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Category Archives: Old Testament

A Promise for the Fussing and Bothered

(a sermon for November 19, 2017, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost and Thanksgiving Sunday, based on Joel 2:12-17 and Matthew 6:25-34)

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life…”

Don’t you just love that verse?  I mean, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that so often Holy Scripture has a way of shaking us out of our complacency and challenging what we’ve always held to be true in this life; there are times that biblical truth can be downright unsettling!  But not this time; here we have a simple and powerful affirmation from the mouth of Jesus himself: a sure and certain reminder that we need not ever be concerned about the stuff of life and living, because God will provide all that we need!  Whether it’s about what we’ll eat or drink, or our bodies, or our clothing; whatever it is for you, Jesus says, don’t worry, because it’s all good!

Like I said before, I love this verse; it speaks to the bounty of God’s blessing upon all of our lives, and what better time to lift that up than right now as we draw near to our celebration of Thanksgiving Day. There’s a lot of comfort to be found in Jesus’ words; so why is it that even as I hear them today, inside I’m thinking, “Are you kidding?  How am I not supposed to worry?”

The fact is, we all have more than enough to worry about, don’t we; worries attend us like bees to honey!  There are worries at home and about our loved ones; there are worries at work; these days we have worries about our safety and about the state of the world, worries that are exacerbated just about every time we turn on the news!  And then there’s all the rest of those unnamed anxieties that never seem to leave our thoughts.  Never mind that truism that states that 40% of the things we worry about never happen, another 30% have to do with things we can’t change anyway, and another 12% have to do with needless fears (I really can’t speak for the math there, but you know what I’m saying!); it just seems as though everywhere we turn in this life, we discover yet another thing to worry about!  It ends up being like the old story of one man who said to another, “You know, I’m so worried that if anything happens to me today, it will be two weeks before I can worry about it!”

So in the face of all of that, as wonderful and as inviting as it sounds for Jesus to say to you and to me, “Therefore, don’t worry about your life,” well, that just seems out of step with the kind of lives we lead in this modern age, to say nothing of the anxiety-ridden society of which we’re a part!  With all due respect, simply to go through life singing “Hakuna Matata” (which, if you happen to be familiar with the Disney musical “The Lion King,” is that “problem-free philosophy” that means “no worries, for the rest of your days!”) basically means you don’t understand the situation!  Bottom line is that there are problems in this world, and in our lives; so there’s plenty of things that give us concern… and we worry!

So all that said, what are we to do with Jesus’ admonition not to worry?  Where’s the truth in that word of comfort? Well, I would suggest to you this morning that our answer to that question comes in putting Jesus’ words in their proper context; because, in truth, I don’t think that Jesus is advocating for a “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle, any more than he would want us to spend all of our days whistling, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!”  There’s more to life than this; and frankly more to following Jesus than this! In fact, if you’re truly paying attention to the whole of Jesus’ teachings you begin to realize that the ability, the grace, not to worry actually comes in everything that Jesus has said before!  It’s all right there in one word that began our text for this morning; it’s a word – an adverb – so small and seemingly inconsequential that I’m guessing that most of us didn’t even notice it: “Therefore…” 

…as in, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life…”

Remember, you see, that this reading from Matthew’s gospel comes toward the end of his account of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” that very familiar series of verses in which our Savior deals with some of the central and arguably heavier issues of walking in faith: the realities of being salt of the earth and light of the world, and what it means to obey and fulfill the laws of God; about the dicier aspects of dealing with anger, and forgiveness, and love.  Interestingly enough, in the verse just prior to what we read this morning there’s even a rather unsettling teaching about… guess what?  Money!  “No one can serve two masters,” says Jesus, “…you cannot serve God and wealth.” (6:24)  This sermon of Jesus, taken as a whole, ends up as no less than a summation of what God expects from his people; and by any standard, it’s a lot!  But here’s the thing; it’s right after all of this that Jesus looks to the crowds gathered around him and says to them, and to us, “Therefore… don’t worry about your life.”  In other words, quoting the Rev. Neil Chappell here, what’s happened is that “Jesus presents us with this long list of things to do, to follow, to remember and [of course] we worry whether we’re up to challenge.”  And this is when Jesus tells us, don’t worry!

To put a finer point on this, I found it particularly interesting this week how Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates this passage.  To be clear, this is a paraphrase and not a strict translation; but there’s something about Peterson’s interpretation of this text that makes clear sense about this admonition against worrying.  “If you decide for God,” it says, “living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes, or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion… [likewise] has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch?”  To put this still another way, in the end it’s not that we don’t worry because God provides; it that because God provides, we don’t worry!

What Jesus reminds here is that when we are in relationship with God, and when God’s presence and guidance and love is at the center of everything we face in this life, we have entered what David Lose refers to as “the realm of abundance, the world of possibility, the world of contentment,” a place – which Jesus calls the “Kingdom of God,” by the way – where “not worrying actually becomes an option!”  Consider the birds of the air, or the grass of the field; “are you not of more value than they?”  God takes care of them, and so God will take care of you; even you who worries about anything and everything!  To quote The Message one more time, “People who don’t know God or the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. [So] steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.  Don’t worry about missing out.  You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Don’t worry… be happy (Okay, I couldn’t resist!), for if you “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”

You know, biblically and historically speaking, we really don’t know all that much about the prophet Joel; from whose book our Old Testament reading this morning is drawn. We know that he is named as one of the minor prophets, and that his words possibly date back to the eighth century before the Christian era; beyond that, we know very little… except that Joel was a spokesperson for God in a harrowing time, in the aftermath of a plague of locusts that left the land (and by extension, its people) utterly destroyed.  So the setting of the Book of Joel is of one of great calamity, followed by despair and all the deep anxieties that would most certainly come from that.  And yet, what does Joel say in the face of such worries?  “Do not fear… be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!”

It’s a beautiful and amazing passage; we read of how God will care for the land and the animals; how God will bring early and abundant rain “for [their] vindication,” and make the threshing floors once again full with the grain of the harvest.  “I will repay you,” says the Lord, “for the years that the swarming locust has eaten… you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.”  And perhaps most interesting of all here is that rather than calling the people to remorse or even to repentance, God calls them… to trust in his promise of abundance and to give thanks: “Praise the name of the Lord your God,” he says, “who has dealt wondrously with you.”

This is the beginning of faith, dear friends, and it is the very life to which Jesus calls you and me even now: one of true abundance that can only come from God.  Granted, to trust in that kind of promise is a hard thing for us in these times; especially given all the many kinds of scarcity and fear in this world that seek to cause us so much worry.  But if we focus on that which is good – acknowledging what God has done and continues to do in this world and in our lives, and living out that abundance – we may well find ourselves ready to heed Jesus’ call to relax, to breathe and to simply trust in God’s everlasting providence.

Well, in just a few days now, most of us will be gathered with some combination of family or friends to engage in that yearly, time-honored ritual of feasting we call Thanksgiving.  And in amidst the copious servings of turkey, mashed potato and pumpkin pie I trust that prayers will be said offering up thanks for the many blessings we’ve known in the past year: blessings of life and health and food; of love received and given; of the joys that were embraced and the sorrows that were somehow successfully endured.  Wherever we are and whoever we’re with this coming Thursday, we’ll be expressing praise and gratitude to the God “from whom all blessings flow.” And with humility and grace we’ll simply say, “Thank you.”

And so it should be… but might I suggest another prayer as well? It seems to me that this year we’d all do well to pray that in the year to come the Lord might deliver us from fussing… from allowing ourselves to become bothered by all those all-consuming and ultimately debilitating worries that keep us from wholly embracing the abundance of blessings that God has to offer us. I’m reminded here of something the late Henri Nouwen used to say about what it means to truly pray.  He used the image of a clenched fist, and explained that if we, after the manner of that closed hand, hold on tightly to those “clammy coins” we insist on keeping – things like hate and bitterness, disappointment and even worry – then you’re never going to be able to open your hand to receive all of the love the Lord wants to give you; to receive, you see, first you have to let go.

And so it is with all the worries that keep us from giving our full attention to what our Lord has to give us in the here and now, and also in the days to come; as the old saying goes, we simply need to “let go, and let God!”  Yes, there is true abundance in God, beloved; therefore, let us not be worried, but instead set ourselves to striving first for the kingdom of God… for in doing so, “all these things will be given to you as well.”

Happy Thanksgiving, my dear, dear friends, and may God continue to bless you and yours.

And may our thanks ever and always be unto God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Discipleship, Jesus, Life, Old Testament, Sermon, Thanksgiving

 

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To Acknowledge the Lord

(a sermon for September 17, 2017, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hosea 5:15-6:6 and Matthew 9:9-13)

I will always remember the reaction of a high school friend of mine when I told him that I was seriously considering answering God’s call to become a minister.  He stared at me for a long moment, not at all sure of what he should say; but when finally he did reply, he took a deep breath and asked, “This doesn’t mean you’re going to get all good on us, does it?”

No, I do not think he was commenting on my complete and utter lack of goodness!

Rather, I believe his reaction to my future plans was a reflection of how he viewed the church; both in our little town and as a whole.  To him, you see, the church was always that place willed with “Capital-G Good” people.  You know the kind: the solid, serious, religious-type people; the variety of folks who wear their good suits and nice dresses as they come to worship each and every Sunday morning and who were always calm, composed and assured of themselves as they sat there in the pews.  These were the people who appeared to have a handle on most everything in life; and who always seemed to be, well, a little bit better off than everyone else!

Thinking back on it now, I’m not sure if my friend didn’t really see me as fitting that kind of a mold, or if the fact that I did was somehow threatening to him.  But either way, I have to tell you that even back then I understood where he was coming from; because truthfully, I held much the same point of view!  For me, the church was that special haven of faith-inspired human goodness, and I deeply wanted to be a part of that kind of community!

And you know what?  After just about 35 years now serving as a church pastor in congregations of varied shapes and sizes, I can readily affirm that yes, the church of Jesus Christ is filled to overflowing (!) with wonderfully good people; but I can also tell you that the church also includes as unlikely a cast of characters as you’ll ever meet… anywhere!

What I didn’t know back then but have discovered again and again over the years is that whereas there are a great many joyful folk who populate the pews, there are also a goodly number who are angry; and who have come to worship harboring a great deal of resentment over what life has brought them.  Calm and composed in every situation?  Yes, I’ve known a great many parishioners who are just like that; then again, in every congregation of which I’ve been a part there have also been those who are depressed, despairing and occasionally delusional.  In every set of church pews, you see, there’s to be found the sick, the lame, the grieving and the broken, and plenty of people with problems: some with problems that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and others whose problems are of their own sad, misguided creation.

And yes… hard as it is for me to admit, it is true what you’ve always heard: that there exists a few – just a few, mind you (!) – hypocrites in the church!  Moreover, there are those people in our congregations who do think they’re smarter or stronger or better or more spiritual than everybody else; but I need to tell you that there just as many who labor under the false and needless  burden that they are of lesser value than anybody else around them!  There are lots of people who take the command to “love one another” very seriously, and make that conviction real in their lives; but in all honesty there are also those out there who, knowingly or unknowingly, actually kind of hate other people, but who hate themselves even more.

The worriers, the careless and thoughtless, the ungrateful, the impatient, the greedy, the gossipy, the gloating, the scowling and the self-pitying: they’re all a part of this community of faith we call the church.

And, oh… in case I’ve left anyone off this list …so are you …and so am I.

That’s right; it’s not always pretty, but we are the church, and amazingly, each one of us belongs!  Not to further shatter any illusions (!), but ultimately what we’ve got here is this rag-tag and rather motley assortment of ordinary people who fall just a little bit short of “good,” people whose love of the Lord is all too often as we heard described in Hosea this morning: “like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early,” not exactly fitting into that “Capital G Good” church member mold!

And yet, here we are – as we are – nonetheless welcomed into the company of the faithful: named and claimed as children of God, called to be the disciples of Jesus Christ himself.  It’s a wonderful thing; but the question is, “Why? Why have we, of all people, been welcomed in?”  As we’ve illustrated, it certainly hasn’t come about as a result of our inherent goodness; it cannot be said that we’ve earned our place in this community in any true and meaningful way, as much as we may have tried… so why then… why us?  It turns out that the answer to this question, the only answer there can be, is God!  What is true is that the God who desires from us “steadfast love and not sacrifice” has in fact been steadfast in his love for us; the same God who seeks our knowledge of him wants to know us as his own! Or, as Jesus said it, “I have come not to call the righteous but sinners.”

Or to put this another way, it’s all about grace.

Grace is what’s at the heart of both our readings for this morning: each one about how God loves sinful, imperfect people and is relentless in wanting them to return to him.  First, from the Old Testament book of Hosea, we have this marvelous dialogue between Israel and God: God declaring that he will wait for his people to return and “seek [his] face” and admit their guilt; Israel responding, “Come, let us return to the LORD,” (in some translations adding, “let us press on to acknowledge him”), even as God expresses some doubt as to the level of their sincerity!

Even so, the Lord continues to wait for Israel to return, and to truly know and acknowledge him.  And he does this because goal here is for LOVE; or in the original Hebrew, “hesed,” which actually includes the whole realm of steadfast love, righteousness, loyalty, and mercy.  Hesed, you see, represents a full and right relationship with God; it encompasses everything that God desires from his people. And what we find in the message of the prophet is that God will do whatever it takes for that kind of relationship to happen; even boldly welcoming into that relationship those whom others would cast out.

That’s made very clear in our gospel reading today, about the calling of Matthew, a simple and beautiful act of grace that provokes immediate controversy!  Matthew, you see, is a tax collector, and in those days to be a tax collector was to be a collaborator with the Roman occupation forces in Israel; and by extension a thief and a thug who cheated the people out of pretty much everything they had.  So it was no wonder that when the “Capital G Good” religious people of his day saw Jesus hanging out with the likes of Matthew, they were outraged; and then, as if that weren’t bad enough, now Jesus had gone to Matthew’s house for a banquet in his honor!  This caused a great deal of commotion; after all, being seen in the presence of one known sinner, that might be considered outreach; having dinner with a houseful, well… that’s collusion!  It was a clear violation of sacred tradition as the Pharisees understood it:  they believed that you keep yourself pure and you stay away from the wrong kind of people; because if you hang out with sinners, you must be a sinner yourself!

But to this, Jesus simply says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  And then he does a very interesting thing; he pulls out a word from the prophets that so called “religious uprights” would immediately recognize: “Go and learn what this means,” he says.  “’I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” 

It’s a perfect case of having one’s own words (or at least one’s own tightly held philosophies) turned back at them:  Jesus says, if what is needed is an acknowledgement of God and a desire for mercy, isn’t that what we’re seeing in this man Matthew who heard my call and immediately left his collector’s booth?  And isn’t that what we’re starting to see with the rest of these so-called “sinners” who have come to celebrate with Matthew at the beginning of his new life?  Isn’t the point that this one who was sick be healed; that this one who’s been torn and struck down “return to the Lord” and have his wounds bound up?  Shouldn’t his relationship to God be restored, for isn’t that what the Lord has wanted all along?

It was the point missed by the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, and it’s a point we still miss so often in the church today; that while it’s all well and good for us to aspire to be the “good” religious people of this world, but if we’re not careful such behavior can all too easily fly in the face of the one who desires mercy, and not sacrifice; and who seeks out the lost not on the basis of their inherent righteousness but rather on out their deep need to be brought home!  Our being the church ends up having very little to do with us, but everything to do with the depth of God’s mercy, his tender compassion and genuine acceptance; and we’re reminded in these texts that how we live as the church must show forth that same kind of depth.

To wit, just we have been welcomed into fellowship of God, as unlikely and as unworthy as we are, we also need to extend welcome to all those who stand in the need of hesed.  You and I are called to be givers of that kind of life-changing and ever enveloping relationship we have with God to all those around us who have never known what it is be truly LOVED.  You and I are called to a ministry of acceptance and inclusiveness and care; we are meant to be about the business of spiritual nurture and uplift.  That’s who we’re meant to be as the church, even here on Mountain Road; but for that to happen first requires us to acknowledge the Lord and to embrace his purposes.

It’s said that the difference between the waters of the Sea of Galilee and those of the Dead Sea, both of which are biblical landmarks in the Middle East, is that the Sea of Galilee is a natural lake that is formed by a depression of land.  Water flows freely from the mountains into this sea and keeps right on flowing, and as a result the Sea of Galilee always remains fresh, life-giving and full of fish.  The Dead Sea, on the other hand, also has water that flows in from the mountains, but has no outlet; the water basically collects there and eventually evaporates, leaving the salt and creating a body of water in which there is virtually no life, which is why it’s known as the “Dead” Sea.

Well, think of that as a parable, and it goes a long way in helping us understand what God wants us to be as his church.  The Sea of Galilee, you see, exists to give.  It receives its water, and gives it all away, and thus it remains fresh and full of life, with the ability to nurture and restore the land and life around it.  The Dead Sea, on the other hand, exists to receive; it only takes and never gives, it never seeks to nourish anything or anyone – and because of this, it dies.

The fact is, I do believe that we here at East Church are a church family made up of good people; as Garrison Keillor might put it, we’re “pretty good people,” but might I add we’re pretty good people by the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  We are the church, beloved; but in the words of William Willimon, “A church that stops reaching out is not his church.  A people who hunker down with their faith, holding on to what they’ve got, timid and uncertain, unwilling to move out are not his people.”

Are we his people, beloved?  Are we willing to acknowledge the Lord by our desire – his desire – for mercy, steadfast love and arms opened to all who would come?

That’s something good for us to think about as we do our work together.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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And When You Pray: The Threefold Benediction

(a sermon for August 27, 2017, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost; last in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 and Matthew 6:9-13)

And so now, after all these weeks, finally we come to the final petition of our Lord’s Prayer, and what a word it is:  “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever… Amen.”

Amen, indeed! I mean, from a literary standpoint alone, this is the grand finale of a remarkable work, is it not; it’s the pinnacle of everything that’s been said and prayed up until this point, each phrase and petition having built upon the one before so that now there’s nothing left for us to offer up except this ultimate expression of our praise and thanksgiving unto God: to proclaim with whole hearts and loud voices that thine is the kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever and ever, Amen!

You know what I’m saying; it’s there in just about every musical setting you’ve ever heard of this prayer, most especially in the beautiful version by Albert Mallotte that we’ve heard sung and played here on a couple of occasions this summer; and I don’t know about you, but even on those numerous occasions that we speak this Lord’s Prayer together in worship, there’s nonetheless this same crescendo that peaks the moment we come to the final verse!  It’s a true benediction and powerful way to end this prayer of our Savior, and not only am I grateful, as we’ve said so often through this sermon series, that this is the prayer that Jesus himself gave to his disciples and to us, but also that Jesus – Jesus himself (!) – also chose to conclude this prayer he gave us in just this way!

Except…

…that maybe he didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve probably noticed by now that this particular part of the Lord’s Prayer is not included in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teaching of it.  Luke doesn’t refer to it at all, and Matthew’s gospel relegates it to a mere footnote, claiming that “other ancient authorities, in some form” included these words about the kingdom, the power and the glory; but frankly, most biblical scholars argue that that’s not even the case!  The likely truth is that this final petition to the Lord’s Prayer was something added on by the early Christian Church (probably sometime around the fourth or fifth century) as a way of making it more liturgical in form; that is, to “complete” the Lord’s Prayer as an all-encompassing affirmation of faith by adding what is referred to in “church language” as a doxology, which in the Greek literally means to give a “word of glory and honor.”  Obviously, the addition caught on because we’ve been saying the Lord’s Prayer that way ever since; although if you’ve ever repeated this prayer with a group of Roman Catholic worshippers, you’ll know that they end their unison prayer at “deliver us from evil,” owing to the fact that addition or no addition, as far as we know from the gospels Jesus most likely did not say those particular words in teaching his disciples how to pray!

Now, does this mean that the Lord’s Prayer, or at least the way we’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer, has somehow become nullified by our mistaken translation?  Absolutely not!   To begin with, adding those words about “the kingdom, power and glory” at the end of Jesus’ prayer does bring an appropriate (and dare I say, triumphant) conclusion to these series of petitions that, one after the other,  speak not only of the presence and power of the divine but also to our relationship, yours and mine, with the divine.  Moreover, there’s a symmetry to how that last verse relates to everything before:  we start out the Lord’s Prayer by praying that God’s, our Father’s, name be hallowed and requesting that his kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven; and we finish with the unequivocal affirmation that “thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.”  It’s a true doxology, a threefold benediction that serves to remind us, even as we pray, that everything we are and have and can ever hope to be is solely by virtue of the power and glory of God!

So it does seem a fitting addition to our prayer; and besides… though Jesus might not have spoken the words in that specific context, he most certainly knew them to be true; in fact, as a teacher himself, Jesus likely spoke of that moment we read about in our Old Testament reading this morning, in which King David, toward the end of his life and about to pass on the task of building the temple to his son Solomon, gathers the people and prays unto God, “Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom O LORD, and you are exalted as head over all… and now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.”  That those words are familiar to our ears is by no accident at all; to quote one commentator, “It is fitting… that a portion of David’s kingdom prayer should be attached to the Son of David’s kingdom prayer.”

You see, at the end of the day (or the end of the prayer, as it were), what we pray in this amazing series of petitions that Jesus gave to us is that it’s God’s kingdom, God’s power, and God’s glory that prevails over everything… everything in our lives, now and eternally.  Our God is the Creator of heaven and earth, who has breathed the very breath of life into each one of us; whose presence and power is felt in every passing moment of our lives, whose very strength is felt in each and every joy and sorrow and challenge that we face.  Our God is the one who nourishes us with daily bread, who offers us forgiveness of sin along with the grace that we might forgive others in kind, who leads us along the surest of pathways that deliver us from evil. Our God is the one who decries all kinds of evil in the world by proclaiming a gospel of love and justice and peace, sending forth his own Son as the example and expiation, and then calling you and I to proclaim that same Word by our very lives.  Our God is the one who intends for his truth to be made real in and through every one of us here; so that truth – God’s truth, the truth of God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ – might finally begin to penetrate the walls of division and hatred that are the ongoing construct of a sad and misguided culture.  Our God is the God who wishes that in all things – whether that applies to the ways we approach one another around the breakfast table or how we stand on the streets of Charlottesville or Boston –  that in all things we might live as true reflections of God’s kingdom, his power, his glory and yes, most especially, his love.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”

Perhaps Jesus didn’t speak those words in exactly the context we like to think he did; but we do know that it’s exactly what he meant, and what he means for you and for me as we are sent out into this world to walk the walk of discipleship in these days of sad, confused and conflicting situations.

As you might imagine, and perhaps like a lot of you, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks reflecting on the faith implications of everything that’s been happening in the world and in our own country; specifically, how we as the church ought to be responding to the kind of destructive hate that’s been so much on display as of late.  I mean, I think it’s obvious that we in the church need to be loud and clear in naming “the evils we deplore,” denouncing all manner of racism, violence and bigotry as being not only un-Christian, but un-American as well.  Moreover, though I must confess that I was more than a little skeptical as to what good it could do, I stand in great admiration of my brothers and sisters of faith (especially my clergy colleagues) who linked arms in Charlottesville and Boston and stared down the Neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists, witnessing to love and justice quite literally there on the front lines of conflict.

But that said, what I’ve been wondering about is the rest of us?  How do we respond?  How about those of us who sit in these pews every Sunday morning and who need to spend the week ahead at our jobs, or running errands, going to doctor’s appointments, running kids (or grandkids!) to school on time and all the rest of the “stuff” of life: what are we to do about those who would so easily and deliberately dismiss the law of loving one’s neighbor as themselves.  Honestly, friends, these days, all it’s taken is ten minutes watching the news to make one feel helpless about the state of the world!

But then in my reading over vacation I came across a piece from the Christian Century, actually written a couple of years ago by Samuel Wells, regarding the great 20th century theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, as you may recall, was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis; the result of speaking out against the Third Reich and having been implicated in a plot to kill Hitler.  Ultimately though, writes Wells, it was not Bonhoeffer’s politics that got him put in jail; it was Jesus!  It was Bonhoeffer’s confession that Jesus was over and above any and all of the powers and principalities of this world; that it was and is God’s incarnation in Christ that makes us the Church and what moves us surely and steadily toward the Kingdom of Heaven. Wells writes that “Bonhoeffer knew that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say.”  It’s truly the difference between death and resurrection; and it’s what not only renews the Church in every generation, it’s what empowers us to stare down the face of every new evil that arises in this world… for thine is the Kingdom, and thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever!

You’ve heard me say it before from this pulpit: that the first and best thing you and I can do in these times is for us to truly be the Church of Jesus Christ; and that begins, I believe, with making God in Christ the centerpiece of everything in life.  And no, it’s not always, if ever, an easy thing to have one’s faith take priority over that which is safer, or more expedient, or more profitable in a worldly sense.  In fact, it’s almost certainly going to involve some risk; but it is, truly, the way, the truth and the life that Jesus spoke about, and not only will it change us for the better, it will change the world as well.

So, friends… “and when you pray,” how will you pray?  Will you let the words of Jesus simply roll off your tongue in the same manner as you have countless times before?  Or will you let the phrases and petitions that we’ve been given be the means by which let our Lord have leadership of your life?

What’s interesting is that beyond the King James Version of the Bible, this final part of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t included in most modern translations of scripture for the reasons we mentioned earlier.  It does, however, appear in The Message (which, given that it’s technically a paraphrase of scripture rather than a translation, gives it a little leeway in interpretation).  But this is one “rendition” of the Lord’s Prayer that, while decidedly untraditional, kind of says it all from beginning to end, and seems as good a way to conclude this sermon series as any I can think of:

“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

And so, beloved, may it truly be, “Yes, Yes, Yes,” forever and ever…

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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