Matthew 6.1–13: Our Debts

disinheritedDelivered at Brookside Park in Ames
on August 14, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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heard rather than read.

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Each summer the members of Ames UCC, First Christian Church, and First Baptist Church all gather at Brookside Park for a joint worship service. The three pastors choose a piece of scripture then divide it into thirds for preaching. We do not coordinate our messages or theme, but trust that God will guide us. Below is my offering on the last third of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6.11–13) from Sunday, August 14, 2016.

Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

I’ve been reading Howard Thurman a lot lately. If you’re not familiar with him, Thurman was a 20th century African American pastor, theologian, preacher, writer, and mystic. His Meditations of the Heart is manna for the starved soul. His Jesus and the Disinherited is strength for the oppressed.

At the beginning of the latter he poses a question, a question put to him by a fellow person of color, who asks how Christianity can be the religion of those with their backs against the wall. How can the religion of the conqueror and the colonialist and the keeper of human chattel be the religion of those who suffered the most under each of those systems? Thurman’s questioner concluded, “…sir, I think you are a traitor to the darker peoples of the earth” (p. 5).

This is not the question for most of us here today. Most of us are white Americans with education and employment and freedoms unprecedented in human history. Yes, I know that many of us are, individually, up against terrible walls: The walls of distressed family systems, chronic and acute diseases, the intense busyness and overstimulation, rage, and grief of this age. But as a category, white American Christians are not systematically oppressed.

So how can Thurman speak to us? How can Jesus, a man who in his own time was marginalized by his ethnicity and religion, speak to us?

Thurman describes Jesus’ message as “focused on the urgency of a radical change in the inner attitude of the people” (p. 11). Accepting the freedom preached by Jesus requires the mental certainty that you are entitled to such freedom. So does our willingness to participate in the freedom of others.

Which is part of what we pray for the will and strength to do in this last part of the prayer of Jesus:

Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors. Help us, oh God, to participate in making the world more equitable, in balancing the scales of having and not having. Strengthened by your feast, let us pass on the generosity of grace that we receive from you to the rest of creation.

Do not make us learn this the hard way. Do not let us wait until the evils we ignore come alive and bring us to our knees.

Help us, we pray, to be your hands and your feet, your back and your belly, your eyes and your voice on earth as you are in heaven.

Much divided Jesus and the Hebrew nation from Rome and its rulers. Much continues to divide us from our fellow Americans, our fellow humans.

Jesus of the disinherited offers this prayer as a bridge not only between the disciple and the divine, but the created and all the rest of creation.


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