As We Forgive Those

Earlier this year I had some posts on the Lord’s Prayer. The hard line is the one about trespasses, and we’re rather stuck there, it seems. It calls on us to acknowledge that we have trespasses, that sinning is something we do. Indeed, since we say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day—or at least every time we go to church (I can’t imagine a worship service that lacked it; Cranmer had it twice in the Eucharist, and it was also in Morning and Evening Prayer, so on a Sunday you’d be saying it four times). And every time, we are to say “our trespasses,” every time there are trespasses that we need God to forgive—which is to say, the prayer just assumes as a matter of course that we who pray it are going to be going on sinning.
    That’s not exactly a cheerful thought.
    Its severity is mitigated, however, by the thought that this is a prayer that Jesus taught us to say. And Jesus has no trespasses, doesn’t have any now, never had any, never will. Does Jesus pray his own prayer? If he does, what does it mean for him to ask “Our Father” to forgive his trespasses?
    It seems to mean one thing: that Jesus is always in solidarity with us. He prays right alongside us. You never say this prayer alone. When you say “our” Father, you’re not (only) putting yourself alongside all other Christians, you are also right there alongside Jesus.
    Every prayer, in fact, is glued onto Jesus’ being. We can’t pray alone. Even in the proverbial closet, in those secret prayers that no one around us knows about—even there, we are not alone. When we confess our most secret sins, Jesus is right beside us, saying the words with us, taking our selves upon himself.
    But it doesn’t stop there. We ask for forgiveness, “as we forgive those”—those who? Those other folks. You know. The bad ones. The ones we don’t want. The ones who “have trespassed against us.”
    Here the prayer opens a door upon a healthy realism. There really are people who have sinned against us. A sin, of course, is not a mistake, an act done in ignorance; it is an offense, a harm of some sort, intended and brought upon us. This is the realism that at least some of the things that may have offended us really were offenses.
    So, realism, not denial. And then, the healthy response: forgiveness. We really have been offended and we really need to forgive. In the prayer, Jesus tells us to say that we have, or at least, to ask God to forgive us “as” we have forgiven.
    Should we despair? Who has really forgiven, in the way we want to be forgiven, in a godly way? And if we haven’t forgiven, does that mean that, in the prayer, we are not asking God to forgive us?
    I will write next week about what forgiveness is. But here is a hopeful thought. If we fail to forgive, that itself is a trespass. And so when we say the prayer, we are asking forgiveness for it also! It’s something like this: “Forgive us our trespasses, including our failure to forgive those who have trespassed against us!” And the second half is then something like, “as we forgive those who have failed to forgive us for our trespasses against them!”
    It is precisely to save us from such unavoidable circularity that God has decisively cut through the mess of the world in Christ Jesus.
    Out & About. My lecture on Ruth—with focus on what it says about the need to be married (and what that means for kinship, loyalty, and human flourishing today)—is, at least for now, available here. 
    I am to preach at All Souls’ in Oklahoma City on Sunday, November 3, and to teach classes on Ruth and “Christian anthropology” over the ensuing three days.
    The next “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will be on The Warden by Anthony Trollope, an absolute gem of a small novel, set in the 19th century fictional diocese of Barchester in the Church of England. If you have never read Trollope, you’ll find his prose to be delicious like Viennese whipped cream, but capable of heart-stabbing insight. In Dallas, at Church of the Incarnation, 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17.



Rolling Over and Tearing Down

My car “rolled over” to 200,000 miles recently. But, of course, its odometer is digital, as they all are now, and so there’s no rolling.
    Children, back in the dark ages, would be riding in the back seat of your parents’ car, and you couldn’t wait for the thing to roll over. A small taste of it happened every mile: the tenths’ roller would get to the nine and then, together, it would roll the next digit, the one to its left, with it. But if that digit were also a nine, then three would roll. You can imagine the build up of excitement: when 999.9 would roll over to 1000.0! Or best of all, when 39,999.9 would roll over to 40,000.0. Keep your eyes open! All 6 digits together would be turning.
    Ours is clearly an age of diminished pleasures. The numbers don’t roll. In a blink they change.
    Still it was fun. I was, fortunately, on a basically empty stretch of highway. It had been well over 199,000 all day. I saw it get to 199,900. Then 199,960. I was afraid I’d miss it. When it was 199,990, I pulled over to take a picture. And ten miles later, a blink of an eye, and it was 200,000. Beautiful. Such clean digits.
    The odometer is digital, which I take as a modern drawback, but a lot of other things about the car are much better than anything my parents ever had. Those cars, their odometers only went to 99,999.9; after that you were back at zero (00000.0). Rare was the car that would run that far. But mine has gone to that point twice over. And who knows; it might keep going for another 100K.
    Yet what’s old doesn’t go on forever. The venerable furniture store has been torn down. Recently they finished the demolition; the lot is level now, and mighty machinery has started working to create the foundation for a new high-rise.
    I run past it almost daily. These days you can see, not only the lot leveled-off, but the apartments behind it. I never noticed them before. They go up maybe five stories. Their residents can see more now than they used to. But in a couple of years they will see less, when the new, taller, building is erected.
    When I lived in New York City, people would ask me about my apartment’s views. I said: I have a view of apartments that have a view of Central Park. Which was literally true. And if one apartment in particular had its blinds up on both sides, I could see through it to a bit of green.
    Then they tore down an old building north and west of us, and for a couple of years a little sliver of the corner of the park was visible. I enjoyed pointing it out to visitors. One could see, tiny in the distance, runners, walkers, bikes—not for long, just for that slice of time they were in view.
    And then, they put up the new building. Whoever lives there now has my old view: a view of apartments that have a view of the park.
    Things keep changing. Sometimes they’re torn down. Sometimes they roll over. In the midst of it all, the Psalmist advises wisely: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our heart to wisdom.”
    What theologians read. I’ve mentioned A Canticle for Leibowitz. Now I’m seeing it all over the place. There’s a thoughtful review essay in The American Interest, which finds it as prescient as ever.
    I’m planning to have a discussion of it early in 2020: details to come.
    (Texarkana = the New Rome: Who woulda thunk it?)
    Out & About. Some years ago, visiting my daughter in Boston, we had stopped by the Church of the Advent there, the great 175-year-old bastion of Anglo-catholicism. I have now been there on a Sunday. Their music is awesome. Their liturgy is a work that engages just about everybody. But . . . I’m not moving. I’ve been in Dallas long enough to become a complete wimp regarding winter weather in the Northeast.
    Here is my sermon, preached at the Advent on the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.
    This Sunday, Oct. 13, I will lead the “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar on What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha. We meet at 6 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas, and anyone who reads the book is welcome to the conversation.
    Next up: The Warden by Anthony Trollope, on Sunday, Nov. 17.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."