Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pray, Believe, Live

A Sermon preached on August 9th, Pentecost XI, at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51

Andy Pickersgill recently posted an article on our congregation’s Facebook page entitled “Why I Am (Still) An Episcopalian”.[1] It’s well worth reading. One of the author’s arguments was that he values “how our exposition of scripture is not centered on the favorite passages of our preachers, but on the lectionary. Every week, God is allowed to speak into our lives through scripture that the Spirit has ordained we read, not through the strained vision of someone's pet theological peeve.” I agree – though when your Gospel passage comes from the same chapter of John for the third week running and you are confronted yet again with the image of Jesus as the bread of life, and you don’t just want to rehash last week’s sermon, you do begin to wonder what the Spirit was thinking!

So I’ve decide to talk about the Lord’s Prayer. No this is not my “strained vision” or my “pet theological peeve.” When I was reading both the Epistle and the Gospel I felt that they both inform and illustrate the Lord’s Prayer and that they are informed and better understood through the lens of that prayer. Neither Paul nor John have a version of the Lord’s Prayer in their writings. It only occurs in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels in slightly different versions, but I still hear echoes of the prayer when Paul tells his readers to “forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32) or of course in Jesus repeated use of the image of bread – of life, from heaven – to describe himself and his gift to the world. So give me the benefit of the doubt on this one please.

The Lord’s Prayer is so important to us Anglicans that we use it at every single service in our Prayer Book. Both in Matthew and Luke, Jesus introduces the prayer with the words, “Pray then in this way” (Matthew 6:9) or “When you pray, say.” (Luke 11.2) As good Anglicans you all know the phrase “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi.” As we pray, so we believe, and (in the expanded version) so we live.” So too Jesus’ instructions are not just about a prayer, but about faith and action – as are the passages we heard read this morning.

Our Father who art in heaven
God is not some distant being, only to be approached with awe-filled reverence. Addressing God as Father, as Jesus refers to God both in “His” prayer and in the passage from John’s Gospel – the Father who sent me (John 6:45) – or as Paul does indirectly in Ephesians (5:1) when he says that we are all God’s beloved children, transforms our relationship. It becomes a relationship based on fully intentional and completely unconditional love. One newer translation of the Lord’s Prayer – from the New Zealand Prayer Book – begins “Loving God in whom is heaven.” Heaven is not some place far away and in the distant future. We are not addressing a distant, absent, disinterested God. We are addressing a God who is passionately interested in us and heaven is ours to have and to experience in that God when we partake of the living bread of God’s Son.

Hallowed be thy name
Later in John’s Gospel, as his Passion approaches, Jesus will call out “Father, glorify your name!" and a voice from heaven will say, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." (John 12:28) It is in and through and by following Jesus that we glorify and hallow God’s name. For as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (2:10): “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” Jesus is also the name of God.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
It is the Father’s will that we follow Jesus. That is what Jesus means when he refers to people being drawn by the Father to come to Jesus. (John 6:44) No one is excluded from this invitation – all shall all be taught by God and everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Jesus. (6:45) But we have to listen of course and so we pray that God’s will be done. In his version of the Lord’s Prayer, the Quaker writer Parker Palmer translates the second part of this petition as “let heaven and earth become one.” That is when God’s kingdom finally and fully comes. Until then and on the way to that fulfillment, we are called, in the words of the letter to the Ephesians, to bring a little of heaven to earth by becoming “imitators of God, as beloved children, and living in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” (5:1-2)

Give us this day our daily bread
We’ve heard plenty about bread this and the last two weeks. Of course we need physical bread and other food and drink to survive and a key part of God’s kingdom coming is making sure that the food and drink already available are justly and fairly shared. But the daily bread of this prayer and of Jesus’ teaching in John is more. It is bread from heaven, it is consumable love. In the words of the psalmist (Psalm 34:8) we are called to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
In Parker Palmer’s version, paraphrasing the prophet Amos (5:24), this petition is beautifully translated as “let forgiveness flow like a river.” Forgiveness is at the core of Christianity. The Cross is love and forgiveness. In Ephesians (4:32) Paul reverses the order of the Lord’s Prayer to become “forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you,” which makes the connection to Christ’s fragrant sacrifice on the cross all the more visible. Without forgiveness there is no access to the altar and to the bread of life. As Jesus says in Matthew (5:23-24) we must first be reconciled to our brother or sister before we can come to the altar.

Lead us not into temptation
There are lots of concrete temptations listed in Ephesians (4:25-29) for us to resist: Putting away falsehood, not letting the sun go down on our anger, not letting it possess us, not stealing, avoiding evil talk. Why these ones particularly? Because they destroy community and communion, they do not build up the body of Christ, the living temple of God’s Spirit that we are supposed to be, instead they endanger and weaken to. Most of all we pray to God to help us resist grieving the Holy Spirit of God by acting against all that the seal, the stamp that we received at Baptism stands for. 

But deliver us from evil.
Or in the translation of the New Zealand Prayer Book: “From the grip of all that is evil, free us.” As Paul tells the Christians in Rome (Romans 6:23), “the wages of sin – of evil – is death,” and it is death that we pray to be delivered from and that according to Jesus’ promise we are delivered from in him: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51) The great thing is that the eternal life that Jesus promises us begins right now. Eternal life is the quality of life, it means sharing the inner life of Jesus, a life that is on offer at once to anyone who believes in him. It is a life that goes on after death. It is the life of the age to come, the kingdom to come that we pray for in Jesus’ prayer. This new life is the bread that Jesus gives for the life of the world. It is on offer every week here at his table. So come and be transformed to live in love, as Christ loved us and as he teaches us in the prayer we say in his name.  


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