Inspired by Luke 11:3

Well if you thought last week’s reading was short, holy moly! This week we only have one verse, with a grand total of seven words! How in the world am I going to write a sermon from just seven words? Well, since I ended up only preaching on one word last week, Father, or Abba as Jesus put it, I think I’ll be ok with seven words this week! So, this is the second of three weeks on the Lord’s Prayer and just as a reminder, l have them also separated by theme so to speak: week one being all about God, week two, this week, being all about us, and the final week focusing on our relationship with each other and the world. So, that continues to be our plan of action, unless of course the Holy Spirit has other plans, which she often does, but doesn’t always send me a memo about them.

Jose Vela Zanetti, “El Pan Nuestro de Cada Día” 1980
This week we have this one verse, “Give us each day our daily bread.” The first thing that always strikes me about this line is that it’s not really in the form of a question, is it. We don’t pray, “Will you give us each day our daily bread…please?” No, it actually comes across like more of a directive, even the word petition I feel is a bit too soft of a word. It sounds more like, dare I say, a demand, doesn’t it! “Give us each day our daily bread.” It’s not, “God, if it’s no trouble, and I know how busy you are, but if you get a chance, could you please drop off some bread? Any kind will do, I’m not picky.” No, “give” is what we pray, and not just today but “each day” in case we forget to ask tomorrow. Now, what I love about this is the relationship that this implies. It’s a relationship based on trust and confidence and faith in the one whom we are demanding from. This demand for daily bread, for sustenance, is not based on greed or rudeness or a sense of entitlement. Rather, it’s Jesus inviting us to expect goodness from a good God.

Antonio Tempesta, "Gathering of the Manna" 1600
To really get the most out of this one line of the Lord’s Prayer though, I invite you to travel back in time with me. Oh, about three thousand years ago. It’s just after the time of the great Exodus, when God’s people, with the help of Moses and Miriam, escaped slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. The Red Sea is behind them, and they begin what will be a forty-year wandering through the wilderness, homeless, at the mercy of the elements with little food or water. Fear takes a hold of them quickly and they begin to wonder what in the world they are doing out there, saying, “It would have been better to have remained slaves in Egypt than to die out here of starvation in the wilderness!” God then accused them of being a bit overdramatic, no, just kidding, but what God did do was provide bread from heaven, called manna, which would collect on the ground overnight. God then instructed them to gather it, but to only gather enough for each day. No more, no less. And so they did, and God continued to give them their daily bread while they were in the wilderness.

Now, fast forward a thousand years to Jesus teaching his disciples to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.” You better believe that in the back of their minds, was the old story of manna from heaven, and with that story comes a remembrance of the relationship, and the kind of relationship with the one who provides our daily bread—the goodness of a good God—coupled with that trust, that confidence, that faith that we spoke of before. When we demand our daily bread we are also confessing our trust in the goodness of God to not only give us what we need today, but tomorrow as well even though we can’t see it. When we demand our daily bread we are also saying that tomorrow’s needs will be met as well, in spite of our lack of faith, in spite of our complaining, in spite of our drama, in spite of our greed, in spite of our fears, in spite of us, our daily bread will come, just as that manna did, a thousand years before Jesus taught them this prayer.

Now, earlier I mentioned that this week would be all about us and that next week would be all about our relationship with each other and the world but this demand to give us each day our daily bread does indeed have great implications with how we relate to others. And the first step in that is to acknowledge how differently people pray this prayer based on their life situation. In his book, Lord, Teach Us, Will Willimon shares this story, “A woman in a little village in Honduras trudges up the mountain each day to gather and then carry down the mountain the sticks for her cooking the food. Then she grinds the corn her husband has raised, cherishing every kernel, hoping that this season’s corn will last through the winter. The tortillas are made in the palm of her hand. She drops them in the pan, cooks them and feeds them one-by-one to her children, the only food they will have that day to fill their aching stomachs. That woman undoubtedly prays, “Give us [each] day our daily bread” different from the way we pray that petition (emphasis added).”

To acknowledge that many people pray this prayer differently based on circumstances is one thing but I’d like to stretch you even further than that. Have you ever considered that praying for your daily bread, for most of us, is actually praying for you to have less than you already have? Think about the state of the world as far as food goes. It’s been well documented that there are enough food resources to go around the world for everyone to have enough daily calories, daily subsistence but yet, there are so many who don’t have enough to eat to survive, while there are so many who have more than they could ever eat. So, when we pray for our daily bread, the harsh reality of any answer to that prayer that’s worth its salt, is the recognition that some of what I have, should have gone to someone else more needy than I. Richard Vinson puts it this way, “Praying for daily subsistence rations, for most of us, is a bit like praying for a pay cut. We eat more food, surely, than any society has ever eaten. We have more varieties of food available to us, from fresh to frozen to fast, than any society has ever had, more than most societies a few generations back would have believed possible. If we pray, “Give us [each day our daily bread],” are we prepared to have God slash our incomes or somehow wreck the food production industry? Are we prepared to stand in real solidarity with the poor, whom Mary said God would raise up, while sending the rich, like us, away empty?”

Jose Vela Zanetti, "La Ultima Cena" 1977
At our Wednesday evening online Bible discussion I’d like to talk about not only why praying this prayer this way can be so challenging for us but also how we can live lives of contentment, rather than always wanting more, you know, the American way! To begin that conversation I’ll leave you with the story of the Contented Fisherman that goes like this, “The rich industrialist from the North was horrified to find the Southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe. "Why aren't you out fishing?" said the industrialist. "Because I have caught enough fish for the day," said the fisherman. "Why don't you catch some more?" "What would I do with it?" "You could earn more money" was the reply. "With that, you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats…maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me." "What would I do then?" "Then you could really enjoy life." "What do you think I am doing right now?"

In our thankfulness to a God whose mercy knows no ending, whose generosity knows no bounds, may we also challenge ourselves to learn how to live lives of contentedness, happy with having enough, so that all may one day have enough too. Thanks be to God. Amen.



Inspired by Luke 11:1-2

Well, that might be one of the shortest Sunday worship readings we’ve ever had! Today we begin a three-week series on the Lord’s Prayer but it’s going to be a little different than what you are probably expecting. The biggest difference will be that we are using Luke’s version of the prayer and not Matthew’s. Nobody prays Luke’s version, not in worship, not in their personal prayer life, no one really uses it. One of the reasons for that is because it’s half the length of Matthew’s version. It’s a bare-bones version of an already short prayer. The other difference you will note is that since we are looking at a biblical version of the Lord’s Prayer, you will not hear the doxology, the last line that we usually pray in worship, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.” That line is not found in the Bible believe it or not, in Luke’s version nor in Matthew’s. It was added later and for some reason caught on amongst Protestants and so we’ve come to know it as the ending of the Lord’s Prayer, even though it’s not original to it. So, we’re gonna focus on the Biblical version, and specifically Luke’s bare-bones version. But fear not, we will still have plenty to talk about!

Before we get into the prayer itself though, I’d first like to talk about the question that Jesus’ followers ask him. This question comes in the middle of Luke’s gospel, so they have been with him for a while now. They have experienced the kind of person he is, not only how compassionate he was and how tirelessly he worked, and the opposition he faces from his own religion, but they also have gotten to know him personally or at least have seen what makes him tick so to speak. They have seen what his personal spiritual practices were, specifically what his prayer life was like. All of the gospels frequently mention how Jesus would often take time to pray but Luke does this more often than any of them. In fact, and here’s a little spoiler for this winter when we will be reading through the Gospel of Luke, it has been referred to as the Gospel of Prayer by many because prayer is not only a major theme of this Gospel but it begins with prayer in the temple and ends with prayer in the temple, but I don’t want to spoil too much so let’s keep moving.

The reason I remind you of all that they had experienced of Jesus so far is because I think that there’s more to this question that meets the eye. After Jesus got done praying, again, they ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Now, we could hear that question and think that all they are asking is for words, as if they were asking for a specific prayer for them to pray by heart for the rest of eternity, a formula if you will. I think most of us think that’s exactly what they’re asking because that exactly what happened! We have taken that prayer and ran with it! We have repeated that prayer, word for word, for two millennia now. We have grown so attached to it, that whenever it is given updated language to keep up with modern English, people lose their minds! Another reason I think this question of theirs was more than just about the words to say.

I think they saw Jesus, what he could do, how he served, the opposition that he faced, the tirelessness of his work, and they were in awe! And so when they ask him to teach them to pray it’s almost as if they are asking, “What’s your secret, Jesus? What keeps you going every day? What keeps you motived? How can you withstand all the opposition? How do you do it, Jesus?” That’s what I think is behind the question, “Teach us to pray.” And so, that’s how I’d like us to approach the Lord’s Prayer this three weeks, with Jesus not only answering their question but answering the question behind the question, “What’s your secret Jesus?” Have you ever looked up to someone like that? I do. There are people in my life that I am in complete awe of. Not that their perfect or anything, but there are just some people that I wonder what their secret is. How do they stay positive? Or how do they have the energy to do what they do? Or, given what I know about their struggles, how do they even get up in the morning? What’s their secret?

So, Jesus gives them their answer in the form of this beloved prayer, which begins with, “Father, may your holy name be honored. May your kingdom come.” Over the course of these three weeks, I’m going to postulate that this first part focuses on God, the second part which we will read next week focuses on us, and the last part focuses on our relationship with others. So, today is all about God. Which makes total sense, right! If you’re going to have a conversation with someone, then you ought to know who you’re talking to! Think of it this way, if someone told you, “Hey, you know who you should talk to about this, Josephine! She might be able to help.” Your first question might be, “Who is Josephine?” And by that you’d be asking, who is she to you? Who is she to me? What are her qualifications to help me with my situation?

These are the kinds of questions that are addressed in this first part of Luke’s Lord’s Prayer. This is the grounding for this prayer, the foundation. This first part centers us and puts us in the right frame of mind for what we are about to pray for in the next two parts. Because without this, the rest of this prayer would be meaningless and would hold little to no power. The power of this prayer, comes from the hearer, the one who will hear this prayer and respond, God, not the person praying the prayer. So, what do learn about God from this first part that is so grounding? Well, it begins with the simple address of, “Father.” Now, I don’t want to get into the inherent patriarchy of addressing God as Father, we can talk about that at the Wednesday Bible discussion but let’s just say that if you want to start this prayer with Mother or Dad or Mom or the gender-neutral Parent, it’s all fine to me. The point that Jesus is making here, is the relationship. To further that point, Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba here. We don’t have an English equivalent but we do know that it was much more of an intimate, personal address than what we typically think of when we say Father. Father is more formal in our modern English. Abba was not quite as informal as Daddy, like some have translated it as, but somewhere in the middle. The bottom line is this, right outta the gate, Jesus encouraged us to think of God as a close, personal parental figure. This prayer is not directed at someone who is far away up in the clouds of heaven. Did you notice that heaven isn’t even mentioned? No, this version of the prayer is structured as if you are talking to someone who is right there with you, and more than that, someone who has been right there with you, your whole life. This version of the prayer is so much more personal. And all of that comes from that first word, “Father.” Or as Jesus put it, “Abba.”

On Wednesday, we will talk about the rest of this first part of the prayer, about the honoring of God’s holy name and the coming of God’s kingdom. But first and foremost, for the purposes of this sermon, I wanted to focus on just how profound it is, to have Jesus allow us to call God Abba. If Jesus had been anyone else, just some ordinary human rabbi, he could have easily kept that all to himself, he could have easily said, “No, only I get to call God Abba.” But that’s not what he did. Instead, he continued his work of compassion and love and openness and welcome, the work that they had seen first hand throughout the first half of Luke’s Gospel, and allowed us to call God Abba just like him. What an honor, in and of itself, what a blessing, and we are only one word into this powerful prayer that has stood the test of time. May God bless you this week, as you ponder what an honor it is to come to God in prayer, in the personal, intimate way that Jesus encourages us to. Thanks be to Abba. Amen.


Poverty + Jesus = Generosity

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

So, today marks the end of our little jaunt through this letter of Paul’s to the church in Corinth. To be honest with you, I had forgotten what a great letter this is. First Corinthians usually gets way more attention than this one does, but there is some great stuff here, especially when you take into consideration the long and sometimes rocky journey Paul had with them since their founding. And it was nice to read this letter so soon after we read First Corinthians at the end of Spring. So, I hope this has been a great read for you too. I was a bit jealous of Amanda Sheldon because I saw what she got to preach on and wow, those were some powerful readings! I have no doubt she did them justice. As a heads up, next Sunday we begin a short three week series on the Lord’s Prayer which I am looking forward to. This will be the last of the Summer series before we begin year three of the Narrative Lectionary, when we start back at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, and work our way through a whole new set of stories leading up to the New Testament accounts of the life Jesus and his teachings. But, without further ado, let’s jump into this final reading from Second Corinthians.

This chapter cracks me up every time I read it! For the past seven chapters, Paul has been teaching some pretty profound stuff like hope, togetherness, adversity, and reconciliation. Then he gets to the end of his letter, and it’s about…money! I’m imagining that little baby church in Corinth, getting this letter, the council president gather the people to hear what Paul has to tell them. They sit and listen to it being read out loud. And then they get to this chapter, and the treasurer interrupts the president and says, “Wait a second! You mean to tell me that this whole letter was just leading up to him asking us for money!” Oh, God bless our treasurers! God bless them for being so protective of our resources! I don’t know what we’d do without them. And who could blame them for thinking that, right! Who could blame them for feeling like Paul had just pulled a fast one on them! But for those who had really been paying close attention to this letter, it really doesn’t come out of left field. It’s actually very much in line with all of Paul’s teachings. In fact, one could even say that this chapter presents a litmus test for them.

One of my favorite authors on the topic of stewardship, J. Clif Christopher, wrote, “Nothing is more revealing of what is happening inside people’s hearts than what decisions they are making with their pocketbook.” I believe I’ve shared that with you before but it bears repeating and is so very appropriate for today because I believe Paul believed that too. After everything that he had taught them, if they had been listening, if they had been digesting those teachings, and if they in fact had agreed with them, taken them to heart, then a natural outcome should be a generous heart. And so, he tests them, and he asks them for money. Now he will see if they had really been listening and taking his teachings, which were Jesus’ teachings, to heart. This is where the rubber meets the road, or they crash and burn.

To give you a little backstory on this request of Paul’s, this had been a project of his since the beginning of his ministry. He had been collecting money from all over the world during his travels, specifically for the poor in Jerusalem. Why Jerusalem? Well, for a few reasons I’m sure. Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish world, and it was also one of the most populated cities of that geographic area. And as we know in the US, the higher the population, the higher the poverty rate. And so, Paul took it upon himself to raise money for the poor in Jerusalem the way that we would do the same for wherever the highest concentration of poor are today. And with Paul’s travels and notoriety, he used his influence and reach to help out the needy of his day. Now, what makes this interesting, and challenging for his prospective givers, is the fact that this money he was asking for was not for something local. Rather, it was for a group of people that they didn’t know, in a city that was far away. Now, you and I both know how much easier it is to give money when you now where it’s going, how it’s gonna be used, and it’s someplace local, that you can actually see, verses some far off place that you’ve never even been to. That’s why this is so challenging for them, and why it’s a litmus test for them.

However, I don’t think this is all about money either and so I want to focus on something that really struck me this time around. Just before he asks them for money, Paul opens this chapter by sharing that the other churches that he has asked money from have endured their own struggles, and yet, have found a way to be generous. He then shares this most profound insight about these struggling churches, he writes, “their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity.” “Their extreme poverty resulted in a surplus of rich generosity.” It’s more than just following the teachings of Christ that produces generosity in someone, but it’s also life experience than can lead us there too. And sometimes it’s financial generosity but not always. Let me explain by sharing a story.

I was in seminary and my family was going through a difficult time, not financially, although we struggled in that way too, but in other ways. The struggle was getting to the point where it was about to have a negative effect on my studies and I realized I was going to have to let the seminary know. I had been putting this off because who likes to have those kinds of conversations, right. Who likes to be that vulnerable, right. So, my first course of action was to contact the campus pastor. I figured she would know how best to proceed. In that conversation, I received from her more grace than I could have ever imagined. Because one of my biggest fears was people thinking, “How is he ever gonna help a congregation when he can’t even handle his own family.” I told her this and her response will stick with me ‘til the day I die. She said, “Your struggles will not hinder your abilities as a pastor, they will make them stronger.” She then shared that her own family has endured the same struggles that we were experiencing at the time. She knew our pain, she had experienced the same poverty, again not financial, but the same poorness of spirit that we were enduring she had too, and it produced a surplus of generosity in her, which we just happened to be the current recipients of at that time.

We have all been poor in some way, we have all suffered from poverty at some point in our lives—whether it be financial poverty, emotional poverty, physical poverty, spiritual poverty—we all have experienced poverty. What Paul, and by extension, Christ, prayed for is that we allow the poverty that we experience in life, to produce generosity, by the power of the Holy Spirit, especially when we encounter people who are enduring something that we too have endured in the past, thereby creating, as Paul called it, “a surplus of generosity.” And if you think about it, isn’t that what all of Christ’s teachings point us toward, generosity? Generosity with our money, generosity with our time, generosity with our heart, with our love; if all that we have been taught doesn’t lead us to generosity, in all it’s forms, what are we even doing here? So, that wraps up Second Corinthians folks. I hope you join us on Wednesday night when we will discuss this further, especially because I have something to share with you about the rest of this letter, chapters 10-13, that many people don’t know! So mysterious right! Until then, may the love of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, produce in you an overflowing generosity for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Seeing With New Eyes

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 5

Did you know that the eyes you were born with are not the eyes you are using today? Let me explain. Have you ever had an experience with someone that made you see them in a whole new way? Those times when you realize that you’ve judged someone a little too soon? It’s happened to me on more occasions than I’d care to admit. I’m a pretty good judge of character but it’s failed me a time or two. I have judged someone too quickly, dismissed them as someone I would not get along with, let alone be friends with. And then out of the blue, they do or say something that catches you off guard and makes you see them in a completely different way, and of course makes you realize that your previous judgement upon them, your previous dismissal, was not only done too soon, but was completely wrong; leaving you to feel as small as a bug. Can you relate to that experience at all? I hope I’m not alone here!

In this fifth chapter of Second Corinthians, Paul has his mind on our sight, our ability to see or not see, but also on things that are visible and other things that are invisible. And it makes sense that his mind was there because that where his mind was at the end of chapter four, which you read last week. Right out of the gate, Paul begins this topic by speaking of tents and buildings and home. He refers to our earthly home as a tent. Tents are not only portable but they are temporary, so it makes sense for him to use this as an analogy for our earthly home. He goes on to talk about a building, a house, that can’t be seen, in fact, it isn’t even made with human hands. More than that, it’s not even here on earth but in heaven, and is from God. So, again, Paul begins this chapter by speaking of things that we can see, our “tent”, and things we can’t see, our “house” in heaven.

Then Paul writes one of his well-known catch phrases, maybe not his best known, but Paul has this knack for writing this short one-liners that fit easily on a t-shirt and this is another one of those. He writes, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Good stuff, right. That bumper sticker material right there. I’m not sure what that means to most people, but I have a feeling that phrase gets misinterpreted more often than not. I’m looking forward to hearing on Wednesday night at our online Bible discussion, how you have interpreted that in the past. For me, I don’t hear that as Paul urging us to not use our sight, but rather, to use our sight differently than we have in the past, the basis of which as he says, is faith. But what does that even mean, and how do we live that out? What does that even look like in our everyday lives?

For that, we have to continue through this chapter. Paul then uncovers what he has been driving towards, the ministry of reconciliation, but he continues to use this same metaphor of sight, of things visible and invisible, which is even more important now because he’s going to use it to show us how we can engage in this ministry of reconciliation. But before we can get to that, we have to know what is a ministry of reconciliation. According to Paul, it is based on one simple truth, that through Christ, God is not counting people’s sins against them. That is how God has decided to reconcile with us and that is the message of reconciliation that we have been entrusted to spread, and not only spread but to live out with others, to reenact with the world, to practice our faith with, which is where the talk of sight comes in.

This ministry of reconciliation is the most important work that we could be called to, and it is hampered when we are unable to see with these new eyes that we have been given by our baptisms. So, what does that mean exactly? Paul helps us out with this a bit. Paul writes, “from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know Christ now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” In other words, this work of reconciliation cannot happen unless we learn how to see with new eyes, unless we learn how to see others not by the standards of this world, but of God’s standards, the same God whom Paul just said is not counting people’s sins against them. That’s not what we usually think of when we think of God’s standards, is it. No, we usually think of trying to be these perfect little human beings that don’t sin, an impossible goal! But that’s not what Paul is talking about. For Paul, God’s standards are an acknowledgement of sin, but without the condemnation. And the only way to do that, is to be able to see others with new eyes, eyes of faith, given to us through our baptisms.

So, what does this look like? Well, it can be as simple as the opening example I started with—not being too quick to judge or dismiss others. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Or reminding ourselves that there is more to people than what we see, or as Paul called it, the “superficial appearance, and not in what is in the heart.” I like how he reminds us how they once thought of Jesus by human standards, but then realized there more to him, you know, just the savior of the universe and ruler of the cosmos, just a slight oversight on their part. And it’s almost as if Paul here is saying, if we were that wrong about Jesus, maybe we are a little bit off on how we are judging our fellow human beings that we come across in our lives!

But I also think this new sight of ours can play out in bigger ways too. Let’s say you are at odds with someone because of the way they live their lives, or their appearance, or their personality, or the language they use. It’s during those times, if we’re honest enough to even admit them but that’s for another sermon, it’s during those times when Paul urges us to ask ourselves if there may be something that we are not seeing. And the easy answer that always applies is, the person you’re at odds with, is a fellow human being created by God in the image of God. And if you can see them with those eyes, from that perspective, well, that changes everything, doesn’t it. Well, it should anyway!

Paul ends by calling us “ambassadors.” I love that! “Ambassadors who represent Christ.” And I read this as Paul reminding us that it’s not enough to tell people that God is not counting their sins against them, but we, as ambassadors, are called to show them, through our own words, through our own actions, through our own use of the new eyes we have been given to see the world as Christ sees the world. It’s not an easy task to be sure. It takes some sacrifice on our part, which Paul bluntly refers to as death, which we’ll talk about on Wednesday evening. Just know that we’re not expected to get the perfect, we’re gonna mess this up, frequently. But that doesn’t stop Paul from calling us to this ministry of reconciliation, reconciling others to God, and reconciling us to each other, and to the world. It’s a work in progress. But as I said before, the most important work we could have been called to. What an honor! What an adventure! And all because God, through Christ, is not counting people’s sins against them. Thanks be to God! Amen.