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Category Archives: Scripture

Made to Worship: Bringing the Good News

(a sermon for September 30, 2018, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost; fourth in a series, based on  Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Romans 10:8-18)

Under the heading of not-so-vital statistics, out of curiosity this week I went to my pastoral records and discovered that as of this morning I will have preached a grand total of 1,697 sermons as a minister and teacher of the gospel.

Whoa!

Now, this number mostly accounts for Sunday morning services over thirty-plus years working in the church, and doesn’t include all the eulogies, wedding meditations or other messages that we pastors tend to bring to various and a sundry church and community gatherings.  But even considering that, all things being relatively equal, understand that this represents a total of over 34 thousand minutes – that’s 566 hours, folks (!) – standing behind some pulpit or another preaching a sermon that for better or worse I had spent most of the previous week preparing (I don’t even want to think about how many hours that entailed!).  And I realize that’s a whole lot of time spent not only by me, but also by you and by so many others who have sat in these pews listening to what I’ve had to say week in and week out; so let me just take this opportunity to say thank you for your patience!

What’s interesting is that while I certainly can’t give you specifics as to the subject and content of every one of those sermons, there are some that I do remember very, very well.  I’ll never forget, for instance, the first sermon I ever preached as a pastor of a congregation: it was entitled “I’m No Hero,” with the main illustration having to do with a television show that was running at the time about a reluctant superhero (and to this, I can only say, Oy veh, what was I thinking?)  More seriously, though I will always remember preaching the Sunday after 9/11 when all of us – pastor and congregation were clamoring for a word of hope in those very sad and uncertain days.  There were also a couple of messages over the years when I felt particularly compelled, albeit somewhat fearfully so, to bring forth some measure of biblical truth in the midst of some rather contentious situations within the congregations I was serving at the time.  And there have been a few times when despite my own best efforts but by a great abundance of God’s grace sometimes the truth that needed to be espoused at a given moment actually got spoken aloud and even better, was heard with open ears and loving hearts; and honestly, that’s pretty memorable and feels pretty good!

Preaching was one of the first things that attracted me to the ministry (way back in high school, if you can believe it!), and all these years later it still remains a favorite part of what I do.  It can be exhilarating, fulfilling, often disconcerting, sometimes headache inducing and occasionally life-changing, all at the same time (!); but that’s what keeps this task of preaching a wonderfully exciting and utterly joyous thing for me!  Of course, there is also many a Sunday morning that I step up here utterly unconvinced that there will be anything at all of value, spiritual or otherwise, coming forth from my tongue that day; but that’s a discussion for another time!

Either way, however, I will tell you that each and all of these preaching experiences have one thing in common:  and it’s that each week, after the sermon has been written and preached and the service is finished, it’s immediately time to start the process all over again for next Sunday; part of what a colleague of mine refers to as “the pesky, perpetual, predictable and persistent return of the Sabbath!”  You see, the truth is that a sermon, mine or anybody else’s, does not exist for the sake of itself – ultimately, it is not meant to exist as a stand-alone oration nor as some kind of pastoral dissertation on all things religious and theological – no, the sermon has always been intended to be but simply one facet of the whole “act and attitude of worship,” and as such is linked to everything else we do here in the midst of this service:  our prayer and our praising, our times of singing and silence and sharing, and most profoundly in the reading of holy scripture.  What I’m doing here, you see – and what we’re all involved in as we worship together – is nothing less than the “Proclamation of the Word:” God’s Word.

Our text this morning from Paul’s letter to the Romans actually begins and ends with this truth: first that “the word of faith that we proclaim” is near to us, “on [our] lips and in [our hearts],” and concluding with the assertion that “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”  What that means is that there is always to be a natural progression from acknowledging and embracing the faith that’s inside of us to being sent forth into the world to proclaim the truth of it in and through our very lives!  And you’ll notice that by and large that’s also the direction that our worship takes: we begin with an act of praise (usually a song or a hymn, followed by a prayer of invocation) that serves to bring forth the faith within us so that it might become the praises of our hearts and voices; but eventually we pause to hear and to reflect upon God’s Word so that afterward, when the final hymn is sung and we say the benediction, we might be sent forth strengthened, encouraged and empowered to truly be God’s people in the world!   So in many ways, it’s this “proclamation of the Word” – be it a sermon, a message or any one of a number of other forms of faithful communication – that makes this hour more than just a random group of people who come together on a Sunday morning to share a few moments of fellowship and inspiration for the living of these days; it’s that proclamation which truly sets us apart as the Body of Christ and what makes us the Church with a mission of love in the world!

And if you’re thinking right now that all this is a pretty tall order for any preacher (certainly, this preacher!) who is called to speak for 20 minutes, give or take, on a Sunday morning, you’re right.  But remember also that the proclamation of which I speak has as much to do with hearing as it does speaking.  As John Webster of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland has written, the church is “not first and foremost a speaking community but a listening community… the church speaks, because it has been spoken to.”

 Faith, you see, comes from what is heard… and so what’s important about this part of the service, for me as well as for you, is listening!

It’s interesting to note the context in which Paul speaks to the Romans in our reading today is actually one of some level of frustration.  Paul, you see, is anguishing over the fact that despite the truth of the resurrection, most Jews of the time were still seeking righteousness through the law for their salvation rather than through faith in Christ.  For Paul this was inconceivable and what’s more, unnecessary:  after all, there is “no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him… everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  But, and this is where Paul gets to the heart of the matter, “how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?”  And “how can they hear if nobody tells them?  And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?” [The Message] 

It all comes down to the proclamation, you see; it’s all about “bringing the good news” to those who would have ears to hear!  And let me tell you; the anguish that Paul was feeling for those who would not receive that graceful gift of salvation that comes in Christ remains the anguish in this day and age!  I cannot begin to tell you the number of instances and number of people I meet who, once they realize what I do for a living, are very quick to dismiss what and who it is I represent.  “I’m not really into religion,” they’ll say to me, or else something to the effect that while I seem like a nice guy and everything, they don’t want to come to church and be “preached at,” and I’m never sure how to respond to that except to explain that while that might be the “style,” shall we say, of others that’s not what we’re about as a church and certainly not what I’m about as a minister!  I always come away from that kind of conversation not only feeling badly that I couldn’t “close the deal,” so to speak, but also wondering how people like that can come to faith in Christ when they’ve never truly heard that truth, that Word, proclaimed!

But then I remember that faith comes through hearing… and hearing the “proclamation of the Word” can take a variety of forms and comes from a variety of people.

Last week, what with the beginning of Sunday School, I found myself reminiscing about all the Vacation Bible Schools Lisa and I were involved in at various churches over the years.  One year that I remember very well, the program happened to be centered around the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. And I, in a shining example of casting against type, was drafted to play the role of Pharoah; which meant, of course, that all week I was generally and rather joyfully verbally and physically abused with all manner of plague, and, moreover, all that week every time a kid requested that I let God’s people go, I would have to vehemently and angrily refuse in a highly Shakespearean manner!

In truth, it was a lot of fun (as you know, I can be a ham at times!), the kids enjoyed it, and the great thing about VBS every year was that there were always a lot of kids there who weren’t part of our church, or any church for that matter.  And to bear witness to what was often these kids’ very first awareness of God’s presence and power in their own lives was an amazing thing that got revealed to us in strange ways.

To whit, about six months later, I was volunteering at a story day at our local intermediate school; I’m walking down the corridor, guitar in hand, and way down the end of the hall I spy this little head bobbing in and out of the doorway of the school office.  And as if he were doing a double take, a second later, out pops that head again, and smiling this incredible grin as he comes out to the hall, this boy spreads wide both his arms and cries out way too loudly, “LET MY PEOPLE GOOOO!!!”

They never asked me to volunteer at the school again… I don’t know why… (!)

Yes, it was one of those anonymous, “unchurched” kids who’d turned up at VBS the summer before, one of these children who’d heard this incredible story of God’s power and love for the first time, and six months later… not only remembered, and was still thinking about it!  The whole thing made me laugh; but it also got me to thinking about how a little bit of good news was brought to that little one; how the Word was proclaimed and perhaps took root and grew in that very unique and special way.

Maybe it happens in a sermon; but it might also be revealed in a Sunday School story or a children’s ministry, or else a choir anthem or a prayer request shared; or for that matter, maybe it all happens in some random act of kindness or simply a kind word spoken at just the right time.  But who knows how the word might actually be proclaimed until it happens?   What is it that Frederick Buechner wrote about how the love of Lord gets through to those who seeking out faith?  He says that for every believer, there’s this incredible moment of divine awareness when the love of the Lord has hit them from the top of their head to the tips of their toes.  Who knows exactly when or where or how that may happen; but, Buechner writes, maybe for one seeker, “the moment that has to happen is YOU.”

And the point of all of this is that before that moment happens, you and I need to be here and worshiping, listening to God’s Word proclaimed; opening ourselves to the Spirit’s leading so that we might bring that good news with others.   For we can never truly know the impact of speaking to others that which we’ve heard in faith and in love.  What we all hear in this time of worship can be the very message that will change a heart forever; it can be the thing that will bring change and peace to a world in need of need of both!

So let us not hold back; let us go forth to share the truth that is ours in Jesus Christ.  As it says in Deuteronomy about the commandments, “Recite them to your children, talk about them when are home, and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”  Truly, as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Get to the Heart of the Matter!

(a sermon for October 29, 2017, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost; last in a series, based on  Matthew 22:34-40)

One thing I’ve long found very interesting about the church as a whole is that for all our sincere talk of Christian unity and the fact that we’re still “all God’s children” despite whatever denomination or faith tradition we come from, nonetheless we really do have our share of differences; especially as to how things are done!

Take the sacraments, for example: whereas in our particular tradition communion (generally speaking at least!) is shared by the passing a plate of bread cubes from one to the other in the church pew, there are other churches that frown on such a practice, insisting that those receiving communion actually get up from their seats and approach the altar of God!  And baptism: there are those within the denominational spectrum who would question the very validity of our ever baptizing an infant, saying that to confess Christ as Lord and Savior is wholly a personal decision that can only be made when one is of age (of course, in our tradition, we entrust the child’s parents, family and church to nurture their faith until they are ready to confirm that faith as a young adult and I’d say that’s at least as valid as an adult baptism… but I digress!); and let’s not even talk about whether “sprinkling” or “dunking” is the proper way to go!

In the ways we do worship (is it better to be formal or casual, “high church” or “low church,” to sing traditional hymns or praise songs, to preach from a lofty pulpit, or to stand “on the level” with the congregation?); in the interpretation of scripture and its authority for the church and world; the methods by which we govern ourselves as a congregation; even in the process of how clergy-types like me are to be called and authorized for ministry: trust me,  in all these things and more there are as many ideas in the church as to how these matters are properly handled as there are congregations!

Sometimes the differences have to do with theology or denominational polity; often it will focus on where a church perceives itself to be in the world; or maybe sometimes it’s something much simpler than that.  I remember in a former congregation I was once asked why it was that at the end of each week’s worship service I always gave the benediction from the back of the church; after all, this woman explained, in a tone that suggested no small measure of concern, at that moment you’re offering a blessing to your church and yet the whole congregation has its back to you!  Was there, she asked, some deeper spiritual meaning to this?  Was this what they taught you in seminary, or is this a UCC thing?  Well, I got to thinking about it and I realized that for me there wasn’t any real deep-seeded theological impartment as to doing the benediction that way; it was simply that where I was standing was closer to the door (!); and much easier to get to where to where I needed to be to shake hands with people after church!

Not exactly the stuff of major church schisms, I know (!); but it points up the fact that in the church, there are always going to be differences of opinion, and approach and belief; and moreover there always have been.  Almost from its very inception, church history is filled with instances of debate, conflict and division, all having to do with how the will and Word of God is to be followed and administered!  To wit, this week marks the 500th anniversary of how in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg in protest of what he considered the indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church; the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which not only changed the face of religion and all of western civilization, but also in no small way, is a reason why and how we’re here worshipping in this place today!   You see, as much as we try to avoid it, these kind of differences and the conflicts that ensue because of them, are inevitable; but that’s not always a bad thing!  The difference of whether it ends up a bad or good, divisive or even unifying thing comes in how we “get to the heart of the matter” as regards these questions, and what we discover about faith in the midst of them!

And, as in all things, our example for how this best happens is Jesus.

For you see, even Jesus… that’s right, even Jesus (!) found himself in the midst of such conflict.  The gospels record several instances when Jesus was faced by “concerned religious leaders” (that is, the scribes and Pharisees) who could not, would not accept his teachings about God and the kingdom, and recognized that what Jesus was saying was threatening to them and their own power.  So now, they were doing everything they could to discredit Jesus amongst the people, catch him in uttering some sort of punishable heresy, or both.  Our text for this morning is of one such instance; actually, as Matthew tells the story, it’s the final attempt on the part of the Pharisees to trip Jesus up with a seemingly simple question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Now, the easy answer to this question, the non-confrontational answer to this question, and according to Pharisaic law the legally acceptable answer to this question would have been for Jesus to say, “Every commandment of the Law is great, because all of the Law comes from God.” But that wasn’t the answer the Pharisees were looking for; what they were hoping was that Jesus might randomly pick one from the 613 commandments in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Law (which, by the way, if you’re counting, amounts to 248 “thou shalts” and 365 “thou shalt nots,” one for every day of the year); because if Jesus did that, if Jesus picked just one commandment from all of those, then he’d certainly be guilty of denying or negating countless other commandments, and then the Pharisees could charge him not only as a law-breaker, but a blasphemer as well!  As far as these religious “uprights” were concerned, this was a no-win situation and now they had Jesus right where they wanted him.

But then Jesus does something that none of them were expecting: he takes a complicated, loaded question and gives them a very simple and familiar answer; moreover, with something they themselves would have known since they were children: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.”  The Pharisees certainly knew this; this was from the Shema, words (from Deuteronomy) that are to be prayed by faithful Jews each and every morning and again in the evening.  First, says Jesus, you love God with heart and soul and mind!  Before anything else; before the other nine commandments and all the other laws and statutes and precepts that follow, before establishing any kind of faithful endeavor, first you must love God with heart and soul and mind!

It would have seemed to me that this confession of Jesus would have been more than enough to satisfy (or perhaps more accurately, infuriate) the Pharisees, but you see, Jesus wasn’t done yet. “And a second [commandment] is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And before the Pharisee can even begin to ask what about all the other commandments, Jesus adds one more thought: “’On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”  First you love God, you see, but then you also have to love your neighbor; and that’s everything, because we can’t really love God with our heart, soul, and mind unless and until we love our neighbor as ourselves.  As Kenneth Samuel has written, “the second greatest commandment is not just secondary to the greatest commandment.  It is essential to the greatest commandment, for we cannot love God whom we do not see and despise our neighbors who we see every day.”

In other words, when we get the heart of the matter as regards faith, it’s always going to be about LOVE: the kind of LOVE that puts God at the center of everything we do, and are and can ever hope to be; the kind of LOVE that ever and always reaches out and envelops those in need. To truly love God and to love neighbor: this is the kind of LOVE that makes us who we are; and that not only transcends and triumphs over every kind of difference we may have, it’s what provides the true purpose and the abiding principle for every part of the good work we seek to do as the church of Jesus Christ!

And for those of us 21st century Christians who might feel a little jaded and wonder if such a thing is, at best, kind of “pie in the sky” thinking, it’s helpful to take note of the fact that very soon after Jesus said all this to the scribes and Pharisees, they were gone; daring not to ask him any more questions.   Because at the end of the day, the heart of the matter is LOVE… it’s always LOVE… and how do you argue with LOVE?

Over the past few weeks we’ve talked a lot here about what it takes to live a life of adventuresome faith and to be the kind of disciples (and the kind of church!) we want to be.  We’ve spoken about how we need to be bold enough to “get out of the boat” of our own complacency and fear, so to follow Jesus where he leads; and about how very important it is, most especially in these days of divisive rhetoric and confused situations, for each and all us to “get to work” in this ministry to which we’ve been called, because there is a lot of work to be done!

And that’s why today we humbly and prayerfully ask – and also, we thank you and thank God – for your continued support of this ministry we share in Jesus’ name, and for your commitment to all that we do here at East Church: the work of Christian education and nurture for children and adults alike; the work of caring compassion and community outreach; the work of joy and hope that starts by being shared amongst kindred hearts, and then extended outward.  It’s the work of worship and fellowship and laughter and tears and peace and justice on a blessedly personal level, and it all happens right here with us and through us; and it takes our faithful stewardship, combined with God’s ever present grace, to keep it moving and growing.

But most of all, and never forget this… it also takes LOVE!

Because that’s the heart of the matter! In everything we seek to and to be disciples of Jesus Christ and as the church, we discover that there is and there remains this all-encompassing and faith-defining mandate to LOVE… to first, before anything else, to love God with heart and soul and mind, and then along with this to always love our neighbor as ourselves.  On this, says Jesus, “hangs all the law and the prophets;” and it continues to be, especially today, the pivot point of our lives as persons, as people and as the church.  It’s what makes the difference between truly carving out a life of faith and simply going through the motions; it’s the choice of enduring emptiness, on the one hand, or embracing a life of true abundance, on the other. It’s what gives us purpose, it’s what makes us real, it’s what helps us to grow; and it’s everything.

It’s LOVE, and friends, I pray that none of us will ever be so busy, so distracted, so hurt or confused, so suffering and grieving, so entangled in the minutiae of life that we lose sight of it.  Indeed, as you and I set out on the adventure of discipleship, let LOVE reign supreme: let it guide our thoughts, direct our devotion, set our pathways and help us along the journey.  Let LOVE be at the very heart of each of our lives, and at the heart of our life together at East Church; so that individually and collectively we might personify and manifest God’s love above all else.

After all, what’s that verse of scripture, the one we hear at just about every wedding, the one that Paul wrote to that squabbling, divided church at Corinth?  “For faith, hope and love abides, these three; but the greatest of these is… LOVE.”

LOVE!

So may it be… and 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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