Sermon July 10: Living in God’s Mercy

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Faith United Methodist Church

July 10, 2016

8th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 11:1-13

Prayer for Illumination:

Living God, help us so to hear your holy word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe, and, believing, we may follow in faithfulness. Bless the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form to your glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sermon:  Living in God’s Mercy

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. These are probably the most familiar words we hear in church on Sunday.   Well, that and, “We have a few announcements this morning…”   It wouldn’t be church without announcements and the Lord’s Prayer.

Now, we know why the announcements are important, right? But why is the Lord’s Prayer so essential to our worship? Why do we pray it every single Sunday? Why has it become a staple of our service? And why does it not feel like church without it? Early in my first year in my first church the District Superintendent came to our worship service. Now, I probably don’t have to tell you that I was more than a little bit intimidated. Somehow, in my nervousness, and without even noticing, I skipped over a portion of the liturgy. Everyone was very kind, including the District Superintendent… so much so that I didn’t even realize what I had done until a very sweet woman came through the line, shook my hand, and said, “That was all fine, but you forgot the Lord’s Prayer.”

Maybe I can take solace in the fact that some theologians think that, as Christians, we have misconstrued the intent of Jesus’ prayer, reciting it word for word instead of understanding it as a model for all our prayers. Pray in this way….. It is interesting that in our Scripture lesson the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” not “Teach us a prayer.”

It’s as if the disciples notice how Jesus lives his life and see that Jesus is praying all the time and decide that it must be pretty important. They want to experience some of what Jesus is experiencing so they ask, “How do you do that… Teach us to pray.” And Jesus responds, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

On reason we may cite for reciting the Lord’s Prayer is comfort.   I found myself praying the Lord’s Prayer often this week, when it seemed that no other words would do.   Young men killed. Police officers gunned down. Hatred and racism and blame filling the airwaves. When nothing else helps the familiar words of Jesus, the familiar words from our childhood, can sustain us through the difficult times. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Yet if we really pay attention, the words of the Lord’s Prayer aren’t very comforting at all, are they? At least not in a conventional sense. We are to pray not for our own will, but for God’s. For food not to last for a lifetime, but for today. For the strength to face not just our own sins, but to forgive the sins of those who have hurt us. None of this is easy stuff. In fact, it almost seems outrageous. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

And not only does the prayer seem outrageous, but so does Jesus’ follow-up teaching. He tells the disciples a story about a man who is roused out of bed in the middle of the night because his persistent (some might say obnoxious) neighbor won’t leave him alone… keeps banging on the door asking for some bread to feed a visitor who has come into town. And to this Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Outrageous.  We know it’s outrageous, don’t we? You and I ~ everyone here ~ we know it’s outrageous. Ridiculous, even. If all we had to do was ask, every eight-year-old girl would have a pony (I’m still waiting for mine) and every boy would have his own dirt bike.   Every illness would be healed and every hungry child would be fed. No young men would be killed for simply being young men. No police officers would fear for their lives. No families would have to mourn senseless and untimely deaths. Swords would become plowshares and spears pruning hooks and peace would spread throughout all the earth.   We would live the mercy Paul speaks of in his letter to the Colossians, “God made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. God rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the son he loves. God set us free through the son and forgave our sins.”

As Jana Childers puts it, “Little by little, and here and there, and now and then, the kingdom of God is breaking ~ through the efforts of those who ask.” We can see it when new visions spring up in dry places. When forgiveness is offered instead of revenge. When war is not seen as the only alternative. When violence is met with love. When the joy of abundance, rather than the fear of scarcity, leads the way. The Lord’s Prayer is a radical prayer, inviting us to see the world in a whole new way. It is not just a few comforting phrases strung together. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is an act of radical justice making.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? All of us. All of us who? All of us who have ever been bold enough to pray along with Jesus, Our Father. When we knock and, unlike the sleeping neighbor, Jesus doesn’t say ‘Go Away!’ He doesn’t say, ‘Don’t bother me.’ He doesn’t even say, ‘Who’s there?’ He just says, ‘Welcome.’ Through our knocking, our asking, our seeking we become part of the community of the faithful, bound together by the Holy Spirit, who are seeking the kingdom of God.

So how, then, do we pray? As one pastor answered this question, “We pray like Jesus prayed. And we keep on praying. And we pray together.”   To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray like Jesus prayed. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray as he taught us, not out of rote memorization, but boldly, daring, out of our hope for the world. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray, Our Father. We can pray it twice on Sunday, can’t we? Our Father, who are in heaven…………………