Summary: Jesus’ call for us to be perfect is complemented by the Lord’s Prayer’s petition for forgiveness. "Trespasses" and "debts" are different nuances, and both need to be forgiven.
He marched up to me, stopped me in my tracks, fixed my eyes with his eagle look. And then slowly he raised both arms and clapped both hands on my shoulders, cleared his throat slightly, and intoned, "I forgive you.”
And then, as quickly as he had encountered me, he walked away. Just dropped his arms and walked away.
And when I got my wits together at all, all I could say was, "Forgive me for what?" "What did I do and for what am I being forgiven?" But there was no answer -- he just walked away with a sort of knowing smile on his face, leaving me to figure out how to accept my acceptance, how to face my forgiveness when I didn’t even know I had sinned!
It was a very strange feeling! I felt a kind of numb guilt. Obviously I had done something to offend my friend, but I did not have the slightest idea what it was. So I got to feeling guilty over things I didn’t know you could feel guilty for. A numb guilt.
But then I also felt, after a while, a pounding, pulsing power. I felt, after a while, a thrill. Because, though I suspected that it was all a joke, sane sort of put-on, still it felt wonderful -- just to be forgiven. Just to be forgiven, that’s all. No conditions, no contract to fulfill, no specifics -- just forgiveness. Blanket forgiveness. As if anything and everything I might have done or said was already forgiven. You know, if that could be true, that would make all the difference.
Without question one of the most difficult of the teachings of Jesus is His word, "Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect." or, as some would prefer to read it, "Be whole, be complete … as your heavenly Father is whole and complete." Whatever word you insert there, the result is the same. It seems impossible. It seems too demanding. It seems even unreasonable that Jesus would say such a thing. "Be perfect …".
I am not going to engage today in a discussion of the meanings that He may have intended. That is an important thing to do, but that is not my goal today. There is a great deal in this word "perfect", and it deserves sane careful study, but that is not what I am after today.. What I am going to do is to lay it alongside the Lord’s Prayer and ask you to feel with me what you do in your own life with the demand for perfection.. I am going to ask you to recognize that we do feel this demand for perfection, but that we react to it in different ways. And I am going to ask you to see that no matter how you react to this thing of being perfect, Jesus the Christ offers us a wonderful gift when He teaches us to pray for forgiveness.
"Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect." And since we’re not perfect, we are to pray, "Forgive us …". The bumper sticker I see occasionally has it right: "I’m not perfect, just forgiven." I think that’s on target, even though sometimes the folks who have it on their cars seem to use it as an excuse for cutting in line ahead of me. I think it’s on target: "Not perfect, just forgiven."
Now I believe we all know that the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer is said two different ways. Sometimes we say it like Matthew says it, "Forgive us our debts."
And sometimes we say it like Luke says it, "Forgive us our trespasses" •
Trespasses and debts. Debts and trespasses. Two different words. Luke has used the Greek word, and Matthew an Aramaic one, and we get two slightly different readings of the Lord’s Prayer. Different churches recite it in different ways.
When I was involved in a lot of supply preaching and working as an interim pastor, if the church where I was serving on any given Sunday had it in the bulletin for me to lead the Lord’s Prayer, I would always have to ask, "Are you a debtor church or a trespassing church?"
By the way, the best answer I ever got came from a deacon who thought a minute and then said, "Well, the church is a debtor church because the people have trespassed against the offerings"
But what I want you to see today is that these two words, these two things for which we need to be forgiven, are of course two sides of the same coin. But they are two different ways of responding to the Lord’s demand that we be perfect.
Let me say that for you again. The Lord calls us to be perfect. And some of us respond to that like trespassers and some of us respond like debtors. These are two different ways of responding to the call to be perfect; they are two sides of the same coin. But whether you are a trespasser person or a debtor person, the Lord Christ calls you, in the midst of recognizing that you are not perfect, to know the joy of being forgiven. Not perfect, just forgiven.