Sermon Summary 1.30.22 "Be Doers of the Word"
We have been talking about prayer - and specifically about the Lord’s Prayer. About being intentional about taking time to draw closer to God. To engage in actively becoming inspired, filled with the Holy Spirit. I shared again one of those little stories that bounces around the web - and that I’m old enough to remember seeing in typed collections. A man was asked “What did you gain by regularly praying to God?” He responds: “Nothing… but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death.”
Prayer changes us. Prayer helps us release our illusion of control and instead sense, recognize, and respond to God’s grace - thus growing beyond what we ourselves are capable of. Today I took a moment to emphasize - sometimes we take that too far. Some versions of Christianity have insisted prayer can replace therapy or medication or other kinds of healing. United Methodists affirm and celebrate that God has gifted people with healing skills as therapist, psychologist, Doctors and scientist. We can prayerfully engage in these kinds of therapy AND be people of prayer. It’s not either / or - it’s both / and.
This week we focused on the ending of the prayer as we commonly recite it - a doxology added to the versions we find in Matthew and Luke. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. I shared that this was added early - at least by the 3rd or 4th century. We say “for” because everything that came before in the prayer Jesus taught - our praise and our petitions - are made because of what we confess in the doxology. God’s kingdom, power and glory - and we say “thine” because it’s not ours. One of the first words we learn is “mine” - growth involves recognizing the needs and rights and claims of others - of learning how to live in community. It’s not our kingdom - it is God’s, it’s not our power, it is God’s, and it’s not about our glory - but God’s! We give praise to God, name what we need and in doing so give thanks.
I shared a couple of the phrases I most appreciate about the prayer we shared from New Zealand Anglicans as the Call to Worship - “In Whom is Heaven.” Sometimes “who art in heaven” in the traditional Lord’s prayer makes God seem distant, far away. This recognizes that God is transcendent - and thus not contained by anything. Heaven, that place where wholeness exists and God’s will is done is within God. God creates - and creates space for creation to exist. And “the hallowing of your name echoes through creation” - when we do what God wills, when we honor God as holy and sacred - that makes ripples. That draws others to God.
Then we talked about a couple of recent illustrations - the broken bread of Communion representing all that is essential to our lives - and the waters of baptism - a visible and outward sign of God’s grace and our entrance into the community of the Church. In particular, I had us revisit the Old Testament story of Naaman - a Syrian General who has some sort of skin disease. His Hebrew servant - captured in a raid - tells him of a prophet in Israel who can cure him. After visits to his King and the Hebrew’s king, he visits the home of the prophet Elisha - who sends a messenger telling him to dip in the Jordan 7 times. Naaman is infuriated - doesn’t this prophet know who the great general is? Are not the rivers of Syria cleaner and mightier? But again his servants and soldiers prevail - why not try this simple thing. So Naaman sets aside his ego and bathes - and he is cured.
Prayer seems a too simple thing - and yet through it we are made whole. Then we turned to our readings from the New Testament. Both are among the latest letters included in the Scriptures - being written 2 or even 3 generations after Jesus’ resurrection. Long after the original 12 disciples had died and after even their first followers were mainly dead. The church was still “underground,” being officially illegal and sometimes, perhaps often, persecuted by Roman authorities - yet continued to grow exponentially. These Christians loved one another, they cared for widows and orphans, they were patient and kind. People were drawn in.
Both James and 1st Peter use a variety of metaphors to call for an active, lived faith. Being “doers of the word” not just passive hearers. I mentioned that centuries later, Martin Luther had no use for James, calling it an epistle of straw. His time was different. During the reformation, “doing” faith had largely been reduced to rote acts of tradition and the purchasing of indulgences, rather than any deep belief. It has to be both - what we believe is important - and how those beliefs lead us to behave is important, and the two should reflect one another. That’s what both 1st Peter and James are about. We read a long section of encouragement from 1 Peter that builds towards the metaphor of being “living stones.” The trials and sufferings we face (and remember, the audience 1st Peter was written two faced actual persecution based on their faith) are akin to the fire that refines precious gold, cleansing it of impurities. We will not fade away like the grasses and flowers, rather we have substance and endurance in Christ.
As “living stones,” we are joined together with others, being built into a new temple with Christ as the cornerstone.
While we will continue with themes of prayer and the transformative work of God’s grace over the coming weeks, we brought this look at the Lord’s Prayer to a close with one more look at a word that might be surprising. Most of us have memorized the Lord’s Prayer with a hint of King James’ language - thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Sometimes we think that is fancy, formal language - like with the 23rd Psalm which many have memorized with “the Lord maketh me lay down in green pastures… he leadeth me besides still waters…”. However, “thy” is actually the *informal* pronoun. Modern English has lost this distinction but Aramaic and Greek - like modern German, Spanish and French, all have it. In Spanish, for example, a formal setting calls for “Usted” - while hanging out with friends and family one uses “tu.” In Elizabethan and King James English - “thy” is the informal and “you” was the formal. Jesus teaches his disciples to address the transcendent God, the creator of all, the one to whom the Kingdom, power and glory all belong, with an informal, familiar term. We offer our prayers to one who knows us and desires to be known.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this summary helpful. Blessings on your journey.