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Lenten Series - The Seven Last Words

Father Forgive Them For They Know Not What They Do

Luke 23:34

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

For young people taking notes, the title of the sermon is “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The text is from Luke 23:34.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. These are Jesus’ first words from the cross. What powerful words. What awesome words. How can a preacher like myself expand or expound on these words which are so magnificent in their simplicity.

Sometimes, often times, we do things are wrong and we don’t see the full consequences of what we have done. This happens all the time. Let me give you some illustrations.

The other day, I was up downhill snow skiing at Crystal Mountain, and once again, a smell of smoke found its way to my nose when I was outside breathing the pure, clean, fresh  mountain air. I looked around and saw a young couple upwind of me, standing there in the sunshine, puffing on their cigarettes, oblivious to anyone around. I gently approached them and ask out of the blue, “Have you ever been approached by an angel?” “What?” they thought as they looked quizzically at me. I continued, ‘I am an angel from the Lord, a divine messenger from God for you, and I want to tell you that you are going to die of smoking. That’s a  message of God for you. I know people who quit smoking for twenty and thirty years but they still get lung cancer and die, even when they thought they got off scotch free.” The young couple frown at me and ask, “And who do you think you are?” “Well, I am simply a pastor who buries a lot of people, and many of the people I bury died of cancer. They were young once, but got addicted to cigarettes, and I know the cancer got them thirty years after they quit. Without any malice, I just wanted to tell you that, as a concerned anonymous person.” I smile and walk away.

These kids know from reading and advertising that they will die of lung cancer, but they ignore. They know that nicotine is addicted but they chance it anyway.  I don’t think they really comprehend what they are doing to themselves and their future children.

A second example. An alcoholic who is not aware of how much he or she is abusing his spouse and children.  The alcoholic isn’t fully aware of what pain he is causing his wife and kids. Working with alcoholics and drug addicts is part of my life as a pastor. The men and women that I know who are addicted to alcohol and drugs don’t really get how much they are hurting their loved ones. They don’t really get it how much pain they are causing their kids. They don’t really comprehend the painful consequences of what they are doing. O yes, they know the facts but not the deep consequences in human terms.

A third example. I know some friends from the parish who moved into a home that had asbestos in the insulation. This family in their new home could not comprehend why they were getting so sick. When that house was originally constructed, the builders and the owners did not comprehend what they were doing, that putting asbestos into the insulation was going to give people cancer.

A fourth example. Coming home from skiing, a man driving his car reached down and picked up his cell phone from the floor of that car. He knew it was wrong, but his eyes glances from the road to the floor. In a split second, his car swerved over the center lane and sideswiped another car, killing two children, age three and five. He didn’t comprehend the full consequences of his foolish act. 

This happens to us all the time in our lives. We do things we sense may be foolish and harmful but we really don’t comprehend how foolish and harmful our actions may be.

So it was on that Good Friday when Jesus was being crucified. The soldiers just thought they were doing a job; they didn’t’ really comprehend that they were killing the very Son of God. The religious leaders just thought they were framing another religious fanatic; they didn’t really believe they were planning their schemes against the very Son of God in the flesh.

So tonight, let us look closely at the first words of Jesus from the cross. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

The first word from the cross tonight is the word, “father.” The first sentence from the cross is a prayer and Jesus teaches us to pray. Jesus begins his words from the cross, addressing not the women nor the religious leaders nor the other men on the cross nor the gawking crowd below. Jesus did not down at his tormenters but up to God and Jesus began his prayer, “Father…”

Jesus’ choice of the word, Father, reveals his closeness to God. As in all of Jesus’ prayers, he never addressed God as Lord, King of the Universe, Omnipotent Ruler of the Heavens. The distinctiveness of Jesus’ prayer life was to call God intimately by name, by the word, Father. One Biblical scholar says that Jesus’ whole life can be summarized by that one intimate word, Father. Jesus was the first person in the Bible to use the familiar equivalent of “dad” or “daddy” to begin his prayer life. In our prayer lives, we are to address God closely and warmly as we would when talking to our parent of childhood.

Our prayer life is to be the same. We too are to pray intimately to God in all circumstances, especially when we are in pain. When the pain is the worst, that is when we often pray the most.  Jesus did the same. When we are in our worst pain, we call out to God to help us handle this situation we are in.

Point two for you students taking notes. The second word from the cross tonight is the word, “forgive.” Rather than calling on God to damn and punish those people below who were crucifying and killing him, Jesus’ heart was full of compassion for them, rather than rage. The normal thing was to swear, curse, use foul language at his tormenters but Jesus’ heart was just the opposite. Jesus called out for God to forgive his tormenters rather then to punish them.

Now, forgiveness of people killing you is not easy. To those who are taking notes, please wrote down the following: it is not easy to love our enemies and mean people.  It is comparatively easy to forgive your friends during an argument or forgive your parents for  acting so ridiculously or forgive your children for doing stupid things. That kind of forgiveness is somewhat easy. But it is not easy to forgive your enemies and those people who kill you. That was not easy for Jesus. But that is what Jesus did from the cross. Jesus loved those who were hurting him and killing him. That is what is amazing. Students please write down these words: to love your enemies is a miracle from God.

As you may recall from other sermons, a translation of the word, forgiveness, is to “let go.” Jesus forgives our sins; Jesus lets go of our sins. In the past, I have you the story about how to trap monkeys. A trapper of monkeys sets coconuts at the bottom of the coconut tree, but those coconuts have holes drilled in them, holes about the size of a monkey’s fist. In other to get the white meat in the coconut, the monkey squeezes his hands down into a fist and slips his squeezed fist into the hole in the coconut and when his fist is inside the coconut, the money’s hand expands and grabs the white coconut inside. The hand is now full of coconut meat. The only way a monkey becomes free is to let go of the coconut. The only way we as human beings ever become free in life is to let go… to let go of the way our parents have hurt us in childhood, let go of the pain of our past marriage, to let go of all the mistakes we have made. The only, and there are no exceptions, the only way to freedom is to let go of all the hatred and anger inside about wrongs I have done in the past or wrongs others have done to me. From the cross, God lets go of our sins.

Jesus is looking up to God in his first word from the cross and asking God to forgive these people. To let go of their sins.

Point three for you students taking notes: them. The third word from the cross tonight is the word, “them.”  Them refers to all the soldiers who have whipped and nailed him. Them refers to all the religious leaders who have falsely accused him and are really the culprits in the crucifixion of Jesus. Them refers to all the gawkers in the crowd who were just watching. Them refers to all the disciple who had run away.

And them refers to you and me. We often pray, “Father, forgive me for…” We are forever asking God to forgive us for the things we know we did wrong, for the things were right that we didn’t do. We are forever asking God to forgive us for those things that we didn’t’ really comprehend how stupid they were to do at the time. “Father, forgive me” is on my lips and in my heart all the time.

We too are in need of God’s forgiveness. So often, we don’t have time for God. We don’t pray as we ought. We don’t love as we could. We live a far too busy life, being too busy for God and love and spirituality. We are not the quality of Christian men and women, Christian boys and girls that we are called to be. And so we pray, Father, forgive us. Forgive them, but also forgive us.  The them includes us.

Point four: for we do not know what we do. The soldiers around the cross didn’t really know that they were crucifying the very Son of God. The religious leaders did not really comprehend that they were plotting against the very Presence of God. The gawkers did not realize that they were watching the most loving human being of all time being killed.

They didn’t get it.

And likewise with us today. We don’t get it. We don’t feed the hungry of the world and they die of starvation while we all eat well and we don’t get it that we are killing Christ who lives in those starving children. We don’t visit the old folks homes in our neighborhoods and those elderly people slowly die of loneliness while we are too busy and we don’t get it that we are neglecting Christ who lives in the bodies of our aging elderly friends. It is not the sins of commission that really bother us; it is the sins of omission that really get to us. And we don’t know what we are doing.

We don’t know really comprehend what we are doing when we have little time for God, when we are too busy living our lives that we don’t have a morsel of time for God.

And so we cry out, “Father, please forgive us, for we too don’t really know what we are doing.”

That day on the cross, even though the crowds below him did not confess or repent or even admit guilt, Jesus called out to God, “Father, forgive them.”

Jesus’ forgiveness and love from the cross was pure grace, was freely given, as a gift to people who did not deserve the gift. And so it is with us.

The first word of the cross is pure grace for you and me and the world: Father, forgives us, for we know not what we do.”

Biblical Responsive Reading

Litany (read responsively)

Leader:  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 people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:12-14

Congregation:  Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."  At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"  Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up and walk'?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home."  And the man got up and went home.  Matthew 9:2-7

L:  And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31-32

C:  Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"  Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22

L:  "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Luke 6:37

C:  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."  Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."  Luke 7:46-48

L:  So watch yourselves.  "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,' forgive him."  Luke 17:3-4

C:  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."  John 20:22-23

L:  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.  Luke 23:32-34