The following is my sermon delived on Sunday, August 7, 2016:
There are a few things we do in our worship services that are such routine that we can run the risk of doing them without much thought. In some churches there are many creeds or responses that are really quite wonderful, but over time they can tend to be recited over and over without our really stopping to think about what they mean. I grew up with communion and the Lord’s Prayer each week and sometimes I was “in” it and let it speak and minister to me, sometimes I confess maybe not so much. We did it, that’s what we do, I didn’t always give it a great deal of thought. We do both here each week, and I love that we do. I think it is important and beautiful. But I do think it can be a good idea to look at the Lord’s Prayer from time to time in a conscious effort to deepen our understanding and commitment to it. It’s also helpful to examine just what we mean when we say this prayer. How does it, or not, inform and speak to our faith?
When I was growing up my parents were big fans of the King James translation of the Bible. I would bring home the Revised Standard, or the Amplified, or the Living Bible, but they would only read the King James. When I asked them about it they always said they loved the beauty and poetry of the language and the words in the King James. To them, that was “the Bible.” I thought it was pretty, but somehow it didn’t always touch me or feed my need to understand its real or deeper meaning as it applied to my life. I guess growing up in a world where people didn’t routinely say “thees”, and “thous” this language got in my way just a bit.
I love to watch children as they engage in the morning service – or not. Well, of course they aren’t engaged as we adults are, but in their own way they are experiencing something. Maybe even in a more pure way. I think, for example, when I see young Dylan, at age three, come forward in our service for communion. From a child’s perspective I can see how everything is so big and heightened for him, and so new. The experience is speaking to him, though the true meaning of it isn’t really known. Doesn’t matter, he is anxious to participate and receive. I see in his eyes, in the eyes of all children when they come forward, a true wonder of the experience. They are having an encounter with God, with Jesus, and it can serve as a precious memory years later of an amazing experience.
Several years ago I made the decision that in my spirtual walk I was going to become more engaged with what I was doing. Today many people call this MINDFULNESS, being fully present in the NOW moment with what one is doing. I find this powerful. Both in quiet meditation, but also in my daily routine. It is taking nothing for granted, but seeking to experience each moment, each breath, each step, each gesture, as one does it. Not always easy. A great exercise to do however.
One of the things that concerned me most was my relationship with the Lord’s Prayer. I decided I wanted to not only SAY, not only READ it in a bulletin and take it for granted, but I wanted to LIVE IT. That became my challenge and my goal. How am I doing so far? Well, like all challenges and all intentions, it is A PROCESS.
My first way of engaging more fully was to find out just why we have this prayer at all. Why did Jesus give this to his followers? What was he trying to teach them?
Jesus is giving his beautiful Sermon on the Mount. He understood that his followers, who were good practicing Jews, would follow the religious acts and rituals of their faith. But what he was most interested in doing was transforming the minds and the attitudes of those within the faith. He wanted them to share in his vivid consciousness of the reality, power and omnipresence of God. He also wanted the experience of God’s power and presence to be personal, deeply felt and not at all putting on a show for others. There was enough of that to be seen in this ancient time. There were always people screaming and shouting and flailing about on street corners. That was an all to common sight. That was not what one was to model. Turn within, Jesus taught, find God there, and then dwell in that beautiful secret place with God.
Okay, I am actually a person who loves my solitude. Finding quiet time is something I actually crave. I thought, I can do that. I can be in the silence with God. I said the prayer. Okay. Now what?
One day I decided that in my quiet time I was going to parse the prayer. Break it down to its parts and see how they speak to me. Taken as a whole sometimes things, especially scripture, I find, can be a lot to understand.
I started with OUR FATHER. The idea that God is not only a magnificent omnipotent being, capable of mighty miracles and blessings, but we have a meaningful connection. I know I ere, I know I need to see that I have erred. God can show me that, in a loving way I can understand. I always know that we humans too easily think of God in OUR image, rather than thinking of ourselves created in God’s image. There is a difference, and we limit God when we think of God in our image. But even more amazing to me than the two words, OUR FATHER, was the first word, OUR. We are connected to God and God to us. God is our connection to one another. God is the God of each and every one of us. Our creator, our hope. God bound each of us together in an experience of community that helps lift each and every one of us. Wow, I loved how this engagement with the scripture was beginning. This was not only enlightening, it was fun.
WHO ART IN HEAVEN. I gave that one a lot of thoughtful contemplation. The first thing that came to mind for me was the age old question, “where is heaven?” Is God far off someplace, far removed and distant? Just where is God? I actually had some interesting discussions with people about that one. We all seemed to come to the same conclusion. Looking at the whole of scripture, and this prayer in particular, we came to the only conclusion that really spoke of God’s unconditional love for God’s creation. That God is always right where we are at every moment, in all that we are doing and wherever we are – and therefore heaven is found within each and every one of us.
This further began to make sense for me when I thought about ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. That God, who is always available to us, and ever present, is in God’s heaven, and right where we are, so heaven is HERE, waiting for us to experience it. I had to stop and spend some time with that. Live with that. Heaven is right here, waiting for me to experience it. As I did, I began to feel this prayer become even more alive for me. Never again would I be able to just say these words. In living them I would also have to proclaim them. If to no one else, certainly to myself.
And when you stop to think about it – what we live, we proclaim, and vice versa.
This further made sense as we pray THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE. For years I thought this was telling us that we are waiting for God to come, but not so. It is stating that the kingdom is here. We can, and we are, to live it in now. This prayer invites us to be engaged in living in the kingdom, mindful of our NOW moments and not living on auto-pilot. Okay, I loved this. I realized my understanding of the prayer was just beginning, and that was all right. At least I could celebrate moving in the right direction. I am opening up a space within me toward understanding more.
Like little Dylan, who in his wide-eyed wonder, comes down the aisle enthusiastically to take communion, I can live in the wonder of God’s heaven on earth, recognizing more and more of it at each and every turn of life. It must begin somewhere, and it can, no matter what our age.
What is prayer really – but a chance to understand with greater awareness the presence of God? It always moves us to a new place, otherwise, why pray at all? Emmet Fox (Theologian and New Thought teacher) uses a great example of a ladder. We get a ladder when we can’t reach something, otherwise if we could reach it, who needs the ladder? We pray when we need to take that next step in our relationship with God. I have found that the Lord’s Prayer can really help me in doing that. One step at a time – one greater conscious awareness of God’s beautiful presence in our lives.
I remember when I was a little kid, just learning to read. I was maybe 5 or 6, when my mother brought me a new book. I loved this book and I hadn’t really thought about it much in many years until recently.
She gave me the book because it was about young Jesus. Jesus is a little boy, like I was, and he was with Joseph in the carpentry shop. Joseph is doing his thing, making and creating something, building something, and, watching him, Jesus picks up some wood and begins to carve on it. Slowly he carves and soon it becomes clear what it is he is making. He carves out a bird. A beautiful life-sized little bird, made in wood. He holds it lovingly, tenderly, admiring his creation when suddenly be breathes on it. And it comes to life. He holds now this living bird of his creation in his hands as it begins to stretch, and flap its wings, and he lifts up his arms and the bird flies away. He has set his creation free.
Remembering this story seemed to bless me in my engagement with the Lord’s Prayer. And it continues my thoughtful engagement with this prayer as it gives me a renewed relationship with God each time I think about it. I am God’s creation. We are all God’s perfect creation. God has breathed life into us and God has set us free. On earth, as it is in heaven.
In my parsing of this scripture I looked at other translations. Sometimes they can really help our understanding. The Message translation somehow stirs my thinking, maybe just perhaps its so different from the others, but also I think because its kind of fun. This other way of thinking about the prayer can add to our understanding as it speaks to us. Here is what it says:
Matthew 6:9-13 (The Message)
Jesus in response to his disciples asking him how they should pray:
“This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.’”
I may never breath on a wooden bird and bring it to life – but I will always keep trying to take that next step up the ladder of faith for new understanding of God in my life. Reaching out to God, in prayer, and then living that prayer, is a great way to begin.
(I didn’t quite get through this whole, beautiful prayer in one sermon, so it will continue next week)
Rev. Jefferson Beeker
We live our lives one thought at a time. Let each of those thoughts really count for something wonderful.
Be prepared to change your thinking and change your life.
Join us for worship at Church In Bethesda each Sunday at 11 AM. You will be inspired, challenged, blessed and filled with positive inspiration for your each bright and exciting tomorrow. This wonderful congregation, just outside of Washington, D.C. in suburban Maryland, is a dynamic witness to the community of God’s unconditional love, grace and reconciliation. This church stands as a beacon of light for new hope and possibility that through Christ’s welcoming, unconditional and inclusive embrace, we can all experience a deep and meaningful relationship with Spirit/God, as well as with one another. An open and affirming congregation, all are welcome to join in this amazing ministry. We are located at 5033 Wilson Lane, Bethesda, Maryland, just off Old Georgetown Road, in the heart of downtown Bethesda. http://www.churchinbethesda.org
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