars and because of that you should feel not just bad, but tortured if you don't forgive the 200 bucks that another other guy owes you. Like Jesus was saying hey, I died for you and you can't even be nice to your little brother? As though God can get us to do the right thing if God can just make us feel bad about how much we owe God. But that just doesn't seem to me to be the God revealed in Jesus Christ. That seems like a manipulative mother.

And these questions about what forgiveness really is, and why is it so important that we do it, was all happening for me this week amid all the remembrances of 9/11. I kept reading and re-reading these Bible passages about forgiveness, and every time I'd take a break my TV or computer would be filled with images of burning towers. Which made me wonder

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