‘Till We Both Turn Blue

March 19, 2023

‘Till We Both Turn Blue

Passage: The Prayer of Jesus
Service Type:

Last weekend, on my way to Owensboro, Kentucky, to preach, I drove through Birmingham, Alabama. I did so to attend a concert by The Alabama Troubadours. They sang in the new community art center in Augustiana, Alabama. For 90 minutes, they sang the songs of John Prine.

I went to learn a thing or two about hosting such an event. I hope to do the same this fall here in Hendersonville. Here are some things I learned: the crowd of 213 old people, including me—sold out—lacked the energy to make the concert compelling; the lead singer was also so old he could no longer hit the high notes, and I mean anything higher than an A; but even with these disappointments, it is hard to ruin the meaning and magic in the music of John Prine.

Mr. Prine, gone three years ago, left us with two songs that will help us interpret and obey the words our Lord taught us to pray, to believe, and to live: Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us.

In his song, “Fish and Whistle,” John Prine includes a chorus:

Father, forgive us for what we must do.
You forgive us, and we’ll forgive you.
We’ll forgive each other ‘till we both turn blue.
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven.


John Prine was not a church-going man. He had been raised in church and his first wedding was in a church. There he must have learned the Prayer of Jesus.

This great prayer calls for us to be humble enough to confess our sins and failures. It also demands that we be generous enough to extend grace and forgiveness to those who offend us. In this way, this great Prayer is a guide for living as much as it is a guide for praying.

In praying this prayer and living this prayer, we shape our own character and that of others. In other words, memorizing this prayer and recalling this prayer helps to make us into the kind of people described in this prayer: honoring God, surrendering to the purposes of God, trusting God for daily needs, sharing with others in their time of need, confessing our sins, forgiving others, seeking reconciliation, recognizing temptation and fleeing, resisting all kinds of evil, and giving glory to God.

This week, while another person was praying, the Lord gave me a preaching idea. How does this sound: following Jesus without going to church?

Many people in our country are in that crowd. They have given up on church but still want to love God and follow Jesus.

Three fourths of our Providence people are sailing in that boat. Some read our newsletter, some watch our broadcast, and some come to eat each Sunday afternoon. You and I are the other one fourth.

You are gathered in the sanctuary this morning. I honor that, but our ministry is to all 100% of our people. And for those who call Jesus “Lord” but do not call our church “home,” here is your call to discipleship: memorize the prayer, live this prayer, pray this prayer, and believe this prayer.

Confess you sins. Forgive your enemies. Humble yourself before God. Give mercy to everyone.

When you are out for a walk, hum the old gospel song, Mercy there was great, and grace of free. Think about Jesus, hanging on that cross, unjustly targeted by religious and political authorities, in pain and isolation, unsure of his future but hoping in God, what did he say?

“Forgive them, God. Forgive these poor souls. They don’t know what they are doing.

Or in the words of a good friend, the one I married many years ago, ‘They’re idiots!’”

“They think they are winning but they are losing. They think all this is over but it is just beginning. They think violence is the need of the day, but they know nothing. They feel proud of their accomplishment, but they are small minded and short sighted.”

Before he died in this spirit of mercy, Jesus said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” He could have also said, and he was no doubt thinking this, into your hands I commit my work, my dreams, my future, my family, my life, my hope. It is because of this hope and this trust in God that Jesus was able to say, “O this, forget it. These people, forgive them. This situation, it too shall pass. I leave my cause in the hands of the great God of the universe. I forgive these people, and I trust in you.”

This is the way to live, in church and out, on Sunday and every day, as a Christian or just as a person. Confess your own shortcomings and forgive others their failures.


Forgiveness is the core ingredient of civil society.

What is the opposite of forgiveness?

Blame. Bitterness. Anger. Violence. These are the human qualities that prevent the rule of God and promote the spirit of war. Without forgiveness full of grace and mercy, there is only resentment and revenge. There is only grievance.

Grievance is the opposite of grace. Grievance is contrary to the gospel. Grievance is the spirit of the world that cultivates racial and class hatred.

Yes, violation of civil law needs justice. Yes, wickedness toward individuals or groups of people is a danger to peaceful society and it must be resisted.

Yes, there are many things not right with our communities and our countries, and we must labor for hospitality, for righteousness, for fairness, for equity, for peace. But through it all, we must resist the impulse to be judge, warrior, and executioner.

“Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.”

The gospel, in the third chapter of John, reads like this: “For God so loved the world that God gave the only begotten son what whoever believes on him will not die but have eternal life.” It goes on: “For God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

If God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, I don’t think God sent you or me to condemn the world.

Be a voice and vehicle of salvation: confess your sins, not that of our neighbor; forgive their sins and shortcomings and failures. In this way, you will be like Jesus and will be a gateway to the kingdom of God.

Can I mention again how this happened in Charleston?

There a small group was gathered to pray and study the Bible. In walks a stranger. He listens, he prays, he waits. Then he pulls out a gun and starts shooting. People die. People suffer. The young man is arrested.

But later in public and in the court, those people at Immanuel AME church stood up and announced their forgiveness. We hold no grudge. We seek no revenge. We have no grievance. We trust in God. We forgive this young man. He did not know what he was doing.


In 2018, John Prine released his last album called “The Tree of Forgiveness.” On it is the famous and hilarious song, “When I Get to Heaven.” The lyrics go like this on the chorus,

When I get to heaven I’m gonna get a cocktail, vodka and ginger ale,
I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long.

He started smoking when he was 14 and continued for almost 35 years, until cancer took a good part of his esophagus and neck.  

In verse two, he writes and sings,

I’m gonna open up a nightclub called ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’
and forgive everybody ever done me any harm.

But John, like Jesus, would tell us forgiveness, like vodka and ginger ale, is not just for heaven. It is for today and tomorrow. It is for the Christian community and the human community. It is for the saint and the sinner. It is for you and for me.


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