Sunday, August 11, 2019

Faith in the Weeds: Sermon for Proper 14C, Ninth Sunday After Pentecost


When we moved into our house, the previous owners had gone out and bought some very expensive trees to pretty up the backyard before putting it up for sale, and it showed. Almost all of the trees were about six to eight feet tall, which is a sure tip-off that they are fresh from the nursery. 

 There was a redbud in the backyard, and I come from redbud country, so we knew that tree was probably about 25 years old, because it was big enough to put as swing in for Lauren after she was born. But then there were the others. There was a dramatic white dogwood. There were two white pines. And they were all the same size. When we bought the house in February, they looked okay. But once winter snapped one last time, apparently, they started to get peaky. And by the time we moved in at the end of March, both the dogwood and one of the pines were as dry and crusty as the rim of a margarita glass.

When we pulled up the dogwood right after we bought the house, its roots were still in the burlap sack from the nursery, and when we dug up the pine, we saw that it had been planted right over a midden of construction garbage that included old tiles, broken bricks, and about 400 cigarette butts. Now, supposedly the pines had a warranty on them, so we replaced one. But when the other one died, too, we just ignored it, because by that time we had had our first baby, and what with everything we were too busy to deal with tree problems.



It apparently bothered my mother, how naked the backyard looked. So one time when she drove up, she brought a whole bunch of Rose of Sharon seedlings, mere sticks, really, and we plopped them in various trouble spot along our east fence. These most certainly were NOT fancy nursery- bred plants, but tough, twisty, squat little Okie trees, with colors of blooms my mother takes great pride in—pure white with deep red centers, pink, and purple—she had yarn tied on each little stick for the color of blooms it had so that we would get the whole assortment. Later my dad sent up a tiny redbud stick he got as a giveaway, of similarly humble origin.


Not like these relatives.
These were not trees that needed pampering. These were trees that said soothingly, just like old relatives who arrive unannounced, “Y’all just go about your business, we’re fine here, don’t mind us. Just turn on the Beverly Hillbillies on TV Land and give us an ashtray and a Coors Light and we’ll be fine.”

And then all those humble Okie trees proceeded to seed themselves all over creation.

So as they’ve grown and spread canopies wide like an umbrella, I constantly have to pull up all their sprouting little children all over the garden. and the backyard, and the front yard. But they remind me of home, and momma, and my dad, gone these 13 years, and so it doesn’t bother me too much. 

But Bill is not so charmed. He refers to them as weeds. And I get that. He does not treasure them as I do because his practical side sees their weird shape and rotting blossoms sliming up the yard if it rains real hard and he just thinks they’re homely. And if you perceive them from not having grown up around them, I guess they can be kind of unimpressive.

Yet I am convinced it is always the “weeds” of this world who provide the most refuge without asking anything in return.

Those trees are a vortex of activity. In five minutes of sitting on the back deck yesterday morning, working on this sermon and thinking, I watched six hummingbirds zoom around the blossoms as they jockeyed for a chance at the waning late-summer blooms. I watched cardinals and Carolina wrens fight over the ripening grape clusters from the vine that is supported by not one but two trees along our fence— trees that also give us privacy in our yard. I watched butterflies— humble little skippers, but also hairstreaks, fritillaries, swallowtails, and oh my God, even a monarch, once so ubiquitous but now almost as surprising to see as a Bengal tiger. Even on my deck I could hear the thrum of probably thirty bumble bees hovering like tugboats from blossom to bloom, staying aloft only God knows how. 

We owe our lives to the “weeds” of this world, to their humble welcome and hospitality. The least we can do is call them beautiful. 

I was thinking about the way those trees stubbornly grow and do so much even when everything seems to work against their flourishing, and then I thought about what was going on when the letter to the Hebrews was written. The audience for this letter, too, were worried about the survival of their faith community. The first generation of Christians are passing away at the time the letter to the Hebrews is written, and the second generation seems to be faltering, given that the Messiah has NOT returned as they believed. Early Christians expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes, and yet that expectation was being confounded.

Persecution was tempting them to give up the faith, or turning on the Gentile converts who would not follow Judaic Law. The Church was in danger of foundering and shrinking back into a local mystery cult instead of continuing to spread and flourish. Those early Christians feared that their community would soon wither and perish just like those first trees in our yard.

The author of Hebrews has a word of hope to prescribe for them. That word is “Faith.” And it’s a word, then and now, that is often misunderstood and denigrated, sneered at in our secular, post-religious era as what people fall back on when they don’t have knowledge or reason.

The first verse stands alone as a wonderful summary of the significance of faith as the lynchpin of our search for God. Faith is the junction of the finite, material world which can be derived through the senses with the eternal world.

Faith links us to the eternal and enables us to trust in God’s promises. It is what enables us to know God in response to God’s knowledge of us. Faith depends upon trust. Further, faith is what animates and motivates us to respond to God. Abram demonstrated faith enough to leave the only home he had known in Ur without even knowing what the land he was being given looked like—merely on God’s say-so.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,” the author of Hebrews states. Yet the flavor of that statement in the original Greek is even stronger: faith is the “very being” of God’s promises to us--- those things that we hope for but barely allow ourselves to believe. Yet faith is not just a state of mind. It calls us as Christians to action as disciples, as we live into our heritage as children of God.

In the words of one commentator, Thomas Long, on this passage, faith 
“is more than the inner confidence that the powers of the world that pressed down and destroy human life will eventually yield and that God’s promises will be fulfilled some day; it is the reality of those promises moving as an advanced force and operating behind enemy lines. Christians, then, have faith as an inward assurance, but they also in body faith is an outward manifestation in the old world of the revolutionary presence of the world to come. Faith as an inward reality sings “We Shall Overcome.” Faith as an outward reality marches at Selma. Faith as an inward reality trusts God’s promise that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). Faith as an outward reality prays boldly for those who mourn, serves tenderly those who are weak, works tirelessly to ease the pain of those who are wounded. Inwardly, faith moves hearts; outwardly, faith moves mountains.”(1)

And let’s face it, it’s a hard time for faith as we face the tragedies of the world right now. The events of last weekend’s mass shootings have undoubtedly left many of us reeling. Thirty-one people dead, three children orphaned, dozens of others are wounded and traumatized. Once again, we will hear empty promises of “thoughts and prayers” from too many of our leaders, followed by shrugging inaction. 

Two hundred and fifty-one mass shootings in 220 days of 2019. We need faith that this can change. We need action. Faith is that which gives us the courage and the strength the persevere and to dare. Faith is the thing that gives us wings to carry us over the times of distress in our lives. Most of us don’t have the heaping mounds of faith that Abram has in this passage. But the good news is: just a little is often enough. Just a little can get us through the anxiety and uncertainties of these times. 


Now, that doesn’t let us off the hook. Abraham had faith, but then he had to act on the basis of that faith. He had to dare. He had to trust in this unlikely promise that God offered to him, and he had to be willing to countenance great losses in the name of that faith. He had to take that first step and then keep going, one step at a time, for 600 miles.

 This is a time to remember where our priorities are: with stripping away all the distractions and self-centeredness that separates us from God and each other—in other words, sin and idolatry of self, the two great challenges of our lives together in this modern, angry, fear-fueled age. It’s also a time to relax into the promise—yes, in faith!– that God gives all of us as our tender, loving mother, seeking to draw us back to our true natures as beings made for love, made to be a blessing for others just like Abram was promised.

In other words, as we face the woundedness of this world, we are called to act, based upon God’s call to us, like Abraham, to be people of faith in deed as well as word– to live more deeply into the life we are all drawn toward in our very natures: a life rooted in the Most Merciful One, who created us for love and community. That means we are called to renounce all that separates us from God and each other, and probably high up on that list is silence in the face of hatred and violence that has our country by the throat.

All it takes is having the strength to take the first step. In courage. In love. In faith.

Amen.

Preached at the 505 on August 10, and at the 8:00 and 10:15 am Eucharists at St. <artin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Citations:
(1) Thomas G. Long, Hebrews: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, location 2303/3051, kindle edition.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Weeds


The Hubster dislikes
our Rose of Sharon trees—
he likens them to weeds.

Yet I am convinced
that it is always the “weeds”
who provide the most refuge
without asking anything in return.

In five minutes,
I watched six hummingbirds
zoom around the blossoms
as they jockeyed for a chance
at the waning late-summer blooms.

I watched cardinals
and Carolina wrens fight
over the ripening grape clusters
from the vine
that is supported by not one but two trees
along our fence—
trees that also give us privacy in our yard.

I watched butterflies—
humble little skippers,
but also hairstreaks, fritillaries,
swallowtails,
and oh my God, even a monarch,
once so ubiquitous
but now almost as surprising to see
as a Bengal tiger. 

Even on my deck I could hear
the thrum of probably thirty bumble bees
hovering like tugboats from blossom to bloom,
staying aloft
only God knows how.

We owe our lives
to the “weeds” of this world,
to their humble welcome
and hospitality.

The least we can do is call them beautiful.




Photo taken this morning of a bumblebee on a Rose of Sharon and then using the Angel filter on Prisma.

Prayer, day 2385


Almighty God,
who puts a song in the throat of the sparrow and wren,
whose praise is found in the voices of children,
receive our hearts as we offer them to you today.

Zeal for your law of love inspired Jesus to cleanse the Temple:
may we, too, cleanse our hearts of all impurities,
all that draws us from dwelling within your love,
that we may be a fit habitation for your Spirit.

All that we are belongs to You, O God,
Fountain of All our Blessings,
Our Hope in Time of Trouble:
hold us and shield us in the hollow of your hand.

Pour out your blessing on all in sorrow or distress,
we humbly pray, O Lord of Life,
and grant your peace which surpasses understanding
to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Prayer 2384


Most Merciful One,
we pray to you in humility and wonder,
each heartbeat a cadence of your blessing.
May my heart ride higher
into your wisdom and grace, Lord,
like a hawk riding a thermal,
spiraling into the blue beauty of the sky
you have stretched like a curtain above us.
May we sing a pure song of joy
as we behold your many gifts to us, Blessed Jesus,
and use whatever strength we have in your service.
Spread the shield of your protection, O God,
over all who our to you
in search of knowledge, peace and relief,
and gather in your embrace those for whom we now pray.

Amen.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Prayer 2383



O Holy One of Blessing,
my heart lifts in gratitude
as I rise to think on your love
and everlasting lovingkindness.
I lift my eyes to the morning sky,
and stand amazed at your wondrous works:
the galaxies that lace the heavens,
woven on the loom of your wisdom;
the clouds that sail like mighty ships,
bringing shade and comfort at midday;
the hummingbird that flits from blossom and branch,
fulfilling her purpose in your web of life.
You have set us within this glorious creation
 providing all we need,
and tending to our every moment, O God.

Let my heart be stirred
to embody your love today,
Most Blessed Savior,
that I may walk in integrity and compassion
with all living beings,
upheld by your steadfast grace and peace.

Bless the hands that heal and comfort,
bless the strength of those who fight for right,
bless the journeys of all who wander,
and bless the witness of your children
who preach your kingdom by their loving action.

Envelop within your steadfast embrace
all those whose needs we lift before You, Blessed Jesus,
as we humbly pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Prayer, day 2382


The first bird of the morning
lifts up her song of joy:
let us join her in raising praise to You,
O Lord Most High.
We thank You
for this beautiful Earth beneath our feet:
let us waken the dawn with our songs of joy.
Our trust and hope rests in the Lord,
the Ground and Source of All That Is:
Come, Holy Spirit, and fill our hearts with wisdom.
Our fingers may forget their skill,
but let our tongues praise You
and our actions testify to your transforming grace.
Forgive, Lord, and restore us to paths of peace:
let our fight be for those who are oppressed,
seeking justice with loving hearts.
Blessed Jesus, receive our prayers and praises,
and bless us and those for whom we pray this day.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Prayer 2381: Feast of the Transfiguration


Beloved Savior, we bow before you,
overcome by your glory.
We laud and magnify your Holy Name,
You who came
to remind us of the sacredness of humanity
by taking on human flesh
and revealing the unity of God with us
in joy as well as pain.
You dazzle our eyes
and fill our hearts with wonder,
awed and amazed by your steadfast love,
O Blessed Jesus.

May we reveal you and your gospel
as your hands and face in the world;
may we look with loving eyes on creation,
all of it a gift of God to us and for us,
and work for justice and reconciliation in your Name.
Abide within our hearts, Lord Christ,
and prosper our holy work of peace, we humbly pray,
that we may overcome hopelessness and apathy
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Give your angels charge, Lord,
over those who weep or watch in anxiety this day,
and grant the balm of your blessing
to all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Prayer, day 2380: A Prayer of Mouring... Then Resistance


Most Merciful God,
we thank you for bringing us together this day:
anoint us with the power of your Spirit,
and fill us with your light,
that we may do the work you have given us to do
and walk in wisdom and grace.

Lord, strengthen us to persevere in faith and love,
led by your gospel to be resolute and unyielding
in resisting the forces of evil, terror, and carnage.


In obedience to your charge to us, O God,
may we pull don'
the forces of hatred, injustice, and fear
from the thrones they have usurped.

Almighty One,
make us bold to reclaim our power
to shape our communities
by the precepts of peace,
justice,
lovingkindness,
and virtue.

Led by your Word, O Creator,
let us work together for the common good,
creating the Beloved Community you have called us to be,
where all enjoy the blessings
of ease, contentment, and security.

Blessed Savior,
draw within your merciful embrace
all who weep and grieve this day,
and grant your healing to those
whose bodies, minds, or spirits have been wounded by violence.

Holy One,
stretch forth your hand that we may take it,
and draw within your protection all those for whom we pray.

Amen.


Edited in response to the mass shootings in Gilroy, CA; El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH in a single week.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Being Happy: Sermon for Proper 13C


When I was in college, there was a huge hit by a vocal artist named Bobby McFerrin, Jr. It was a unique song especially because, way before the TV show Glee made it cool, the song was a capella. Every sound in this song was created by McFerrin’s voice or body. The jaunty, bouncy melody couldn’t fail to make you smile, which was perfect, since the song was called “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” McFerrin’s song explains, “In your life expect some trouble; when you worry you make it double.” Given that this song came out at a time of dramatic change in US society, with instability in the USSR, rising deficits and interest rates, the song gently poked fun at the worries of materialism. The lyrics talked about not having your rent, even lacking so much that your bed has been repossessed. But the ongoing refrain is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Jesus attempts to give us this same advice in the section of Luke we hear today. We see two different stories in our brief gospel reading that deal with the use and sharing of wealth. Both the anonymous brother who seeks Jesus’s intervention and the rich man Jesus tells the parable about are inordinately concerned with “self,” and chapter 12 in Luke consists of admonitions against falling short of kingdom values. One brother claims that the other brother is not sharing the inheritance left by their parents. The brother who is here wants Jesus to respond and mediate the dispute with his brother over the family inheritance. Here Jesus refuses to take sides, although he uses the opportunity to teach about the dangers of selfishness and greed. So just like two weeks ago, we have a story involving triangulation—and once again Jesus refuses to be sucked into that triangle.

Of course it is bad for one brother to hog the total inheritance—but Jesus has greater concerns. “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions,” he warns. And if ever there was a statement showing that the gospel is countercultural to today’s Western society, this is it. He then tells the parable of the Rich Fool to cement that statement into memory, a story that only appears in Luke.

The rich man, known as the “Rich Fool,” sees the abundant produce as a challenge, since he has no place big enough to store it. Now the question arises: why would he need to store it for such a long time that he is thinking about building new barns? It seems he has no intention of selling or sharing his abundance, but instead is going to store it for himself. This abundance is going to provide him with security to now relax, and “eat, drink, and be merry” --echoing the more famous, fuller phrase from Isaiah 22:13, which added the happy phrase “…for tomorrow we die.”

Nine times in this short little story we hear the rich man say “I” or “my.” He also refers to himself as “Soul.” Now, the New Testament comes to us in Greek, so we can only speculate here. But the Hebrew word for “soul” is Nephesh, which is used over 700 times in the Hebrew scriptures. However, it is only translated as "soul" about 10% of the time—it can also be translated as life, heart, people, creature, and even throat, according to translaors. It even is used to refer to animals, interestingly enough, in Genesis: “And God said let the waters teem with living Nephesh.” So if you're wondering if animals go to heaven, the answer is yes.

A Nephesh is not something you have—it is what you ARE- a living breathing creature—the totality of both our physical and spiritual selves. It is the essential personhood and identity. The Nephesh unites the spiritual and the physical—and as God’s children we are called to embody our nephesh fully in God’s image and by God’s kingdom values. Yet the Rich Fool has forgotten this.

And what does Jesus teach us about what matters in God’s kingdom? Love. Compassion. Being willing to admit your wrongs and being willing to change—repentance. Relationship. Community. Integrity. Living by the spirit of the law of love in all its expansiveness rather than meanly by the letter of the law. Breaking bread together—companionship. And it has been my experience that when I depend on those blessings—when I consciously think about those I love and how blessed I am to be with them, my anxiety about tomorrow diminishes, and I realize that, as St. Augustine noted, that we are given people to love and things to use, and it’s when we get that backward that we end up hurting others and focusing only on our narrow little concerns.

This is far different from our discussion last week about a laborer praying for tomorrow’s bread today. That section of the Lord’s Prayer that asks for bread is a prayer for enough. The Rich Fool has so much that he has to build bigger barns. Especially on the heels of Jesus teaching us to pray for sustenance, this hoarding strikes a discordant note indeed. After all, he did not get this huge crop by himself—he has been blessed with fertile land and appropriate weather including rain. The rich man has also employed people, no doubt, to plant and plow and weed and tend and harvest and process the grain. Yet he refers to no one but himself with the noted many times he uses the words “I” and “my”—as if he planted, and reaped, and built all by himself. This is self-delusion as well as selfishness.

The opposite of selfishness is what Jesus calls us to embody in our lives, not just here in church, but out where our deeds and actions testify to what we believe about God louder than if we used a megaphone, a very un-Episcopal thing to do.

Kingdom values would be to acknowledge God’s graciousness to the rich man by being himself gracious. As Jesus points out in our final verse today, greed that separates us from others separates us from God "So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." And indeed the rich man is not going to get to enjoy the abundance he is so eager to hoard, for that very night his life is going to be demanded of him. He will not actually get to kick back and relax, but instead, Jesus makes clear, he will be called to account for his lack of piety and generosity.

What does it mean that his life is demanded of him? It's not meant to be so much a threat as a reminder. It’s a reminder to us that our lives do not belong to us. Our very breath is a gift from God. 

That’s very easy to lose sight of in a world where we think ourselves the masters of our own destinies. Jesus does not always portray money as evil—look at how the Samaritan was willing to spend more than two full days’ wages tending to a helpless stranger a couple of weeks ago. 

The hoarding of money, however, he repeatedly condemns. Rather, there are ways to use wealth for good—and that can start with especially considering how that wealth was amassed in the first place. It can be hard to see sometimes, with bad examples such as Walmart and Amazon right in our faces, but it can be good business to pay good wages and offer benefits—see, for example, Costco, QuikTrip, and Starbucks as examples of this. 

Money can also be a way of lying to ourselves, telling ourselves that we are not dependent upon anyone but ourselves.That's idolatry-- an old fashioned word for a very modern illness.

Jesus understands, as we all do, that anxiety short-circuits both the heart and the mind. We know that when a person is under stress, their body is flooded with hormones such as adrenaline. Fight or flight instinctive reflexes kick in. The ability to center your mind on God often goes up in smoke. And it’s at this point that we remember how often scripture urges us not to be afraid--- more than 365 times, or enough for every day of the year.

In all four of our lessons, we are reminded to have our priorities straight: God before all. God before all, because God is our source, creator, loving parent, our haven, our home, our rescue and guardian. Our lives themselves are gifts from God, and what we do with them should mirror that understanding and gratitude. Security does not lie in possessions, but in God’s abiding loving-kindness to us, and in embodying that same generous lovingkindness to others. We are urged to be rich (grateful) toward God, which we can most easily show outwardly by being rich (generous) toward others, with our time, our kindness, and our possessions.

Amen.

Preached at the 505 on August 3, and at 8:00 and 10:15 am on August 4, 2019, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church. Ellisville, MO.

Prayer 2379: 8th Sunday After Pentecost


O God, You are our all in all,
and we kneel before your altar to praise your holy Name.

May we ever be centered in gratitude
for all You have given us.
May we always remember, O Lord, 
as you taught us,
that we are to love people
and use things,
and never reverse that.

Lead us to live joyfully, Blessed Savior,
with generous and grateful hearts,
putting our trust in You
and not in our possessions or status.

Pour out your blessing upon all who seek you,
O Merciful One,
and grant your comfort to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Prayer, day 2374


Lord Jesus Christ, we kneel before You in thanks for this day.
Forgive us our sins, O God, we humbly pray,
and guide us into new pathways of peace and mercy
for your love's sake.
Bring us into a new fellowship of faith and hope,
and drive far from us all division and fear.
You, Lord, bid us sit down and eat:
open our eyes to see your abundant blessings all around us.
As you multiplied the loaves and fishes
to feed the multitudes,
feed us with your grace and peace,
satisfying our souls.
Pour out your Spirit upon us, O God,
that we may reflect the light of love and healing
into the darkest corners of the world.
We turn to You, O Holy One,
for your healing touch:
place the balm of your blessing upon all who call upon You.

Amen.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Prayer 2373


Wondrous Creator,
all that is has been hallowed
and shaped by your loving hand:
help us to see the wisdom and beauty
You have woven into the fabric of creation,
and knit into the bones of all living beings,
from rock and tree to stranger and friend.
We are tiny seedlings seeking your light,
O Holy and Blessed Maker:
make us mighty redwoods in the grove off your kingdom,
interconnected at our roots by love and faithfulness.
Help us to grow upright with integrity, Blessed Savior,
generously giving comfort to others
like the cool shade of a glade at noonday.
Lead us, O Spirit of God,
to stretch our arms ever toward each other,
and to be a blessing for the world.
Grant your mercy, O God,
on all the concerns we bear in our hearts,
and grant your peace to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Living Prayer: Sermon for Proper 12C, the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost


It was 1919. A terrible war had, for the ninth time in three centuries, plunged the world into fire and flame—but this time, the war had included machine guns and flame throwers and poison gas and aerial bombardment. Some villages in Europe had lost every single young man between the ages of 18 and 30.

And then, just as the war was over, a terrible flu pandemic had struck, spread by those same troop movements all over the world. One in three people on the entire planet were infected, and it is estimated that as many as 40 million people died worldwide, including my own great-grandparent. Race riots broke out all across northern cities as African Americans moved north for work during wartime, and came home from fighting overseas daring to believe that they should be granted the same rights as everyone else.

Meanwhile, all across America, Native Americans lived in squalor and extreme poverty for the most part. On the Osage Reservation, oil was soon to be discovered, which would result in dozens of murders as whites tried to get their hands on the Osage’s newfound wealth. One hundred years ago, exactly.

This is the context of the painting on the cover of your bulletin. It’s entitled Hunger and it’s by an artist living in New Mexico named Walter Ufer. Ufer’s painting is a commentary on hunger—physical and spiritual—in the face of so much loss and deprivation. And in the face of spiritual hunger, Ufer acknowledges the importance of prayer.


Seen along old Route 66 in Oklahoma

Prayer is a natural thing—it’s so natural that even people who claim no relationship with religion can often find themselves engaging in prayer at some point in their lives. Ultimately prayer reveals two things: what we think about God, and what we think about ourselves.

So what does Jesus’s prayer in our gospel today teach us about God? 

Father
First, Jesus calls God by an innocent childhood name for parent, the equivalent of "Daddy," although our translation does not reflect this. This reveals to us that God loves us intimately and personally. For those of us who had loving, beautiful relationships with our parents, this language is especially comforting. For those of us whose relationship with our parents may have been difficult or even hurtful, this gives us a chance to try to rehabilitate those words in our hearts, to remember when we have received that tender love and care from others, or at the very least, when we have embodied that same love and care in the world for others as mentors, teachers, listeners, or advisers.

Hallowed be your name
Second, that God’s name is holy and should be revered and treasured. In these first two instructions Jesus gives us in the very first sentence, therefore, we learn that God is as close to us as a loving parent, and yet also worthy of awe and wonder and reverence throughout the universe. The old-fashioned phrase for this reverence for God in scripture is “the fear of the Lord.” Yet too many people have taken that phrase and supposed that God is a wrathful, vengeful God.

Our reading from Hosea this morning doesn’t help matters in this department, either. Yet what gets omitted in stories like the one from Hosea as we attempt to understand them is that the prophet’s lives were often used as pieces of performance art to try to bring the people back to their senses when they had abandoned their loyalty and worship of God. Hosea’s children’s names are meant to remind the people of Israel that they have turned their backs on God’s mercy and themselves have acted as if they were not God’s people by worshipping other gods. God hasn’t left or abandoned them—they have abandoned God. Even at the end of the reading, God promises that the people will return to God.

And we do the same thing—every time we elevate money or nation or entertainment over our call to be God’s light in the world. Remembering that God’s name is holy doesn’t mean just avoiding cursing or swearing using the name of God. It also means, since we claim the name of Christ and wear the name of Christ as self-professed "Christians," we should avoid profaning Christ’s name through our behavior to each other, especially those among us who are weak, vulnerable, or begging for mercy. That kind of sin can befoul the name of Christ far worse than any curse-word ever could.


A detail from the dancing saints mural at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco

Your kingdom come
Third, that God’s kingdom or rule within our hearts begins by our own invitation and openness. God doesn’t come in and impose God’s will upon us. God’s kingdom begins when we are brave enough to ask for the kingdom, to log for the kingdom, and to choose to live by kingdom values over the familiar but also soul-destroying vacuum in our own world. For the last several weeks now, every gospel reading we’ve heard has included the reminder that the kingdom of God is drawing near to us. 

It would be helpful if we would stop running away each time it approaches. Asking God’s kingdom to come is also committing ourselves to a new way of living and relating to each other, where we honor the promises we repeated last week in our baptismal covenant at our 10:15 service alongside our baptismal candidate: 
  To continue in fellowship with each other, and not just with the people that are already here, but those in the world who are outside our doors and our daily lives. 
  To resist evil rather than accommodate it, and to take seriously its presence in the world.
  To be brave in our proclamation of the Gospel no matter how weird, or worse, na├»ve, others might think us. 
  To seek the face and beauty of Christ in ALL persons, and proclaim their dignity and worth, no matter who they are or where they come from or what they need, to see the outstretched hand of the refugee as the outstretched hand of Jesus, who knew what it was like to be homeless and persecuted.


Give us today our daily bread
Fourth, God is a provider for us. When we ask for our daily bread, we are asking God to take care of us the way a father would take care of his children, providing for them through his own efforts. The word for “daily” can also be translated as “necessary,” but recent translators have suggested that the double use of daily in the original might mean “tomorrow”—give us tomorrow’s bread today. In doing this, God not just provides our food but grant us peace of mind and contentment.

As I noted in my reflection this week, this is the prayer of a humble laborer, who will rise from sleep hungry if there is no bread in the house before they go out to search for work the next day. Being given tomorrow’s bread today allows you to sleep at peace, knowing that at least the morning will not start with hunger but with strength, which of course also leads to gratitude. It’s a simple request, a basic request, a life-giving request. If we have tomorrow’s bread today, we can rest a little easier about the future, and center our prayers on God in gratitude rather than in fear.

Even the great Indian sage and freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There are people in this world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” With that statement, bread goes from being humble sustenance to something no one should be asked to live without. What if we understood God as our sustenance, as what keeps us from perilous hunger and need? Maybe it is just that simple and direct at times. Tomorrow’s bread is the bread of hope—and this prayer reveals both our dependence and our trust upon God.

And forgive us our sins, for we forgive ourselves everyone indebted to us
Fifth, whereas the version in Matthew refers to “debts,” which could just be a translator’s whim, Luke refers to sins, and asks God to forgive us. But here is where, after a series of rapid-fire short sentences, we get a subordinating clause, as we English teachers remind you: Forgive us our sins, FOR we forgive those who sin against us. In other words, this takes for granted that we have already forgiven those who have hurt us through their sinfulness. God is fully capable of forgiving—let’s face it, as much as we ae prone to sin and self-centeredness, forgiving has to be a huge part of our relationship with God.

And this is a reminder for us, and an admission—we all are prone to manipulation, treating each other with carelessness if not outright cruelty, and being far too comfortable in a system designed to promote winners and losers so long as WE don’t end up on the losing end. This culture in which we live is run by the gods of scarcity, exploitation, and want, after all—it’s the basis for our economic system. That’s especially why we are reminded in this prayer both of why we need to be forgiven, and why, as God’s children, we are called to forgive too.

And it is important to remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean we let toxic people back into our lives on the same footing as they had to hurt us in the first place—we need to make that abundantly clear. Forgiveness is not forgetting—forgiveness is a gift you give yourself when you have been wronged, so that the pains of the past don’t destroy or disable your future.

Yet the life of faith is a life of repentance and reconciliation. The word “repentance” often gets a bad rap—it makes people feel guilty, and ashamed somehow, even if they don’t know the reason for that shame. Yet repentance is necessary for everyone. Repentance literally means “to turn.” Even God is portrayed as turning away from wrath in the psalms. Even Jesus was brought to new understanding when the Syro-Phoenician woman refused to take offense at being called a dog, if only this Jewish holy man would make her little girl well.

Do not bring us to the time of trial. 
Sixth: Asking mercy rather than trial. This is another part of God’s protection over us. We pray to not be led to the time of trial—even if we may deserve it. We ask instead for God’s grace rather than God’s justice. In the modern version of the Lord’s prayer, I really like the way this request is phrased: “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.”

In the traditional language version we pray every time we worship, the phrase “lead us not into temptation” just does not square with what I have experienced God to do in my life—God doesn’t lead us into temptation; I can get there just fine on my own, even blindfolded and spun around three times as if I was getting ready to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Temptation is our playground.

For many of us, the biggest temptation we face every day is the temptation to tell ourselves we can’t do anything in the face of cruelty, injustice, and exploitation, in the face of the very real suffering that we witness in ways great and small every day. What we need, what we pray for, is for God to help save us in times of trial—in times when all like lost sheep we are prone to wander, and put our own concerns above those of God, and above the very real need and pain of the world.

What we pray for in this petition is for God to strengthen us to be God’s children in the ways that really matter—that when we are confronted with the temptation to say we can do nothing, or to say that helping is too much work even when it’s as simple as baking a casserole or listening attentively to someone, we instead be led from that temptation to being fully engaged in what our Jewish friends call tikkun olam—the repair of the world.

And what do we learn about our hopes and concerns about God from this prayer? We learn many things. First of all, that we are brave enough to approach God, knowing that God hears our prayer. It reminds us that prayer is not a one-way magic formula for getting the deity to do what we want; prayer is a conversation, based on a real relationship. We learn that we believe that God can intervene in our lives for both giving and forgiving. We trust God not to lead us astray, but instead, like the Good Shepherd, to never let us remain lost, or those afraid that their faith is not strong enough. 

In Gethsemane
We also learn that, like an older brother, Jesus is teaching us how to pray. He is engaging in an activity he is depicted as performing repeatedly throughout the gospels: going off by himself to pray to God. And finally, there is this reminder: perhaps the disciples wanted to have Jesus provide them with a magic formula for prayer. Jesus gives us this prayer to help us, but he never means that this prayer is the only one we should ever pray.

As we know, prayer can take many forms. Ultimately, the point of prayer is drawing closer to God and aligning our wills more closely with God’s will. Planting a forest is a form of prayer, as we heard about Jadev Payeng, who has spent 40 years turning a desert waste into a forest filled with life, one tree at a time. Being the church in the world even when the world is hell-bent on systems that are based on division, on fomenting distrust and exploitation, is a form of prayer. Worship is a form of prayer, of course. Feeding someone, as Jesus fed the multitudes, is a form of prayer. Caring for a sick stranger, as the Good Samaritan did, is a form of prayer. Washing the dishes or mending sandals is a beautiful prayer, as we heard about Brother Lawrence last week. Sitting in silent meditation is a form of prayer, as we open our hearts and still our monkey mind to listen to what God may be calling us to do.

We too, share the disciples’ plea. Teach us to pray, Beloved Jesus. Teach us to pray with our voices, and teach us to pray with our silences as we listen to God as much as we talk to God. Teach us to pray by our actions as much as our words. Make our lives a living prayer to You.

Amen.

Preached at the 8:00 and 10:15 Eucharists at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13