Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lord's Prayer, Sermon 5

Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer

James 1: 2-4, 12-15; Matthew 6: 7-13

February 27, 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

Christina Berry

James 1: 2-4, 12-15

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

Matthew 6: 7-13

"When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

We have come to the last phrase of the Lord’s prayer, the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. Next week is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before we enter the season of Lent, and we will, appropriately, consider the phrase that the church has added to the Lord’s Prayer: thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.

But this week, this final phrase before the summing up of the prayer, faces us: “Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” If we were ungenerous, we might say this phrase suggests that we are looking for an easy way out, a way to avoid troubles and trials. And maybe we are.

Nobody I know who has gone through difficult times considered it a welcome event. Nobody in their right mind would sit around praying to experience serious illness, unemployment, poverty, marital discord, conflict, war – nobody looks for trouble in that way. But we have this prayer, in which Jesus taught us to turn to God for everything: for God’s will to be done, for the coming kingdom, for our daily bread, for forgiveness and the power to forgive, for deliverance from the power of evil – why NOT ask God to save us from the time of trial?!

In fact, even Jesus asked this, when, in the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “If it be your will, take this cup from me.” Trouble is, prayer doesn’t always get the results we desire. We can ask, but, as one person said, “It’s praying, not placing an order!” So – why pray this prayer?

What is the good of asking God for all this – making all these petitions? Is that the point – that God is some kind of vending machine, where we put in a prayer and out comes a blessing, but sometimes something gets jammed up, and we don’t get anything? Obviously not – obviously, the point of prayer is not to just hand God a list of demands, however politely they may be phrased.

This prayer, this prayer Jesus taught us, is not simply a list of requests. It is our side of a conversation, in which we speak to God of our desire to join with God in the building of the kingdom. For this we need sustenance, we need protection, we need forgiveness, we need community, we need relationship – with God and with one another.

I’ve just been reading some research on the power of prayer. There are a number of good, double-blind studies that suggest prayer works. Just as many, maybe more, studies show that it does not. Of course, science being science, there are plenty of pointed questions on both sides about all that research.

As recently as 2002, Time magazine published an editorial about the scientific parameters of research study on prayer that concluded: “Past experience suggests that under such safeguards miracles do not occur.” [1] More recently, The New York Times, in a 2006 report, said that research demonstrated that people who knew that strangers were praying for them actually fared worse.

Most of these studies are about strangers praying for people from a distance –there’s no information about the prayers of friends and family, or the faith of the person whose healing is the subject of prayers. Perhaps under the safeguards of scientific studies, miracles do not occur. But I am here to tell you that under the safeguard of God, miracles do occur!

Under the safeguard of God, our refuge and strength, all the parameters of a double-blind study mean nothing, because we ourselves have observed the power of prayer. The promise we have from God, reflected in this prayer, is not that we will be protected from anything bad happening to us or to those we love. The promise is that God will deliver us, and will see us through.

We don’t know why bad things happen. Times of trial and troubles can be the result of all sorts of things, but we cannot say that they are God’s will, for that would make God the author of evil. There’s also no reason to believe that God is lurking around checking to see who is doing the best praying, or who concentrate the hardest on their prayers, or who offers the best trade-off of Christian action in return for God’s deliverance. Prayer, praying in faith, is a conversation, among and between us and God. The promise of prayer is that God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble. (Psalm 46)

The promise of prayer is that God will be with us in every circumstance, and that, in the end, God works it all out. Someone said, “God works everything out in the end. If everything hasn’t worked out for you, that means it isn’t the end!”

I thought the most cogent comment in all these research articles came from Dr. Richard Sloan, who said, “The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion,”[2]

Faith does not rely on scientific evidence, on double-blind studies and archaeological digs. Scientists call our stories of healing and deliverance “anecdotal evidence,” as if a story of healing, when it is described as God’s work, somehow is suspect, less than reliable – merely an anecdote, like a story from Reader’s Digest. Science calls it anecdotal; people of faith call it miracles.

We have seen this in our own community, as we have observed the healing of those among us who were seriously ill. I am convinced, and they are convinced, that your prayers mattered.

Throughout this series on the Lord’s Prayer, I’ve invited you to commit to daily prayer, to praying THIS prayer every day. But there is one thing more. Next Wednesday, on March 9, Ash Wednesday, we will begin the season of Lent. Starting Ash Wednesday, and continuing through Lent to Easter, I want to ask that we all commit to continuing this practice of daily prayer, plus two things.

Ask God one additional thing, at the end of your prayers: ask God to speak to you, to tell you what God’s hopes and dreams and desires are for you, and then be quiet and listen. Listen for two minutes, before you say amen. Add two minutes of silence – 120 seconds – so that you can listen for God.

Listen with all of your heart and mind and strength. Listen, “as if listening were your life.”[3]

As I close this sermon, we’ll look and listen once more to this prayer, and then, we are going to pause in silence for two minutes. It will seem like a long time.

If other thoughts, like lunch, or your plans for this afternoon, if those thoughts intrude on your prayer, don’t try to make them go away. Simply notice them, then mentally pick them up and set them to one side. I’ll ask the musicians and the ushers to wait just two minutes before we prepare for the offering. Join silently in the prayer Christ taught us, then listen for God…



[1] Investigating the Power of Prayer, by Leon Jaroff, Time magazine, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2002

http://www.time.com/time/columnist/jaroff/article/0,9565,193084,00.html#ixzz1F5Qgp8Xr

[2] Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer, by Benedict Carey, New York Times, March 31, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

[3] Phillips Brooks, “The Consolations of God”

Lord's Prayer, Sermon 4

Forgiveness

Christina Berry

February 20, 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

Hosea 11:1-11

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms;

but they did not know that I healed them.

4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.

I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.

6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.

7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.

8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim;

for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

10 They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion;

when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Personal Notice

Hosea 11:1-11

Hosea is book of heartbreak.

Throughout the first ten chapters, we’re given a picture of God’s relationship to Israel through prophetic metaphor. You probably remember that Israel does not have much of a record of fidelity to God. The Hebrew scriptures are strewn with stories of broken promises. God can’t trust the chosen people to keep covenant. And yet God continues to keep God’s covenants, to pursue them with love, to bring them home, and to forgive them.

The primary metaphor in the first part of Hosea is that of marriage. Hosea has taken a wife, Gomer, whom he loves. And in spite of her husband’s great love for Gomer, she is utterly faithless. Hosea can’t trust her for a moment. Every chance she gets, she hauls out her red velvet miniskirt and the false eyelashes, pulls on some platform boots, and goes downtown to pick up men in the tavern.

Hosea seeks her, finds her, forgives her, brings her back. Still, she won’t stay, no matter how much he pleads with her. They have children who are named “God sows” “Not pitied,” and “Not my people.” Heartbreaking.

It’s a cycle we see throughout the Old Testament – God makes covenant. The people are unfaithful. God remains faithful, finds them, calls them home, forgives them. They stay for a while, and then something shiny catches their eye, some new trend, some attractive new god, some gold or jewels, or some pretty women, and off they go, chasing off like Gomer, drenched with cheap perfume, looking for love in all the wrong places.

For ten chapters, Hosea rehearses this heartbreak. And then in chapter 11, the metaphor shifts. Now we hear this loving, tender call to the runaway child. Now we hear the anguish of the loving father. Now we hear the agony of the mother’s breaking heart. “How can I hand you over, O Israel?” There is anger, but in the end, God cannot give the people up for lost, any more than Hosea can give up on his faithless wife.

When I was eight or nine years old, I started to read the paper. I read the front page, the comics, Dear Abby, and the personal notices in the classifieds. Not the ones you see now, that say “I am stunning, rich and athletic and seek the same for friendship, possible long-term relationship.” (I guess back then, stunning, rich, athletic people didn’t have to advertise.) No, I’m talking about the ads that said something like “Julia, we love you. All is forgiven. Please come home.”

I would read those ads and wonder about the people who wrote them and the people they sought. I would imagine what had happened. I wondered: Had there been an argument?

Had someone committed a wrong so deep, so hurtful, that complete cutoff had seemed the only possible course of action? And what had prompted the one who placed the ad to now seek to reconcile the wrong? All is forgiven. Please, come home.

I’ve always wondered whether the person in question actually did come home, and what happened after that. In this text in Hosea, the heartbroken parent offers unconditional forgiveness, just like those personal ads: All is forgiven. Please, come home. So our God, broken hearted, seeks us out, to embrace us, to forgive us and return us to our home. This parent, who is “God and no mortal”, this parent, “the Holy One in our midst” says, “I will not execute my fierce anger.”

Later in the book of Hosea, in chapter 14, God promises Israel, and God promises us:

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.”

God does not give us what we deserve. God reaches out to us, like a mother holding an infant to her cheek, like a father who knows that we are still being formed. No matter what you were thinking, no matter what you have done, God was, and is, thinking of you with tender love.

This is the model of forgiveness to which the Lord’s Prayer calls us: unconditional, without dredging up old arguments or attempting to exact a promise of change. A simple personal notice: All is forgiven. Please, come home. But we are so stubborn! It is so hard for us to accept that forgiveness, and even harder to offer it to others who have hurt us.

The Jewish celebration of High Holy Days, begins with Rosh Hashanah, the start of the new year, and ends on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. During that ten days, people work to amend their records of good and bad actions, seeking God’s forgiveness. Then God seals the book of life for another year.

During the middle ages, a ritual developed to symbolize this effort. The ritual is called Tashlich. It means, literally "casting off." In Tashlich, the people seek forgiveness from God by symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year. They toss pieces of bread or small stones into a lake or river. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away.

Tashlich was inspired by the prophet Micah: God will take us back in love; God will cover up our iniquities, You [God] will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19)

As we consider the depth and riches of that phrase of the Lord’s prayer, I want to invite you to experience this ritual of Tashlich. When you received your bulletin today, you also received some small pieces of tissue paper. And in each pew are some markers. Use that marker to write on the tissue paper a word or two about a sin for which you need forgiveness, or a sin which you need to forgive.

Every one of us has something for which we need forgiveness, and every one of us struggles with a sin against us which we need to forgive. Use the marker – not a pen or pencil - to write on the tissue paper. In a few minutes, I’ll invite you to come to the front and cast that away, here in this water. No one will read it; no one will know what you wrote, other than you and God.

Take a minute to write that now, and pass along the marker when you are finished.

Part 2

Forgiven and Forgiving

Luke 17: 3-4

Our second scripture reading for the day comes from Luke 17: 3-4. These two little verses come in the middle of a warning from Jesus. He has been telling stories to the disciples, and now he interrupts himself. He first cautions the disciples not to become stumbling blocks for others. He wants them to be certain that their lives or words do not create an occasion for another, weaker believer to sin. If we do this, he says, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

Then, in verses 3 and 4, our reading for today, Jesus continues:

3 “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.

4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

When we pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” we are essentially promising that we will do this, that we will extend forgiveness in the same manner in which we receive it.

Lewis B. Smedes, a great theologian in the Reformed Tradition, wrote a book on forgiveness titled Forgive and Forget. In it he outlined the importance of forgiveness. Here are Smedes’ five things everyone should know about forgiving:

1. Forgiving is the only way to be fair to yourself after someone hurts you unfairly. The first person to get the benefits of forgiving is the person who does the forgiving. (Or, as they put it in AA, “Having a resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”)

2. Forgivers are not doormats; they do not have to tolerate the bad things that they forgive. Forgive those who wrong you, but do not tolerate their wrong doing. Forgive them and tell them what Jesus told people he forgave: You are forgiven for what you did, but stop it, don’t do it again.


3. Forgivers are not fools; they forgive and heal themselves, but they do not have to go back for more abuse.

Smedes continues: Suppose he was your husband once, and that he beat you or betrayed you until you just could not put up with it anymore and you left him. Now to heal yourself, you are ready to forgive him, ready to clean the garbage of spite and resentment out of your life. But suppose he has given you reason to believe that if you went back to him, he would soon be back at his old abuse again. Don’t go back to him. Forgive him and pray that he will be changed. But don’t go back. Remember: You may be a forgiver, but forgivers do not have to be fools.

4. We don’t have to wait until the other person repents before we forgive him or her and heal ourselves.

Here’s where Smedes differs from Jesus. He says don’t even wait for repentance: “Why put your happiness in the hands of the person who made you unhappy in the first place? Forgive and let the other person do what he wants. Heal yourself.”

5. Forgiving is a journey. For us, it takes time, so be patient and don’t get discouraged if you backslide have to do it over again.

Maybe that’s what Jesus was talking about, with that seven times a day business.

Smedes says: “Nobody but God is a real pro at forgiving. We are amateur and bunglers. We cannot usually finish it the first time. So be patient with yourself. Make the first step. It will get you going and once on the way, you will never want to go back. And remember this: The first person who gets the benefit of forgiving is always the person who does the forgiving. When you forgive a person who wronged you, you set a prisoner free, and then you discover that the prisoner you set free is you. When you forgive, you walk hand in hand with the very God who forgives you everything for the sake of his Son. When you forgive, you heal the hurts you never should have felt in the first place.”[1]

Maybe you have a secret, something for which you need assurance of forgiveness; maybe you have harbored a resentment against someone for years, something which you need to forgive, to let go of, to cast away. Maybe it is both.

Whichever it is, I invite you to bring that paper on which you have written.

Bring it to the water and cast it away.

Part 3

Our third scripture today is from Matthew 6: 9-15

Jesus has been instructing the disciples about prayer, and now he gives them this model, with yet another warning:

9 "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;

15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Friends, the one who offers us forgiveness walks alongside us, to save us from the time of trial, to deliver us from evil. The God of the ages, creator, covenant maker, protector, the loving mother who shelters us under her wings, the forgiving father who takes us in his arms and lifts us up to his cheek, forgives us, and forgives us, and forgives us, and will not let us go.

Look at the water where we have brought our resentments, where we have cast away our sins. See how the waters of creation, of baptism, of cleansing, have carried away what we thought to be unforgiven, or unforgivable. Hear what the prophet Isaiah calls out to all God’s people: Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1: 16-18)

Thanks be to God for forgiveness, both given and received!

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us!

This is the truth which we pray.

This is the truth which we live.

This is the truth we now sing.

Will you stand and join me as we sing?



[1] http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/smedes_4101.htm

Lord's Prayer, Sermon 3

Bread for Today

Matthew 6: 9-13

Feb 6, 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

Christina Berry

Matthew 6: 9-13

"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

Give us this day our daily bread.

As we continue our series on the Lord’s Prayer, we come to this seemingly simple phrase:

give us this day our daily bread. So many of us have said those words so many times! It is difficult to imagine what might be said about our daily bread that has not already been said.

Every culture has bread of some kind: tortillas, chapati, rice cakes, pita, baguettes, and bolillos. Almost everyone loves the smell of bread baking, and the taste of fresh-baked bread.

Bread is a staple, the staff of life. A various times and places, bread has served as payment for labor, and the basic sustenance for the poorest of the poor. Today, as we gather at table for the Lord’s supper, we receive the bread of life, as we enact and remember the sacrificial love of our Savior.

Also today, we celebrate Souper Bowl of Caring – and what goes better with soup than bread? So we’ve chosen three bread scriptures to look at today – one from the Torah, the book of Deuteronomy, one from the prophets, the prophet Isaiah; and one from the Gospels – the Lord’s Prayer.

The scripture from Deuteronomy reminds the people of Israel of the source of their daily bread, and all their basic sustenance, the daily provision God made for them in the wilderness. It is a reminder to them that God is bringing them to a place where they will eat their fill every day, a place without scarcity, filled with abundance. God provided manna in the wilderness, enough only for each day; God will now provide bread in abundance, more than enough. But do not forget, the scripture warns, do not forget the source of this abundance, the Holy One of Israel, who brought you up out of slavery, who fed you with manna in the wilderness, who provides for you in this land of milk and honey. Do not fall into the arrogance of believing that this abundance is the result of your work or your cleverness or your goodness. Remember who it is that provides this bread.

Undoubtedly, Jesus knew the story of the Exodus, how God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. Although it had taken place hundreds of years before, the flight from Egypt was a story that was central to the lives of Jewish people in Jesus’ time, celebrated and remembered in the Passover feast, even as it is now.

The Rabbis teach that this story should be repeated to our children, again and again, so that every child may say, “This is the story of how God delivered me from slavery.” Jesus even quotes from this scripture, during his temptation in the wilderness, telling the evil one “that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Similarly, the prophet Isaiah celebrates God’s provision, albeit less as remonstrance and more as poetry. Who can resist this ebullient joy in these words?

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus quotes from Isaiah, so we know that the words of the prophet were also familiar to him. So it would be only natural that Jesus would make reference to daily bread in the prayer he gave us. This recurring theme of bread, obviously, refers not only to sandwich bread, but to a spiritual sustenance that God provides, even in the wilderness, every day. This sustenance, Isaiah remind us, is bread that is beyond our comprehension: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways.

Think about how high the heavens above the earth, and that’s how much higher God’s thoughts are than ours. Think of the cycle of rain and snow, how they give seed to the sower and bread to the eater - that’s how purposeful and productive God’s ways are.

God provides for us in ways we cannot even imagine, and in ways we could never predict.

It makes sense, then, that Jesus would tell us to pray, saying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Just enough for this day, O God, just bread for the day. We who live in a society of such wealth and comfort, surrounded by plenty and overwhelmed with choices, do not speak these words naturally. I would be willing to bet that in most of our households, there is sufficient food – including bread – to last for more than just one day. I’d be willing to bet that very few of us only own what we really, really need, whether it be food or clothing, or television sets on which to watch some football game!

Sadly, in the way of the world and its imbalances, there are some people who do not have bread for today, or soup, for that matter. The Lord’s prayer calls our attention to this reality, in this line, “Give us today our daily bread.”

Note, if you will, that this prayer Jesus gave us does not say, “Give me today my daily bread.” Throughout the prayer, Jesus uses the plural – we, us. Give US this day OUR daily bread. An Upper Room devotional says: “There is enough food on the planet to feed everyone; there is enough energy to keep all of us warm; there is enough wealth to supply everyone's basic needs - if we share our abundance. In these words about daily needs we can hear Jesus again calling us to a new way of living. What comes to us can be the answer to others' prayers – if we are willing to open our hearts, our wallets, and our hands. As we allow God's love to flow through us, the needs of God's children can be met.”

That may seem like a lot of freight to load onto one simple line in a prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread. But Jesus rarely taught without layers of meaning, and we know from his teaching method of parables and stories that he certainly expected that we would listen on more than one level.

Today as we receive communion, we are going to remain seated, and serve each other. This choice of method is not random, any more than the words of Jesus are random. The bread that God provides – whether the bread we eat and enjoy, or the bread of life in Jesus Christ, is bread to share. It is bread for everyone, of any age: not just adults, not just for members of the church not just First Presbyterian Sterling, or even Presbyterians.

This bread we share is bread for the world, a reminder of the source of our physical and spiritual sustenance, and of our responsibility to feed those who are hungry in body, mind and spirit.

In a moment I will ask the servers to come forward and take the trays of bread, to bring to you in the pews. And I ask that as you receive the tray, that you allow yourself to be served, and then serve the person next to you. It is tempting, I know, to take the tray, to take the bread, to do it for yourself.

But that is not how it works in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, Jesus GIVES the bread, to us, and we receive it, knowing that we, in our pride, might want to say “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this.”

As you serve and are served, say to one another, “The bread of life. Give us this day our daily bread.” And when you receive the cup, also, let yourselves be served, and serve, so that you may enact and remember the sacrificial love of Jesus, who poured his life out as an offering and who calls us to love and serve the world in his name.

Let us pray:

Holy God, we lift up our hearts to you in thanks and praise, for in your love you created the world, and in your grace you made covenant with your people. By your mighty hand you delivered your people from slavery, and provided for them in the wilderness, giving them bread for the day. In your tender mercy you gathered your people to you again and again, even when we turned away. And in the fullness of time you sent your only son, who walked among us teaching and healing and loving all people. Even then we would not listen, and we crucified him, But you have the power even over death, and raised him up on the third day, even as you raise us to new life in him. As we take this bread and drink this cup, O God, pour out your Spirit upon us, that we may daily acknowledge your generous provision for us, and daily offer ourselves and our gifts in sacrificial love to the world, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked and ministering to all who hunger and thirst for you. Make this a feast for us, O God, a foretaste of that banquet in your kingdom in which all shall be fed. And may all God’s people say,

Amen.

Lord's Prayer, Sermon 2

Kingdom Come

1 Chronicles 16:29-36; Matthew 6:9-13

January 30, 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL

Christina Berry

1 Chronicles 16: 29-36

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come before him. Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth. The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The Lord is king!" Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Say also: "Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and rescue us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting." Then all the people said "Amen!" and praised the Lord.

Matthew 6: 9-13

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…

“Pastor, can you offer up a little prayer?”

“Oh, you are asking me to usher you into the presence of the creating God who spoke a single word and brought the very world into being from nothingness, and whose slightest breath can destroy every atom of creation and whose very thoughts can crush us into oblivion? You want me to speak to him? Okay.”

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

One wise person says: “Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of.

God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable… Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard.”[1]

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

"Understand what you're talking about when you're talking about God, this is serious, this is the most wonderful and frightening reality that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening that we can imagine." That’s what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

We’re a nervy bunch, starting off a prayer like this. Even if we are just doing what Jesus told us to do. We are speaking God of God’s own holiness! We start off this prayer by talking about something we can’t comprehend, talking TO someone who is beyond comprehension.

St. Augustine of Hippo warns us: “If you think you comprehend, then it is not God you’re talking about!”

Because God is Holy. God’s name is Holy.

We toss that word “holy” around a lot, even when we’re not praying. Doesn’t seem like much is holy around us, but we say it all the time.

Holy cats. Holy cow. Holy Moley. Holy smokes.

Lots of things get labeled holy. Remember how Robin the Wonder Boy, in the Batman TV show, called stuff Holy all the time? Holy roman empire, Batman! Holy Priceless Collection of Etruscan Snoods, Batman! (really!)

Holy.

Holy cross, holy name, holy roller, holy war, holy week, holy orders, holy places, holy bible,

Holy God. Holy, holy, holy!

We have to wonder why we’d be taught to start off our prayer with “Hallowed be thy name” - the reminder that God’s name is holy. God already knows it. God does have a history of this, though. God called Moses in the desert, saying “take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground.

Through Moses, God spoke to the Israelites, whom God delivered from slavery, saying “you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Through the Apostle Paul, God spoke to us, saying “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 NRS) In the epistle of First Peter, God’s word says, Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

It takes some nerve for us to speak to God like this, because we use first person plural in this prayer – our, us, -- as we pray. We’re approaching a being that is the essence of holiness, and we’re calling this being our Dad.

Not only that, after we’ve presumed on such a being, we compound our enormous presumption by saying, as if we mean it, as if we have something to do with it:

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Let’s imagine for a moment that we DO mean it – thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s imagine that we really truly want God’s righteousness and truth to spread across the face of the earth. Let’s imagine that we really are praying for God’s economy to prevail: the last to be first, the greatest to be the least, the hungry to be fed and the prisoners set free – yeah! THY kingdom come, THY will be done.

That’s what has King David singing and dancing in that Old Testament reading. See, David wanted to build a temple for the Holy One. And God said, no, you’re not building me a house. That is not my will. My will is to build YOU a house. Somebody else is gonna build ME a house. Not you.

Poor David had enough trouble just keeping the Ark of the Covenant where he could keep an eye on it. So in this story in Chronicles, the Ark has at last been re-taken from the enemy. David is so excited that the most holy presence of the God of Israel has been returned, he dances - half-naked! - at the news! He’s dancing with God! Then he tells everybody to plan a worship party, a big holy world rave kind of thing, with the forest singing and the ocean dancing, because Israel once again is IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LIVING GOD!

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done!

So we pray this prayer, and we pray it like we mean it, and we say God, you are holy, and we want your will to be done, here on earth, just the way it is there in heaven, and God says, okay, you are holy too, and you need to get to work on doing my will, there on earth, just the way it is here in heaven!

We’ve gotta wonder what that would look like. I look at the newspaper, I don’t see God’s will being done. I look at my own calendar, and I have to ask, Is this what God wants for me? Is this God’s will? I look at my checkbook, and I say, What is it God wants, anyway?

And I like to pretend I don’t know –we all prefer to act like we haven’t heard what God wants us to do – to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God. To be holy, as our Father in heaven is holy. To be creators alongside God, creators of that new heaven and new earth. To live like we are living eternal life, right now, right here, today.

Because our eternal life doesn’t start when we are dead. God’s expectations of our righteousness and holiness don’t sit on the back burner until we are too old to sin! God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, starts now!

This is dangerous, this prayer:

Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

We keep praying this way, we’re going to end up dancing with God, loving our neighbors, feeding hungry children, sheltering the homeless, welcoming strangers, oh my goodness, it is already happening!

This week as you pray this prayer every day, make it a time in which you enter into God’s holiness. As you enter into God’s holiness, you’ll find God’s holiness filling you, and then when you say “thy will be done” it will be your will, too.

Is your heart on fire?

Are your hands willing?

We keep praying like this, the whole world could change!

We keep walking right into the presence of the creating God who spoke a single word and brought the very world into being from nothingness, and whose slightest breath breathes life into every atom and whose very thoughts can elevate us to heights beyond our imagination, we keep doing that, we’re going to see that selfsame God is reaching out a hand to us, holding kingdom come out to us, and saying, “c’mon, I want to make you holy, too, I want to take you by the hand and lead you to this new kingdom where my will is done, and the earth trembles and the heavens are glad, where all the nations shout, "The Lord is king!"

Let’s make a world where the sea roars, and all that fills it the field exults, and everything in it. And all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. “

Our father in heaven, hallowed be THY name!

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!

Amen!



[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1961), pp. 104-5.

The Lord's Prayer, Sermon 1

Pray In This Way

Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-4

January 23, 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL

Christina Berry

Matthew 6: 9-13

"Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

Luke 11: 1-4

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

Somebody sent me a prayer last week, a prayer for 2011.

Dear Lord;

My prayer for 2011 is for a fat bank account & a thin body.

Please don't mix these up like last year.

AMEN!!!

In our text this week, Jesus is describing to the disciples the way in which they should pray.

You will notice that nowhere in this prayer is there mention of good hair, a raise, a better car, a good grade on a spelling test, or the Bears/Packers game! Not that you can’t pray for those things – just that it isn’t really what Jesus had in mind! How many of you learned the Lord’s Prayer as children? Youth? Adults?

How many of you have ever just said the Lord’s Prayer without thinking, without reflection, as if you were chanting meaningless words? How many of you have ever thought of the Lord’s Prayer as simply God’s gift to us as a way to dismiss a church meeting?

How many of you have ever gotten distracted during the prayer and forgotten the words, or said the wrong ones?

I once was leading the Lord’s Prayer in worship and got to thinking about all the funny stories about it, like the little kid who said God’s name is Howard. Howard? Yes, Our father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name. And the little girl who said God must do a lot of painting in heaven, because of that prayer that starts, “Our father who does art in heaven…”

Anyway, I was running along through the prayer, and without even thinking, I said, “And deliver us some e-mail…”

As we begin this series of worship and preaching about the Lord’s Prayer, consider what this prayer means to you, and has meant to you. One writer says, “Martin Luther described the Lord’s Prayer as the greatest martyr, ‘for everybody tortures and abuses it.’ It is mostly, of course, the abuse of familiarity. Because we say it so often and because its words have the flow of poetry, we are likely to speak it without investment of either mind or heart.

Jesus warned, ‘In your prayers do not go babbling on like the heathen, who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard’ (Matt. 6:7 NEB). It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the prayer Jesus gave us is probably the most frequent instrument of violation for the warning he gave us.”

SKIT

One of our methods to focus our attention on this prayer in a more intentional way will be to think about alternate versions. For example, this translation of the prayer is from the Aramaic into Old English:

Our Father-Mother Who art above and within:

Hallowed be Thy Name in twofold Trinity.

In Wisdom, Love and Equity Thy Kingdom come to all.

Thy will be done, As in Heaven so in Earth.

Give us day by day to partake of Thy holy Bread,

and the fruit of the living Vine.

As Thou dost forgive us our trespasses,

so may we forgive others who trespass against us.

Shew upon us Thy goodness, that to others we may shew the same.

In the hour of temptation, deliver us from evil.

Amun.

That’s not too far from our understanding of the prayer in modern English. But how about this switch, from Old English to new, since Jesus gave us this prayer as a model of brevity:


dad@hvn ur spshl

our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name

we want wot u want

thy kingdom come, thy will be done

& urth 2 b like hvn

on earth as it is in heaven

giv us food

give us this day our daily bread

& 4giv r sins

forgive us our sins,

lyk we 4giv uvaz

as we forgive those who sin against us

don’t test us! save us!

lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

bcos we know ur boss

for thine is the kingdom,

ur tuf & ur cool 4eva!

and the power and the glory forever

ok?

Amen

This simple prayer, the response of Jesus when the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” is a model for our own prayers. It addresses God, and God’s desires, not ours. It is brief and succinct, with no flowery or showy words. For many people, it is the first prayer they learn and the last prayer they forget, often the last prayer we make on this earth.

In the weeks to come, we’ll look more closely at this prayer. But for today, and for this week, I want to invite you to commit to praying this prayer at least once a day, every day, slowly, thinking about what it really, really means to YOU.

Listen, watch, now, and let these words soak in:

VIDEO

Amen.