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I’ve been struggling with a word lately. Nothing polysyllabic, mind you. Just two little letters: AS. Oh sure, I can spell it. I can even use it in a sentence (and often do). It’s the repercussions of those two letters in one particular context that have me thinking: Their use in the Lord’s Prayer.

Here’s what I’m talking about: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s a pivotal part of the prayer that Christ himself gave us. And it is here that semantics come into play. “As” can mean “while” or “at the same time as” — as in, “forgive us our sins while we forgive others their sins.” But it can also mean “equally” or “because” — as in, “forgive us our sins to the same degree we forgive others theirs, or only because we forgive theirs.” See what I mean about two letters being thought-provoking?

The first interpretation is the easiest to parse and live with. It’s rather a tit for tat situation: You do your part, God, and we’ll try to do ours. But there’s no commitment to “keeping up with the Joneses” here — no promise to forgive to the same extent as God does. The second definition (“to the same extent as”) poses a trickier quest because it does ask us to do as God does, in the same way and magnitude that God does. That’s one tricky commitment.

“Because” also holds its challenges. It requires that we go first: We forgive to be forgiven. Can I do that sincerely, without feeling like I’m taking my spoonful of castor oil only so I can have a lollipop afterward? Can I do that without demanding the reward of forgiveness in return?

Forgiveness is tough, and it gets tougher depending on the degree to which we love the person we need to forgive. So, if we want forgiveness for ourselves — and who doesn’t? — it behooves us to think hard about those two little letters. What did Jesus mean by them? Which interpretation would he choose? Or would he choose “all of the above” — the toughest challenge of all?

God created language, and God knows (and delights in) its intricacies. So I’m reasonably sure of my answer. Jesus gave us just one prayer in all of scripture; he knew we would be picking it apart and analyzing it for centuries to come. I’m far from the first to wonder about it. I certainly won’t be the last.

So there’s my task: To be forgiven AS I forgive. Whatever that means. Whatever it takes. Boy, that’ll require some serious prayer.

The Lord's PrayerThis particular line in the Lord’s Prayer has always made me cringe.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. That’s the translation that Presbyterians use. There is also the one more commonly used in the Catholic church — Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Or a third version — Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Not that the translation is as important as the meaning.  We will be forgiven as we forgive others.

The problem for me was that I grew up with someone who was verbally abusive.  This person wasn’t always a part of my life.  It depended on who lived where.  But when we were together, I knew what would eventually happen. As if the abuse wasn’t bad enough, I was taught that to truly forgive it, I had to put myself back into the situation time and time again. I knew what was coming and so did the adults in my life.  But that’s the way it goes.  God wants you to forgive no matter how many times you have to endure this.

Somehow, deep in my heart, I knew this was wrong.  God loves me.  Sure, God loves my abuser too, but that doesn’t take away from his love for me. Christ stopped the woman from being stoned. He didn’t tell her to suck it up and shrug it off.

A few weeks ago, our adult Sunday school was doing a session on Biblical forgiveness. In this session we learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.  Forgiveness can be accomplished by one person. I’m not going to act against you. I’m laying down my anger and my hate. Reconciliation takes two because it requires restoration of trust.  You don’t need to achieve reconciliation to be forgiven.

My family was less than thrilled when I made it clear that my participation in this was over and done.  It changed the family dynamic, but that was okay because it was a dynamic that needed to change.  I was a young adult when I took this step.  I am still coming to an understanding of reconciliation vs forgiveness.  I suspect it will be a life long lesson.

Don’t hold back on forgiveness because you can’t expect reconciliation. Give yourself this gift.  Lay down the hate.  Lay down the rage.  Once you are free of these burdens, God can and will take you into his forgiving embrace. It’s what He’s wanted all along.  Forgive us our Debts…


The Lord's PrayerThere are 7 of us on the committee to hire a new pastor.  We read over applications.  Listen to sermons.  Conduct phone interviews and pray.

What do we pray?  Not to mess up.  To find the right candidate.  To find someone that will help our church move forward.  That we hire the person who will help us discern God’s mission for us in our community and in the world.

We want to do God’s will, but for any chance of success, we have to know what His will is.  That’s not easy when you’re busy.  There are numerous ways to discern God’s will but they all take a certain amount of time and quiet.

  1. Read the Bible.  The Bible is God’s word and He uses it to speak to us.  How often have you read a familiar passage only to have something new leap out at you?  Something that speaks to where you are now and what you need to do?
  2. Pray.  Take the time to communicate with God. What we ask can be just as revealing as His answer.  Putting something into words can help you clarify your thinking, focusing things and helping you see what really matters.
  3. Meditation.  Listening is a part of prayer, but if you are anything like me, you need to take a few moments and relax. You breathe in.  You breathe out.  And you listen.  What drifts into your mind?  You may not receive an answer right then and there but you will feel less frantic about the whole thing now that you’ve spent time in His presence.
  4. Wait.  One of the greatest impediments to doing God’s will is our impatience. We want an answer and we want it NOW.  No.  To be honest, we wanted it yesterday or the day before.  We’re praying about it because we are getting a little worried that we have yet to discern his answer.  The answer then is very often “wait.”  You aren’t ready.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more listening to do.  I’m waiting for an answer that I know will come in His time.


Our Father
(With apologies to James Schuyler)

Our Father (I’m
having trouble with those words;
more in a minute)
who art in heaven (see,
now I have two fathers
in heaven, You and Daddy,
and I don’t want to blur the line)
hallowed be thy name. (I try,
and yet it is so very hard, especially
for someone as accident-prone as I. The
strongest oath my mother ever emits
is “Judas traitor!” That’s a lot
to live up to)
Thy kingdom come, (yes!)
thy will be done, (yes!)
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Wouldn’t it have been easier
to make us like the angels? So
much less to worry about.)
Give us this day (this hour this minute this second)
our daily bread (and yet, so much more!),
and forgive us our trespasses (I
much prefer this word to “debtors.” No one
owes me anything, but plenty have
trespassed on my heart)
as we forgive those who trespass against us.(I
see! It’s reciprocal. Tit for tat. As we forgive,
so shall we be forgiven. Interesting.)
And lead us not into temptation, (this is not
your fault, by the way. You could lead us
into a cave; we’d still be tempted to
scribble on the walls)
but deliver us (yes! again, yes!)
from evil. (for it is all around us, and
we tire easily)
For the kingdom, (like the very best
fairy tale, only real)
the power (you wield it gently,
yet you wield)
and the glory (ah yes!)
are yours (yours alone)
for ever and ever (I
hope to live there one day
with you. Please, may it be.)

The Lord's Prayer

A school shooting was narrowly averted last week in Georgia.  A group of teens are on trial in Oklahoma for killing a college student because they were bored.  Fraud and child abuse.  The list goes on and on.

Add to these the personal tragedies that so many people are dealing with.  In one week alone, I’ve read messages from people who are going through separation, miscarriage and serious car accidents.

Between the national and personal tragedies, it’s hard not to feel isolated and alone.

Fortunately, Christ knew all about that feeling.  He knew what difficult tasks and overwhelming odds would do to our moral.  I think that’s why he gave us the Lord’s Prayer.

Take a look at it.  No one who says this prayer is saying “my father.”  This is a prayer to Our Father.  It isn’t a prayer asking that one person’s needs be met or that this single sinner be forgiven.  This is a prayer for us all.  It covers all of our needs and all of our sins as a group.

When we say it, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  We are part of the community of believers – across the country, all over the world and throughout time.

And that pesky little discrepancy, debts and debtors vs. trespasses and trespassers?  To me, it works as a reminder.  We may not be alike in every way.  We don’t even pray in exactly the same way.  But we are His and He is ours and we are part of one vast community.  We may feel down and out of touch with society, but we are not alone.


Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

I had to smile when I read Lori’s post, “No Trespassing . . . Violators Will be Forgiven.” The community where I live is very Catholic. Whenever a group says the Lords Prayer, you sense some hesitation. “Forgive us. . .” and then the pause. Which will it be, debtors or trespasses? We Presbyterians say “debtors” while our Catholic neighbors go the trespasses route.

I’ve always wondered why my Catholic neighbors use one word and we Presbyterians use the other. I know it isn’t a Protestant Reformation issue because my Lutheran friends also say “trespasses.” So what’s the deal?

The Lord’s Prayer or, as Lori calls it, the Our Father is found in Matthew (6:9-13). Apparently in the original, and I say apparently because I have never read the original Greek, the word is opheiletes which is translated as debts. This doesn’t necessarily mean money but can also mean anyone who owes you because they have wronged you.

The word trespasses comes into play in verse 14 which includes the Greek paraptoma, which translates as trespasses. Those of us who read scripture and other early religious texts in English are always working from translations and that is something we cannot forget. As soon as we start to look at who translated what when, we see a volley back and forth between debtors and trespasses.

1395 Wycliff made the first English translation of the Bible. He used debtors.
1526 The Tyndale translation followed and he used trespasses.
1549 Book of Common Prayer still used trespasses.
1611 And with the King James Bible we are back to debtors.

Which word is better? On the surface, they mean slightly different things. Trespasses means, as Lori discussed, having crossed a line that may or not be clearly marked. Debtors implies that someone owes you and hasn’t settled the debt.

Initially, I would have said that last part of debtor’s meaning is vital. They haven’t settled the debt. Perhaps they haven’t acknowledged it. Perhaps they deny it. No matter. Christ himself told us to forgive them. Yes, we want them to come clean but there’s no point in waiting. We’ve got our marching orders.

But then I reread Lori’s post:

That’s what makes the surrounding part of the prayer so sweet: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yes. It means that we are forgiven our trespasses, intentional and accidental. It also means that we forgive our trespassers — even those who don’t know they’ve trespassed, who didn’t see the line, who don’t realize they’ve stepped on metaphorical private land. You know, the ones who step on our hearts.

Not that different after all. And yet these word games can become all important in separating one set of believers from another. Why do we let that happen? Fortunately, God has already promised to forgive us our trespasses even as he commanded us to forgive our debtors.



I’m experimenting with a new way of reading scripture: You (or, preferably, several people) read a passage aloud four times, listening to it in a new way. For instance, what word or words jump out at you? And what does this passage say that’s relevant to the world today?

I’ve taken this approach with the prayer known as the “Our Father.” And what leaps out at me, repeatedly, is the word “trespass.” Note: The word is not “sin.” Not “transgress,” “err,” or “do wrong.” Trespass. Now that’s a word I associate with tersely worded signs denoting land rights and possible encounters with angry, shotgun-wielding homesteaders, not morally hurtful behavior. Trespass. It means going over the line, encroaching. It’s so much less tangible than “sin.” How do I know I’m trespassing if I can’t see your emotional property line?

That’s what makes the surrounding part of the prayer so sweet: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Yes. It means that we are forgiven our trespasses, intentional and accidental. It also means that we forgive our trespassers — even those who don’t know they’ve trespassed, who didn’t see the line, who don’t realize they’ve stepped on metaphorical private land. You know, the ones who step on our hearts.

That’s no easy promise. And yet God freely provides that forgiveness to us…all we need do is ask! Of course, our trespassers might not respond in kind. They might not ask us for forgiveness, but that’s part of what forgiveness is. It is reconciliation that is mutual; forgiveness is one-sided: I forgive you, though you may or may not accept my forgiveness. That’s really putting yourself out there. That’s taking a dive without knowing whether the relational swimming pool will be full of water or sharp, pointy rocks. Pretty scary stuff.

Yet we say the prayer blithely, little recognizing the import of each loaded word. So here’s a challenge: The next time you pray the Our Father, listen to yourself. Can you commit to forgiving your trespassers, or will you go after them, rifle in hand? Forgiveness, we assume, is easy for God. But asking for forgiveness requires that we be willing to take down our own fences, to do the difficult (for us) thing. And that’s just one of the challenges of the Our Father. No wonder, then, that it is the only prayer Jesus gave us. It is, on examination, more than enough.

There’s a saying: Writing is simple. You just sit down at the keyboard and open a vein. So it is for prayer. It ought to be the easiest of prospects: Unload your heart. But what do you do when your heart is so burdened, your mind so ill at ease, your whole being wrapped up in a tornado of anxiety or sadness or anger or fear that you can’t find your heart, let alone a key to unlock it?

I think that’s why there are standard prayers like the “Our Father.” Jesus gave us this prayer for a reason — it says everything most of us need and want to say on a daily basis: God, you are great. I want you in my life; I want your will for me. Please give us the things we need and forgive us when we fail. Help us to forgive others when they fail. Keep us from things that are harmful to us. Thank you.

The Our Father, Hail Mary and other formal prayers are easy to memorize and pure comfort food to the soul. They are there when you can’t find the words on your own. But I also believe that any words you use will do, as long as you mean them. A heartfelt jumble is more prayerful than any standard prayer said only by rote, with no meaning or intention behind it. Or do we even need words to pray? I think some of my most profound prayers have consisted merely of deep emotion and a single syllable: Please. It needn’t even be said aloud.

God doesn’t need a dictionary to read our hearts. He hears all voices, all languages, all dialects. Every moment that our souls are pure in their need, feeling, or expression, we pray. Thank goodness it’s so easy.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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