Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; August 28, 2016

Scripture for this Sunday is Luke 14:1, 7-14

You can read this pericope here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; August 21, 2016; Luke 13:10-17

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 13:10-17

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV2010 & ESV}

Today’s readings challenge us to think about what church is, and what the church could be. When I talk about the “church,” I am not talking about some theoretical community in a land FAR-FAR-AWAY. I am talking about this church – Kingswood United Methodist Church. I am talking about you and I, Christian sisters and brothers who gather regularly to ask the Lord’s blessings upon our lives and our endeavors. I am talking about Christian brothers and sisters touched and changed by the holy presence of God in our lives.

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In today’s Gospel lesson we heard about two people who were “bent out of shape.” One was a woman who was physically bent out of shape by a crippling spirit.


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If we look in the Greek text of today’s Gospel reading, we discover that Luke used a word that means “sickness caused by weakness” (word – asthenia), as opposed to a word that means “sickness caused by disease” (these words would be malkia or nosos). {Information derived from Friberg Lexicon from BibleWorks Version 6}


The other person that was “bent out of shape” was the synagogue ruler and he was driven by his desire to be in charge and in control. Luke tells us that his desire resulted in anger, fear, bitterness, and legalism. We know that the woman was healed; we do not know the fate of the ruler but we can hope that eventually he found healing and reconciliation in his life.

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Something convinced that poor woman that she could not stand up straight. Today we know that there are such things as psychosomatic illnesses – those are real diseases that are caused by mental and emotional problems – and they can be healed by addressing spiritual roots of the disease.

In 1963 Bill and Gloria Gather wrote a song titled Shackled by a Heavy Burden. It is # 367 in our pew hymnals.

Shackled by a heavy burden,

‘Neath a load of guilt and shame.

Then the hand of Jesus touched me,

And now I am no longer the same.

I wonder how many of us gathered here today in this sanctuary are chained, hand-cuffed, shackled by a heavy burden, imprisoned and trapped, or otherwise chronically bound and immobilized by something that happened eons ago, by something that we had no control over, by something that we choose to hold on to for our dear life because in our heads that something has become the definition of who we are, and armed with that conviction we have internalized it in our souls.

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That something becomes so much a part of who we are that we have a hard time seeing past it.

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Is there something that you’ve been struggling with in your life? Do you find yourself saying things like: “I would like to do something but {1} I do not know where to start… {2} or …. but what about what I already have – I have responsibilities, {3} or … I do not have the skills or personality…”? How many of us are going through life allowing our past to limit who we are today and define who we could be in the future, thus preventing God from using us and our talents. And if you think it is too late for you, think about the lessons that you are teaching your children and grandchildren by placing these limitations on yourselves…

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If we want to escape from these self-imposed prisons in our lives, we must learn to put ourselves in a place where we allow God to get to us and where we are willing to work with God.

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The woman from today’s Gospel was ready and prepared to let go of her limitations when Jesus said: “Woman you are set free from your infirmity”; she let go, and she let God set her free.

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And what about the ruler? Lest we feel morally superior to him, let me gently and compassionately remind all of us that at one time or another we have all said something like, “it is NOT how we do things around here” or “We’ve never done it that way!” or “I just want to do everything by the book.” I know that I’ve said those words at least once or twice in my life. Whenever we say these words, we become spiritual descendants of that “bent out of shape” man. How do we know that when we say these words, or do these things, we are not getting in the way of something God is trying to do?

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Allow me to illustrate: Has anyone told you something about God that challenged your faith and made you angry with that person? I believe that all of us know what I am talking about. That is what happened to the ruler… He saw a miracle but instead of saying “Praise Be to God!” he said “In my synagogue/church we do everything by the book and that is not how we do things around here!” I’ve been there and I’ve done that. If that has ever happened to you, then you know how that man felt on that day…

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Jesus observed, “8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men … 13 …you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:8,13).

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In the series of sermons that came to us in the form of the Letter to Hebrews we read “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks” (Heb12:25). In the letter to the church of Philippi 2:12-13 Paul taught, ” 12 …work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

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If we want to breach the limitations of our lives, if we want to break our internal barriers, if we want to become the person God has created us to be, we must learn to put ourselves in a place where we allow God to get to us and then be willing to work with God.

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There are many reasons why we gather in church on Sunday mornings. There are many valid explanations of what a church is. There are many reasons why we gather for worship as a community. We gather as a church because God calls us to fellowship together. We enjoy each other’s company. We are here because we like to sing familiar hymns and explore the wisdom of the songs we may not have heard before. We are here to catch up on news and to see our friends and neighbors. We are here because we feel obligated to be in church. Some of us are here because we feel that someone is pressuring or influencing us to be here.

But there is another, more important, reason. We are gathered here this morning because somewhere deep inside of each of us there is a thirst for God. We are here because all of us are “bent out of shape” in one form or another and because we long for the healing, for the love, for the acceptance, and for the peace that comes from being in God’s presence. We are here because we know that there are “wrongs” in the world and that we cannot fix these “wrongs” on our own. We are here because deep down we know that we cannot provide for ourselves on our own and that we are under God’s mercy. We are here because deep down we know that our only real choice is to turn to God and to each other for what we need and long for. We are here because we can help each other to put ourselves in a place where God can get to us, where we can allow God to breach our walls and limitations, where we can help each other to allow God to be God of all aspects of our lives.

On Thursday, MSNBC had an article on it’s Money Page that there are 7 million men between the ages of 24 and 56 that are out of work, and are so demoralized that they no longer looking for work (Steinmetz). Huffington Post had an article that asserts that there are millions of men and women struggling with depression and futility that robs us of our sense of life satisfaction and happiness. These men and women are grappling with the process of aging, a life not fully validated with continuing engagement, enrichment and purpose (Green). We are talking about a lot of people who are in “that same” place for despair and frustration.

Shackled by a heavy burden,

‘Neath a load of guilt and shame.

Then the hand of Jesus touched me,

And now I am no longer the same.

We – the church – are here to challenge each other and to help each other be “no longer the same.”

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Are you still the same? Have you allowed Jesus to touch you? Have you ever looked straight into His eyes? Have you ever invited Jesus to become your personal Lord and Savior?

If NOT — Will you allow Jesus to touch you today? Will you put your burdens at His feet? Will you let His healing presence into your life? Your life will never be the same…

 

References:

Green, Brent. “Why Post 50 Males Must Resist Becoming “Standardized Old Men”.” 07 03 2012. Huffington Post 50. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brent-green/how-baby-boomer-males-wil_b_1326714.html. 18 08 2016.

Steinmetz, Krystal. “Why 7 Million American Men Aren’t Working .” 18 08 2016. MSN Money. http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/why-7-million-american-men-aren%e2%80%99t-working/ar-BBvKWEy?li=BBnb7Kz. 18 08 2016.

Thinking Towards Sunday; August 21, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: Luke 13:10-17

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV2010 & ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; August 14, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are Luke 12:49-56

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

We live in times of division and hostility. These days it is easy to find or to instigate a heated argument between friends, colleagues, and even family. The easiest way to start an argument is to mention religion or politics.

There are also other points of contention in our lives: parenting, major life changes like marriage or divorce and remarriage, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one and resulting discussions about inheritance and how the family will heal the wounds and reinvent itself. These events put a strain on our psyche and challenge the very essence and limits of who we are. These events illumine differences that have always caused tension among humans; in times of stress and anxiety, when our emotions run high, these differences come to the surface and boil over. These events bring up to the surface the emotions that at other times we are able to control.

Today’s Gospel reading demonstrates that religion and politics have been points of contention as far back as the days when Jesus walked the earth. Today’s reading gives us a glimpse and a witness of that particular human condition.

Today’s reading gives us a glimpse of what it meant to the first followers of Jesus to believe that he was the Messiah. For most of them, that meant that they had to leave their family and friends behind to embrace an itinerate lifestyle. To make things worse, family and friends who were left behind thought that Jesus’ followers were either crazy or criminal. Who in their right mind would give up the safety and security of a steady occupation and life with family, to travel around arid Galilee with strangers begging for their daily bread. It was thought to be blasphemous to believe that you did not have to travel to the Temple on High Holidays to worship God. It was unthinkable that there was another way to worship God, and that God would come to dwell among us.

We live in a fallen world. That fallenness permeates every aspect of our lives to the point that we are distrustful and suspicious of people who follow their heart and their search for truth. We question those who are secure in their beliefs, and we assume that they do not see the BIG picture. We challenge those who are willing to take risks and we call them “dreamers.” We demonize and belittle those who choose to live and vote by different values.

We do all that – (act distrustful and suspicious, challenge other points of view, demonize and belittle those who espouse values different from ours) – because these differences play on our fears, they cause us to question our own commitments and beliefs. And none of us like to face our fears or be challenged in our beliefs.

{Illustration: Sign of Christian Education and maturity of faith is ability to consider and evaluate other points of view without espousing them as our own.}

When we focus on differences, we forget that life is not a competition. We forget that faith is not a contest.

Yes, we are fallen and sinful creatures, but God did not create us to grovel in the grime of our sin. God made us to live abundant lives (John 10:10) and to strive to be the best version of what we are created to be.

I may be naïve, but I think that the process of life is about being faithful to your understanding of God, while also making a commitment to learning how others see the Holy in the world around them. Faith is knowing what matters to you when it comes to God and being willing to hear what matters to others (Lewis). I think that we infuse our lives, faith, politics, and interpersonal interactions with who is right and who is wrong, at the cost of losing ideas and concepts that matter and the reasons why they matter. Were it not so, I think that our lives would be very different.

The words of Jesus that we heard today name our human condition: our propensity toward suspicion and discord, toward calling every person’s values and motives into question, toward doubt and distrust. Because we anticipate discord, we lose the will to work towards finding an agreement.

Today’s reading is calling us to look at the roots of what we believe to be right, true and beautiful. Jesus is naming the human tendency toward disagreement, and reminds us that building a Christian community relies on our commitment to listening. Today’s Scripture calls all the followers of Christ towards a different vision of what a world could be; a world where civil dialogue is expected and leads towards mutual understanding.

 

Works Cited

Lewis, Karoline M. “Division Matters.”  07 08 2016. Dear Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4698.  10 08 2016.

Food for thought….

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

~~ St. Catherine of Siena

“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”

~~ John Wesley

Thinking Towards Sunday; 14 – August – 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are Luke 12:49-56

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, August 7, 2016; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Scriptures for this Sunday: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

 

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Sometimes I wonder whether we make Christianity too much about Jesus and too little about us. I know that the previous sentence makes a strong statement, so before you start boiling tar and sharpening pitchforks, allow me to explain what I mean by that. Think about it this way: Jesus came to dwell among us and to give us a new understanding of God’s Creation. Jesus showed us a new way of living our lives and inspired us with a new vision. To complete His mission here on Earth, Jesus died on the Cross, was resurrected three days later, ascended to Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to guide us in our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

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We should always and in all circumstances give thanks and praise for what Jesus did and is still doing for us.

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When I say that we make being a Christian too much about Jesus and too little about us, what I mean is this: At the first Pentecost the responsibility for making the Kingdom of God a reality shifted from Jesus to you and me. Christianity is about what we do to make disciples for Jesus for the transformation of the world. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, “ask not what Jesus can do for you; instead ask what you can do for Jesus; ask what you can do to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world in which we live.”

The truth is that many of us want to do as little as possible for God; we want a “magician” God who snaps God’s fingers and make things happen by magic.

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In October 2014, The Holy Father Francis said, “when we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God as a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.”

Understanding how things happen in the natural world gives us a glimpse of how God works among us. Figuring things out has served our society well: medicine, sciences, communication, art, etc.

Holy Father continued, “God created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” I understand this to mean that we are created to strive to become the best version of what we are created to be.

That is why, the Holy Father continued, “[God] gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality, and so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician – (What is a demiurge you ask? See explanation below), but the Creator who gives being to all things.”

Boring Theo-Philosophical Jibber-Jabber (a.k.a. an Explanation): In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge is an artisan creature responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was adopted by the Gnostics. Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not the same as the creator figure in the monotheistic sense, because both the demiurge itself plus the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are created and are a product of efforts and imagination of some other being.

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The Apostle Paul said it this way, “…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter {sic} of [our] faith. … he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV2010).

Every generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before them. Every generation builds on the accomplishments of those who came before them. Every person and every generation is defined by the stories we tell ourselves and how we interpret these stories. We become who we think we are. To give an example, instead of being a middle-aged man with a shiny head, a bit of extra “padding” and a great sense of humor, I could think of myself as an overweight behemoth/senior citizen unable to run in a Boston marathon. Both definitions {} are {} correct. My future life depends on what story I tell myself and which story I believe about myself. Similar to that, our future as Kingswood United Methodist Church depends on what story we tell ourselves.

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We have a story to share with the world. Sometimes when I need to center my mind on God, I just sit quietly. It is my way of saying, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). I invite the presence of the Holy Spirit to give me direction and to fill me with vision. Now, Lily Tomlin said once that when we tell others that we talk to God, they think that we are praying and that we are deeply spiritual. On the other hand, when we tell others that God talks to us, they want to lock us in a loony bin. My sitting quietly and listening to God is not anything like that.

This physical building was a spiritual home for Christians who worshiped here before us; they are a part of what Paul described as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 11:1 NIV2010). Paul gives us an awesome example of who the “cloud of witnesses” were in his time. We have our own examples today: one of the voices in the “cloud” is the voice of Jane whose life we celebrated a few weeks ago. The voices of your loved ones who are with God are also in that “cloud” of witnesses.

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On my journey as a Christian, I have learned that the cloud of witnesses that Paul is talking about, are those who made the Kingdom of God a reality during their lifetime. It is up to us to be involved in God’s world today, and it is up to us to make the Kingdom of God a reality during our lifetime.

When we strive to do that, we stay ready for action. That is how we keep our “lamps” (Luke 12) filled with oil and burning. That is how we wait for Jesus to return (Luke 12). That is how we stay prepared to open the door for Jesus when he knocks and asks to enter into our hearts.

“Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.”

{Transition to the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; August 7, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, July 31, 2016

Luke 12: 13-21 The Parable of the Rich Fool

NIV2010 Luke 12: 13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Anyone who has lived through major life transitions, knows that during those times a big problem is often what to do with one’s possessions. None among us believe ourselves to be hoarders. We may even believe that we are able to keep our belongings to a minimum over the course of our lives. And then comes a major life transition, and the need to downsize becomes a reality.

It is in those times of transition that we realize that all of us hoard stuff to some extent, and all of us have much in common with the man in today’s parable. It is difficult and overwhelming to think about where all our stuff is going to go, and to whom, when we need to downsize.

What do I do with a Christmas Card that my wife gave me 20 Christmases ago? What do I do with my favorite shirt that is just a tad too small (I know I can get into it if I stick to my diet and exercise!). What do I do with that memento from the old country that crossed three continents and the Atlantic during my immigration?

It is difficult to choose what to keep and what to give up. It is so much easier just to keep it all and let others sort it all out as I watch them from Heaven.

But we cannot live without having at least some possessions (we all need a toothbrush). Possessions can also remind us of events in our lives and trigger memories. Possessions matter.

There is nothing wrong with having things.

And then there is today’s parable that Jesus taught. This parable scares me because I identify a little too closely with the “rich guy.” We are not told that he is a model citizen, but we know that he is not a cheat, or a thief, he is not even described as being particularly greedy. He is what most of us would consider an average working man. We are told that he has worked hard and saved money for his retirement. His 401k is funded and he is ready to move to his version of “Florida.” How many among us have similar goals or know someone who does?

There is only one problem. For the man in the story, the only things that matter have to do with himself and his possessions, and absolutely nothing to do with anyone else.

Listen to the way Jesus describes his thinking: “‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

Today’s parable is not about the possessions that we have, but more about what our possessions represent. It is not some sort of morality tale about deciding what to keep and what to throw away or donate to the Goodwill Store. Listen to the last verse of today’s parable: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

It is not about selling all you have and giving the money to the church, it is not about getting rid of your 401k. It is not about giving away all you have and devoting yourself completely to God. It is not about “possessions bad, spirituality good.”

It is about your heart.

What you have, what you keep, what and who you are trying to control, what and who controls you, what defines you materially and is a measure of your own self and how you understand who God calls you to be. The man in today’s parable cannot think about anybody but himself. He is inwardly focused. He has an illusion of being in control of his own destiny.

The story of the foolish rich man reminds us to consider our values. Pleased with his good fortune, the rich man focused on his well-being alone. He is focused on security, wealth, and comfort, and then discovers that he has forgotten to attend to his spiritual and relational life.

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

So what does it mean to be “rich toward God?” I think that this is a matter of time, talent, and treasure. As Christians we serve God by serving the world in which we live.

Our human condition is such that all of us tend to be concerned with having at least some sort of control over our future. It is not necessarily a bad thing because if we do not think about and prepare for it, the future will come and catch us unprepared. We will spend all of our lives trying to figure out how to survive each day. Jesus did not come so that we live just to survive; Jesus came so that we live “abundant” lives (John 10:10). For a church, the desire to bring others to Christ and to reach out to our neighbors is a form of thinking about and preparing for the future.

On the other hand, we crave to be successful. Without that craving, nothing would ever happen and we would still be living in caves. Unfortunately, our concept of success is skewed. We think of success as winning and in order for someone to be a winner, there must be losers. We think of success as an achievement when a person is either more affluent or more influential than others. In our minds that influence and affluence should result in the accolades and honors that “the winner” gets. In today’s parable, the main hero is described as such a “w­­inner.” He achieved affluence and he probably enjoys a lot of influence.

I think that today’s parable is about letting go, and I think it is a lesson for all of us. I think it is about letting go of what is, for the sake of what can be.

All human societies build a hierarchy, or a pecking order, and churches are not an exception. Historically, most achievements happen when hierarchies are relatively flat because these are the times when society is united by a common vision and common goals, and is willing to work to make the goals a reality and to achieve the vision (Acts 2:42-47).

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

When we find the courage and stamina to let go of the illusion of control that we build around ourselves, it creates conditions allowing us to build riches toward God. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” When we are little is the time that we are most willing to learn, when we are most pliable and when our minds are ready to learn. We build riches towards God by becoming like little children, by being flexible, adaptable and patient.

That is when God has a chance to break through our defenses, hierarchies, habits, and assumptions and to use us, the community, to continually usher in the glory of God’s Kingdom and to be a blessing to the world around us.

Approximate Notes for the Sunday’s Message; Sunday, July 24, 2016; Luke 11:1-13; Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 11:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010  and ESV}

 

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Prayer is not only the foundation of the Christian life, it can also be at the heart of many Christian frustrations, misunderstandings, and even pain. Relationships are about shared lives; every life has joy, laughter, hope, celebrations, frustrations, misunderstandings and pain. Relationships are impossible without conversation. While our relationship with God is a special relationship, it is not all that different from the relationships that we build here on earth among each other. Prayer is a mechanism for us to have a conversation with God.

Jesus’ ministry was about relationships; it was about sharing lives, joy, laughter, hope, and celebrations. Jesus’ ministry was also about healing frustrations, misunderstandings and pain.

Two thousand years ago, on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ followers asked for instructions on how to pray because they understood that prayer is the foundation of relationship with God.

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The Gospel of Luke (finalized around 80 CE, Luke 11:2-4), and the Gospel of Matthew (finalized around 85 CE, Matthew. 6:9-13) give us versions of the prayer that Jesus taught his followers.

Matthew’s version of the recorded prayer became the foundation in the liturgy and daily prayers of Christians worldwide. Most of us learned the modern version of the “Lord’s Prayer” at an early age and recite it throughout our lives in the privacy of our personal conversations with God, as well as in public worship. It is automatic and flows from our minds and tongues with robotic familiarity.

Who among us has not wondered at one time or another about how to pray? Who among us has not wondered how God answers prayers? Who among us has not been frustrated with God because our prayers seemed to go unnoticed and ignored?

So, let’s unpack all that.

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Have you ever noticed that the Lord’s Prayer is written not from “me” but from “us?”

“Our Father … give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our trespasses [or sins/debts] as we forgive those who trespass [or sin] against us [or whose debts we forgive] … lead us not into temptation.”

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I cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer without somehow praying for others. My hope and salvation… our hope and salvation… may be personal, but our faith is communal. Allow me to put it another way: when you and I pray for ourselves, we also involve everyone else and pray for their needs as well. We’re all in this together. I don’t know how it happens, all I know is that it does.

Truth be told, I am always praying for myself; it is easier to pray for myself. It is also easy to pray in general: for the unnamed leaders, or doctors, or situations. By doing that, I become self-absorbed in prayer, asking God to address my problems. More than likely we all do that because it is our human condition. However, as soon as the words “Our Father, who art in heaven…” flow from my heart, I end up turning away from my personal worries and towards something bigger than me. My focus shifts from “me” to “God’s Creation,” my mind expands, and my consciousness becomes aware that I live in a world filled with different opinions, problems, blessings and frustrations. I am asking not just for the sustenance that I need today, but I am also asking for God’s providence for everyone else as well.

The Lord’s Prayer appears in two places in the Bible. In the book of Luke, Jesus was praying, apparently by himself, and when he had finished one of the disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us how to pray the way John taught his disciples,” referring to John the Baptist. Jesus responded, “When you pray, say” and he gave the disciples the familiar words.

But in the book of Matthew, toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the disciples against praying ostentatiously with long empty phrases and lots of words. “… your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way…” and then Jesus gives his followers the Lord’s Prayer.

{Illustration: Parallels between Matthew and Luke}

Matthew 6:9-13

Luke 11:2-4

9b ‘Our Father in heaven,

4b Father

hallowed be your name,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your kingdom come.

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

4 Forgive us our sins,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

And lead us not into temptation.

but deliver us from the evil one.

“When you pray, say” and “Pray then in this way.” Maybe I’m reading into it, but he seems a little exasperated that he has to point all this out to the disciples. Haven’t they been watching? Haven’t they been listening? (Hamlin 8). Do they really need words to pray when they’ve been living with a man whose whole life is a conversation with God?

The prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer is an outline on which to hang our different concerns and fears. It is a starting point, a guide that helps us cover all the basics. It is not very long, from a linguistic point of view it is not the great poetry of the psalms or the passionate expressions of Paul, praying for churches he has visited or intends to visit. Jesus gave us just few words. These words are elegant in their simplicity and powerful in their impact. A few words that became the cornerstone, a building block of our relationship with Our Creator. “Our Father … give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our sins…” For all of us together. (Hamlin 11)

 

Works Cited

Hamlin, Rick. “The Truth About the Lord’s Prayer.” 18 03 2013. HuffingtonPost.com. Web Document. 21 07 2016.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 24 July 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 11:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010  and ESV}

Approximate Message Notes for Sunday, July 17, 2016; Ephesians 2:11-18

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ephesians 2: 11-18

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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What would you say if one of your friends or neighbors were to ask what it means TO YOU to be a follower of Jesus? We are in the midst of the series of sermons dealing with this very topic. Today’s Scripture sheds light on the tensions and frustration that all of us experience on our spiritual journeys as we age. I want to say the same thing a little differently: today’s Scripture gives us a glimpse of the daily frustrations that eventually result in emotional and spiritual growth in our lives. As an illustration of what I mean, think of the daily frustrations we experience like the pruning of a rosebush. Any gardener knows that pruning the old branches results in new growth, and blooms only sprout on new growth.

The last time that we talked about what it means to be a follower of Jesus was on June 26 and we looked at the Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000. Studies have shown that when a large group of people needs to divide itself, it will naturally break down in groups of 8-12 people. Jesus did not let this group break down naturally, but instead separated them by community. In his time period, these church communities were known as ekklesias.

We can accomplish things both ways – in small groups or as a WHOLE church. The difference is that doing things in small groups promotes intimacy and smallness. Intimacy is a good thing, but it also makes it hard for others to fit in.

If we want to bring our neighbors to God, we need to start doing more things as an ekklesia, or as the whole church family. Doing things as an ekklesia provides opportunities for outsiders to imagine themselves within our church environment and gives them opportunities to grow and nurture their spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that doing things in small groups and doing things as a whole church accomplishes different results, and we need both.

In Ephesians 2:11-13 we hear, “11 … remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … 12 …were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This excerpt takes ten seconds to read (fifteen seconds tops) yet it describes the whole span of our lives’ spiritual journey from the cradle to the grave {What John Wesley called a journey towards perfection}.

All of us get complacent with all of our relationships. Our loved ones become a part of our day-to-day routine and all of us have taken those close to us for granted at one time or another. It’s human nature. Think of your loved ones; when was the last time you had a heart-to-heart talk with them? When was the last time that you assumed that they would be there for you when you needed them only to discover that they were not emotionally available? When was the last time that one of your loved ones needed you and you realized how inconvenient it was to be there for them?

We do the same thing in our relationship with God. Truth be told, how many of us assume that God will bless us when we want and are ready to be blessed? How many of us, armed with this assumption, do nothing to build up and maintain our spiritual and emotional connection to God? And because we live in a fallen world, because we are fallen creatures, that state of being can easily become second nature to us.

It is part of living in a fallen world and being a fallen creature: we take each other and God for granted and we don’t even realize that we are doing it.

There is a divide between us and God. That is part of our human condition; that is a part of our fallenness.

Today’s reading gives us a glimpse of how our lives could be different. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). Our Good News, our hope in today’s Scripture is that “14 …he [Jesus] himself … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, …” (Eph 2:14-15).

Humans love to build walls. Smile I think that it started with the Great Wall of China and therefore I blame the Great Wall of China.  Smile. It is easy to see how the Great Wall of China could be seen as divisive because it says to anyone who sees it from the outside, “go away, we don’t want you or your friends or people like you on OUR side of the wall.”

It is much more difficult to recognize walls that we build around ourselves because they are subtle. Nobody wakes up and says to themselves, “today I will make it difficult for anybody to come to church” or “today I will shut out the majority of my neighbors from my life.”

When we hold church-wide events we should invite as many people as we can possibly reach – and we are already doing that. Often when we invite our neighbors they don’t see a need to come. We have become very good at meeting people’s immediate needs (if someone is hungry, we give them a bag of food), but in order for renewal to take place, we now need to find what their spiritual needs are, and then ask God’s blessing and help in figuring out how to address those spiritual needs. That will take time; it is not something that will get resolved very quickly. It will take all of us working together. That is in part what it means to be a follower of Jesus today.

The walls of the church are meant to be structured enough to create a sense of real belonging, and conducive to nurturing our relationship with God. The walls of the church are also meant to be porous and welcoming so that visitors can see themselves weaving their lives into the tapestry of who we are.

I do not know what the solution will be. In one of his lectures, Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” I suspect that our solution may not be easy, but it will be simple.

{Q&A}

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Quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word  but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98)

Thinking Towards Sunday; July 17, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ephesians 2: 11-18

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Thinking Towards Sunday; July 3, 2016; US American Independence Day Sunday

Independence Day Sunday Scriptures are:

From the Hebrew Scriptures: Deut 10:12-13, 17-21

From the Early Christian Writings: Gal 5: 13-26

You can read these Scriptures here:  {NIV2010 and ESV}

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