Saturday, November 2, 2013

Up a Tree: A sermon for All Saints

Readings for this Sunday: Genesis 28:10-17, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 19:1-10

Have you ever been found yourself up a tree? 

If you look up the expression “up a tree,” you’ll discover it means ‘confused, without an answer to a problem, or in difficulty.”  Well… it also could mean intoxicated, but we’ll concentrate on the first definition.

Zaccheus definitely found himself up a tree.  My guess is that he was up a tree long before he climbed up that sycamore tree.

We know that Zaccheus lived in Jericho and he was a tax collector – a leader of tax collectors.  Jericho was a busy trade town and the tax collecting business was good.  Zaccheus was wealthy and influential – at least among the other tax collectors. 

He didn’t have much influence around the other folks in Jericho.  Tax collectors were hated.  We get that – tax collectors are not much liked these days either.  But it was a bit different back then.  The taxes were paid, not to the local government, or the king, but to Rome.  It was a convoluted system with lots of fingers in the pie taking their cut, but basically the way it worked was this:  Rome would say how much a local area needed to pay in taxes, and then tax collectors would bid on the contracts.  Rome would award a contract to the collector who said he could get the most above Rome’s stated tax.  He would take a cut, and Rome would get their tax plus the extra.

Needless to say, this did not make the tax collectors very popular.  They were considered little more than thieves, and collaborators with Rome, and sinners.  Their very profession put them on the outside of Jewish community, and presumably outside of God’s love.

He was on the outside looking in.  He was up a tree.

Was that what made him go see Jesus that day?  The news that Jesus had just healed a blind beggar outside of Jericho must have travelled through the city like wildfire.  People poured out into the streets to see this preacher/teacher/healer/prophet.  Was it just idle curiosity that enticed Zaccheus to brave the crowds?  Did a sense that there was something missing in his life which leads him to follow the crowds?  Did his longing to be part of the community once again impel him to seek a place in the crowd?    

Whatever it was, he soon found himself literally up a tree – trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus over the crowds.  And while we will never know his motivation, we know what happened.

Jesus met him, right where he was.  Zaccheus thought he needed to climb up to see Jesus, but Jesus was ready to meet him on his own turf – his very own house. 

Suddenly we discover a whole bunch of other people who are up a tree – confused, without an answer to the problem of why Jesus would want to associate with such a sinner.  The crowd begins to grumble – “I can’t believe Jesus said that!”  “Doesn’t he know who Zaccheus is?”  “Jesus, really, you’re going to eat with one of the worst sinners in town.” 

Jesus calls them down out of their trees too: “This man is a child Abraham, salvation has come to his house.  Stop dividing the world in between those worthy of God’s love and those not – everyone is worthy of God’s love.  Stop tallying up points “Your sin is so much worse than my little sin.”  Sin is sin.  Everyone sins and falls short of God’s glory.  But it’s ok because God has sent me to seek and save those lost to sin, even you, even Zaccheus.”

There’s something interesting in Zaccheus’ response to the crowds accusation.  He says, “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone, I repay them four times the amount.”  I know the translation we read says, “will give” and “will repay”, but the Greek doesn’t say ‘will.’     If we drop the ‘will’, Zaccheus is responding to the crowd’s accusation that he is a sinner – he gives to the poor, he fulfills the law and then some. 

So often we hear this story and think, this encounter with Jesus changed the bad tax collector’s heart and he repented of his evil ways and Jesus forgave him, and he was saved. 

And that’s certainly a valid way to look at the story.  But stories often have a deeper level and more than one meaning. 

What if this is not a forgiveness story, but a healing story.  There was a son of Abraham, a child of God, whom the community judged unworthy of God’s grace and mercy.  And God came down to them – all of them – and loved them, the unworthy one and the judging ones.  And God’s love called them down out of the trees that isolated them.  God’s love healed the broken hearts of the unworthy ones and the judging ones and in doing so, healed the heart of the community.

We all spend some time up a tree.  

Sometimes, we know our danger, scrambling up the tree for safety.  

Sometimes, like Zaccheus, we sense there’s something we need or something we’re missing, somethings just not right and maybe the tree will give us a fresh perspective and a better look. 

  Sometimes, like the crowd, we don’t even see the problem, or notice our sin and brokenness, don’t even realize that we’re us a tree, even as the branches become uncomfortable and twigs poke us.

What kind of tree are you up?

Jesus meets you there, waiting to heal, to forgive, to restore.

Hear Jesus call – Child of God, come down.  I have come to meet you at the table, in the bread and the wine.  Salvation comes to this house today, to this gathered community of saints who are also sinners comes healing and grace.   

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Promise

When Abram was already an old man – 75 years old, God called him to take his wife Sarai and his possessions and travel away from his family and country.  Travel to a new land God would give to Abram and his descendants.

But Abram had no descendants.  He had sheep and goats and tents and servants, but he and Sarai were childless.  Still he packed up and left his father and family because he trusted in God’s promise

God said, I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:2-3)

A year passed.

Two years passed.

Most of a decade passed.

Abram was living in the land God promised.  Abram and his wife Sarai and their many tents, and hundreds of servants, and great flocks lived in the land and grew very wealthy indeed.  But they still had no child.

Abram looking over all his wealth thought that perhaps he would need to adopt his chief servant, Eliezer as his heir.  Perhaps that would be the way God fulfilled his promise – through adoption.

One night he was out looking at the stars, and wondering if God remembered the promise, and if Eliezer would have to be his heir.  Then God spoke to him, “Look at the stars and count them – if you can!  That’s how many descendants you will have – from your son.  Your son will be your heir, not your servant, and I will keep my promise through him.

And Abram stared up at the stars – so many stars.  And he trusted God’s promises.

Another year passed.

Maybe two.

It was now 10 years after God promised to make Abram the father of a great nation.

Abram wondered why God was so slow.  Sarai longed for a child.  They began to doubt the promise.  They began to think they misunderstood.

So they decided to do what was common at that time when a couple was childless – Abram would have a child be one of Sarai’s servants and she would adopt the child as hers.  At last, at 86 years old, Abram became a father. 

It was not the best decision they could have made.  Sarai became jealous. Hagar her maid began to think maybe Abram would marry her instead of Sarai.  Abram’s heart broke over the trouble in his household.  He wanted Hagar’s son to be his heir. 

A year passed,

Two years passed.

Thirteen years passed.

Abram was now 99 and Sarah 89, and still did not have a child of their own, when God appeared to Abram again.   Hagar’s son was not the promised child.  Sarai would have a son.  To reaffirm the promise, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham – father of nations – and Sarai’s name to Sarah – princess – to emphasize the trustworthiness of the promise.

 And Abraham laughed….laughed at God. 

Abraham also had questions.  How could a couple so very old possibly have a child?  It was absurd.  And what about Hagar’s son, whom he loved?  What would become of him?

God assured Abraham that Sarah would indeed have a child.  And Hagar’s son, while not the child of promise, would be blessed and also become a great nation. 

Abraham trusted God and his and all the males of his household were circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant, as God commanded.

A month passed

Maybe two.

Maybe three.

Abraham had visitors.  After asking Sarah to get a feast ready for the three travelers, he sat down to talk.  Little did he know that he was entertaining angels and they visitors had astounding news – Sarah would have a son by this time next year. 

Sarah laughed.  How could she, eighty-nine years old have a child when she couldn’t have one when she was young?

Is anything too wonderful, too difficult, too hard for God?

A year passed.

Well at least nine months.

And Sarah held in her arms the proof of God’s faithfulness – Isaac her son. 

That night, Abraham thought one star shone just a little brighter.

Centuries passed.

One thousand years.

A little over two thousand years.

Abraham’s descendents did become a nation.  And God continued to be faithful to them, even when they were not grateful, when they complained, when they doubted and were confused, and even when they downright didn’t trust God.

One night some of Abraham’s descendents were out in the fields watching their sheep when a star blazed brightly and angels told them about the birth of the promised child, who would indeed bless everyone on earth, through his life, death and resurrection.

Centuries have passed.

One thousand years
A little over two thousand years.

God’s promise continues.

Sometimes, the children of the promise find it easy to trust. 

Sometimes, we doubt. 

Sometimes, we’re confused and impatient.

Sometimes, we make our own plans.

Sometimes, we just plain don’t understand.

But always, God is faithful.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sarah's Journey

Sarah’s Journey
Based on Genesis 22:1-8

Setting – Sarah’s tent, perhaps some cushions strewn around.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, an ancient woman.
Abraham, he should appear older each time he is on stage.
Isaac, a boy in his early teens

            Oh, you clumsy girl!  That was my best pottery!  You idiot!  Out of my sight now!  A day at the rendering pots ought to teach you to be more careful!  Out! Out!

            No, Zaphra, I do not want any of that vile tea you make for my aching joints!  There’s nothing wrong with me!  Quit fussing over me and leave me alone!

            (Sighing) Oh, you’re right.  I have been out of sorts for days.  I can’t help it.  I’m just so worried about Abraham and Isaac.

            I know, I know.  Abraham treasures the boy; he would not let anything happen to him.  It’s not Abraham I’m worried about.  It’s that God of his.  I can feel it in my bones – there’s something Abraham didn’t tell me about this journey, something that has to do with God.
            I feel so wicked for even thinking such a thing.  After all God promised Isaac would be Abraham’s heir and there would be descendents as numerous as the stars.  I should trust God.  But it’s so hard.  There’s so much I don’t understand.  God’s commands are strange.
            After all God has never talked to me!  But Abraham has had many conversations with God.  And after each one, Abraham has done some very strange things.

            Well, we moved here didn’t we!  So far from the rich green land I knew as a child.  So far from family and friends.  Yes, yes, Zaphra, you are like a daughter to me.  And our household has grown – we have new family and friends.  But I was not there when my mother died – how do I know if my sisters honored the customs properly?  I was not there to make sure it was so- as was my responsibility as the oldest daughter. 
            No I was not there.  One day, out of the blue, Abraham runs into my tent.  He was so excited.  What light was in his eyes!  But his words made no sense:

(Upstage and to the left of Sarah)  Sarai, Sarai!  I have spoken with God. I, I mean God has spoken with me!   You need to start packing, lay in provisions.  We’re going on a long journey.  God has promised to make me a great nation. But we must go the land God shows me.  Hurry, I want to leave within two days!  (Exits excitedly)

And with that he ran out.  I started packing and we did leave on the second day.  I left my mother, ailing, bedridden, in the care of my sisters.  She did not have much longer in this world, we could have waited.  But no – Abraham said God told him to go, and go we did.
            As the town faded in the distance, I wondered who this God was that Abraham spoke to.  Which god was he following?  What a thing – to claim that a god talked to you!  Unheard of! 
            Nor was that the last time God spoke to Abraham.  I remember the time God told Abraham that all the males of his household must bear a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham.  What a sign!  All the males from Abraham himself to the least of the goatherds were limping around for days!  What a sight!  Ha! And what a strange God to require such a sacrifice!

(Upstage and left of Sarah.  He is in pain.) Now Sarai, I mean Sarah – your new name is going to take some getting used to!  Now dear one, I know it is inconvenient for you to spare the girls - but the herds must be tended.  Until the men have finished healing, the spinning and weaving will just have to wait.  After all, there’ll be no more spinning and weaving if we lose the source of our wool.  And dear, could you please get some of that soothing salve for me!  (Leaves limping)

I didn’t understand, but it seemed to make sense to Abraham.  I decided then that I didn’t need God to talk to me.  God could just leave me and the other women alone!  If God required that from the men, we women were glad to be left out of God’s regard!
I didn’t understand and I didn’t believe.  It was Abraham’s God and Abraham’s promise.  Still, for Abraham to be the father of nations required a child; a child God promised would be mine.  I heard the promise of the strange visitors, the ones Abraham was sure were messengers of the Lord.  Ha!  A child from an old woman, from a womb that long since had dried up – that had never showed the least sign of being fruitful.  I laughed in disbelief.  Yet, yet, deep down inside, hope burst into life, hope that I thought I had buried long ago.
Suddenly, I no longer needed God to speak to me.  Who needed to hear God’s voice!  I had something much better.  God reached down from the heavens and touched me!  When I felt the first fluttering movements of life, so slight I thought I might be imagining them, oh yes, I believed then!  My faith was strong – I knew that a God who cared enough to grant an old woman’s desire truly loved me.  And a God who could fill the lifeless with life could truly do everything.  And that day, that glorious day, when Isaac first breathed our air, my joy was complete.  Abraham was so proud.  I could hear his voice from outside my tent as he held our son aloft for all to see.

(Enters upstage and left of Sarah, cradling the infant)  How great is God!  And how everlastingly faithful God is!  Look and see – the promised heir is born!  And what a strong, healthy boy he is!  Look at him!  The most beautiful perfect child ever! (Exits proudly showing off the child) 

            Finally life was perfect.  I held my tiny son, nourished him, nurtured him, watched him grow.  Watched his first steps, heard his first word.  Watched him grow into young manhood.  I worried all night the first time he stayed out with the shepherds, watching the herds.  And now, now, I worry about what God wants with my husband and my son so far out in the wilderness.
I heard them as they prepared for their journey.  And I know, as sure as anything I have ever known that something is not right about this trip.  Abraham was evasive when I asked him about the need to take such a long trip to worship God when we have always worshiped right here.  Even Isaac was puzzled by Abraham’s instructions.

(Isaac and Abraham enter upstage and left of Sarah.  They dialog, and then exit stage right).

            Father, should I go to the herds and select a few choice lambs to take for the sacrifice? 

            No, Isaac, there is no need.  We are to take only what we have already prepared.  God will provide us with everything else we need.

            No, Zaphra, it is unlikely that they will find a suitable sacrifice in the wilderness of Moriah.  You have never been there, but I have.  I will never forget the desolate lands we passed through on the way to this land God promised to us.  Shepherds would be hard pressed indeed to bring flocks there to graze.  And it is the wrong time of the year for the caravans.  How will God provide?  There is nothing there to provide with.
            I can not imagine what Abraham is thinking.  Well, yes I can.  You can not live with a man as long as I have lived with Abraham without knowing what he is thinking.  I saw the look in his eyes as he kissed me goodbye – the uncertainty, the fear.  That look filled my heart with dread.  God has asked something unthinkable.  I am afraid for my husband, and especially my son.
            I keep telling myself, Isaac is the child of the promise.  God will surely let no harm come to him.  I remind myself of the stories that Abraham has told me about God, about God’s goodness and love.  Surely such a God would never ask what I am afraid God has asked.    Still, thoughts plague my days and my dreams are troubled.  I know the secret Abraham tried to hide in the depths of his eyes.  I know why they took no lamb. 
            How could God ask such a thing?  What about the promise?  How can a dead son provide heirs?  How can God snatch my joy from me?  I don’t understand.
            How can Abraham love such a God?  How can he even think about obeying this command?  If God is good and loving, why is God doing this to us?  What about God’s promise?  Will God go back on his word?  Hasn’t Abraham been faithful? 
            How can I trust, Zaphra?  I want to scream and beg and plead with God!  And then I feel ashamed that I lack faith!  What if my doubts cause God to harm my son? Each day I watch the hills, looking for a sign that they are returning, safe, to me.  And each day I despair of what I fear I’ll see.  And God, as always, is silent.  There are no answers for me, no promises, no hope. 

            So what can I do?  I pray, even though the heavens seem closed to my pain.  I wait.  I hope against hope.  I have no answers, no reassurances.  I am empty, clinging to a promise.  And through all the doubts, the despair, and the pain, there is nothing left but God.  

How lost are you? A sermon for Sept 15, 2013

The flocks were settled in relative safety for the night and the shepherds gather around the campfire as they prepare to take turns keeping watch during the night. There’s the usual banter, conversations about how the day went, where the good grazing was. 

Then, one shepherd blurts out, “I feel like celebrating!   You just got to celebrate with me.”

“Celebrate? What do you got to celebrate?”

And the shepherd responds with joy, “Well today one of my lambs wandered off.  So I found a spot to leave the other 99, so I could search for the one that was missing.  Let me tell you it was not easy!   I really had a time of it - he was a long way off.  But I was so excited when I found him -  I just grabbed him up and put him on my shoulders and ran all the way back to my flock.  It was so wonderful to bring that little lamb back!  Come on celebrate with me!   I found the one that was lost!

The other shepherds just looked at each other. Finally, one of them said what everybody was thinking: “You spent all that time and effort on one little lamb? You could have lost your whole flock while you were out searching.   Are you crazy?”

The whole street was buzzing.  A neighbor lady had hurried from door to door with an unexpected invitation:  “Come over to my place, I’m having a party right now!  I have such good news - you just won’t believe it!  Come and celebrate with me!”

The guests for this impromptu party arrived to see a lavish buffet spread out.  She had spared no expense.  What could her news be?  They couldn’t wait to hear - what could be so exciting?  It must be very good news indeed.

Their hostess motioned for quiet and all eyes turned to her as she said: “You won’t believe what happened!   I was checking my silver coins - I have 10 of them you know - when I noticed that one was gone.  Oh my heart dropped to my stomach!  So I started to search everywhere.   I got out candles, lit lamps.  I checked corners and moved the furniture.   I shook out all the linens and emptied drawers.  I searched high and low!   I spent all day searching for my lost coin - and then I found it!  Isn’t that wonderful news!   I just had to have everyone in to celebrate!”

There was applause and some murmured congratulations as people turned to enjoy the food and drink laid out for them.  But as each made their way back to their home, they shook their heads. What foolishness! She had spent more on that party than the coin was worth! She may have found her coin, but she must’ve lost her marbles to throw party like that!

Crazy love.   Foolish determination.  Irresistible grace.

That’s the kind of God we have.

God loves each and every one of those created in God’s image – every single person is God’s beloved child.  God loves us too much to let us stay lost.   God doesn’t rest until the least one is found.  God won’t rest until every last one is found. 

And each and every time we discover we are lost, we discover that God is already looking for us, has already found us.

That’s the great thing about God’s love and grace.  God is the one who does the seeking.  The lost lamb just keeps wandering farther and farther away.  The lost coin just lays there until it’s found.

I wonder if the lost lamb is Jesus’ metaphor for those tax collectors and sinners – those folks who have gotten so far away from the flock that choosing the wrong path is second nature.  Just like that little lamb that is so busy eating and frolicking  and looking for the next juicy tidbits to nibble that he doesn’t realize that he’s completely alone, completely lost.

Then the lost coin would be the metaphor for the Pharisees and other righteous folks.  They don’t know they are lost.  They are busy going about their days, trying to do their best, trying to live a righteous, God-pleasing life.  And yet somehow, something is not quite right – something is missing. 

They are.  Like a coin, they’ve slipped away, dropped on the floor and rolled into a corner. 

Either way, lamb or coin, God is not going to leave anyone lost.  God is the crazy shepherd, leaving the 99 in the wilderness, to search until the one is brought back, and the flock is made whole again.  God is the foolish woman, spending all day searching for that lost coin and then throwing an over the top celebration when it’s found.

Every time a so-called sinner repents, there’s a party in heaven.

Every time someone is baptized, the angels rejoice.

Every time, you turn to God, for any reason, God calls the angels together to celebrate.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lead us not into temptation

There’s a bumper sticker that says,
“ Lead me not into temptation…
            I can find it myself.”

Ain’t that the truth!

I think the guy who wrote that bumper sticker must have been Lutheran – and he must have been paying attention in confirmation class.

Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism (the explanation for this petition) that God tempts no one.
Luther also tells us that as humans, we are easy prey for temptations:  the devil, the world and our own flesh (meaning our sinful desires) deceive us and mislead us into all sorts of tempting situations.

“Time of trial” is another way of saying “temptation.” 
There are all sorts of trials and temptations we face.  When we pray ‘lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil (or the evil one),” we are asking God to safeguard us, to protect us, to sustain us, to save us in those times.

In asking God to ‘lead us not into temptation, and to deliver us from evil,’  we’re also remembering that this is something we cannot do for ourselves.  This petition reminds us that we totally rely on God.

I’ve often hear people say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  I used to say it myself.

But then there was a time in my life when it seemed like one thing after another was going wrong, when life seemed to be crashing down on me.  Have you ever been in a place like that?

And I began to think about that saying - I felt so overwhelmed, there was no way I could handle it on my own.  And I thought, ‘if God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, God must think I can handle a lot more than I think I can!”

I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and I think the answer is in this petition of the Lord’s Prayer:  Lead us not into temptation, lead us not into the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. 

Because it’s not about us handling it with God’s help.  It’s about God handling it for us.

God never gives us more than God can handle for us, never more than God can carry us through.

Yes, there are trials and temptations, there are bad things that happen in life.  I am firmly convinced that there are things that happen that are not part of God’s plan.  I don’t believe that God’s plan includes planes flying into towers, or hurricanes ravishing cities, or crazy individuals opening fire in an elementary school, or babies dying…or any of those horrible things that happen that we say must be part of God’s plan.

Those are part of the evil that’s in this world – the evil that opposes God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done.  We prayed earlier in the prayer for God to bring God’s kingdom, defeating the powers of evil, sin, death and the devil.  Now we pray again, “God sustain us in those times of trial, strengthen us in times of temptation and protect us from evil.

·       Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for , you God are with me
·       God who has known us from before we are born, promises to go with us, and to deliver us from evil.
·       God goes with us in all our going out and our coming in.

Even in those evil times, when it seems like all is lost.

The Apostle Peter can tell you about those times. He was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying.  Well, he was supposed to be praying…but he fell asleep.

Jesus prays in the garden, asking God if there was any other way, he prays, “Thy will be done.”

Then Jesus goes and finds his disciples sleeping.  He wakes them and tells them – especially Peter – that they need to pray that they don’t ‘come into the time of trial.’

And if anyone ever needed to pray, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, it was Peter.

I don’t know what Peter prayed, or if he even kept awake long enough to pray in the garden that evening with Jesus.  I do know he went from the garden straight into temptation - to deny Jesus in order to save his own skin.  Then his whole world came crashing down around him when his Lord died on a criminal’s cross and evil seemed to have won.

Later, Peter writes:  Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  

He knows what he’s talking about.  He’s been there.

But just before he writes this reminder for us to be alert to the dangers the evil in the world has for us, he writes:  Cast your cares (on God) for he cares for you.

God cares for us. 

Yes there is real evil in the world.  Yes, bad things happen to good people, to Christian people.  Yes, sometimes things happen that are not part of God’s ‘best’ for us, not what our loving Father in Heaven wants for his children. 

So we pray, knowing that God’s kingdom is still coming, and God is still redeeming the world, bringing it in line with God’s will and sending the powers of evil running.

And yes, God can even redeem those times of trial, those times when bad things happen.  God uses those moments to teach us, to challenge us, to encourage us to grow in faith. 

And when we turn to God at those moments of greatest need, we discover that God is with us all along…always.

So we pray, as Jesus taught us, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

A plea for God’s help
A statement of trust in God’s promise to be with us, to care for us, and to carry us through those times of trial.

So, let us pray… .
1.   As a congregation, we’re going to pray the Lord’s prayer, stopping after “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” 
2.   Next, we’ll take time for each of us to pray silently, lifting up to God those places where we are tempted, where we are facing trial, where evil seems to be winning.  This might be a prayer for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our community or for the world – whatever is on your heart today.
3.   After a few minutes, we’ll close with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

“Jesus, Lord, use this time to teach us to pray…

“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil …

Time for individual prayer

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

13th Sunday after Pentecost: Forgive us as we forgive....but do I HAVE to forgive THEM?

Readings for Sunday:  Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 32:1-8;Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 11:1-4

There’s a VeggieTale video called “God Wants Me to Forgive Them?”  It has are two short stories, one in which Junior Asparagus has to forgive this family of grapes (yes – all the characters are veggies and some fruits!) who insulted him.  And then he has to forgive them – AGAIN – when they insult him AGAIN.  In the other story, everyone is angry with Larry the Cucumber, who crashed the tour boat on a deserted island (much like that island Gilligan landed on) – and they have to learn how to forgive him, even if they never get off that island.

Can’t you just hear it?

God wants me to forgive…THEM!?!

Veggie-silliness aside, that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind when you really think about the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”…


God wants me to FORGIVE…THEM!?!

The second thing that probably comes to mind is:  but, but…I thought God’s forgiveness was unconditional, you know, grace – no strings attached.  Isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross?

Let’s start with that second thing first.

Yes.  God’s forgiveness is unconditional.  You ask for it, you got it.  In fact, you have God’s forgiveness even before you ask for it!  This is what Paul writes in Romans 5:8-10:  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

You ask for it – you got it.

That’s what we just did at the beginning of the service – we confessed our sin, those things we did and those things we left undone.  We confessed that we don’t love God and the neighbor as we should.  And we asked for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

And then I got to proclaim the good news that  - you got it!  God, who is faithful and just, does indeed forgive us all our sins!

And in forgiving us, God opens the way for us to have a new relationship with God. The future opens up, and it becomes possible to live as a beloved child of God.

Part of living as a beloved, forgiven child of God is learning to forgive as God forgives.  Forgiveness becomes a way of life. 

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We become new creations – it’s like God gives us a heart transplant, removing our sin-sick heart and replacing it with God’s own heart. 

A heart of love and mercy and forgiveness and grace.

Yes, God forgives us unconditionally. So how does that go with praying “forgive us as we forgive.”  That doesn’t sound like grace.  That sounds like God won’t forgive us unless we forgive everyone else first. 

That sounds like most of us are in trouble.

Because most of us have someone one who we think “God wants me to forgive them????!!!!

And.  We. Just.  Can’t.


Well, you just don’t understand what she did to me.

But if I forgive him, then he gets off scot free.

I’ve forgave him once, but he just keeps doing the same thing over and over again.  He blew his chance.

She is the one who wronged me – she should apologize first!

When you look at forgiveness that way, you make forgiveness about the other person.  And it’s really not.  Forgiveness is about you, about letting go of the past, about loving with God’s heart, about living the life abundant God created you to live.

God loves us enough to forgive us.  God loves us enough to not want us to be stuck in our own unforgiveness.  So Jesus teaches us to pray, "forgive as we forgive."  

In a very real sense, we only truly experience God’s forgiveness when we take that forgiveness we are given and use it to forgive others.  When we're mired in grudges, and anger and resentment and all the other stuff holding on to hurts bring, we miss out.  

It's like someone has given you a gift.  It’s wrapped beautifully.  You can hold this beautiful gift and marvel at it, and feel wonderful that someone loved you enough to give it to you.

But unless you unwrap the gift….you never really get to enjoy it.

Yes God forgives us.  But unless we forgive, there’s something that holds us back from fully living as God intends us to live.

That’s what forgiving others does.  It releases us from your bondage to the past, and opens us up to experience life the way God intends – right relationships, love, joy, peace, hope, wholeness.

Still, it’s not easy to forgive.  Sometimes it’s painful to forgive.  Sometimes we forgive in little bits, sometimes it takes a long time to let go of the past hurt to forgive.  Sometimes, the hurt is so deep, it feels like we can never, ever let it go – to forgive would betray our very selves.

Jesus knew this.  Jesus knew that we humans have a hard time forgiving, and yet we need to be able to forgive in order to  

I think that’s why Jesus teaches us to pray “Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.”  It’s prayer that is both our plea for forgiveness and God’s promise that we are forgiven and that God’s forgiveness gives us the grace and mercy to forgive others.

No matter how many times we may need to pray.

We’ve already confessed to God and asked for forgiveness.  Now we’ll end by praying that we can forgive as God forgives us. 

1.   As a congregation, we’re going to pray the first part of the Lord’s prayer, stopping after “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,
2.   Then we’ll take some time in silent prayer to ask God to help us to be able to forgive.  Maybe there’s someone in particular, or a situation you need God’s help to forgive.  Maybe there’s a grudge you need to give to God instead of hold on to. 
3.   After a few minutes, we’ll close with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

“Jesus, Lord, use this time to teach us to pray…

“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…

Time for individual prayer

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

Saturday, August 3, 2013

11th Sunday after Pentecost: As in Heaven so on Earth - Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

Readings for this Sunday:  Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23; Psalm 145:10-14, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9 - 13

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Thy kingdom come... 
What would it look like if God was sitting on the throne of the world?

Because, that’s what we’re praying, when we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

We’re not asking for
·        not a physical realm with boundaries – a static limited thing - which is what we think of when we hear ‘kingdom’
·        but that God is ruling, sitting on the throne of the world – the reign of God

What would it look like if God was sitting on the throne of the world?
·        Look at creation – ‘it was good’
·        Look at the 10 commandments – state them positively – reconciling relationship with God, description of how the community of God lives
·        The prophets – Isaiah – the feast on the mountain, rich foods, wine, no more pain no more grief, tears wiped away
·        Mary sings about this kingdom:  Luke 1:50-54  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;  he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
·        Jesus’ own description of his mission in revealing that the kingdom of God is near- Luke 4:18-19  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

When God is on the throne of the world, everyone is loved, everyone is valuable.  The earth and all that’s in it is valued as the beautiful good creation of our Father. The lost are found, the hungry fed, the lonely friended.  There is peace and wholeness and reconciliation, justice and mercy and grace and right-living and right-relationship – all those things summed up by daily bread, forgiving and receiving forgiveness, strength to resist temptation and deliverance from evil. 

Thy will be done...
In God’s kingdom, God’s will is done:  all those things that affirm life, draw us to God, and stop sin, evil, the devil and even death from getting in the way of God’s reign:
·        By reconciling humanity to God through Jesus
·        By sending the Spirit to live in our hearts – teaching us how to live as reconciled children of God
·        And although God’s will and kingdom come about with or without our efforts…Christians have this habit of working to bring the kingdom of God:  caring for the sick during the Roman plagues, hospitals, soup kitchens, missions, quilts kits food drives, harvesting a neighbor’s field, dropping off a casserole (or a salad) participation in larger justice issues like civil rights, human rights overseas, cancer walks and crop walks, standing up for a child who is bullied. 
o   It’s what our response to God’s kingdom coming to us through Jesus, our response to God’s grace and mercy in our own lives.
o   This response is God’s will also – just as we were placed in the garden to care and tend for us, we still care and tend for the world, partnering with God, being Jesus with skin on

When we pray “God, come and sit on the throne of the world”, we also pray “God, come and sit on the throne of my heart.” And that prayer plunges us into the midst of God's kingdom coming, and God's will being done.

My internship pastor called the Lord’s Prayer, “Jesus’ mission prayer.”  When we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we are signing on for that mission too. 

As in heaven so in earth
This is really good news.  For God’s reign and will are not something that happen far off only in heaven, but right here, right now on earth.  Although we know that God's kingdom will never be fully realized until Jesus comes again, we look for those places where God's kingdom is breaking into this world, breaking the grip of sin and evil and death.

This is what Jesus promised every time he proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is at hand” 
– right here, now, breaking in every day,
·        Every time someone comes to faith
·        Every time someone experiences the presence of God
o   In a sunset
o   Or in the kindness of a stranger
o   Or in a comforting word
o   Or in the words of a hymn
·        every time someone sees God in the face of a stranger,
·        every time someone is fed
o   or clothed,
o   or a injustice is corrected
o   Or a family member is reconciled…

Or any of the myriad places and ways we see God at work in the world today! 

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

…means that the God is continually working
·        to reconcile the world,
·        to redeem the lost,
·        to restore the broken,
·        to enable us to live as God created us to live.

and that means hope for the world.


So, let us pray…

This morning we are going to pray for God’s rule to break into our world, just as God desires it to.

  1.   As a congregation, we’re going to pray, “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

  2.   Next, we’ll take time for each of us to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, thanking God for bringing salvation, asking God to bring God’s kingdom to those places that need it, asking God to bring the kingdom in us, and through us to the world.
a.   You can pray this out loud or silently.
b.   If you’d like to, and I encourage this, turn to someone next to you and take turns praying your prayer of praise out loud.

   3.   After a few minutes, we’ll close with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”

“Jesus, Lord, use this time to teach us to pray…

“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Time for individual prayer

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

Our hymn of the day is “Take My Life and Let it Be,”  - a prayer asking God to break into our lives and, through us, break into the world.