Pray2K: Of Bread and Bankruptcy

Second in a Lord’s Prayer Series,
Delivered January 16, 2000 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 6:11-12
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Perhaps you saw the article in last Monday’s Baltimore Sun, entitled Riverboats Costly Wake- Bankruptcy. The article begins like this – Cathy, a 34-year-old businesswoman in Kansas City had several platinum cards as proof of her good credit. Then she started gambling at area riverboats. She’d beta few hundred dollars in cash and when she lost that, she’d get cash advances on her credit cards at the casino’s customer service counters. “It made me sick, but the more sick it made me the more I would go back,” she said, “They weren’t going to beat me, I was going to beat them but they won.” She gambled away an estimated $10-20,000 between 1996 and 1998. In late 1998, faced with credit card debts of more than $45,000, she declared personal bankruptcy.

What hope is there for Cathy, and people like her that are in financial bankruptcy? What hope is there for people who are in spiritual and moral bankruptcy (which by the way if we go by God’s standards, includes all of us)? Where do you and I turn to get our greatest and our most mundane needs met in life? Well, the Lord’s Prayer reminds you and me where we are to turn. And I would invite you to turn with me and keep your Bibles open during the sermon, to Matthew 6:9-5. We’ll be reading the Lord’s Prayer in it’s entirety and then hone in verses 11 and 12, where we encounter two more imperatives that Christ commands you and me to pray for. Beginning to read at the 6th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the 9th verse. This is the word of God.

This, then is how you should pray:

“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Join me as we pray:

And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my word should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Does God know yours and my greatest needs in life? What about our more lesser needs? Do you think He really knows? Do you think He really cares? Do you think that if we went to Him in prayer, that He would respond and answer our prayers for our basic necessities of life? Well, the Lord’s Prayer tells us yes, that’s exactly what you and I are to do… Give us this day, our daily bread and notice that it doesn’t say – Give me this day my daily bread. No, prayer is always corporate, we never pray, even when we are alone…we never pray other than as a part of the body of Christ, the corporate community of faith. And as we pray for our own personal needs we need to include the needs of all those who around us as well.

And bread… in every culture there is a type of bread, as a staple of its diet. And bread is a symbol here for all of those things in life that are of basic necessity to you and to me. We’re not Gnostics, we have real bodies, and God cares about our physical existence as well as our spiritual existence. And so we should hold nothing back. Whatever we truly believe we need in life we need to lay it out before God. And Christ gives us an imperative here. It’s in the imperative tense. We are to pray decisively for all of those things that we need in life. Ahhh, but can God be trusted? Can we count on him to deliver?

Shortly after World War II, a woman went into a grocery store and went up to the owner and said she’d like enough food for a Christmas dinner for her children. And the owner said, “Well, how much can you afford?” She said, “My husband was killed in the war and truthfully all I have is a little prayer.” And the owner who was not a believer and had no compassion on the woman’s situation said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll cut a deal with ya. You take a piece of paper and write down you’re little prayer and I’ll give you the equivalent weight in groceries for what that prayer weighs.” Well, the woman immediately pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and said, “I’ve already done that. I was up all last night and here it is.” He didn’t read it, he just took it and set it in the pan of one of those old fashioned scales, and he said, “Ok lady, let’s see how much your prayer is worth?” Imagine his amazement as he stuck a loaf of bread in the other pan and the scale didn’t move. And he became extremely upset as he began to put other items in the pan and again the scale moved not one iota. Finally, he became so utterly exasperated, and said, “Well, that’s all that that scale is going to hold. Here’s a bag. You bag it up, I’m busy.” The woman said, “Thank you,” and went on her way. As soon as she left the owner went over to the scale. It had been working fine that morning, but he noticed now that it was broken. And he thought to himself, What’s the chance that that was a coincidence? What’s going on if that lady already had a prayer written out. And he opened up that piece of paper and it read, “Please Lord, please, give us this day our daily bread.”

Just how much is a prayer worth? God knows what your needs are. You’re to go to Him; I’m to go to Him in prayer everyday. You see, a relationship with Jesus Christ is not a Sunday only thing, it’s not a Christmas and Easter thing. It’s a daily thing, and so we are to pour our hearts out before God every day, asking for whatever it is we need.

Central is beginning to enter into an interim period between when I leave and when a new senior pastor comes on board. So what are you to do? Are you to panic? Are you to expect the worst? Or are you to begin to look at this, look into this for the way that God’s hand is going to graciously and providently move in the life of this congregation? I’ll tell you what you are supposed to do. Number one, you’re to step up and own your membership vows here. Number two, you’re to ask God to maximize the spiritual gifts he has so richly blessed you with as individuals and as a congregation and to step forward and begin to shoulder the ministry here at Central Church. And above everything else, you’re to pray. Pray daily for Central’s need. I don’t know how many days it’s going to be between when I leave and when the new Senior Pastor arrives on the scene. God knows, and the imperative is that you as a congregation and as individuals are praying daily, and God will answer those prayers. You’re to pray, not wring your hands. You’re to pray, not to look back at the good old days. You’re to pray, not to go out looking for another church, God has called you here. He’s got some great things up His sleeve for this congregation and He will meet the needs of this congregation everyday.

Verse 12 goes onto remind you and me what our greatest need is as individuals…that’s the need for forgiveness…forgive us our debts. I love reading this in the Bible because it reminds you and me as Presbyterians that we pray the Lord’s prayer right. We pray debts not trespasses. Someone said that Matthew chose the words debts rather than trespasses because he had formally been a tax collector. Well, I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know this: in our culture today trespasses, are a misdemeanor, something you can get out of pretty quickly, something you can rectify pretty easily. But debts? We know how serious debts are, don’t we? In our culture today the average credit card balance is a hole about $14,000 deep. Debts, that’s serious stuff. Debts cost marriages, debts cost jobs; you can lose your house because of debts. Debts are serious stuff.

But Jesus is going beyond just financial debt, of course. He’s into something bigger and deeper. In fact, He chooses a Greek word, the context of which is that what we owe towards God. If you had a billion dollar debt, at 30% interest, and you were trying to pay that off with a part-time, minimum wage job, you would have much more hope, much more of a chance to do that, than you and I have to pay down the moral and spiritual debt that we owe Almighty God. You see, being a Christian is at one point reaching a time in your life when you realize sin has separated you from God, but all of your attempts, good works or whatever, sin management, all that stuff that you hope can pay down that debt, or pay it off, or settle it out of court… you’ve reached the point that that is hopeless. You’ve got a better chance of paying off that billion-dollar debt. But when you’ve reached that point… when you’ve reached to point when you realize you are spiritually bankrupt, it’s then that God can begin to work with you.

In Durham County, North Carolina, bankruptcy court begins everyday in rather a charming way. A bailiff walks in, he surveys the room full of ruined lives and then he says, “All debtors, rise.” Whether you are a CEO of a failed corporation or just a poor person who can’t pay his bills, you stand together and you realize your true situation in life. And we ought to begin every service here at Central that way. Our call to worship ought to be – “All debtors rise.” But our culture works on us all the time and says, “Oh man, come on, sins not that big of deal. Hey, Jesus, we really appreciate the help you’ve given by dying on the cross, it’s pointedly dramatic. But come on, let’s get real, sin is not that important is it?” Yes it is. It’s left you and me totally and utterly bankrupt before a pure and holy and righteous God.

In our culture when you’re financially bankrupt, what do you do? You can declare chapter 11. And what happens there is, well you’re creditors get left hanging. It’s totally different when you and I declare spiritual bankruptcy. What happens there is Jesus enters the picture and He cancels our debts, He pays off the creditors. He consolidates the debt into His very being and if you consult you’re credit rating from the Scriptures you and I discover that the only one left hanging is Christ himself, literally, on the cross. When you and I own up to our sin…when God convicts us of our sin, and we in repentance go to Him in confession, the cross is our guarantee of the absolute cancellation of our debts at an eternal level. And that my friends, is grace.

Now, what about that little phrase, that verse 12 ends with, as we also have forgiven our debtors. For years, there were times when we would pray the Lord’s Prayer, you didn’t know it, but I would fall silent at verse 12. For years I held the idea that what we’re asking God, what we’re praying for is…asking God to forgive me the way I forgive others. If God answered that prayer, wouldn’t it be terrible? It would be horrible. I don’t think that that’s what that verse is saying. The verb tenses there are in the active tense, which means the verse can be translated more along these lines…. Lord, be forgiving of me as I am living out my life forgiving others. It’s sort of a situation where Christ is saying, you can only authentically pray the Lord’s Prayer after you have already entered into a lifestyle where forgiveness is a part of the landscape of your life. And as you are living out that lifestyle, it’s then that you pray, “Lord please forgive me, as I am trying to live like Jesus and forgive those around me who have wronged me.”

This week, who has wronged you and hurt you deeply? Who desperately needs your forgiveness? “Well, I will forgive that person when they repent and come to me and say they’re sorry.” Is that what God does with us? The Bible says that you and I are dead in our trespasses, we are dead in our debt, we are dead in our sin. I have yet to do a funeral where the guest of honor has helped in any way, where they have taken the initiative on anything. When you and I are dead in our debts, our trespasses it’s that grace thing again. God takes the first step, he moves toward you and me and he regenerates our hearts. He enables us to be convicted and to begin to turn to Him in repentance. You and I are not to withhold forgiveness until someone comes and says, “I’m sorry.” Who, right now, are you withholding that forgiveness from, that they so desperately need, leaving them twisting in the wind, using forgiveness as a lever or even as an instrument of torture. You and I are to forgive, just as Christ has forgiven us.

In her book, Dead Men Walking, Sister Helen Crusheen, tells a story of Louie LeBlanc, a Christian whose son is murdered in cold blood. And there is a scene in the book where the sheriff’s deputy escorts him to the scene of the crime so that he can identify his son’s body. And he arrives there and he sees his lifeless son laying there and immediately he kneels down beside him and through the tears and the shattered heart, he begins praying the Lord’s Prayer, until he gets to that part – forgive us our debts as also we have forgiven our debtors. And LeBlanc says at that moment he realized, agonizingly realized just how far a commitment to Jesus Christ must go. And he says, “Whoever did this, I must forgive them.” And he goes on later on to say that over the years, the bitterness and the desire for revenge would often times well up in his heart, but he knew that a commitment to Jesus Christ meant that he had to pray and struggle and win the battle for forgiveness. Well friends, I am here to tell you that the battle’s already won by Jesus Christ. The question before you and me this very day is this…Are you and I going to choose to live out of that victory? When you and I know Jesus Christ, more than second hand, then we know the chief baker who can provide our daily bread. In fact, he will give you himself, who is the Bread of Life. When you and I know Jesus Christ at more than second hand then you and I know the chief loan officer, who can and will and has cancelled the infinite debt that you and I owe Almighty God. This one and the same Jesus enables you and me from this very day on to live and pray as people of grace.

Join me as we pray.

Father, we thank you that confronted with an overwhelming impossible situation, that of our Spiritual bankruptcy, you have stepped in and you have canceled our debt. And on top of that you have promised to meet our every need. And Lord, give us that measure of faith that enables us to believe you, to take your word at face value, to trust you with everything that we have and everything that we are. For we ask these things in the name of the Savior, the bread of life, Jesus. Amen