Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Hallowed By Thy Name....

Readings for this Sunday are:  Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 105:1-6; Colossians 2:6-14 and Luke 11:1-13

“Lord, teach us to pray…”

There’s something about the disciples’ plea that touches me deeply. After all that time with Jesus, travelling together, sharing life together, learning from the Master, they still watch Jesus pray, and say, “I want to pray like that….Lord, teach us.” 

Jesus responds by teaching them this prayer – the prayer that has become THE PRAYER of the Church – all churches, in all times and all places.

One of the things that struck me when I first started going to a Lutheran Church was how often the Lord’s Prayer was prayed. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer in worship. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer to start meetings. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer to end meetings. Just about any time a group of Lutherans gather together for any reason at all – we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

I think a big part of the reason we do this is because the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that Jesus gave us:
-      we know it’s got to be good,
-      we know it’s how God wants us to pray,
-      and we know it covers all the bases.

“Jesus, teach us to pray…”

Jesus gave his disciples this prayer as a model on how to pray.  So what does the Lord’s Prayer teach us about God, about ourselves, how we pray? We’re going to spend the next few weeks praying the Lord’s Prayer, and thinking about what each part tells us about God, ourselves, and prayer.  We’re going to be asking these questions;
·        What do we think each petition of prayer means?
·        What new insights can we find about the petition?
·        And what does it mean for us today?
Finally, we’ll spend just a little time in prayer, using that day’s petition as our model.

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

Let’s look at the first three big words and this prayer: our, father, heaven.  These words frame and set the tone for the entire prayer:

“Our” – Have you ever noticed that all the pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer are plural: our, we, us?  This is a not prayer for me and my – although when you pray this prayer by yourself certainly your concerns, the cries of your heart are wrapped up and included in the “Our”: this congregation wherever we may be at that moment, and the prayers of the whole church.  The “our” connects us to each other and to the world as we pray with and for our communities, and especially with for those most vulnerable, “the least of these.

“Father” – If ‘our’ reminds us that we are a community, ‘father’ speaks volumes about relationship.  We address our prayer to a God who loves us as parent loves a child. God who is adopted us as children and heirs. 

“Heaven” – “heaven” further defines “father.”  Our father is God the creator of the whole universe. God the provider.  Jesus tells us that God is more faithful than even the most loving human parent to respond needs and requests of God’s children.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”

What does this mean?

(What do you think it means?  Take a moment to answer.)

Praise God.  Be thankful.  Remember God is holy.  Keep God’s name holy.  

In the Small Catechism, Luther answers the question this way: 
“It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we asking this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.”

Luther linked it to keeping the second commandment:  to not take the Lord’s name in vain.   Luther went on to say that when we pray “hallowed be thy name,” we are asking God to turn our hearts more and more to God, so that our lives reflect God’s love and holiness.

“Hallowed by thy name” can be heard as a request for God to help us rejoice in and praise God’s holiness and to make our lives show that holiness.

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

What insights can we discover?

Let’s look a little deeper.

“Name” goes a bit deeper than just the name of God. Name means reputation – like somebody’s good name. Name also was identity - who someone is, what their character is like.

“Hallowed” is a word we really don’t use a lot anymore. It means to make something holy – which is to set it apart, make it special, make it exclusive.  And the way this is worded in the Greek, is that we’re asking God to make God’s name holy.  In other words, we’re asking God to be God.

That’s in effect what Abraham was asking God in our story from Genesis today. Abraham starts out appealing to God’s justice and righteousness and mercy – surely God will not destroy the righteous with the sinful!  That’s not in keeping with God’s righteousness or God’s mercy.  Abraham’s plea for God to save Sodom for the sake of the righteous living in it – including his nephew Lot and his family – was a request for God to act in keeping with God’s character. For God to hallow God’s name.

Jesus tells us that we can trust God to be God.  He tells the story of the sleeping friend reluctant to get up and answer the door and meet his papers need.  To those listening to Jesus, it’s an absurd story – no one in that day would ignore the demands of hospitality and not get up and answer the door and give what was needed.

The next story is equally absurd - no parent would give his child a poisonous scorpion instead of bread!  In laying out these two totally impossible, ridiculous scenarios, Jesus reveals to us just who our heavenly father is:  the giver of good things, the one who knows our need before we ask, the one to whom we can confidently go to in prayer.

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

What does this mean for us today?

Prayer is powerful stuff.  Prayer changes things. 

My friend Martha, from Revgalblogpals, said this about the power of prayer: “Prayer works on God, works on us and it works on others.” 

That’s what ‘hallowed be thy name” does.  Our prayer works on God, asking God to be God. And God comes near with justice and mercy and grace and love, bringing peace and wholeness and healing. 

“Hallowed be thy name” works on us, opening our hearts and turning us into people who live in such a way that God’s justice and mercy and grace and love is revealed to everyone around us.  

We pray “Hallowed by thy name” our sake, and for the sake of a world that desperately needs God’ peace, justice, mercy and love.

And God listens.    

So, let us pray…

We’re going do a little exercise that I often do with my confirmation students – we’re going to restate this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer in our own words. Here’s how this works:

    1. As a congregation, we’re going to pray, “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” 
    2.   Next, we’ll take time for each of us to pray a prayer praising God, thanking God, or asking God to be God and to help us live in a way that reveals God’s love.
                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…

Time for prayer of praise

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

We continue our time of prayer and praise with the hymn “Thine the Amen,” 801 in the blue hymnal. 

(If you're reading the blog and don't know this hymn, substitute a hymn that speaks to you of God's holiness and what God has done.  Two ideas -  "How Great Thou Art" or read the Psalm for the day.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

It's OK to Not Do It All - Monday Musings on Luke 10:38-42

I wrote this drama for a preaching class.  The assignment was to preach incorporating a 'found text'  - and at the time, I saw an ad/billboard (I can't remember what it was for!) that said "It's OK to not do it all."  I remember thinking, "That's sort of what Jesus was trying to tell Martha."  Then I started wondering what Martha's response was.  Did she listen to Jesus and sit down?  How did her life change from this encounter with Jesus?  What did her friends think?

Let’s see.  The washing is all done. 

And the bread baking went so much faster with Mary to help.  And we had so much fun reminiscing about mother! 

Hmm.  Dusting – I should probably dust.  No it can wait.  There are more important things than dusting every day. 
Email!  I have time for my e-mail. And I need to answer Rachel last message.  I don’t know quite what to say to her….

Maybe I should re-read our last few posts….

(7Days ago)
RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From:  Rachel []
To: Martha []

Dear Martha,

I can’t believe you emailed back already!  And such a chatty note!  Usually it’ two weeks later and you say “been really busy, hope everything’s ok, talk more later.”  What’s gotten into you?

Anyway, I’ve been telling you all along, it is OK to not do it all.  That’s why God gave you a sister.  You need to give that dreamer a good kick in the you-know-what and get her to do her fair share.

I can’t believe this Jesus told you Mary chose the better way!  I mean – what do men know about how to care for a guest. Really, he simply has no idea just how much work it is to host a party.  What did he expect – for you to sit down and spend time with him AND there would be a meal!  Did he think there would suddenly just be enough food for all?

Oops – gotta go.  It’s time to pick the kids up from Hebrew school.
Shalom, Rachel

(6 days ago)
RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From: Martha []
To: Rachel []

Dear Rachel,

You just don’t get it.  When Jesus said Mary’s choice to sit and listen to his teaching was a better choice than my choice stay in the kitchen to prepare the meal, I WAS angry.  I couldn’t believe he took her side!   
So I thought – I’ll show him.  I’ll sit down and listen and then when dinner’s not ready, he will see that he should have sent Mary in to help. 

So I sat right down next to Mary and started to listen.  After a while, I stopped being angry and worrying about dinner, and really listening to Jesus.     

You know what – no one starved!  After Jesus taught us for awhile, everyone pitched in and we had a delightful dinner.  Those fishermen really know how to cook a fish!  I even had John show me his recipe!

I had planned to wow Jesus with my skills at hosting a party on such short notice. Instead, I actually got to enjoy a meal with my guests!  It was so nice to be a part of the table conversation instead of running back and forth to the kitchen.  Jesus tells the most wonderful jokes. 

Shalom, Martha

(5 Days ago)
RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From:  Rachel []
To: Martha []

Dear Martha!

I am scandalized!  It’s one thing for those uncivilized fishermen to invade your kitchen – you can’t expect Galileans to understand the way sophisticated hosts manage their parties.  But you – you actually let them!!

I can’t say I think much of this Jesus you’re always talking about.  He seems to be rather lacking in the manners department.  He should have better control of his closest followers.  It’s like he cares more about talking than about the right way to do things.  What did he do after the meal, roll up his sleeves and wash the dishes?

Enough of this nonsense!  I’ve got a meeting with the synagogue women’s committee.  We’re having a bake sale so the youth group can go on the Jerusalem overnight trip – you know the one where they get to tour the temple and meet the High Priest.

(4 Days ago)
RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From: Martha []
To: Rachel []

Dear Rachel,

As a matter of fact, Jesus does care more about talking with people, and listening to their stories and taking care of them, than about doing things the right way. 

And yes, he did help with the cleaning up, as did Mary and several of the disciples.  Really, Rachel, the evening was so much more enjoyable without having to worry about all that I needed to get done.  I got to know Jesus so much better.  He tells such terrific stories. 

How can I help with the youth trip?  Do you need any chaperones?


 (3 Days ago)
RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From:  Rachel []
To: Martha [manicmartha@jcmail.menet]

Dear Martha,

I don’t know if you should spend so much time with this Jesus.  He seems to be a bad influence on you.  Your mother, God bless her memory, would turn over in her grave if she knew how you shirked out of your hostess duties and the pitiful way you entertained your guests.  Hosting guests is NOT about spending time with them, it’s about showing off how well you run a house and how good a cook you are.  I know your mother taught you better.

The bake sale committee wants me to ask if you could provide the usual 6 dozen baklava, 7 loaves of your mother’s famous bread and as much matzo as you can make.  Passover’s coming you know!

Shalom, Rachel

PS – how could you possibly find the time to chaperone!

(2 days ago)
RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From: Martha []
To: Rachel []

Dear Rachel,

Jesus, a bad influence!  For years, you’ve been saying I’m too busy, I work too hard.  That I need to quit trying to do it all by myself and get Mary to help me.

I’m realizing that life is about more that clothes, or houses or food.  Jesus taught me that.   That it’s just as important to feed my soul with the bread of God as it is to make the bread that feeds my family.

 So I am taking Jesus’ advice to choose the better part.  Sometimes that’s being busy making bread, and cleaning house and serving my family.  And sometimes the better part is taking the time to pray, and listen and look for God in the world around me.  I discovered that my to-do list needed to include both time to love God and time to love the people around me.

That’s how I finally have time to answer my e-mails.  And how I can have time to chaperone the youth trip.  I’d really rather spend some time getting to know the young people in our synagogue than making all that baklava.  How about I just make mother’s bread for the bake sale?  That way I’ll have time to chaperone too!
Shalom, Martha

RE: It’s ok to not do it all?
From:  Rachel []
To: Martha []

Dear, Dear Martha,

That doesn’t sound like the Martha we all know and love!  I think that you should probably stop those trips to hear Jesus preach, leave the neighbors alone, and take care of yourself. 

Concentrate on doing more of those things that you are so good at – everyone in Bethany envies your homemaking skills.  If you want to spend some time with others, why don’t you invite some of those teen girls in and show them the proper way to keep a gracious home and serve fabulous meals.  You’re always saying how the young girls need to spend more time learning the fine art of household management! Mary could do with some of those lessons too!

The bake sale committee and the youth trip organizers think that they can manage without you this year.  Really, we’re all concerned about you.  You just haven’t been acting like yourself.  Perhaps after a week or two – stay home and let Mary take care of you for a change - you’ll feel up to leading the annual Pre-Passover house sweeping.
Shalom, Rachel

Martha:  (to herself):  Hmm.  Now, what should I say to her?  OH I’ve got it! (Speaking while typing)

RE: It’s ok to not do it all.
From: Martha []
To: Rachel []

Dear Rachel,

There’s nothing wrong with me.  Actually, I feel better than I have in years.  I didn’t realize how over-scheduled I was.  I was so busy multi-tasking, being the best home-maker, cook, hostess that Bethany had ever seen, I forgot the most important thing.

Rachel, it really is ok to not do it all.



Note:  I believe in sharing, so feel free to use this drama - but please give proper credit!

Performance Note:  I did this as a monologue, with a laptop as a prop.  I think it would also work with 2 readers (and 2 laptops).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Looking for God in Unexpected Places and Faces

Naaman had it all.  He was not just a general, but the winning-est general of the Aramean army.  He had the favor - and the ear - of the king.  He had a loving wife.    What’s more, the Bible says, he got all this, because God favored him.

Not everything was peaches and cream for Naaman though.  He had leprosy.  Now biblical leprosy covered a host of skin diseases – whatever it was that Naaman had, it didn’t interfere with his ability to be a part of the community.  It did, however, interfere with his life and his health. 

Naaman had another gift from God, although he did not know it yet.  He had taken a young girl as a prisoner of war, with the idea of making her a servant for his wife. 

Now there’s a lot of amazing things in this story and one of them is this slave girl.  So insignificant, that we don’t even know her name, but a hero of the faith nonetheless.  Think about.  She far away from home, prisoner in a strange land, made to be a slave.  She could have whined about her faith – ‘oh poor me, I’m just a slave.  I’m nothing.”  She could have been angry, “Serves him right!  He tore me away from my family and home.  I hope he never gets better.”

But she didn’t.  She saw that her mistress was saddened by her husband’s illness.  And she sympathized with her mistress.  Furthermore, she had a solution.  She knew that there was a prophet in Israel who spoke the word of the Lord – Elisha – and she knew that God was in the business of wholeness and restoration.
So the slave girl told her mistress about Elisha.  Excitedly, she told her husband Naaman what the slave girl said. 

Hope.  There was a chance that he could be healed.  How could he not grasp at that hope – even if it came from the most unlikely place, the God of a defeated prisoner of war?

Naaman must have really been grasping at straws to even consider going to Israel.  In that time, people believed that if one army defeated another, that army’s god had also defeated the other.  So it was incredible that Naaman would seek the help of a God who apparently couldn’t defend his people.  Of course Naaman didn’t yet know that God works in unexpected ways and shows up in unexpected places. 

I can only imagine that conversation with the King of Aram:

“Sire, my wife’s slave girl says that there’s a prophet in Israel that can heal me.  May I have your permission to go?”

“Israel?  Are you crazy?  We soundly defeated them.  What makes you think their God has the power to heal you?”

“I have to try.”

It just shows how high the king valued Naaman.  Not only did he give him permission to go, but he greased the skids.  He sent a letter to the king of Israel to smooth the way.

Instead of smoothing the way for Naaman, the letter only served to scare Israel’s king.  Thinking it was a trick to start a war, the king despaired.

Neither the king of Aram nor the king of Israel remembered what the slave girl did – there was a prophet in Israel.

Elisha reassures the king of Israel that Naaman will be healed – just send him over to Elisha.

When Naaman shows up, instead of a king’s palace, he is sent to a prophet’s simple house.  Then the prophet doesn’t even come out – he sends his servant with a message. 

That’s no way to treat a man as important as Naaman, and he becomes furious.  What’s worse, all the servant tells him to do is go dip in the Jordan River – that muddy insignificant creek – 7 times. 

What bunk.  What insult.  Just wait till the King of Aram hears how his favorite general was treated!  Naaman turns to go.

Naaman had a vision of how this healing would go.  The prophet would come out and pray over him and wave his hands over his diseased skin.  And then he would be healed.

Naaman couldn’t see the God might just work in a different way. 

His servants called him out on this – Father (they must have really loved him to call him such an intimate name), if the prophet had asked you to do something great, wouldn’t you have done it?  This is such a simple thing – why not do it?”

And that was the exactly the issue.  There was not spectacle, no magic, no pomp.  It was too simple.  It was too easy.

It was too good to be true.

It was so unlikely – a slave girl has an important message for her master, giving him the information to get the thing he most desired.

It was so lowly – not a king, not even a prophet, but a servant gives him the message that can heal him.

It was so improbably – a dirty creek, not a mighty river, is the means to his healing.

Naaman sees the wisdom in his servant’s words.  There really was nothing to lose.  And if this worked…
He dunked down in the muddy waters – once, twice, three times…seven times.  And when he came up on the seventh time – he was healed.

And more than just physically – because Naaman knew in that moment that God was God. 

How do we know that God is God?

Are we looking for God in all the wrong places?

Are we looking for fireworks and miracles, and miss the little daily ways grace comes to us?

Are we expecting mighty prophets (or preachers) when God sends servant girls, and apprentice disciples, and healed demoniacs, - and us - to spread the good news?

Where do we see God in the unlikely, unexpected places?

In the words of a slave girl and a message from a prophet, and a dip in muddy water,
In the song of a expectant mother and a baby wrapped in swaddling and the shepherd’s story,
In the cry from a cross and an empty tomb,
In water poured over a baby’s head,
In a bit of bread and sip of wine,
In a listening ear, and a burden shared,
In laughter, and a child’s joy,

In the words of a holy hymn or even song on the radio that touches your heart,
In the smallest moments, the simplest things, 
God speaks healing in our souls.