Monday, April 26, 2021

Praying for Forgiveness

When we look at Hezekiah's Passover, the first thing we have to notice is his welcome. He invited the people of Israel, even though they weren't his people, and when they showed up, he made sure there was space for them in the Temple courtyards. He made sure that they were not only welcome, but that they were fully received. He did this by praying for their forgiveness. We assume he prayed such where they themselves could hear him.

This is different, we have to note, from the snarky way that we sometimes pray for the forgiveness of others, particularly when they can hear us. For some reason, we seem to pray so that the people we're praying for will hear us, rather than God. We want them to know that we recognize they have done something wrong. Not just something wrong, but something so wrong that God Himself would be upset with them. We use our prayer for forgiveness to try to convict someone else. 

We do this, by the way, even with Jesus's words. How often have we been upset about the way things are going, but we know that those around us know that we're Christians, so we throw out a snarky, "God, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing!" 

Do you ever wonder what would happen if we didn't do that? Do you ever wonder what would happen if we actually prayed like Jesus...or like Hezekiah? If what we really wanted when we prayed for God's forgiveness of others was their restoration and inclusion?

Hezekiah wanted these men of Israel there. He wanted them to be welcomed into his assembly, into the Lord's assembly. He wanted to honor their hearts that had drawn them to this place when so many of their brothers had simply stood by mocking. He wanted God to look past all the things that His people were getting wrong in this moment and honor the things they were trying to get right. None of them had ever done this Passover thing before; they were all figuring it out together. 

Hezekiah simply wanted his people - and His God - not to exclude anyone just because they were getting it wrong differently than others. 

To put it in more contemporary terms, the kind of words that we're prone to use, Hezekiah didn't want anyone left out just because they sinned differently. 

This is important in a world where we are so good at drawing lines, so good at figuring out who's in and who's out, so good at protecting our people by not letting anyone we deem unclean walk among them. This has been the historical problem of the church through many generations; we have become gatekeepers, and we have used our prayer not in earnest, but in haughtiness. We have used our prayer to condemn, not to include. When we have prayed for God to forgive the sinner, we have done so not so that the Lord would actually forgive and restore him, but so that he would know that we all know that he is a sinner. 

Had Hezekiah done this, it would have been the equivalent of standing in the courtyard, pointing his finger, and yelling, "Unclean! Unclean!" 

But Hezekiah didn't do this.

Maybe we should pray more like Hezekiah. 

Can you just imagine how different our communities would be - our churches, inside and outside our walls - if we would just pray for one another like this? If we would just honestly want God to forgive them, to forgive us? If we would actually want a place for them among us, a place for the unclean to be welcome among us who are busy getting it wrong in some other way, all while we're all just trying to get it right? 

It's not so different from us today than it was for them. There had never been a Passover like that, and there has never been a moment like this. We are all just doing our best to figure it out and to do what the Lord requires of us. 

And one of the things that I think the Lord requires of us is that we pray like Hezekiah for one another, that we pray in earnest for the forgiveness of others. Not so that they know that they are sinners, but so that they may find their place among us in the presence of God Himself. That they may be welcomed here, legitimately. That God may receive them well. 

That we may receive them, too. 

After all, they are our brothers and sisters.  

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