"What My Experience Has Taught Me"
For my February Shepherd's Pen, I decided to look back over the many topics I have submitted in my 15 years as your pastor. I've preached a minimum of 5,000 sermons which don't include special services and 85 funerals (not all West End Presbyterian Church Members). Most of you have heard and listened to me preach or speak to "love your neighbor" and "forgive and be forgiven." This is the thought and theme of which I try to live my life and lead you as your pastor. We may not always agree, but we do always support one another in our decisions. In these past 15 years, we have heard many, many lessons about how we interact with other people.
A few weeks ago, I finished reading a book on early American culture and t he great importance on land ownership. As in the early days of our country, protecting your land and maintaining your land was and is still very important. Because of this social norm, it is considered to be rude, even now to walk onto someone else's property without permission or jumping over walls or fences or taking a shortcut through someone's yard is offensive and would be a cause for anger or judgment. We still need to mind our P's & Q's. Remember those?
Borrowing from friends or neighbors is something we all used to do. Knowing your neighbors and people in your community was first priority. This practice has fallen off greatly over the last 30-40 years and we hardly know our neighbors next door. In our church community we still have the need to know and help your neighbor even if this neighbor may appear different or act different.
As I was praying last evening, for some reason it dawned on me for the use of different words in the Lord's Prayer; I wondered why we use the words that we do. Many of us have experienced that moment of discomfort when visiting a church for the first time, wondering which word we should use when we get to that part of the prayer: Debts or Tresspasses.
I think we lose sight of the important word in that prayer that never changes - FORGIVE. We need forgiveness, and we should forgive others as we have been forgiven, no matter which word we use for it. In fact, the words that we put into that part of the Lord's Prayer are not words we regularly use in that context. When was the last time you heard someone say in anger, "Jerry trespassed against me!" or "Jack is my debtor!" or even "My neighbor sinned against me!" is not a common phrase we use.
The word for sin is interchangeable, but the word "forgive" is not. When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we should consider that for which we need forgiveness, and that which we need to forgive. What is it that you need to bring to the Lord in prayer? Here is my 22 1/2 years in ministry idea..."And forgive me for being mean, hateful and not compassionate as I forgive those who were angry at me." "And forgive me for gossiping, as I forgive those who gossip about me." "And forgive me for being a bully, as I forgive those who have humiliated me." "And forgive my greed, as I, forgive those who do not share with me."
Forgive and be forgiven. That is what Jesus taught us to do, so we must.