By Michael J. Brooks
I was in college and conducting a youth revival in an Anniston-area church. The protestant chaplain at Ft. McClellan was a member of the church, and he’d asked the pastor to conduct the Sunday morning base service in his absence. The pastor invited me to accompany him and to read scripture in the service. After I’d finished, a female officer whispered to me, “Pastor, you’re supposed to lead us in the Lord’s Prayer at this time.” I panicked, not sure if I’d remember it! Fortunately, after I began the congregants joined in and completed the prayer.
I’m ashamed of this now, but I wasn’t taught the Lord’s Prayer as a child. I don’t remember our church using it. I remember memorizing the books of the Bible in VBS but I never had instruction on the Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the community of faith. Plural pronouns, such as “we,” “us” and “our,” are used nine times. It’s a prayer we can share. It’s also true that liturgy–the word used to describe the elements of worship–literally means “the work of the people.” Too often worship is a spectator sport in which we’re content to let one or two do the work. In addition to singing together, the church can pray the Lord’s Prayer together as worship participation.
The prayer is divided into three sections. The first is three petitions directed to God. The second section–the fourth petition–is a prayer for the things we need in life. The third section has to do with our spiritual lives.
It’s striking that after the final “amen” Jesus added a footnote to the prayer. In Matthew 6: 14-15 he said, “Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you, but if you refuse to forgive them, he will not forgive you.”
We learned a significant lesson in forgiveness a few summers ago. A 21-year-old named Dylan Roof entered the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston and sat through a portion of the church’s prayer meeting. Then he stood and began firing his handgun, striking 10 people and killing nine. Investigations found that he, like Charles Manson before him, wanted to start a race war. But a matter of race became a matter of grace. Families of survivors began to speak publicly about their forgiveness for Roof. The headline in the New York Daily News was succinct: “We forgive you; hate won’t win.”
Very few of us find ourselves in this kind of unique situation, and it makes the grudges and animosities we hold seem so trivial by comparison.
What would happen if we took Jesus’s prayer footnote seriously and began to forgive others?
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.