Sermon given at Ecumenical Lenten service, Wed March 28, 2012.
Psalm 27 ESV
27 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
This is a Psalm of David, one of the many times he was fleeing for his life. David wrote this and other Psalms as prayers, and they are intensely personal. but they were prayers to be sung! Sung in worship...in community. The Psalms have been called the Hebrew Hymn book and the Christian prayer book. As personal as the Psalms are, and if one read through them all, every emotion is there! As personal as they are, they are intended to be sung in community.
These Ecumenical Lenten services have been so good. The different types of worship, music, the various sermons, have been wonderful. And it;s so good to enjoy the hospitality and catching up with folks after the services. It's so nice to renew these connections.
After all that's what these services are about. Worshiping God of course! And renewing connections between our churches :)
and we are all connected in some way. You know there is a thing about six degrees of separation...a theory that everyone is connected to everyone else by six degrees, six other people or fewer. I think here in Beloit it's only 2 degrees!
The bible reminds us of connections too. This prayer reminds us of connections! Our Gospel lesson is one you find very familiar. You see, some time ago I heard that the best way to pray is to pray the Lord's Prayer, but take an hour to do it! Wouldn't that be ideal! Yet, to take an hour to pray...well, it's hard to admit, but I can't focus that long, can you? And the phone will ring, or the cat wants to play... but one day I managed. And it changed the way I think about prayer, especially this prayer.
Matthew 6:9-13 NRSV
‘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.
(May the Lord add a blessing to this reading of His Holy Word)
What changed the way I think about prayer? The first word, “Our”.
prayer is personal, but the pronouns are all plural! Jesus said, pray this way....
we pray in community! And yes, Jesus taught that one should go into one's prayer closet...to pray effectively we often need to make some space, take time to breathe deeply and clear away some of the hubbub of the day. And in Bible times, you didn’t have your own office or your own room! You lived with your multi-generational family in just a few rooms! So Jesus advised to get away for prayer, because most of the time that was the ONLY way for a bit of privacy to really focus on God.
And yet, the prayer that Jesus taught is a prayer that reminds us that we are all connected, to God and to one another.
When we pray this prayer, we are praying with each other! We are praying with people of faith, of every denomination or none, everywhere- who are praying this same prayer, even at this same moment! It is Wednesday night during Lent, there are midweek services happening all over this country right now! All over the world, perhaps right at this moment, others are praying these same beautiful words –in community with us! At this moment it is morning in China, Laos, where it is not safe to proclaim Jesus Christ. But Christians there are indeed praying this prayer right now. We pray in community with them, and for them. And for all the others who are praying.
We also pray with the great cloud of witnesses. Those who have gone before, even generations before, are praying with us, cheering us on to better live God's will.
let me be clear, When we pray, “Our Father” we are not claiming ownership of God. God is infinite, and perfect, far beyond our ability to imagine or to claim! No we are saying “Our” as a recognition of God's loving claim on us, that we are chosen through Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Henri Nouwen (if you read no other author, read anything by Nouwen!)
When we dare to trust that we are never alone but that God is always with us, always cares for us, and always speaks to us, we can gradually detach ourselves from the voices that make us feel guilty or anxious, and embrace the present moment. If we could, for a few minutes each day, just be fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone, and that the One who is with us in our hearts wants only to give us the love we need and the power to love others.
The Love we need and the power to love others....when we have the love we need, we are empowered to learn to love others well. This is why we pray in community. Why we live and worship in community. We are to love God with all our heart soul mind and strength, and love each other! When we spend time with other people of faith, like in these worship services, and talk to one another, we connect. We find that we are all connected, by our love of God, by our love of our families. we learn that we are all just regular folks, with stuff to deal with. Everyone has stuff, and once we learn that about each other, we can have compassion. Compassion of course is caring, loving concern. It is what we feel when we identify with another who is going through the SHTUFF of life.
And when we realize that we are all just trying to do the best we can in spite of what is bogging us down, our hearts soften a bit and we become more compassionate, more Christ-like. We care and we want to help.
Richard Foster Life with God
Attending to the needs of others—whether in the physical, spiritual, social, or political spheres—is as central to Christian faith as the greatest commandment: “‘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. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40)
We know what Jesus did for us. It's Lent, we are in worship on Wednesday night, that's why we are here! But how are we living out our faith outside of church? We are indeed called to live out our faith beyond our church attendance. And that is how we will again fill our churches. Because we all want to see our churches full. But folks don't go to church just because it's Sunday any more! In fact lots of people work Sundays, or nights, and going to church is something that has to be arranged, it takes commitment!
It's challenging. Because a lot of the time we have to just trust God and not see exactly what the next step is. In one of the Indiana Jones movies, Harrison Ford as Indy had to cross a huge rocky chasm. It's too far to jump and there seems to be no way across. He finally takes one step, seemingly into thin air, and a there appeared a rocky step! Each bit of the rocky bridge appears only as he just takes a step of faith.
We, as people of faith, may need to keep taking steps onto a bridge we can not see! We want to help others see Christ in us, and the best way to truly show Christ, is for us to see Christ in others. Every time we pray as Jesus taught, we pray Our Us and We, we are being stretched a bit to see Him in each other and in the rest of the world.
Francis Chan in Crazy Love How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as Christ-the person driving painfully slow in front of me, the checker at the grocery store who seems more interested in chatting than ringing up my items, the member of my own family with whom I can't seem to have a conversation and not get annoyed?
How indeed would our lives change?
We will only be true followers of Jesus Christ –the one who lived, suffered and died for each of us and for all of us! ..When we know that Christ is in everyone we meet, yes even THAT neighbor...and when we respond with care and compassion to each person, because Christ is within us and within them, whether or not they know it yet. How will things change when we are loving God so much that we sense God's presence inside every bit of God's creation.
And--How will our churches change? If they are filled with people who recognize Christ in each other and in the world?
Author N.T. Wright in his book Simply Christian, writes of what the church can be:
“It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life. It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup and the elderly stop by for a chat. It’s where one group is working to help drug addicts and another is campaigning for social justice. It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry out that purpose, It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. No church is like that all the time. But a remarkable number of churches are partly like that for quite a lot of time.”
Our churches are partly like that, part of the time. They can be more and more like that if we make it so. We can take this renewed recognition of the Passion of our Lord and our growing com-passion, back to our churches and help others find this profound sense of community. These last 10 days or so of Lent, pray thoughtfully and think prayerfully about how we can help make our churches more like this vision.
God who is our Light and Salvation created humans, created you and me for a personal relationship with himself, and to be in compassionate community with each other. The Infinite , perfect God so LOVED the world....all of the world, that God gave his one and only son, Jesus. Jesus-the One who knew no sin- took all of our sin, our pride, our hate, greed, selfishness, everything that keeps us apart from God, Jesus took upon himself at the cross. Jesus endured the cruelest death that humankind could mete out. He did it purely from love and desire to make us one with God. In these final days of Lent, let us prayerfully remember and honor what Jesus did for us by living out that prayer He taught.