Summary: This sermon addresses the meaning of three words used to translate the Lord’s Prayer -- Debts, Trespasses and Sins.
When I was in Seminary, I would preach at any church that needed a guest preacher. Sometimes we would go to churches that had over 1,000 in attendance, and the Senior Pastor would graciously allow a seminary student to come and preach. Sometimes we would go to these tiny little churches that had no pastor, and they were so desperate that anyone would do – even a seminary student.
Without a doubt the most memorable one for my wife and me was the Bethia Presbyterian Church! It was somewhere in the countryside of Upper South Carolina, stuck way off the beaten path. It only met for worship once each month. Presbytery had been trying to close it for years, but the members held on. I think their reason for being was the fact that grandma, Uncle Joe and Aunt Edna and a lot of other kinfolk were all buried in the cemetery. The members were afraid if they closed the church, no one would take care of the cemetery.
So they held on, having worship every month and using inexperienced seminary students to preach and lead worship. I remember the first time I preached there.
My wife and I drove up to the church and there was no one there.
Ten minutes before the service, there was still no one there.
At 11:00, no one was there! I was beginning to panic because by now I was beginning to realize I was at the wrong church.
At about five minutes after the service was to begin, the entire congregation drove up the dirt road – all seven of them huddled together in the confines of a single station wagon. Someone got out of the car and went to a rock on the ground, picked it up and found the key to the door and we all went inside.
I introduced myself as the preacher for the day, but they were more interested in my wife. Looking at Ginny someone asked, “Do you play the piano?”
My wife said she did.
The elder said, “Good – we’ll have music this week.”
My wife and I never knew what we were getting into as we went from church to church, and fortunately by this time she knew to pack some emergency music to play.
While Ginny went to the piano and began to play a prelude on an ancient piano that hadn’t been tuned in years, I stepped up to the pulpit. Everyone else was gathered around a pot-bellied stove trying to get a fire started – this was, by the way, the middle of December and it was pretty cold. While no one was looking, I looked at the giant pulpit Bible and took a deep breath and blew – and a great cloud of dust billowed forth from that rarely used Bible.
At the end of the day, one of the elders came up to me and shook my hand and gave me a folded check. I thanked him and put the check in my pocket, but my wife and I couldn’t wait to see how much this seven-member church had paid us. We were struggling during those seminary years and every dime counted. Once in the car, I took the check out of my pocket and unfolded it.
Much to my surprise, it was my own check! They gave me back my offering! I later found out that they always gave the visiting student preacher the ENTIRE offering – apparently I was the only one who gave anything that week.
The most interesting thing that happened to me that Sunday happened during the Lord’s Prayer. I introduced the prayer as I do today, “and now, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, Our Father, which art in heaven…”
In that vast crowd of seven people, only two others were joining with me in that prayer. One was my wife, and she had no choice. She was the preacher’s wife and there are certain expectations.
The other was a little girl – the only child in the congregation.
Now that normally would not have been a problem, but she was saying the prayer louder and faster than I was able to say it.
I did fairly well with the prayer and stayed focused on what I was supposed to be saying until I was halfway through the prayer. I noticed that as I reached the halfway point, the little girl finished the Lord’s Prayer.
Since I was still praying, she must have felt obligated to continue to pray. Using the words of what was probably the only other prayer she knew, she began with, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”
At that point, I had no idea where I was in the Lord’s Prayer. Which is, by the way, the reason I always have a laminated, large print version of the Lord’s Prayer with me in the pulpit.