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Your Will Be Done

We are pretending to be something we are not, while judging others for not being like us. So yes, that is the very definition of hypocrisy…

“Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

While taking classes in public speaking, I learned a very essential rule: the first one to say God loses. Throughout history, we humans have been very well-known for making God responsible for everything – including all of our really bad ideas.

Even in the scriptures God is responsible for all sorts of terrible things, genocide included. Why? Because if God is ultimately responsible for it, then we’re just simply doing God’s will. We like to tote God being on our side. It makes us feel good, look good, and think that we’re right, even when we are not.

Here’s the problem: God is not responsible for evil.

We are – God’s creations who have distorted all that was originally intended. We make God in our own image so that we can get away with anything and everything. Worse, we use God as an excuse and “get out of jail free” card when we get caught.

Many in our world describe Christians most often with the word “hypocritical.” Why? Though there are many of us who attempt to live lives of humble service, who admit we are fallen, who attempt not to judge – there are things that we say and do that unfortunately do make us as hypocritical as the “religious folk” Jesus is calling out in our text.

The Oxford English dictionary defines a hypocrite as someone who “claims to have more noble beliefs than are the case.” It comes from the Greek words that mean “to pretend” and “to judge.”

Jesus spoke to the first big thing that we do in our passage. All of us, at some point or other, are guilty of practicing our piety before others. We do it to show off how “good” of Christians we are. We don’t want to focus so much on all the ways we mess up. We hide the ways we do. All we want is to be seen as the perfect child of God – something that cannot possibly exist. We are pretending to be something we are not, while judging others for not being like us. So yes, that is the very definition of hypocrisy.

When we speak about God’s will, we often begin by speaking about those things which are against it: hatred. Malevolence. Injustice. Sowing mistrust. False imprisonment. Abuse. Violence. Murder. Rape. Theft. Broken relationships. Shattered bodies. All of these are terrible things. Sinful things. Evil things. But here’s the rub – when we hear about these things being done or things being said in support of these awful realities, and do nothing, we are hypocrites then too.

In all three of the Abrahamic religions, there exists an essential adage that if we see evil and do nothing – then we are as guilty as those who perpetrated the evil deeds.

As the young pastor from Germany once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Make no mistake: Jesus did not remain silent. He stood up to powers that oppressed. He spoke in the face of rules that created isolation and caused harm. He flipped tables when there was no other way to make people listen.

When Jesus speaks about prayer, he knows that praying is often our most comfortable religious action. It is something we commonly do, something we are meant to do regularly. However, it is never, ever intended to replace the rest of what Jesus repeatedly tells us to do over and over and over again. If we keep praying and God’s will never impacts our thoughts, our speech, our actions – then we are praying to ourselves and not to God. We are acting the part, but not actually accomplishing anything.

Jesus’ ministry called people of prayer to live out their prayers through concrete action. And just as important as the things we are meant to stand against, those evils that do always seem to be rising up in our world, we are also intended to stand for other things. These are the things that visibly display God’s will – throughout scripture and history: they include hope, peace, compassion, justice, truth, wholeness, reconciliation, courage, learning, care, rebuilding, renewing, recreation, and yes, love. Love above all.

Though it may be a long road to overcoming our reputation for hypocrisy, the change that will bring that redemption starts with you and me. We must overcome our obsession with gods that look like us and make us feel content. We must let go our desire to give lip-service and bury our heads in the sand.

For God, who is sovereign and able to do grater things than we have seen, God does still speak. God does still act. God does so by pushing you and me out of our comfort zones, out of our prayer closets, and into the world that is in desperate need of those who truly live their faith – in concrete, tangible ways.

When we pray, your will be done, every day, it should occur to us more and more that God’s will is accomplished through those who would truly follow where God leads. Those who would practice their piety by living as Christ did: by bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, proclaiming God’s love in every place and to every single other person, by being Christ-like not just in our words, but more importantly in our actions.

Your Kingdom Come

God’s invitation to us is to really mean it. To ask for it. To seek it. To knock on every door we see until it is tangibly all around us. To be the knights, and shield maidens, and disciples, and miracle-workers. To really mean it….

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Luke 11:9)

There are countless ways that the tales of King Arthur have been told and retold throughout the centuries. At the heart of the legend is the tale of an unlikely boy, raised by adoptive parents, who comes into his own through the arrival of a sign marking him as the true king – in Arthur’s case, a sword called Excalibur. As he grows in age, he gathers other noble and service-minded men and women around him, flawed though they might be. Together they seek a rule that is in service of something far greater than themselves and strives to make life better for all people in their midst. And among the countless quests was the seeking after the cup of Christ, the true king. Like Arthur, he will come again to rule his people.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus describes the kingdom of God in a number of ways. The kingdom is like a mustard seed that grows into the greatest of plants. The kingdom is like yeast that leavens a whole loaf of bread. The kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field, which, upon learning of it, the wise man spends his treasure to buy the field – so as to attain this treasure through honest means. The kingdom is like the merchant of pearls who seeks after the one of great value. The kingdom is like the net thrown to catch fish of every kind, keeping the good and throwing out the bad. The kingdom is like the landowner who pays his laborers equally, however long they work. The kingdom is like the farmer who sowed seed in different soils. The kingdom is like the king who forgives far more than he should. The kingdom is the wedding banquet which all the “appropriate” people ignore and so all the “unwanteds” are invited in.

The kingdom is many things – most of which we know thanks to parables in the two gospels from which the Lord’s Prayer come. The kingdom is present. The kingdom is persistent. The kingdom is essential. The kingdom is beautiful, even if not in the conventional sense. The kingdom is all-encompassing, though not all-enveloping. The kingdom is equality, equity, and mercy. The kingdom is open to all, though not everyone will necessarily get it. The kingdom is forgiveness even before it should exist. The kingdom welcomes ALL people, especially those the comfortable, powerful and arrogant want to ostracize, demonize, and cast out.

The kingdom of God takes courage. For most of us, secure as we are in worldly lives, seeking after the kingdom will mean that we must deal with some discomfort, some selflessness, some sacrifice. Even better, once we truly begin seeking after God’s kingdom, its nature in our lives will continuously evolve so that slowly and surely, our eyes will be open to its presence among us and our hearts will long to serve it.

Paul speaks of how the whole of creation waits with eager longing for the children of God to appear. Now, there are children of God, in the created sense, everywhere. That is not what Paul means.

Paul is speaking of the true heirs of God. The children who are willing to take up God’s righteous mantel and fight for the world God intended, works for, and desires. That means asking hard questions that the world does not want to face, but God pushes us to voice. That means seeking opportunities in every situation to bring light and life to all around us, because God has opened our eyes and our ears to all those who are hurting, broken, and the pain inflicted by others and our complacency. That means knocking on the doors that the world wants to remain closed because they keep us comfortable, as barriers between ourselves and those whom God loves. And that is only just the beginning. As heirs with Christ, how we serve God’s kingdom will develop in ever-expanding ways as we become more in tune with God’s own self at work among us.

Now, it is fun to talk about King Arthur and to imagine knights and ladies that will fight for what’s right – off in some far away land. And it’s safe to talk about some ancient teacher and his followers who did miracles and took on the powers of the world and loved everyone – because it is in the past. But here’s the thing: every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “your kingdom come.” We say it. Every time. God’s invitation to us is to really mean it. To ask for it. To seek it. To knock on every door we see until it is tangibly all around us. To be the knights, and shield maidens, and disciples, and miracle-workers. To really mean it.

Hallowed Be Your Name

…life is to be revered and blessed and honored as holy. All life. All lives.

 “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:2)

Hallowed means holy. And the reason God’s name is so holy is because of its meaning. It is not that the name itself is so untouchable as to make us afraid. Instead, it is that what God’s name means, the essence of who God is, is so important, that we should give the name deep consideration as an extension of God’s own self.

And where is God’s name actually translated in the Old Testament? If I come to them and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they as me, ‘what is that God’s name?’ what shall I say to them? It is from the story of Moses, as the deep whisper reaches out from a bush that is on fire but not consumed. Then God says to Moses, I am who I am.

The Hebrew can actually be translated a number of ways, including: I am who I have been; I am who I will be; I am that I am. God’s name is from the Hebrew word for “to be.” God’s name means being. It is the essence of existence. It is life itself.

If last week’s opening statement to our divine parent explains our relationship to God, this week’s phrase gives honor to who God truly is.

Now, God is described in a myriad of ways in scripture. God is giving – of so many things. God is a devouring fire. God is a merciful God. God is with us. God is faithful. God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, mighty and awesome. God is providing. God is bringing us through to promises. God is God in heaven above and on earth below. God is the God of our ancestors. God is our shield. God is our righteous judge. God is our refuge and strength. God is king. God is our helper. God is able to do greater things than these. God is the God of orphans and widows, strangers and aliens, the lost and the forsaken. God is salvation. And yes, God is love.

Those descriptions come from the whole of scripture, mostly from the Hebrew Bible. Because God is who God has always been – and God is the source of all life, loving wondrous variety and welcoming those that others want to forget. God has always shown a special place for those who have been hurt by others and even those who have hurt themselves.

Now, if God’s name means life… and God’s name is to be revered as the holiest of things… what does that mean for us?

That life is to be revered and blessed and honored as holy. All life. All lives.

As we make this confession every week, of God’s holy name, we do so even as we have also dishonored the very life God has created. From the moment we got dominion over the creation, we have taken the power to dominate and run with it. We have created division and segregated ourselves from one another. We have chosen to ignore pain. We have rejected people because of constructions we have made – like race, class, ideology, belief, gender. We have promised ourselves that we are right and cherry-picked scriptures to back up our world-view, and thought process, and belief system. We have dehumanized and dismissed those who were most in need. We have used excuse after excuse to justify our own cowardice and complacency. We have believed lies are truth and been silent in the face of hatred. We have idolized the powerful, the wealthy, the popular, the loud, the wrong.

In spite of this, all of us are people through whom God works, by undoing and remaking us every single day. Undoing those idols we have created for ourselves and of ourselves. Remaking us by restoring God’s image within and pushing us to create life beyond.

So yes, we are to honor God’s name every day. Not only by reiterating “hallowed be your name.” But, more importantly, by living out that name in our lives. Treating life as holy. Treating other lives as holy. All of them. Then we will become heirs of the great I am, who creates life, gives life, and empowers us to make life holy for all who walk this earthly way.

Our Father In Heaven…

In the Lord’s Prayer, we come to God as God’s children. We acknowledge that we are not the end all or be all in ourselves…

When you are praying… pray then in this way. (Matthew 6:7)

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be going line by line through the Lord’s Prayer – that prayer we know and love. Why? Because the prayer was created not just to give lip-service to God, but instead to be a paradigmatic model of how our life should look when we follow Christ.

This week, we begin with our Father in heaven. The Father-God is a image with which we are quite familiar in the Western world of Christianity. From good old father Abraham to the father of the prodigal son, we know that there are countless images and ways that God is referred to as the male parent. Jesus himself referred to God as Father. More specifically, though, Jesus called God Abba, which roughly translated means “Daddy.” It is an intimate nickname, not a formal title.

For as much as we see pictures of the white-haired, white-bearded, old white dude living up in the sky watching over the creation – that is not the picture that we get from Daddy. A daddy is someone who will catch you when you weep at the pain of others. A daddy is someone who will put on the very same old television show on tape when you have trouble sleeping and then carry you back to your bed when you’re finally out. A daddy is the one who holds you with gentle strength and kisses your head to let you know how much you are loved.

The intimacy of Jesus’ reference to God in heaven should help us to move past our preconceived notions of whether or not God is male. In fact, if we get bogged down in that debate, we will lose the entire point of the invitation Jesus is offering to us in the prayer.

We are praying to our divine Parent, for make no mistake, our God is bigger than male or female. In referencing God as a parent, either male or female (for do not forget that there are scripture references to God as mother, too), we are acknowledging the nature of our relationship to God.

Whether our God has been the father-figure we have always loved, or has been more visible in the caring hands of a mother-figure in our lives – when we pray to God in heaven, we are invited to draw close, hold tight to that loving embrace, and rest in the arms of the best Parent that has ever existed.

As patient as a human parent can be – God is far more so. As forgiving as a human parent can be – God’s forgiveness is there waiting for us before we even ask for it. As understanding as a human parent can be when their child yells and screams and rails against them, for any reason – God understands even more. As loving a human parent can be – multiply that by infinity and that’s just the beginning of God’s love for us.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we come to God as God’s children. We acknowledge that we are not the end all or be all in ourselves. But we do not like to do that. Like a child who is convinced they have all the answers, we often do not want to admit that we are not in control in our relationship with God.

Point being, that when we deceive ourselves into believing that we know best, we know all, we should be the ones in power over this world, others usually end up on the receiving end of some pretty terrible stuff. That’s how we get a viewpoint that someone who is different is less than human. That’s how we get to a place where our own rights are more important than people. That’s how we get to concentration camps, internment camps, and gas chambers. It may seem extreme, but the road there is paved with the best of intentions.

How do we counteract this mindset? Our fallen nature? The ease with which we break relationships with ourselves, others, and with God? We should remember that while we may not be in charge of our relationship with God, we are called to be the one who ensures that every other child of God matters, the one who welcomes others home, the one who seeks wholeness for every other child in our midst.

God wants us to be children that are seen and heard. Wants us to be the ones who run headlong into the broken world to bind up wounds and to catch one another when we fall. God wants this, because, made in the image of our divine Parent, we are heirs to God’s kingdom on earth. Heirs, in this case, does not mean that we should sit around looking forward to our inheritance and retirement package. No, we are called to be the active children of the Parent in heaven who wants to find the whole world bound together again, as God’s own self is bound together in love.

 

Rise Together

We cannot escape one another. Until we stop trying to, we will be forever caught up in the sea of chaos spurned by our own greed, glory, and gluttony. What is worse, the waves of that sea will continue to wipe away the small bits of good we do manage to do…

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

This past Sunday, the youth at our church undertook the great work of leading the entire congregation in worship. They sang, they danced, they shared their experiences from their trip this summer and from youth group. Overall, they showed us what it means to have energy, intelligence, imagination and love in our midst.

Among the passages shared was this one from Paul’s first letter to Corinthians, when he is discussing what it means to be a member of the body of Christ, i.e. the church. It is not enough to simply give lip service to Jesus and say, yes, that One is my Lord and Savior. No, we must be willing to share our lives with others. To care for others as much as ourselves, sometimes with even greater fervor than that.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way, “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in this single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” The echoes of Paul’s words ring through that great preacher’s own voice.

We cannot escape one another. Until we stop trying to, we will be forever caught up in the sea of chaos spurned by our own greed, glory, and gluttony. What is worse, the waves of that sea will continue to wipe away the small bits of good we do manage to do – drawing one another out onto solid ground.

Among the stories shared by our younglings was this one, taken from the work of Lolly Daskal, and performed at Montreat Youth Conference this summer. It is entitled Whose Job Is It Anyway? It goes like this: “this is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.”

Paul says, you are the body of Christ. You. Me. All of us. We are tied to one another. And through Christ we are tied beyond even that body into the vast multitude of the world, for we know that Christ died not just for some, but for all.

My encouragement for all of us today is to become the somebody who does the jobs that need done. Who empowers others. Builds up those who have fallen down. Strengthens those who feel lost and alone. Seeks after the Kingdom in every place. For it is what we are all meant to do. And then, maybe we will see a world risen from the chaos and walking on water together.

Zombie

All this to say, we cannot be zombies anymore, just going along with what we are told to believe. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering of those around us. We cannot intentionally forget our own complicity in it…

In the midst of my middle school years, the Cranberries released their famous single, Zombie. At the time, I was going through enough personal crises that I did not fully pay attention to the song (I’m very sorry to say). In the past year, the Bad Wolves released an updated version that pointed out how true the song still is. No longer is it just about Ireland anymore, either. Now we are looking at a world gone mad.

The song states, “Another broken mother’s heart is taking over. When violence causes silence, we must be mistaken… But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family. In your head, in your head they are crying.” In other words, sure bad things might be happening somewhere to someone, but it doesn’t affect my life so why does it matter?

Except it does. As a world-wide culture, we are attempting to roll back decades, even centuries, of work breaking down the walls of racism, sexism, discrimination, bigotry, fascism, and general hate. At least one of those affects every single one of us or someone close to us. Many of us may not face tanks, bombs, guns, or drones in our everyday lives – but we do face the daily violence we do to one another, both individually and systemically.

All this to say, we cannot be zombies anymore, just going along with what we are told to believe. We cannot ignore the pain and suffering of those around us. We cannot intentionally forget our own complicity in it.

Two thousand years ago, a wise teacher came who highlighted the ways that violence impacts real lives, real people, real children of God. For his incredible works and miracles and healings – they killed him. He did rise again, proving evil will not win. And it is our job, as his followers, to carry on his message and work.

In our worship this coming weekend, we will use some of the words from the Confession of 1967, which states, “Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize others, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.” Though all of us have been guilty at some point, we can no longer allow ourselves to give into the evil that so insidiously works among us.

We must do better. We can do better. The hope is that the admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery. It may be a long road ahead, but it is time we get to work on accepting the Spirit of God at work among us – empowering us to continue to break down walls and build up people.

It Is Well

Most of us do not have the wherewithal to have such faith in the midst of our greatest tragedies. That is okay and God understands…

Our final hymn in our summer series has one of the best known hymn stories on record. It’s author, Horatio G. Spafford, wrote the words in response to tragedies from his own life. And it’s effect has been longstanding and profound.

The story goes that Spafford, a Chicago native, needed to travel to Europe for business. In the aftermath of the great Chicago fire of 1871 he was held up with work and sent his family on ahead of him. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship carrying his wife and four daughters was lost and only his wife survived. It is said that as he passed by the spot where his daughters died a short time later, he penned this beloved song: When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It is well with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul.

In our lives there are countless situations where we are filled with sighs too deep for words. Most of us do not have the wherewithal to have such faith in the midst of our greatest tragedies. That is okay and God understands. Remember that God once lost a son, too.

The promise of this hymn is not that it will all get better. Contrary to what the world tries to tell us, time does not heal a wounded heart. However, God walks with us wherever we go. And when we open ourselves to that presence, we may find a measure of peace, compassion, and hope even when all seems lost.

My prayer for us this day is that we may all experience God’s loving presence among us and be able to join in Mr. Spafford’s glorious affirmation: And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, a song in the night, oh my soul! It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul!