Category: Weekly Sermon

Is God a Boy or a Girl?

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Is God a Boy or a Girl?
Matthew 23:37
May 16, 2018
Today we remember and honor our mothers.  I’m sure you remember some of your mother’s pet sayings that stay with you over a life-time.  I’ve compiled a list of things that mothers, including my own, say to their children.

When my children were small I would say prayers with them each night.  One night, just before I tucked my eight year old daughter into bed, she looked at me with all seriousness and asked, “Dad, is God a boy or girl?”
I couldn’t tell an eight year old that her question was a hot topic in theological circles at that time, that language about God and describing God was the subject of scholarly articles and speeches and books among the most distinguished Biblical scholars in the country.
What’s more I couldn’t say to her that feminist theologians were leading the attack on language of God that address God exclusively as a male: God, he; God our Father.  Feminist theologians were pointing out how such language supports patriarchy, the rule of males over all creation.
Since I had done a lot of reading on those subjects, and done a lot of thinking about them for my own preaching, many thoughts flooded through me mind.  But I knew that if I told her everything I knew, it would just confuse her.  So I had to give her an answer that was both true and fitting for an eight year old mind.
Children ask the most wonderful and difficult questions, don’t they?  And a child’s conception of God is both funny and interesting.
Eight year old Danny Dutton from Chula Vista, California had a home-work assignment to explain God.   Listen to what Danny said about God:
“One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth.  He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.
“God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.
“God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.
“Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista.   At least there aren’t any who come to our church.
“Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.
“His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.
“You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.
“You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God! Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.
“If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can  It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.
“But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you.  I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases. And…that’s why I believe in God.”
That’s pretty good, isn’t it?  I wonder how many of us could do as well to explain God.  But….back to our question: is God a boy or girl?  Is God a male or female?

SLIDE TWO: GOD IS SPIRIT

The most obvious answer is “neither.”    God is neither male or female.  God is spirit, as John 4 points out.  But what exactly is “spirit.”  This is getting very difficult, isn’t it?
The larger question is “Who is God?” and “What is God like?”
And naturally, to answer that question, we turn to the source book of the church for our answers.
When you ask most people that question–“Who is God and what is God like?” the answer you most frequently hear is,

SLIDE THREE: GOD AS FATHER
“God is our Father.”
That has been the prevailing image of God in the church for 2000 years.  But it may surprise you to crack open your Bible and find out exactly what the Bible says about God.
The most common Biblical metaphor for God is God as father-like.  But get this: the father-image for  God appears only seven times in the Old Testament.  Let me repeat that, only seven times.  The concept of Father God” in the O.T. stems from the fact that the  father of the tribe or the father of the family was a patriarch, controlling everything.  Males were supreme; females were second-class citizens.
SLIDE FOUR: GOD AS MOTHER
The mother-image for God appears ten times in the O.T.   Note the slide.  And if you are keeping score: father-image 7, mother-image 10.  I believe the  Old Testament is trying to teach us something here: more on that in a moment.
In the N.T. the father-image of God is used 275 times.

SLIDE FIVE ABBA FATHER
It was Jesus’ favorite description of God, which leads me to believe that his earthly father  must have been a wonderful role model.  Jesus called God  God “Abba,” an Aramaic word which means something like “Daddy” or “Papa.”  It is a term of endearing intimacy.  ‘‘Daddy, would you read a book to me.  Daddy, could we go get some ice-cream.”
But there are so many more images in the Bible which describe what God is like.
SLIDE 6: ABSTRACT IMAGES
There are abstract images, which challenge our imagination and tease our intellect: God as spirit; God as the Eternal Word, God as Wisdom, and that wonderful passage of the burning bush in Exodus 3 where God says in response to Moses’ question, “Who are you?”  God responds “I am who I am….or I will be who I will be.”  God is saying, “You can’t pin me down.  You have no human categories to contain me.”

SLIDE 7: ANIMAL IMAGES
And then there are the animal images of God: mother bear, eagle, lion, mother hen.

SLIDE 8: NATURE IMAGES
And the nature images:
Fire—Deuteronomy 4:24
Wind   Acts 2:2; John 3:8
A Rock—Isaiah 17:10
Water—Jeremiah 17:13
Light—John 8:12; Isaiah 60:2-3
A Vine—John 15:1
And the human images of God:

SLIDE 9 BAKER

SLIDE 10: MID WIFE

SLIDE 11   FRIEND
SLIDE 12 SHEPHERD

SLIDE 13 POTTER.
SLIDE 14 BLANK
What’s going on here?  What is the Bible trying to teach us?   In the main, the Bible is saying to us, “Your concept of God is too small.  God cannot be compressed into any one image, nor can God be totally described in all the images of scripture.  Or if I could paraphrase what God said to Job in chapters 38 and 39, “Who are you pygmy brain, to think that you could know me.”
What  I am saying about the language about God this morning isn’t just some abstruse theological exercise, but goes to the heart of our faith.  For if being able to trust in God is at the heart of our faith, then how we visualize God will affect our relationship with God.
A woman came to one of those conservative churches searching for a meaningful faith.  It so happened that the pastor of this church always used the words “God our Father” in his sermons and prayers. That was the only metaphor he used for God.  This particular woman had been repeatedly sexually abused by her own father, so the word “Father” triggered the most painful memories.
I read the other day  that one of every four children under the age of six in the U.S. live at or below the poverty line, and half of these children live with single mothers who themselves are poor.  So we have now a  generation of children–millions of them–when they think of father they think of someone who abandoned them, someone who did not do his duty, someone who was never there for them.
So I believe that the future of our faith is at stake in the language of God question.   We need lots of images to help us come to know God.  The Father image isn’t bad; it just isn’t enough.  Our language about God should be as diverse and varied as the Bible itself.   The Bible, as we have seen, teems with  hundreds of metaphors to expand our view of God.
I want to suggest that in your relationship with God, think of an image about God that means something to you.  A woman I know had such a wonderful mother that she always began her prayer with the words, “O God, my Mother.”  That conjured up for her the picture of a God who loved her more than she loved her own life.  So find an image that speaks to you, an image that will expand and not restrict what God is and what God wants to do in your life.
A few years ago we loaded up a U Haul trailer and took both of our children off to college, to Southern Illinois University.  Our daughter was  a junior there, but it was our son’s first year, and we became EN’s,  E.N’s, empty nesters.
I felt really sad as started the  long drive back to Chicago, I had a case of the sad sniffles for a couple of hours.  (Later, when I told friends how sad I felt that we were empty nesters, some other former EN’s told me, “Don’t feel so bad, they will be back sooner than you want.”
At any rate, driving back to Chicago,  I was thinking about all the things my son and I had done together that have meant so much to me that I would  not be able to do that  fall and winter–trips to Chicago Stadium watching Michael Jordan soar and slam; our evening ritual of washing the dishes, I  washing, he drying; the cross country meets and the track meets when I would cheer him on.
I don’t think he knows–and perhaps none of us ever know this until we are parents ourselves–about how much a parent loves his child; perhaps more than we love our own lives do we love our children.  I don’t think our children know how desperately we want close relationships with them, however inept we are in pulling that off.
SLIDE 15 IS GOD A BOY OR GIRL

Is God a boy or girl?  That’s the question my little daughter asked me.
Here’s how I answered her.  “Well, Amie, God is a divine spirit, who created us and the world.  God is so great that I can’t fully understand everything about God.  But I believe that God is like me, a father, who loves you more than anything.  And God is like mom, who takes care of you and who would do anything to help you.”
The look on her face told me that my answer was satisfactory, and we kissed each other goodnight.
The Bible says that God loves us just like we parents love our children.  God wants a close relationship with us just like we want to be close to our children.  God misses us when we are away in some far country.  God wants to cuddle us close, like a mother does her nursing child.  That we should be so valued by the Creator of the Universe is the miracle of all miracles.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Manna: God Will Provide

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Exodus 16; John 6
April 22 2018

Now the children of Israel are unhappy campers. Their leader, Moses, has led them out of slavery in Egypt, and now they are one month into their journey. They find themselves in the desert. Life is harsh; water limited; food scarce. So they begin to murmur. I love that phrase. They begin to murmur. They begin to whine. “Oh, life in Egypt was so much better than this. Living under Pharaoh was so much easier than this. I don’t know why I let Moses and Aaron talk me into doing this stupid thing. At least back in Egypt, we had something to eat every night.”
They have been freed from slavery, but now they look back and feel that the security of slavery is better than the insecurity of freedom.
They have been given the promise that they will have their own land, but they prefer the comforts of an enslaved known to the discomforts of liberating unknown.
And so as they grumble among themselves, out here in the wilderness; they long for the good ole days. The back-breaking toil they experienced in Egypt, the cruelty of their Egyptian overlords, the humiliation of being slaves are all preferable to this scary freedom they had been given.
I have known many people in my life who are like the children of Israel. They prefer the security of misery rather than the insecurity of freedom. I know a woman married to an abusive alcoholic. She has been counseled by family and friends in Al Anon that she should leave him, but it is so difficult to start out on your own when you are 53 years old and have no employable skills. So she stays with him in a kind of bondage. She stays in her nice home, and drives her nice car, and wears her nice clothes, and is abused every night.
I know a pastor who serves a church where he receives unremitting criticism from a group of vicious lay people. He has been so stressed and anxious that he’s on anti-depressants. But rather than seeking a new call, he stays because moving is so frightening. Maybe he won’t be able to find a new call. Maybe he won’t be able to make the same money he is now making.
When God offers us freedom, the changes we must make are always excruciating. Freedom isn’t free. It comes with a high cost of challenge and painful growth. But I will tell you this: God is a God of liberation. God is a God who calls us out from Egypt. God will not rest while we live in slavery, whether it’s the slavery of our decisions and habits, or a slavery imposed by the principalities and powers of this present age. God wants us to be free….whatever it takes or whatever it costs us. God wants us to be free.
So the children of Israel are murmuring. They whine to Moses: “You’ve brought us out here in the desert, and look–we are going to die of hunger.”
A valid complaint. We do not live by bread alone, but we cannot live without bread either. How will we survive? Where will we find food and water?
Lots of us have asked similar questions. I’ve lost my job; how will I make ends meet? How will I make it through this tough class? How will I make it through my teenager’s adolescence? How will I make it through my spouse’s illness? How will our church survive with so many of us in the winter of our lives?
At one time or another, we’ve been in the wilderness and we’ve murmured against God, “God, why did you lead me here? I don’t know how I’m going to make it”
Poor Moses, their tour leader. He’s the lightning rod for their complaints. Like any leader of any organization, he hears it all. He’s blamed for everything bad, and whatever good happens, well, they think they’re entitled to.
On this occasion, the Lord says to Moses: “I am going to provide for my people. Each morning I am going to rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion, that I may prove myself to them.”
And so it came to be. They woke up the next morning and found a layer of dew upon the ground. It was a fine flaky substance. The Hebrew people looked around and asked, “What is it?” And Moses replied, “It’s what the Lord sent you to eat. It’s manna. It’s bread from heaven.”
There’s been a lot of speculation about the composition of manna. Being from the south, I think it was like grits. Being from the southwest, you might think it was like a thin tortilla. Some scholars tell us that in the desert there’s a kind of insect that feeds on the tamarisk tree. The bug eats more than its fill and begins to excrete the excess which forms a kind of white, flaky substance. It has a very sweet taste, and to this day, it is gathered by the locals and baked into a type of bread.
Whatever it was, manna was a gift of heaven. A sign from God saying, “I will provide for you. I will never fail or forsake you. I am the one who brought you out of the House of Egypt and the Land of Bondage. I will provide for all of your needs, spiritual and material.”
Each morning when the Hebrew children woke up….there it was…on the ground. Maybe it was a boring diet, manna waffles for breakfast, manna sandwiches for lunch, manna casserole for dinner. I don’t know. But each day it was there.
And here’s what’s interesting. Moses commands them to gather enough for only a day, and at the end of the day, to throw the excess away, because the excess would decay and spoil. They are asked to trust that God will provide manna for the next day.
Talk about a test. When you are out on a backpacking trip, you always conserve food and water. Especially in the desert.
And so, as usual, they don’t pay any attention to what Moses tells them. They go out and gather up more than a day’s supply. They try to hoard it, put it in some safe place in the corner of their tents at the end of the day, so that when they wake up in the morning, they can have Manna Frosted Flakes for breakfast.
Oh, the need for security. We spend our whole lives reaching for it. Getting the right education will bring security. Marrying the right person will bring security. Getting the right job will bring security. Making enough money will bring security. Having our own home, with nice furnishings will bring security. Having a big retirement nest egg will bring security.
It doesn’t work, does it? For there’s never enough. Trying to fill the hole in our soul with relationships, or status, or possessions is ultimately so unsatisfying. And so we relentlessly pursue something more, something new, something different, something, which will shellac over our inner discontent.
So the Hebrew children wake up in the morning, and go over in the corner of the tent to get some manna for manna waffles and manna Frosted Flakes, and what do they discover? It has spoiled overnight, and it’s filled with worms, thousands of creepy, crawly, slimy, disgusting worms!
I wonder how many worm-filled messes we have in our lives because we have never acknowledged that God will provide. I wonder how many spoiled days and nights we have lived because we have never learned to live trusting in God rather than our own efforts and possessions.
And so they crawl out of their tents, wiping sleep from their eyes, and step into the cold morning air, and as their eyes adjust to the dazzling light of a desert dawn, and lying right there in front of them, glistening in the sunlight, is a dew-like substance. It’s everywhere….in abundance….so much of it than when everyone gathers it up, they could go back and gather a hundred times more, and wouldn’t make a dent in its supply. Manna…..another day…..and God has come through again.
Listen: God wants us to let go of tomorrow. God only promises us this day. God will be with us today. God will give us everything we need today. God will provide us strength for the journey today. And God asks us to trust his grace for tomorrow.
A little later in this service we will pray the Lord’s Prayer together. We will pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those words, “daily bread” in Greek, come from the Hebrew word for manna. Give us this day our manna. And in our communion service today, we will feast on the one who was the incarnate manna, the bread of heaven, Jesus Christ.
I want to end today with a little litany. I am going to make some statements, and inasmuch as you agree with them, I am going to ask you to respond with the words: “Manna–God will provide.”
So I will make a statement, and then hold up my hand, and you respond, if you honestly believe what I have said, then respond with the words, “Manna, God will provide.” If you are unable to affirm the statement, that’s o.k.. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you at all.
OK. Ready.
I do not know what the future brings. I have some questions, some anxiety and fear about tomorrow. “MANNA GOD WILL PROVIDE.”
Someone I know and love is battling an addiction, and they are on a downward spiral. I admit I am powerless over their addiction, but I trust that God will do what I cannot do, and right now I give this person into God’s hands. “Manna, God WILL PROVIDE.’
I may be facing economic uncertainty in my life. I am concerned about my debts and responsibilities. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE
I have done some things in the past I am not proud of. I don’t want to live in those self-defeating and self-destructive habits anymore. I want God to cleanse and renew me. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Someone I know and love is battling a serious illness. I am worried what may happen to them. MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.
Our church is at a crossroads. We have many challenges ahead, as we struggle to stay alive and healthy. . MANNA , GOD WILL PROVIDE.
I want to be a person of strength, of beauty, and integrity. I want to be a warm witness to my faith in Jesus wherever I go. I know I cannot do this by myself, and that I need power from on high to be the person I want to be.
“MANNA, GOD WILL PROVIDE.”

“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

Rev. Dr. Terry V. Swicegood
485 E Campina Drive
Litchfield Park, AZ 85340
623 521 1711
Categories: Weekly Sermon

How Do We Recognize Him?

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Luke 24: 13-35
April 15 2018

This is the only time in the New Testament where we meet Cleopas and his companion. One Biblical scholar imagines that the unnamed companion is Cleopas’ wife.  So let’s go with that angle and follow Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas as they travel today from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles.  They have been followers of Jesus and gladly embraced the new life he offered them.   Their hearts have been filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works.  They have been renewed in body, mind and spirit by their companionship with Jesus and with other believers. And though they had to give up a lot to follow him, it was  nothing compared to what they had gained.   They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them.

Like so many before, Jesus had seemed like a young man with promise, a mighty prophet in word and deed, and they had pinned their hopes on him.  They hoped to overthrow Rome’s heavy boot on their neck.  They hoped to break thourgh the constant bickering and party strife of the Judasim of theri day.  They had hoped that he might be someone who was brave and good and behind whose banner they could march.  They wanted Camelot.  But the chief priestand leaders of their people had handed him over to the Roman authorities, and he was crucified.
So Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas concluded that there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
They   start out, the two of them, talking as the go,  going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? When something tragic happens to us, we go over the same things again and again.  It seems a little stupid on the surface, but each time we go back over the same ground, we spiral down a little deeper, and healing begins.
Well, as they are doing this a stranger joins them on the road.    It is the resurrected Jesus, but   but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women were just imagining something that didn’t happen.
When they had finish their side of the story, the stranger chids them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, the stranger  becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true.
I’m not sure whether it was because the light from the lamp finally hit Jesus’ face “just so,” or because they had been there at the Last Supper and seen him do it before, or because they finally looked deeply into the face of this Stranger with whom they had been walking and talking and eating.  Whatever it was, they recognize that this is Jesus, the one who had been with them all along.  And having so realized it, he vanished.
How do WE recognize the risen Christ? It isn’t easy, is it?  We are never sure, are we?
But this story gives us some hints. Any time and any where we feel God’s closeness, any time something happens to us where God tries to get our attention, that it evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ.   Jesus comes to us in numerous guises and  numerous circumstances — Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presence.
There was a young boy who decided to go and look for God.   He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!
Maybe the reason Emmaus is such an elusive place to locate historically is because it can be almost anywhere, anytime, even here, where the Stranger joins us who is no stranger at all, the one whom we know but do not know. Emmaus is, at the least, that place wherever the scriptures are explained and the bread is broken and Christ is made real in the midst of life.
In the South Bronx of New York City there is a Lutheran Pastor by the name of Hedi Neumark, who has served for twenty years as  pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church.  The South Bronx is a bad section of New York City, and Transfiguration Lutheran Church is a church where the rat poison is stored next to the communion wafers under the altar.
In her book, Breathing Space,  Heidi Newmark tells the story of one of her parishioners Angie, whom she first met on a home visit as Angie lay on the sofa in her bathrobe. Angie had sent her son, Tiriq to the summer program at Transfiguration to get him out of the house and to give her some quiet time. She had indicated that she wanted Tiriq baptized, so Pastor Neumark went to visit.
Angie was depressed over her childhood when her father would come into her room at night and violate her. She was depressed over the wasted years getting high to numb her emotional pain. And she was depressed about her HIV status.
Heidi read to her the words of the letter to the Ephesians used in the Baptismal service. “God out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him.
Little by little over the following months Angie began to rise up from her sofa and her depression and come to worship and Bible study. She even volunteered at the homeless shelter at the church and enrolled in a Lutheran adult study and leadership program known as Diakonia.
Everybody in the program had to give a presentation on Lutheran theology at some point during the study and give an explanation of why you were a Lutheran. One night, the students assigned to make their presentation did not come. And the teacher asked if anyone else would like to give his or her paper instead. Angie didn’t have a paper written, but she offered nonetheless to give her presentation on Lutheran theology and why she was a Lutheran.
Neumark writes: “Angie got a glass of water and set it in front of her. Then she slowly opened a Mary Kay jewelry case and took out a pink pouch which was filled with multicolored pills. She took out about ten pills and swallowed them, one by one, in silence. The class was riveted by this unusual theological presentation. When the last pill was swallowed, Angie stood up. ‘That’s my HIV medication,” she said. “I’m Lutheran because the church welcomed me as I am, an HIV positive, recovering addict, and a child of God filled with grace. Taking care of my health is part of my stewardship. Now by the grace of God I want to live. I want to live for my son. I want to live for the people still out there on the streets as I was. I want to live because Jesus Christ lives in me and through me. It’s not just my body anymore. I’m part of his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit’.”
Anyone here today able to identify the risen Lord as present and accounted for better than that?
Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances still when the doors are opened and the scriptures are explained, the wine is poured and the bread is broken, and people love one another in his name.

How Do We Recognize Him?
Luke 24: 13-35
April 15 2018

This is the only time in the New Testament where we meet Cleopas and his companion. One Biblical scholar imagines that the unnamed companion is Cleopas’ wife.  So let’s go with that angle and follow Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas as they travel today from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a journey of some seven miles.  They have been followers of Jesus and gladly embraced the new life he offered them.   Their hearts have been filled with joy and anticipation as they looked forward to hearing more of his word and to being witnesses again and again to his good works.  They have been renewed in body, mind and spirit by their companionship with Jesus and with other believers. And though they had to give up a lot to follow him, it was  nothing compared to what they had gained.   They thought it would go on forever.
But that was then. Now all their hopes and dreams were as dead as Jesus. The events of the past few days, ending with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, had beaten every last shred of hope from them.

Like so many before, Jesus had seemed like a young man with promise, a mighty prophet in word and deed, and they had pinned their hopes on him.  They hoped to overthrow Rome’s heavy boot on their neck.  They hoped to break thourgh the constant bickering and party strife of the Judasim of theri day.  They had hoped that he might be someone who was brave and good and behind whose banner they could march.  They wanted Camelot.  But the chief priestand leaders of their people had handed him over to the Roman authorities, and he was crucified.
So Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas concluded that there was nothing left to do but get out of Jerusalem and go to another place, perhaps to pick up the pieces of their former lives and begin again; to turn their backs on all that had seemed so expectant and hopeful, and walk the seven miles on the road to Emmaus.
They   start out, the two of them, talking as the go,  going over and over the same ground—as if saying it one more time would change the outcome. Don’t we all do that? If we’ve lost something, don’t we keep revisiting the same spot, thinking that if we go there often enough, the lost item will miraculously appear? When something tragic happens to us, we go over the same things again and again.  It seems a little stupid on the surface, but each time we go back over the same ground, we spiral down a little deeper, and healing begins.
Well, as they are doing this a stranger joins them on the road.    It is the resurrected Jesus, but   but their hearts are so full of defeat and so devoid of faith that they do not recognize him. What’s more, when this stranger asks what they are talking about, they cannot believe that he doesn’t know all that has happened. Where has he been? And so they tell it all once more. They even tell him about the empty tomb, how some women had seen a vision of angels who said that Jesus was not dead but alive. But still, they said to the stranger, no one had seen him, so perhaps the women were just imagining something that didn’t happen.
When they had finish their side of the story, the stranger chids them. “Weren’t you listening when he told you how all of this must come to pass? Don’t you know how, from the beginning of time, the prophets had foretold exactly what has just happened, that the Messiah must suffer before he enters his glory?” As he recites Scripture to them, going all the way back to the time of Moses, they are so taken in by his words that when they reach Emmaus, they don’t want to let him go; they want to hear more, and so they invite him to stay with them. He agrees, and as they sit down to supper, the strangest thing happens. A guest in someone else’s home, the stranger  becomes the host. He picks up the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. And in that simple but so meaningful act, something they had seen him do time and time again, their eyes are opened and they know with certainty, not only who he is, not only that this is indeed Jesus, but they also know that all he had said to them was true.
I’m not sure whether it was because the light from the lamp finally hit Jesus’ face “just so,” or because they had been there at the Last Supper and seen him do it before, or because they finally looked deeply into the face of this Stranger with whom they had been walking and talking and eating.  Whatever it was, they recognize that this is Jesus, the one who had been with them all along.  And having so realized it, he vanished.
How do WE recognize the risen Christ? It isn’t easy, is it?  We are never sure, are we?
But this story gives us some hints. Any time and any where we feel God’s closeness, any time something happens to us where God tries to get our attention, that it evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ.   Jesus comes to us in numerous guises and  numerous circumstances — Emmaus invites us to expect that intervention, to expect that God will indeed seek us and find us. Emmaus challenges us to see that it isn’t our unshakable faith or evidences of deep spirituality that connect us with the risen Christ, but our openness to his presence.
There was a young boy who decided to go and look for God.   He packed a lunch and got as far as the park before he got hungry.. He sat on a bench next to an old woman. They sat together for an hour. He offered her a Twinkie. She offered him a huge smile. When the boy got home he announced to his mother, I met God today, and she has the most wonderful smile! When the elderly lady got home, she said to her son, I met God today, and he is much younger than I’d imagine!
Maybe the reason Emmaus is such an elusive place to locate historically is because it can be almost anywhere, anytime, even here, where the Stranger joins us who is no stranger at all, the one whom we know but do not know. Emmaus is, at the least, that place wherever the scriptures are explained and the bread is broken and Christ is made real in the midst of life.
In the South Bronx of New York City there is a Lutheran Pastor by the name of Hedi Neumark, who has served for twenty years as  pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church.  The South Bronx is a bad section of New York City, and Transfiguration Lutheran Church is a church where the rat poison is stored next to the communion wafers under the altar.
In her book, Breathing Space,  Heidi Newmark tells the story of one of her parishioners Angie, whom she first met on a home visit as Angie lay on the sofa in her bathrobe. Angie had sent her son, Tiriq to the summer program at Transfiguration to get him out of the house and to give her some quiet time. She had indicated that she wanted Tiriq baptized, so Pastor Neumark went to visit.
Angie was depressed over her childhood when her father would come into her room at night and violate her. She was depressed over the wasted years getting high to numb her emotional pain. And she was depressed about her HIV status.
Heidi read to her the words of the letter to the Ephesians used in the Baptismal service. “God out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead… made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him.
Little by little over the following months Angie began to rise up from her sofa and her depression and come to worship and Bible study. She even volunteered at the homeless shelter at the church and enrolled in a Lutheran adult study and leadership program known as Diakonia.
Everybody in the program had to give a presentation on Lutheran theology at some point during the study and give an explanation of why you were a Lutheran. One night, the students assigned to make their presentation did not come. And the teacher asked if anyone else would like to give his or her paper instead. Angie didn’t have a paper written, but she offered nonetheless to give her presentation on Lutheran theology and why she was a Lutheran.
Neumark writes: “Angie got a glass of water and set it in front of her. Then she slowly opened a Mary Kay jewelry case and took out a pink pouch which was filled with multicolored pills. She took out about ten pills and swallowed them, one by one, in silence. The class was riveted by this unusual theological presentation. When the last pill was swallowed, Angie stood up. ‘That’s my HIV medication,” she said. “I’m Lutheran because the church welcomed me as I am, an HIV positive, recovering addict, and a child of God filled with grace. Taking care of my health is part of my stewardship. Now by the grace of God I want to live. I want to live for my son. I want to live for the people still out there on the streets as I was. I want to live because Jesus Christ lives in me and through me. It’s not just my body anymore. I’m part of his body, a temple of the Holy Spirit’.”
Anyone here today able to identify the risen Lord as present and accounted for better than that?
Long ago, there was an appearance on Old Emmaus Road. And there are appearances still when the doors are opened and the scriptures are explained, the wine is poured and the bread is broken, and people love one another in his name.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Thy Will be done

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THY WILL BE DONE

March 18 2018

I Peter 2

We have been working our way through the Lord’s Prayer over the past few months.    This is the most familiar and most universal prayer in all of Christendom.  In this prayer we find the model for all our  praying.  In the Lord’s prayer, we learn what God is like–a caring Father–and we learn why we are put on earth–to work for God’s kingdom and to seek God’s will.

The theologian Karl Barth once said that, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  According to Barth, when we pray, we unleash the forces of God’s power upon the world.  That is why we pray for an end of the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians, for the alleviation of suffering in Syria, , for healing from cancer, for the redemption of a disintegrating marriage.  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So today I want to talk about this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done.   I want to lift up two words which describe God’s will, and they both begin with the letter “P.”  God’s will is persuasive.  Second, God’s will is purposeful.   So I have crossed you up, and instead of having the usual three points a preacher makes, I am making only two, thus to guarantee that you will be out of church early and beat the crowds to Brother’s restaurant.    God’s will, persuasive, God’s will purposeful.  

I.

To launch out into our subject, I want to say that God works his will in ways that unfailingly persuasive and non coercive.  There are only two kinds of power in the arena of human relations.  One is coercion; the other persuasive. One is compulsion from without.  The other is devotion from within.  One is power over people, the other is power with people.  Go back into history as far as you like and you will find these two concepts struggling for the mastery of the human mind.  Dostoevski said that this was the acid test for any civilization–that a nation could be properly called civilized when it began to put more emphasis on the forces that persuade than on the cruder forces that compel.

I heard about a company over in Glendale and they were introducing a new insurance plan for the employees.  To be able to be eligible for this insurance plan all of the employees had to sign up and pay a participating share.  Well, there were over 60 employees in this small company and everybody signed up except for one man.  No matter how much is fellow employees and the boss tried to persuade him, he just couldn’t see the benefits.  Finally, one day the boss called him in and said to him, “George, you’ve been a good employee but your refusal to sign up for the plan is undermining the company morale.  Either you sign it or you’re fired.”

George, with a big smile on his face, took a pen off the boss’s desk and grandly signed his name to the contract.  And the boss, exasperated, looked at him and said, “Why did you do it so willingly–and why didn’t you do it long before?”  And George replied, “Well, nobody ever explained it to me so clearly up until now.”

Well, God is not like this.  God’s will is shown in non-coercive love.  And this love is most seriously and remarkable demonstrated in the cross.  The accruals of sin are always bitter and negative.  We know that hate begets hate, jealousy begets jealousy, suspicion begets suspicion.  Our only hope is for someone to absorb an indignity or an injury and not return it in kind, The cross is God’s way of saying, “The hate stops here.”  Or as Peter puts it in speaking of Jesus, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.  When he suffered, he did not threaten.  He himself bore our sins in his body of the tree.  By his wounds, we have been healed.”  God will never coerce us, only draw us to his side in love.

II.

And a second facet of God’s will  is that God’s will is purposeful.    God has a plan in mind for us and for our world, whether we can see it or not.   And it’s here that we begin to identify with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  But nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

Jesus sensed that he was on a collision course with the Jewish and Roman authorities, and that the outcome would not be pleasant.  I love this story in the Garden of Gethsemane so much, because it shows how human Jesus is,  just like you and me.  Part of himself wanted to opt out, to avoid the horrible days ahead.  He must have considered leaving Jerusalem, going back to Galilee, and continuing his ministry there.  But in the end, he was willing to lay aside his own ego, his own desires, to be obedient to his Father’s will.

I think I most identify with Jesus here.  First, trying to be obedient to God’s will instead of following my own will is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Trying to put God’s priorities first instead of my own priorities.  Trying to dance to God’s tune, instead of two-stepping to my own.

Before I came to Arizona  I was  in Mississippi, the hardest two years of my life, serving a declining church in an alien culture, with many people who just thought I was the worst thing to happen to Mississippi since Sherman came through and burned Jackson.  I had to ask myself, “Oh, my God, why did you send me here?”  And then I wondered, “Maybe God didn’t send me.  Maybe it was just a bad decision on my part.  A bad choice.  We all make them.”  But to know that doesn’t help, at least in the midst of the pain of a difficult situation.

We’ve all been in Mississippi haven’t we?  In a marriage that didn’t work out.  With a child acting up    With a job that is just soul-numbing.  With an illness that lays us low.

And we’re not sure in these situations how much of it is our fault or our fate or the will of God.

I can only tell you what I have learned.  I never believe that God sends us hardship, but I do believe with Helmut Thielicke that all evil which befalls us must pass through the hands of God before it reaches us.  God doesn’t send us Mississippis but God can bring us through Mississippis,  still erect, still proud, still standing on our feet.  Two things can happen from Mississippis.  We can become bitter or become better.   And if we are  extraordinarily blessed, God can bring us from a Mississippi to the First Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Arizona.      

In the eighth chapter of Romans we read, “In everything God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”  God has an unquenchable will to redeem.  What more is the cross that the world’s minus turned into God’s plus?

There was a woman diagnosed with a terminal illness.  As she was getting her affairs in order, she contacted her minister to come to her house to discuss her memorial service what Scriptures she wanted read, what hymns sung.  They laid out the whole service, then the woman

said, “Oh, there’s one thing more, and this is very important.”

     “What is it?” the pastor asked.

     “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”  He stood looking at her dumbfounded, not at all sure what to say.

     “Does that surprise you?”

     “Well, yes it does, to be honest.”

     The woman explained.  “In all my years of attending church socials and potlucks, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork’.  It was my favorite moment, because I knew something

better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie.  Something wonderful and delicious.   

     “So when people see me there in my casket with a fork in my hand, and they ask, “What’s with the fork? I want you to tell them, ‘Keep your fork…the best is yet to come’.”

If we allow God to work his will in us, even the worst things can become part of God’s will.  If we surrender ourselves to God, as did Jesus in the garden, we may know suffering and reversal,  but ultimately, we will know resurrection.  And because of that, in life or in death, the  the best is yet to come.    

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Thy Kingdom Come

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Thy Kingdom Come
(Series on Lord’s Prayer)
Romans 1, Revelation 11
March 11, 2018

Today we are continuing our series on the Lord’s Prayer with the second of the three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. We looked at the first petition, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” last week. e saw that to hallow God’s name has three practical consequences. We hallow God’s name when our beliefs about God are consistent with God’s nature and character. That’s right belief. We hallow God’s name when our lives point others to God. That’s right witness. We hallow God’s name when we are engaged in some form of action to help bruised and bleeding people. That’s right service.
Well today we come to the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” Whenever we hear the most majestic piece of church music ever written, Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” we sing part of it in what is called in musical circles “piano,” which means “very softly.” The kingdom of this world. Can you hear it…..the kingdom of this world is become…and then, there is a great explosion, a crescendo, the basses coming in at an octave higher, and the sopranos an octave and a third higher, and everyone sings “Fortissimo” –which means “at the top of your lungs.” “The kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”
Handel had a profound glimpse into the nature of reality here. He was affirming the vast difference between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of our Lord; he was affirming the utter superiority of the kingdom of our Lord; and was affirming the fervor with which human beings must sing and pray and work for the coming of the kingdom, because, God knows, it has not taken over yet.
Let me ask a question which is on everyone’s mind. How can we pray Thy Kingdom Come in a world where the kingdom appears to be not coming at all? How can we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” as another school shooting occurs in Florida? How can we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” when two million people have been killed in Syria’s civil war? ? How do we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” when so many people just don’t care. As a CNN journalist says in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” after shooting footage of the genocide. “After they see this people are gonna say ‘my god that’s terrible’ and then go on eating their dinners.”
How in this kind of world can we continue to believe that God’s kingdom is coming?
The only way I can answer this question for myself is to picture in my mind’s eye two intersecting lines. The first line is a descending line, and indicates that human beings are constantly living farther and farther away from God. As Mark Twain said, “Man was created a little lower than the angels, and he has been getting lower ever since.”
Or as Senator Sam Ervin once said, Sam Ervin that irrepressible and distinguished Senator from North Carolina and served in the U.S. Senate from 1954 to 1974. Sam Ervin was debating a bill in the North Carolina legislature, which would have prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools–teaching that monkeys and human beings were somehow linked together. Sam Ervin said, “I can’t see but one good thing about this bill, and that it would greatly gratify the monkeys to know that they are absolved from responsibility for the conduct of the human race.”
Well, the very first story we read in the Bible is the prototype of the kingdom of God. Adam, the Hebrew word for man, and Eve, the Hebrew word for mother of all living creatures…Adam and Eve (representatives of human kind) begin their lives in paradise, in fellowship with God. But they rebel, assert their own stubborn self-will, and are expelled from Eden. What begins as individual sin continues as collective sin as Cain kills his brother Abel, and the sin snowballs, becoming a tumultuous avalanche of destructive behavior.
This is the descending line I am speaking of–people moving further and further away from God.
In the first chapter of Romans this startling statement occurs three times: “GOD GAVE THEM UP.” The first statement is, “For this reason God gave them up to the lust of their hearts.” The second statement, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” The third statement, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and improper conduct.”
God gave them up. Life is consequential. Life away from God is a downward spiral into darkness. We do not so much break God’s laws as we are broken on them. Life is not only consequential for us as individuals….we reap what we sow…life is even more consequential for the nations of the world, who are still living under the talion law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, thus failing to learn from Gandhi’s prediction that such policies inevitably leads to the whole world becoming blind and toothless. If we do not learn to become meek, will there be any earth left for anyone to inherit. We must learn to be merciful in a world where we live at each other’s mercy.
So the first line the Bible describes is a descending line, a descending line of decay, a line which runs away from God, a line that ends in the terrors of a world which knows no reference beyond itself.
But alongside this line is another line. This line is an ascending line, and it represents the coming of God’s kingdom. Mysteriously and paradoxically, while people turn away from God and wallow in their own misery, God’s dominion on earth continues to take root and grow. The manifestations of God’s will are emerging evermore clearly and conclusively in the very midst of decline and decay.
Way back in 1934 the Baptist preacher Clovis Chappel wrote:
“For what are we asking when we pray for the coming of the kingdom? We are asking, of course, that God take the throne of our individual hearts. But we are asking for far more. A kingdom implies subjects. This is a prayer for others, for a society where the will of God is recognized as supreme. It is a prayer….for a social order in which Jesus would feel at home. In praying this prayer, we are asking for a community into which Jesus would fit. We are asking for homes in which he could be entertained without embarrassment. We are asking for churches upon all whose ministries he could look with approval. We are asking for a city whose streets he could walk without having his heart broken. We are asking for places of business into which he could go without burning indignation. We are asking for schools that measure up to his demands. We are asking for amusements upon which he would smile. We are asking for literature that he could read without having his eyes blurred by tears.”
Well, this quote is very dated, 1934, but the gist of it still holds. God’s kingdom is coming even now, wherever righteousness speaks, wherever justice is accomplished, wherever fair play is upheld, wherever the least and lowliest human being has a chance. God’s kingdom is coming, that’s the ascending line we are speaking of today.
Now I know as we hear the news and read the headlines, the descending line is what gets our attention. Bad news always outdraws the good. It’s sensational and titillating and it sells. It’s more fascinating to read about a baseball player who takes steroids than some young, nameless kid who is trying to break through from AAA to find a spot on the roster of the parent club. It’s the descending line which grabs our attention, the bad news which dominates our consciousness.
But in my despair about how bad things are, God begins to work on me. God says, “Terry, you look out at the world and conclude my kingdom isn’t coming. Has it ever occurred to you that My Kingdom isn’t coming precisely because of you? How can you expect to prepare the way for it when your own life is so full of roadblocks, barriers, and defenses against it, when you keep on putting an “off limits” on areas of your life you will never let me enter?”
And then I realize that the point of this second petition is supremely a personal point. We are praying this prayer personally, individually. The coming of God’s kingdom has to begin with us. We will not be able to solve the problems of Iraq or Afghanistan or orth Korea, but there are problems here in our community we can attack. We will never get to be ambassadors of reconciliation on an international level, but we can be ambassadors of reconciliation in our school, in our business, or in our homes.
When we pray this petition, we are above and beyond everything else asking that God’s kingdom come in us, that God use us for his beachhead in the world. This is not just a prayer that something will happen to the world in which we live. It is a prayer that something will happen in us. For if God’s kingdom doesn’t come in our personal lives, it will never come at all.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

THE LORD’S PRAYER II: “HALLOWED BE THY NAME”

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THE LORD’S PRAYER II: “HALLOWED BE THY NAME”
March 4, 2018

I have begun a series on the Lord’s Prayer for Lent. Last week we saw that that Jesus taught us to address God as Father. In so doing, Jesus bridged the gap between the transcendent and the immanent. He took the distant and remote God and made God “up close and personal.” By putting the words “Our Father” on the human tongue, he taught us that God is not only up there, but he is also in here. God is not only above us, God is supremely with us.
And now today we turn to the first of the three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name.” Although we don’t use the word “hallowed” in everyday conversation it has a long and venerable history in the English language. The oldest English translation of the Bible by John Wycliffe in the 14th century finds the words, “Halewed by thy name.” The word “hallowed” was continued in Tyndale’s translation in 1525, in Coverdale’s translation in 1535, in the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560, and the King James Version in 1611. In modern times “hallowed” was included in the Revised Version in 1885 and the Revised Standard Version of 1948. “Hallowed” has such a long and honorable lineage, that even the most respected modern translators have felt that there is nothing better.
In the Greek text the word translated as “hallowed” is “hagiazein,” which is a form of the Greek now “hagios.” “Hagios” is usually translated as “holy.” The English word “hagiology” is derived from “hagios” and hagiology means literature about the lives of the saints.
The basic meaning behind the word “hagios” is the idea of difference. That which is “hagios” is different from ordinary things; it belongs to a different realm; it has a unique quality. That is why Leviticus calls God “holy,” for God supremely belongs to a different sphere of being.
What “hagios” means becomes clear when you see other ways it is used in the Bible. The fourth of the Ten Commandments is to remember the Sabbath and keep it “hagios”—keep it holy. That is to say that the Sabbath day is to be regarded and observed differently from any other day of the week. When a Jewish priest is consecrated, he is considered “hagios”—set apart from other persons for special and sacred work.
The word “hagios” then, suggests an attitude of reverence, for reverence is the characteristic attitude toward that which is uniquely different, that which belongs to a higher sphere than our own. So the prayer can be translated, “Our Father, in heaven, may you be given that unique respect and reverence which your nature, your character and your personality demand.”
Now this leads on to a practical question: How do we in specific ways show reverence to God, hallow God’s name? As I try to answer this question, at least three different approaches come to my mind. First, we reverence God and hallow God’s name when our beliefs about God are accurate and in accordance with God’s nature as revealed in Scripture. Second, we reverence God and hallow God’s name when our life points others towards God. Third, we reverence God and hallow God’s name when we serve our fellow human beings.
I.
Now, the first approach to this question has to do with what we believe about God. There is as much misunderstanding about God’s nature as understanding..
“In a short but readable book called YOUR GOD IS TOO SMALL, New Testament scholar J. B. Phillips points out all the warped notions people hold about God. Some people see God as that GUILT-PRODUCING-VOICE-OF-YOUR-CONSCIENCE. (“Terry, you shouldn’t do that! Bad! Bad! Bad!”) Other people worship the God who is thy ALLY of the Nation. The leaders of the nations try to baptize their politics with the blessings of God. The Nazis were big on this and some Americans think that God blesses every single act of national policy, right or wrong. Book Title: The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusions of a Manageable Deity.

Then there are the people who believe that God visits humanity with disease, with suffering and with natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. (“Oh, it’s terrible, but whatever happens is God’s will, and God knows best.”) I suppose there is some comfort in this convoluted logic, but it’s sore comfort at best.
To allow such misrepresentations of God to walk into the doors of the church not only fails to hallow God’s name, but also is the reason why thousands of thinking men and women have been repelled by the church and its teaching. If this isn’t God, then what is God like? God comes into focus for us in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. If we want to really know what God is like, we start out by learning what Jesus Christ was like. As the Scripture says, God was in Christ. . .” So, the first approach to hallowing God’s name is by expanding our view of God. Is our God too small?
II
And second, we hallow God’s name when our daily conduct glorifies God and points other people toward God. How does the old line go, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”
When we were in Israel in the early 1980’s most of the people I traveled with were for the first time thrust into a Muslim culture. Even though Israel is a Jewish state, the Muslim influences are strong. And of course one of the cardinal practices of Islam is prayer five times a day. A Muslim’s day is punctuated by these disciplines of prayer, so that if you are a Muslim, your life is lived between intervals of prayer. It occurred to me that I would be a far finer Christian if I had a similar discipline. At any rate, we were all impressed by this Muslim regimen. Our bus driver, Omar, and our guide, Mohamed, were both Muslims, and we really struck up a friendship with them both. We gained a profound appreciation for their faith and for their people. One of the songs our own group sang over and over again during our trip was that beautiful chorus that goes “Alleluia.” We sang it everywhere—in Jerusalem—by the Sea of Galilee, on the shores of the Jordan River. And wanting to include our Arab friends in our group, I made up a chorus, substituting the words “Allah Akhbahr” for the words “Alleluia.” Allah Akhbahr means in Arabic, “God is great.” So we sang “Allah Akhbahr” and afterwards I asked Mohamed if Muslims knew the song and he said they did, and I said, “How do you sing it?” And he answered, “We sing ‘Alleluia.’”
So our daily conduct can be a means of glorifying God and showing reverence to his name. And what’s more, our daily conduct directs others either toward God or away from God. Our friends and our neighbors are daily evaluating our faith and our values.
If you will pardon an out-of-season illustration, each Monday morning during football season teams in the NFL sit down in their film rooms to view the film of the previous day ‘s game. Missed assignments and bungled plays show up large and clear. Now, bear in mind that this is a silent movie. The players have no chance to reach for a microphone to explain away why they did what they did. The only voice heard in the room in the voice of the coach who might say to the projectionist, “Let’s back up and run that play again. Let Randy see how the rest of the team was running a screenplay right, while he was running a screenplay left.” So, there you sit. What you meant to do on the busted play you never did because you thought you heard a whistle and stopped, or maybe you slipped on the astro-turf just as you were pulling out of your stance. But you can’t say it. No mental reconstructions are allowed. You just look on and watch as the action is played back and forth. This is the way our neighbors measure the quality of our Christian lives—the story of our lives minus speech.
What would it be like if someone watched a silent movie of our lives? Would there be any difference in our behavior from our neighbors? Any difference in the way we spend our money from the way they spend theirs? Any appreciable difference in the way we spend our time and the way they spend theirs? Any discernable difference in the causes we give yourselves for and the causes they are involved in? God’s name is hallowed when our own lives so honor God that our neighbors are drawn to faith.
III
Finally, we hallow God’s name when we are engaged in some form of service for hurting people. The God of the Bible is a God who is a partisan for the poor, an advocate for the marginalized. And when we are engaged in helping those who cannot easily help ourselves, we are allies in God’s cause.
The Quakers have so much to teach us in this area. “Holiness” is emphasized in the life of Quakers, but holiness for a Quaker always comes down to holy deeds. Through their service arm, the American Friends Service Committee, holiness is demonstrated in concrete action. When the last World War ended, there were five army dumps in France, filled with machinery of many kinds and all conditions of usability—too good to throw away but not good enough to haul back to the United States. The Quaker relief units, which had been working France, came forward with a proposition: They would give 200,000 francs to the U.S. Army for the machinery and supervise the cleaning up of the five dumps, each as large as a small truck farm. The army officials were ecstatic to have one less responsibility and accepted the offer.
Then the Quakers approached the French government. If all these thousands of partly damaged spades, saws, axes, hammers, trucks, ambulances, tractors, and motorcycles were sold to the French people who so desperately needed them, would the officials give free transportation on the railroads?
Much red tape, of course, but finally permission came. Then one more request: Could 200 German prisoners be spared to help distribute the goods? Yes, the prisoners could be used, but only if they were guarded. But guns were an anathema to Quakers, and so they suggested that if one man escaped, they would return the other 199. The French government gave consent: There were, after all, advantages in having 200 less prisoners to feed.
So the prisoners were set to work, and not one failed to turn up when the project was completed. And the machine-starved French people gratefully bought the junk material at a fraction of its value. Even at those prices there was a net profit of 2,000,000 francs.
The Quakers took the profits from this project and did two things with the money: They built a hospital at Chalons, which they presented to the French government; second, they gave wages for the prisoner’s faithful work. They couldn’t pay the prisoners directly, for the prisoners had to return to a dreary wait in prison until repatriation came; but the wages were taken to the German prisoners’ families, accompanied by a personal visit by a Quaker to the men’s home in Germany. Service is the mark of the Quakers and should be the identifying characteristic of your life.
IV
Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. God’s name is hallowed when our beliefs about God are consistent with the picture of God as painted by Jesus Christ. That’s right belief.
God’s name is hallowed when our lives point others to God. That’s right witness.
God’s name is hallowed when human life is hallowed. That’s right service. To answer our original question, how do we hallow God’s name? With right belief, right witness, and right service.
Now, there’s only one other thought that remains. How do we pull it all off—how do we cultivate that kind of interior life to make right belief, right witness, and right service flow from our lives naturally and spontaneously? The answer lies in one of those paradoxes that seems to be characteristic of all spirituality. For nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer is there a petition to God to make us more sanctified—to make us more devout. Not a single phrase asks God to help us make progress toward spiritual maturity. It’s not “hallowed by my life,” but “hallowed by thy name.”
The paradox is that if we want to be better persons, we shouldn’t begin with ourselves, but rather begin with God. Everything depends upon that relationship. For if the center is correct, the circumference will be correct. If the relationship with the Father is right, then our interior lives will be set right.
Martin Luther boiled this thought down with this image: “No one,” Luther says, “needs to command a stone which is lying in the sun to become warm; the stone becomes warm quite of itself.” If we place ourselves in the sunshine of God’s presence, then the kind of life we want comes of itself. Right belief, right witness, and right service will then flow freely from us.

Categories: Weekly Sermon