Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Sermon for third mid-week Lent service - Fourth and Fifth Petitions


                                                                      Mid-Lent 3

                                                                      Fourth and Fifth Petitions



          What would you think if you gave gifts to a person on his birthday and at Christmas every year, and he never expressed any kind of thanks? When present as the gift was given, he never said, “Thank you.” When absent, he never sent any kind of thank you message.  Year after year this pattern continued. Gifts were given, but there was never any response of thanks. 

          I dare say that we would all be quite put off. After all, being that ungrateful is just plain rude.  We might put up with the pattern of behavior for quite some time. But eventually, we would probably decide that enough is enough. We would make the decision to stop giving gifts to that individual altogether.

          Remarkably, that is not how God works.  Jesus said about our heavenly Father, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” God gives the blessings of his creation to all people.  He gives it to those who believe in him.  He gives it to those who don’t believe in the true God.  He even gives it those who say that he doesn’t exist!

          In the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Now as we will see, daily bread means everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.  The issue here is not whether God is going to give these things.  As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.” 

God graciously gives what is needed to support life.  He gives more than just what is needed to live – he also gives what we need to live well.  He does it for those who believe in him, and those who do not.  But as the Small Catechism goes on to say, “we pray  in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

God is the One who gives us all that we need to live.  The Psalmist wrote, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”  When we speak of daily bread we mean everything that has to do with the supports and needs of the body. 

Those needs are broader than we might think.  Of course it includes food, clothing, and shelter.  But in the lengthy explanation Luther reminds us that it includes the social dimension of human existence.  This means first of all those members of our family - a devout husband or wife, and devout children.  It also includes good friends and faithful neighbors. We were not created to live in isolation from other people, and friends and neighbors are a great blessing that make for a good life – a life that is about more than just existence.

Luther also includes devout and faithful rulers and good government in that list, and emphasizes their importance in the Large Catechism. He points out that “Although we have received from God all good things in abundance, we cannot retain any of them or enjoy them in security and happiness were he not to give  us a stable, peaceful government.”  God uses the government as the means by which he restrains evil, and provides the peaceful setting in which we can enjoy the many blessings of daily bread.

Our Lord Jesus teaches to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” so that we recognize God as the giver of these things.  And then when we recognize this, faith responds with thanksgiving.  We have this petition of the Lord’s Prayer to remind us to respond daily in thanksgiving for the daily bread God gives.

We need this reminder.  We also daily need the Fifth Petition where Jesus teaches us to pray, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  I would contend that this petition should strike us as both Law and Gospel.

It is law because we are confessing our sins.  And note that we are not confessing specific sins. Instead, we are confessing the many sins in our lives.  As the Small Catechism says, ”for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.”  In fact, we sin so much and in so many ways that we don’t even know all of our sins.  That’s how sinful we are.

Yet this petition is Gospel because our Lord is the one teaching us to ask for forgiveness because that’s what God wants to do.  He is the gracious God who forgives.  As the Psalmist wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Luther says in the Large Catechism: “Thus this petition really means that God does not wish to regard our sins and punish us as we deserve but to deal graciously with us, to forgive as he has promised, and thus to grant us a joyful and cheerful conscience so that we may stand before him in prayer.”

We know this is true because of the season of Lent that we are observing.  This is a time when we prepare to remember the passion of our Lord.  The Son of God entered into our world. In the incarnation he became man, without ceasing to be God.  He did this so that he could be numbered with the transgressors – so that he could be numbered with us who sin daily in ways we don’t even recognize.

Yet Jesus was also the One who had no sin.  Like the Old Testament sacrificial animals that had to be without blemish, he was the perfect Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

He will appear a second time on the Last Day because Christ did not remain buried in the tomb.  We prepare for Holy Week.  But Holy Week leads to the first day of a new week.  It leads to Easter.  God raised Jesus from the dead, and because he did, death has been defeated.

          Christ won forgiveness for us through his death and resurrection.  He teaches us to pray for forgiveness. Yet as Luther notes, “Not that he does not forgive sins even apart from and before our praying; for before we prayed for it or even thought about it, he gave us the gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.”

          In the Fifth Petition Jesus teaches us to recognize and accept the forgiveness that he won by his death and resurrection.  Yet he teaches us somethings else as well when he adds, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Our Lord teaches us that if we are to hold on to Gods’ forgiveness, we must also share it with others. Immediately after giving the Lord’s Prayers Jesus adds, “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.”  Forgiveness is not an “option” in the Chrisian life. Just as God in Christ has forgiven us, so also we forgive one another.

We receive a reminder of this every Sunday during the Service of the Sacrament.  We go to the Sacrament to receive Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  But the apostle teaches us that the Sacrament is the sacrament of unity.  In the Sacrament of the Altar we are joined together as the body of Christ, and so there is no place for divisions.  To go and receive forgiveness, we must also forgive those who commune with us.

After the consecration, the pastor holds up the body and blood of the Lord, and in the Pax Domini chants, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  This is first a declaration of the peace to be received in the body and blood of Christ. But it is also a reminder that we must be at peace with one another – we must forgive one another – if we are to receive the Sacrament worthily.

God gave his Son into death on the cross to forgive our sins.  In the Fifth Petition he shows that he wants to forgive as he invites us to ask forgiveness for even the sins of which we are not aware.  But the One who forgives then sends us forth to forgive others.  As St Paul put it, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”











No comments:

Post a Comment