Been a Sinner All My Life

Been a Sinner All My Life

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Rev. Leanne Walt is the lead pastor of the Congregational Church of Norwell, MA.


Scripture:  Matthew 6:5-15 (NRSV)

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come.
   Your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
   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.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Reflection: Been a Sinner All My Life

With two young boys, our home is a constant circus of offense and forgiveness - of stealing your brother’s lollipop right out of his mouth, inadvertently tripping him when you were going for the same soccer ball or using the last of his favorite toothpaste - and responding to such egregious offenses by proclaiming in no uncertain terms that, “He is no longer your best friend brother!”

Offenses come early and often in this life, from the playground to the school bus. To be human is to experience offense, to have our property violated, pride wounded, feelings hurt, and trust betrayed. And somehow along the way, despite our best efforts, we manage to participate in all of these ourselves, saying things we shouldn’t have said, disappointing people we love, forgetting to follow through on that promise, or routinely driving people crazy with our neurotic idiosyncrasies like having to rearrange the dishwasher after our husband does it.

It’s amazing to watch children work through these early conflicts because usually, they acknowledge their pain and let go of their anger relatively quickly and soon they’re laughing with the same friend who just gave them a bloody nose in dodgeball. But forgiveness becomes more complex with age. The world becomes bigger, the offenses more severe and harder to right, the wounds cut deeper, disagreements become more nuanced. The ego grows up right along with the body, the walls of pride climb higher and higher.

We forget what it is to need forgiveness ourselves.

It’s as if Jesus constructs that single line in the Lord’s Prayer to ensure that we never lose sight of the fact that we ourselves are debtors, trespassers, sinners. It is some sort of divine providence, if you ask me, that Church Councils since Nicaea have inserted three different words, all derived from the original Galilean Aramaic, into the Lord’s Prayer, so that for millennia English-speaking Christians will go around praying this prayer together, stumbling over that one line, then asking each other, “Joe, are you a trespasser or a debtor?”

“Oh, no I’m a sinner. I’m a sinner. Been a sinner all my life.”

Whenever the steep slope of forgiveness lies ahead of me, I remember the prayer that Jesus taught, and how he insists on pointing me back to the log in my own eye. Like the time when my mother made me stand on my neighbor’s doorstop after I prank called their house. I rang the doorbell and prayed that it would go unanswered; but knock and the door shall be opened unto you. There stood the girl who had been victim to my afternoon boredom and I begrudgingly confessed to my phantom phone crime. “It’s ok,” she said, tears still fresh in her eyes. Her gracious words like a buoy to my sunken spirits.

Or, like the time I had to call my parents in the middle of the night to come pick me up in Boston after I was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time making the wrong decisions while on a high school trip. Awoken from sleep, having driven over an hour to retrieve their unlawful teenage daughter from a strange street corner, I imagined how tired, surprised, and livid my parents would be when they arrived. Then it happened, their car pulled up to the curb. My father got out, shook the hand of my teacher and exchanged a few words, picked up my overnight bag and put it in the trunk. And although I could read the disappointment and anger written on his face, he kissed me on the head and asked, “Are you ok?”
 
Whenever I have been wounded, offended, or wronged, Jesus reminds me of the many times I have stood on the fateful doorstep of another’s mercy, knocking on the door of forgiveness. And somehow, he gives me the power to lift the weight of my offender’s shame and ease the burden of their regret.

PRAYER

Dear Jesus, thank you for teaching us how to pray and for insisting that we remember our humanness. Help us to not speak our Lord’s Prayer in vain but strive to forgive others as we would like to be forgiven. For we know that you love the sinner, that you welcome us at your table, inviting our confession, celebrating our vulnerability, and freeing us from all shame. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at paged@sneucc.org.

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the family and friends of The Rev. Dr. Charles "Tod" Houghtlin, retired UCC pastor. Rev. Houghtlin died on March 14
  • For those for whom the shut downs and social distancing of our communities creates hardship, fears, or anxiety
  • For teachers and students who are learning a new type of learning as schools close throughout the country

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For online technical support people who are keeping our socially distanced world connected
  • For the many churches who have leapt into the fray to produce online worship materials for worshipers

Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:

Storrs Congregational Church UCC, Storrs, CT
Storrs Korean Church, UCC, Storrs, CT
United Church of Stonington, Stonington, CT
First Congregational Church in Stoneham, Stoneham, MA
First Congregational Church UCC, Stockbridge, MA
The First Church In Sterling, Sterling, MA
First Congregational Church, Stamford, CT
North Stamford Community Church, Stamford, CT
Union Memorial Church, Stamford, CT
Second Congregational Church of Stafford, Stafford Springs, CT
Faith United Church, Springfield, MA
Foster Memorial Church, UCC, Springfield, MA

This Week in History:
March 23, 2010  (10 years ago) President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, creating new healthcare laws of the nation. Formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—and simply Obamacare—the law includes a list of health-related provisions intended to extend health-insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
The Act expanded Medicaid eligibility, created health insurance exchanges, and prevents insurance companies from denying coverage (or charging more) due to pre-existing conditions. It also allows children to remain on their parents' insurance plan until age 26.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

March 23, 2020
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