Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A prayer for disciples . . .

     It would have been a lot of fun preaching from Hosea.  I have to admit, I get a perverse pleasure when people discover passages in Scripture for the first time.  I had a couple “Is this saying what I think it says?” this week.  Yes, life is often tough for the prophets of God.  They are hounded by His kings and queens, they get tossed into cisterns, and they have to marry prostitutes and give horrible names to their children.  Makes you glad you are not a prophet, doesn’t it?  By the way, notice in the midst of this terrible judgment passage, there is still hope?  Though God will deny His people for a time, one day the world will recognize that they are, indeed, His people.  Best of all?  His people will number more than the sands on the seashore.
     That all being said, Luke has been a timely book for us.  We have committed, as a Vestry and as a congregation, to work a bit more on our relationship with God, what people call discipleship.  Two weeks ago, we looked at how Luke described discipleship with respect to how we treat others.  Those who are in a right relationship with God are Good Samaritans to those in their daily life and work.  One cannot claim to be a disciple of and in right relationship with God and be able to walk by others in need.  Last week we explored the simple truth that we all have different calls.  Now, I will be the first to admit that most people tend to focus on the belief that their “job,” their call is more important in God’s eyes.  I think around here we tend to minimize our own ministries relative to others, but the message is the same.  Once baptized into the kingdom of God, you and I and everyone else in the Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry.  That means we become the hands and feet and mouthpieces and shoulders and whatever else He calls us to be.  None of our ministries are any more or any less significant than that of another, if God is calling us to it!  If He has called us to a ministry, He deems it necessary.
     This week, Luke focuses our attention on how we are to communicate with God.  The prayer is known as the Lord’s Prayer, because our Lord gave it to us, but it is really the Disciples’ Prayer, as it is the prayer which He taught His disciples, that includes you and me, to pray.
     Notice the title of address.  In the Ancient Near East, gods were in another, celestial realm.  A great chasm or gulf existed between them and humanity.  Worse, the gods were jealous of worship and respect.  One proverb illustrated this attitude: Zeus strikes the proud and the haughty like he strikes the tallest oaks.  You probably get the gist.  If one became too important or too full of oneself, Zeus was likely to use his thunderbolt on the haughty human just like he struck the tallest trees in the forest.  Could God be any different?  How does Jesus instruct us to address the Creator of heavens and earth?  Father.  You and I are instructed to call the Maker of all that is, seen and unseen, Father.
     It is a simple title, but think of the meaning.  There is an intimacy that is proclaimed in the titles of mother and father.  Yes, I understand in this day and age, we don’t have a lot of good fathers and even fewer great fathers.  We live in a society which tries to teach us that marriages can be dissolved for irreconcilable differences.  We live in a society which tries to downplay the importance of one parent or another.  It makes sense.  The so called nuclear family of Leave it to Beaver is long gone.  Some of you here raised children by yourselves.  Some of you raised children with a stepparent.  Worse, some here were raised by abusive fathers or emotionally distant fathers.  For some of us, the last image we want to have about our Lord is that of Father.  Yet, as Jesus explains later in the reading, He is the Father in Heaven.  Our Father is the Father who will never fail us, who only wants what He knows is best for us, and who loved us enough to send His Son to save us.  He is the Father who has neither the inclination nor the impotence ever to fail us.  If we men, who are evil, can do good and great by our children, how much better is our Father in heaven?  He is the One to whom we are to pray.
     Next, Jesus reminds us of our Father’s glory.  Hallowed be Thy name.  When we approach our Father, we remind ourselves of who He is, even though we address Him as Father.  He is the One to whom all honor and glory should be rendered.  Nothing and nobody else in our life compares to Him.  He is unique!  He is not our beer buddy.  He is not our co-worker.  Pretend for a moment you are a teenage girl.  How much to you worship Justin Bieber?  We should remember who our Father is each and every time we approach Him and know that, as important as Justin Bieber is to the lives of teenage girls around the world, our Father in heaven is worthy of infinitely more worship and adoration.  If we are dragging ourselves out of bed to worship Him or begrudgingly going to Him in prayer only as a last resort or in desperation, are we truly honoring Him?  Are we truly His disciples?  Our excitement for what He has done for us ought to be even more than those teenage girls who worship Beebs.
     And, speaking of perspective, the next line provides the eternal perspective which you and I should have each time we approach our Father.  Your kingdom come.  You and I are called to remember that we are focusing on things eternal.  We are not called to be overly concerned with things in this life.  Hear me well, Scripture never mocks our suffering.  God knows and feels them all.  But sometimes, a matter of perspective can help us as we struggle through the vicissitudes of life.  We use perspective when dealing with our high school children.  How many of us have heard or have used "I promise, it gets better" in an attempt to change the perspective of one struggling in those years?  That perspective of eternity can also help us to understand better why our Father has denied a request or given us a blessing we did not really request.  We can get so bogged down dealing with the trials of everyday life that we forget the big picture.  We are great at praying for what we think we need, but not so much at praying for what fulfills His plan.  If we approach our Father daily, reminding ourselves of His glory and of His ultimate plan of eternity, we are more easily transformed to see others as He sees them, to hear others as He hears them, and to love others as He loves them.  Then we can become truly effective intercessors.
     Then comes the supplication: give us each day our daily bread.  Certainly, food is one of the most important needs of life.  But the prayer has the sense of idiom as well.  It is almost like praying to God for whatever we will need to see the day through, be it food, patience, strength, sanity, financial means, or whatever else we might need.  Let’s face it, each of us has different needs on different days.  This reminds us that we are sons and daughters trusting our Father in heaven to provide whatever we need.  And the great thing is that His hallowed name reminds us that He alone can give whatever we need.
     Then we get to Luke’s optimistic account of us.  And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive others who sin against us.  Luke’s account sometimes makes me wonder if he is in the same Church as me.  Matthew and Mark say it more like “forgive us as we forgive others,” the implication being that if we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven ourselves.  Luke, on the other hand, assumes we will forgive others.  Most of us around here do eventually forgive, but I would be naive not to think that it is tough sometimes.  Heck, a few of you had to remind me of that need to forgive others as we cleaned up after wrecks here at the four-way stop.  Forgiving others is hard.  Forgiving others is tough.  But, as forgiven sinners ourselves, we understand its importance in our witness to God.  We live in a world which tends to be surprised when one shows mercy.  We live in a world which teaches us that power is the means by which rule is enforced.  God, of course, had another plan.  He confounded the powerful and those who ruled by subjecting Himself for a time.  He could have rightly left us to die in our sinfulness, but He chose to extend the hands of mercy and grace to each one of us.  As His disciples, you and I are called especially to model that behavior in our lives.  Yes, it is tough.  But if we are daily reminding ourselves of our intimate relationship with our Father, if we are daily reminding ourselves of what He has done and has promised to do for us, and if we are daily reminding ourselves of His perspective, how much easier is forgiveness to practice in life!
     It seems a haughty thing, does it not, to think that we can call upon God as Father.  I mean, God is busy with peace in the Middle East, the economy, saving people in natural disasters.  Why should we ever expect Him to hear us, let alone answer us?  It is a question which must have bothered Jesus’ audience as He launches into the teaching of the neighbor and the bread.  Understand, homes in those days were mostly one room buildings.  When it was bedtime, everyone went to bed.  When it was time to get up, everyone got up.  And, given the lack of electricity, such a lifestyle certainly makes sense, especially to us in the Midwest.  Now, if you have ever not wanted to wake a sleeping baby, you understand this parable already.  The neighbor comes and asks for bread.  The neighbor tells him they are in bed and the door is unlocked.  If he gets up and gets the bread and unlocks the door, the children might be wakened!  Still, because the man is shamelessly audacious, the friend will get out of bed, risk waking the children, and give the neighbor the bread.  Does the neighbor act out of friendship or out of recognition that the neighbor is going to wake the kids if he keeps up?  We do not know, nor does it really matter.  Jesus is focusing on the shameless audacity of the request.  Everyone lived in the same manner.  When the friend went next door to get some bread, he knew what the situation was.  Yet, because of the visitor and the obligations of hospitality, he goes ahead and walks to the neighbor’s house to make the request.  He knows he is risking his friendship, and at least payback in the future, and still he makes the request.
     You and I are called to be shamelessly audacious when we request anything of God.   We are not called to be whiners like kids in the back of the car asking “Are we there yet?”  No, He wants us to use the relationship which He has forged to make a difference in our lives and the lives of those whom we encounter.  Presumably, if we are daily conversing with our Father, reminding ourselves of His perspective and the mercy He has shown us in our life, we will ask for those things we really need, like bread for a late visitor, and not nagging!  And, when the time requires, we will be persistent in our request.
     In the last few months, I have had a couple long discussions about the Lord’s Prayer with members of this church and a couple discussions with people in orbit of our parish.  Probably, all the questions raised in those discussions have been addressed in this effort.  But I hope I have also addressed a few questions that went unasked.  As I was reflecting and praying for a sermon this week, I wondered why more had not sought me out about this prayer.  If, as a congregation and Vestry and priest, we have decided intentionally and prayerfully to focus on our relationship with God, why are not more of us working on our prayer life?  He invites us to pray to Him.  He instructs us to think of Him as our Father in heaven.  Why do we not spend more time praying or, if we do not feel we are getting the answers we think we need, why their is a disconnect between us and God?
     I think in that we are not unlike those who first heard this prayer this morning.  Events for the disciples were beginning to get testy.  Luke records this prayer, and this section on discipleship, as the authority of Jesus is growingly questioned by the temple elites and the political leaders.  You and I live in a world which seems to be spinning out of control.  We may no longer be involved in a cold war with Russia, but does anyone think we live in a safer world?  Heck, the Bix organizers designed the finish yesterday with an eye toward the bombing at the Boston Marathon.  We are wealthier than most of the rest of the world, Amanda and Robbie will testify to that truth upon their return from Tanzania, but how many of us feel financially secure?  How many of us are working two jobs?  Working ridiculous hours at one job?  How many of us feel we are one hospital stay away from bankruptcy?  Then add parenting responsibilities.  Those of us with kids learn the dangers of over-scheduling.  Soccer games, girls scouts, boys scouts, play groups, birthday parties, and you can feel in your own events.  In the rush to provide for our children and to make up for time we are not with them, we have this tendency to over-schedule their and our lives.  Anybody here caring for parents?  Anybody here trying to work out a little bit and stay in some semblance of shape?  Anybody here have time to cook?  Anybody here getting enough sleep?
     No doubt I have forgotten a few responsibilities that weigh on you.  But I hope we all get the picture.  The world conspires to exhaust us.  We are often rushing from one part of our lives to another.  Hectic does not even begin to describe our lives.  Yet, how does Jesus teach us to deal with the hectic times of our lives?  Pray.  Go to the Father and ask for what we need.  It seems absolutely crazy.  When life is at its most furious pace, you and I are called to pause and to pray to our Father.  Yet how many of us treat our relationship with God like it is only an hour on Sundays?  When life gets hectic, how many of us buckle down rather than lift our eyes and ears to Him?  And, lest you think this is an impossible demand of God, look at our Lord’s prayer life.  Whenever the demands of life seem to be swirling and threatening to overwhelm Him and His purpose, our Lord retreats to pray, even in the garden in Gethsemane and on the Cross!  And here is the nugget of the Gospel this morning, brothers and sisters: if, while sitting here, the Holy Spirit has convicted you of your need to spend more time in prayer, all you need to do is repent and be intentional in your efforts to talk with God.  Christ died even for all those times we allowed the world to overcome our obligations as His disciples and led us from communing with the Father!
     So, God-lovers, how is your relationship with God?  Most of us have forgotten, but to whom is the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles addressed?  Theophilus.  God-lover.  The questions that we have about our relationship with God are not ours alone.  Throughout the history of God’s people, these questions have been asked.  What does it mean to be in communion with God?  What does it mean to be called His people?  We recognize as His set apart people that there are certain responsibilities.  The Jews would have called it torah.  Luke distills it even more.  Those in right relationship with God serve neighbors like the Good Samaritan did.  Those in right relationship with God have a calling on their life and do not elevate it, or diminish it, with respect to the callings of others in the Body of Christ.  Finally, those in right relationship with God go to Him unceasingly in prayer.  It really is that simple.  So, how is your life as lover of God?  Are you serving others like the Good Samaritan, or are you stalling, trying to figure out who your neighbor is like the man whom Jesus taught?  Are you celebrating the ministries of others and yourself, or are you falling into the trap of creating a hierarchy which demeans the work of others or yourself?  Finally, how would you describe your prayer life?  Are you speaking with your Father regularly, or are you flinching internally when asked that question?  If your relationship truly is what He wants it to be, what is the fruit of your work?  If your answer does not include true intimacy with God, then it is probably time to re-evaluate your life and your relationship with Him.  Forging a relationship with God must be nurtured through time and effort.  He has done the heavy lifting for us, but we must pick up our responsibilities and engage in that relationship as He calls us.  It is challenging.  It is hard.  It involves lots of self-sacrifice, which is contrary to the testimony of the world around us.  But, in the end, only He promises an eternal relationship, a relationship of love and adoration, a relationship worthy of the best Father and the best child!


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