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Trespasses or Debts?!?

This coming Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church I will continue my sermon series about Jesus teaching us to pray. This week we will look at the hardest, but most essential, prayer we ever have to pray: “Forgive us as we forgive.” It is fascinating to me that Jesus seems to link this with the idea of the provision of our daily bread. I haven’t quite figured that out, but maybe I will by Sunday …

At Virginia-Highland we pray “Forgive us our trespasses.” I grew up United Methodist in South Georgia, and that is what we always prayed. It is what we prayed in Dallas, too. Oh, I know the Presbyterians and some of those from Reformed traditions pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” and there are some churches that use the word “sins.” Every church I’ve ever been a part of, however, prayed “trespasses.” I’m not sure if that is a Southern thing or not.

Several years ago, shortly after I joined the United Church of Christ, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at one of the largest regional conferences in our denomination. Since then, I’ve done that for most of the annual meetings at our conferences, but that was my first. I was a little nervous because I was still getting to know my new ecclesiastical family. My keynote address was scheduled for the second morning, but I arrived the night before in time for the opening worship service. I didn’t know anyone there, so I was sitting in the back of the room. The hymns were familiar, so I felt at home … until we came to that place in the bulletin that said simply, “Lord’s Prayer.” When the entire room prayed “debts” except for me, for a split second I felt foolish, out of sync, like a total outsider. Although I was an invited guest, I knew how it felt not to be truly welcomed.

I’ve told that story often in workshops as I try to teach churches how easy it is to SAY we welcome everyone without realizing how hard it really is to be inclusive. I wonder, though, if that isn’t true in our relationships, too. It is remarkable how often we think someone else can read our minds. We get angry or hurt because we assumed they knew what we needed, expected, or wanted, yet we are so bad about putting ourselves in the shoes of others. Trespasses or debts? There are plenty to forgive and to be forgiven for I suspect.


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Rev. Michael Piazza

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