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Month: September 2013

Getting the Name Right

Getting the Name Right

Getting the Name Right

A Sermon for September 8, 2013 at St. Matthew’s, Pacific Palisade CA

Based on Jeremiah 18:1-11, Philemon, and Luke 14:25-33

George H. Martin

I was in a Potter’s house once, only they didn’t make clay pots there. They sold them, along with books, and gifts. It was also coffee house and they served food. Most who were employed there had been homeless. It was a ministry of  the Church of the Savior, in Washington DC and it was said to be the first coffee house ministry in any Christian church. The church was founded right after World War II by a newly ordained Southern Baptist veteran by the name of Gordon Cosby. He died this past April and he truly was one of the a saints.

He founded the church as an interracial community in Washington DC and through the years—get this—his dream was to keep his church deliberately small. Why? Well he wanted the emphasis on social action.  And if you weren’t willing to engage one of more of the outreach ministries you could come to church on Sundays but you weren’t considered a member. An obituary on National Public Radio said that “One of the tenets of membership in the church was a commitment to service in the community. Members were required to work with the homeless at shelters and at the church-run hospice and medical clinic.” The focus was never to be on the church itself but always on the needs of the community.

One day, in the 1980s,  I attended a Eucharist late in an afternoon at Potter’s House there in our nation’s capital. Folks came from government offices on their way home; Potter House employees were there. Street people were there. And Gordon Cosby preached on the gospel text where Jesus is talking about not judging others . It’s the text where said said, “Or, how can you say to your brother or your sister, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” [Luke 6:42 or Matt. 7:5]

Gordon Cosby gave us these instructions for communion. “We’ll pass the bread to each other,” he said. “And we’ll pass the cup around. As you turn to the person next to you please say, “Brother, or sister, please help remove the log in my eye, and not even see the speck in your eye.” And the bread was given to me in those words by my friend, and I turned. And next to me was an African-American homeless woman. I certainly didn’t know her world, but oh, how I needed to say, “Sister,  please help remove the log in my eye, and not even see the speck in your eye.”

Jesus said some hard things, didn’t he?

And Jesus said in today’s gospel we should hate our own family. I can imagine what you thought when you heard that phrase. And what did you think when the gospel reading was that if you’re a disciple of his you must take up a cross? That reading went on: it suggested that disciples are like those who can’t finish what they start. Or like a King with an army that must sue for peace.  That’s not us. We get things done.  And then this difficult reading concluded with Jesus saying that disciples must give up all their possessions.

It’s wonder any of us are still here.

That story began with the reference that there were large crowds following him. Obviously they were soon to get much smaller.

Oh there’s so much in our lessons today. First there was Jeremiah in the Potter’s House. It was a place people visited frequently as their table ware was easily broken. And that’s the premise for the prophet to declare God’s judgment on the people and their faithlessness. It’s not a very happy prophecy that he offers, for destruction of the people is paralleled by easily broken pots.

And then there was the entire letter of Philemon—Paul’s letter to the owner of the slave Onesimus. And we read it knowing that for 1700 years of Christian history there was mostly silence about owning slaves. Not even Paul said it was wrong.  It still continues albeit in some subtle ways. And maybe we ought to cringe knowing how we depend on so many goods we can afford which are made by cheap labor, mostly in working conditions that must feel like slavery to  those whose choices for work are not what we would call real choices.

At least the revelation of Jesus changed Paul—Paul who wrote something in that letter that had to cause Philemon a little theological whiplash. For Onesimus, in Paul’s eyes, was no longer to be considered in the category “slave.” Paul called him a “beloved brother in Christ.” And he offered to Philemon the idea that is how he should be treated. We just don’t know the rest of the story though.

But you’re still wondering, and I am too, about that Jesus statement about hating your own family. And about giving up all your possessions.

So, did you know there was a time when Roman authorities received various letters from anxious parents about their wayward children. One letter said their son had become involved in a strange religious group. They’d taken over his life; he forsaken all his usual friends and his family. He didn’t participate in temple worship anymore. Couldn’t the government do something about this group?

Well—the wierd group the Roman authorities was suppose to investigate in the third century were the Christians. [“Why family values isn’t a good idea.” by William Willimon]

Still, isn’t the church suppose to help us be better parents, and improve life in our families? In answer to that question, I’d be the first to answer yes. Only I know something about families and so do many of you. I was raised in a family that tended to see “logs” in the eyes of folks who were different than us.

I was raised in a family where I had an aunt, who was never identified as my aunt. She was baptized Katherine and called KK. My mother was about five when KK was born, and when KK was three something happened. They never knew. Only she grew physically, but stayed at about the mental age of three all of her life. By the time she was 10 or 11 she was in a state institution where she lived for over 70 years. As a little kid I met her just once. What I realized this week, and it brought a tear to my eyes,  is that I was never asked to send her a birthday or a Christmas card. Never asked to help wrap a present for her. My grandmother, I heard, visited her. My mother did the same. But KK wasn’t really part of our family.

Families in the world can sometimes be like that.

Only that family that knows Jesus as the Christ, is to be at the very least a different kind of family. That’s why Gordon Cosby asked us to share the bread and wine with those words of Jesus about the logs in our eyes.  It’s where the prophetic word is needed. Thank you, Jeremiah. Thank you Paul for seeing Onesimus as you beloved brother in Christ. Seeing one another through the eyes of Jesus.

I’ve mentioned before that I went to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis as a young 32 year-old rector in 1975. Soon I met Margaret, who I mentioned in a sermon earlier this summer, for she was a force to be reckoned with. While we disagreed about so many things, we were friends—because of Jesus. And in the front pew of that congregation you would find Bob and Diane sitting together every Sunday. Each had real mental and physical challenges. There were happily married and had the support of both of their families. And they definitely needed help. It was sometimes hard to understand them, but one thing was clear to all. They were a legacy of a special Sunday School class run by that parish in the 1940s for intellectually challenged children. They loved that parish, and they knew they were full-fledged members of that parish, worthy to sit in that first pew, and to not only stand in that communion line, but often, be the first to receive.

But that Jesus said we should hate our family: It’s hard to comprehend. That’s what it says in Greek. I learned from Lester that the Aramaic known to Jesus probably was the word for “love less.” Thus it’s about what comes first. Even so, it’s difficult to comprehend the challenge of Jesus about not giving our highest loyalty to family—I know I can’t make sense of it.

But then I looked at the context of this passage inside the Gospel of Luke. I looked at the stories that came before and those that follow this most difficult of all passages.

Before this reading, there was a large banquet being given and the invited ones tried to get the best seats. Missy preached on this last week. Jesus, as the rather rude guest, complained about the desire some had to sit up front and have the best places at the table.

The dinner party advice given by Jesus? “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends or your relatives….[Instead] invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

The next story—the one before that causing all the trouble today? It’s about a Great Dinner and all the invited guests, say Yes they are coming, and then offering flimsy excuses decline at the end. What’s the host to do. Jesus says he is “…to go out into the streets and bring in the poor, the crippled, the lame  and the blind.”

Sounds like we have a pattern here. And then right after this most troubling passage we have four parables, two of which are on the docket for next Sunday. Next week though you don’t get the first two parables in Luke chapter 15. First there’s a sheep that’s lost, and a party that happens when the lamb is saved. And then a woman loses a coin, finds it, and holds a party for that. The parable you will hear next week is about a party for a younger son who really messed up his life, but to his father’s great relief returned alive. There’s a great party for that wayward son. But then at the end of the story it seems his older brother, was feeling cheated and was resentful. He wouldn’t come into the party. His father went outside to plead with him, but we don’t know if he accepted his father’s plea. Oh it sounds like some family things I know all too well. Maybe you do too.

So as difficult as the vision of Jesus gets for us we know it’s not about success. It’s not about being able to control our lives and make everyone perfect. It is about a certain kind of dependence and trust in God’s love and mercy. And it’s really a challenge to a world where people claim a prior identity based on some tribe or even national affiliation.

How could Paul see Onesimus as “beloved brother in Christ?” We’ll it was Paul who also told the church in Galatia that in Christ, this new family, created through the death and resurrection of Jesus, must not be shaped by the usual distinctions known in their world. He said, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. “ (Gal. 3:28)

Paul knew his friends in that church would be so identified by those categories in the world at large—by their own families and friends. But they were called into a new reality—what Paul said over and over again, was the body of Christ, this unique kind of family. And what we can hope and pray that we are this body of Christ.

I want to conclude with a couple of things: first is the observation by Stanley Hauerwas, who is a theologian and social ethics professor at the Divinity School at Duke. If we are made part of the body of Christ, which is the sacrament of Baptism, then Hauerwas said, “We have become part of a new kingdom that makes it possible for our loves to be the basis of peace rather than the source of violence.” [“Hating Mothers as the Way to Peace”, p. 19]

What bother’s me the most about some of the family stories I’ve heard, and some of their secrets? It is just how much violence takes place in so many families and how many are hurt in the process. Often it’s just verbal. Or maybe it’s the silence that shuns. Or the love that is withheld.

The other story, the one Jesus told. The one we remember. That’s different. It’s about the blind seeing. The lost being found. The least who discover they belong in the front of the communion line. And logs from eyes that are removed by love. That’s our story.

Now I’m going to conclude by telling you about the letter I wrote to President Obama this week. First a little context. I have great respect for those who serve in our military. Some days you may even see me wearing a Navy hat, which I do out of respect and honor for my nephew who died four years ago on the Eisenhower, a carrier in the Navy, while on duty in the Arabian sea in reference to our current war in Afghanistan. My grandfather and my father were veterans. I’m also a certified Police chaplain and value the work of those peace officers with whom I serve. The letter I wrote wasn’t from St. Matthews, just me, as a pastor. In my letter I asked President Obama to refrain from striking Syria with military weapons. And I went on to urge that we make an extraordinary investment to help those two or three million refugees with a kind of humanitarian effort that truly shows our American character to the world.

You and I may disagree about the best diplomatic or military strategy. I’m no expert in those areas. I know I may have crossed a line in this sermon for some by sharing what I just did. But I felt it important in the context of a sermon on discipleship to mention this.

For me, it boils down to my faith in Jesus, and my knowing that violence rarely, if ever, works. I’m basing my life on a love that overcomes all fear and all divisions. And that love, true to the example of Jesus, is marked by peace. I used to have to a log in my eye about this as well, but no more.

Oh, one more thing about my real family. Caroline and I are blessed with four children. The first born, we called her Katy, and she became a Kate.  Some of you met her on my first weekend I was here. I was so pleased you could meet her.  Her real first name? It’s “Katherine,” spelled with a “K,” just like my mother’s younger sister, my Aunt KK. I was a very young father, when Kate was born, but with Caroline’s help, we got the name right. Amen.

 

 

 

Finding our Christian Character

Finding our Christian Character

 

Sermon for Aug 4, 2013 for St. Matthew’s, Pacific Palisades, CA
The Rev. Dr. George H. Martin

There’s a chair in our sanctuary that none of you choose to sit in this morning. It’s in the baptismal font. It looks out the window. I guess it could be a chair for contemplation, but if you’d chosen it you’d have your back to all of us this morning. We’re sitting in a semi-circle around this altar. It’s really one of the wonderful things about the way this church was built. I remember the old architectural adage: “We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” It’s a phrase relevant in a way to the gospel lesson today.

Some of you may have seen the warning that I put out in last weeks bulletin, that you may not want to come today given the particular gospel lesson. Some of you may not have gotten the message. Other’s of you came either fearlessly, or with some trepidation, but here are you nonetheless.

My sermon will have as it particular focus this parable of Jesus about the rich man who has a bumper crop one year, and then worries about where he might store such abundance and then have ample goods to live for many years. God’s response is to call this man “a fool” and in the story to declare that he would die that very night.

It doesn’t say where he’s going when he dies, but we can presume, is not through the pearly gates of heaven. And thus in my reflection this morning I promise that I’ll talk a little about hell. But let’s wait on hell for a moment or two.

The story that Jesus tells happens in the context of a man who addresses Jesus from the crowd and says, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” He’s presumably the younger son, as in that world if a man dies without a will, all that he has falls to the oldest son. The brothers are having an argument, over what? Over land. And lo and behold that still shapes Middle Eastern politics.

The response of Jesus. I am not a divider. In fact in the version of this story in the Gospel of Thomas Jesus actually asks his disciples. “I am not a divider, am I?” And the answer is no. As Paul emphasized in Jesus we were reconciled to God.

I’ll point out a couple of things that need better translation in today’s Gospel reading. It says Jesus called this man “Friend.” Actually he said something like “Hey Man.” Or I think it’s like he called him “Buster.” He’s challenging this brother with the story that follows.

This leads to the parable of the Rich Fool and look at this. It’s a story told to them. The whole crowd and all the disciples. Thus it’s told to us as well.

Please know that I married into a farming family. Caroline grew up with her Dad who farmed land in Nebraska and her brother still farms that land. The difference between this rich man and Caroline’s brother? Her brother drives the John Deere tractor at planting time, and runs the combine at harvest time. Note that it was the land that produced the abundance in this story, not the man. But he claims it all for himself. No mention of those who worked the land, planted and harvested crops. It’s all his.

What’s he missing according to Jesus? That what he has in the land, and in its abundance, is a gift. Remember the question concerns an inheritance. How do you an inheritance. How do you work for an inheritance? You don’t. It’s a gift. And if’s a gift it’s a responsibility that involves others. Or in the sub-text of this story, that comes out in the end, it’s on loan. Not just the land. But this man’s life. Indeed our own lives ought to be lived as if they are on loan to us.

Only this man sees the crops as his. The land as his. And his days to come as his to do with as he alone wishes. Note that he only talks to himself.

You might have looked at the chart in today’s bulletin that illustrates the particular way that Jesus told this story. Nearly all the parables that Jesus told have a structure in which there all parallel concepts from beginning to end. And in a peculiar way often the heart of the story is found in the very middle, not at the end as we expect. So this man’s solution to build bigger barns, is his demise.

For this he is called by God a fool. Literally he is without a diaphragm. And that means you can’t breathe, and you’re dead.

So that’s the parable for today. And there’s that chair in the bapistry. And you could choose to sit there all by yourself today if you wanted. What about being in hell. Is that a choice too. Or is that the consequence of paying for your sins. I think it’s more of a choice, and that what God wants for all of us is to know a joy of companionship and fellowship that this rich fool didn’t ever know or want.

I suggest you read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis to get an understanding of being in heaven as an invitation given to everyone, but on the condition of wanting what C.S. Lewis understood as “God’s bleeding charity.” Hell is described there as this larger, and every growing larger gray drab city where there all are these large empty houses. It’s because the people in Hell don’t want any neighbors. They just keep moving further and further away from each other.

Now I suggested that this sermon might meddle in some things we take for granted. Let me say at the outset, that yes, you could choose to sit in that chair over there, but your choice would come in the context of a world of human rights. We keep hearing that it’s Ok if you do your thing, as long as it doesn’t impinge on what I want to do. So we’re all able to just be ourselves. Or are we? Are not there some things into which we fall, that we lose ourselves, that we lose our character, our true self, as it were? The answer is yes.

I watched the movie Wall Street again this week. You’d think a 1987 movie with a younger Michael Douglas would be dated. It isn’t. It’s the story of a young Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen, who’s an up and coming stock broker, who gets the wealthy Gordon Gekko to be his client. He’s appropriately named after a species of reptile. At one point in the movie Gekko is trying to take over Teklar Paper Corporation and addresses their annual meeting with these words:

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”

What did Paul say?:

‘When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever is earthly.” And on Paul’s list is the word “Greed” which he says is “Idolatry” or false worship. Hmm. Makes you think of Hosea and the kind of worship he was calling for.

In that Wall Street movie we watch as the young Bud Fox is entrapped in the vicious circle of hunger for money and power the sums up the world of Gordon Gekko. Only at the end, about to be arrested by the SEC for trading violations is it that he receives the advice of his old mentor, played by Hal Holbrook, a decent stockbroker, named Lou Mannheim.

Lou Mannheim: Bud… Bud I like you. Just remember something. Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

Bud Fox: I think I understand.

So what are we doing here sitting in this church facing one another. We’re finding our character. But we’re not characters in a play or movie. We’re here to find our true selves inside a story that doesn’t claim a particular tribal identity, but in which our unity is in the story of God centered in the story of the incarnation of Jesus. We are here to seek the things above, by sharing a common life together, that obviously will seem strange if you’ve been following a different drummer, particularly if you’ve always been playing your own set of drums.

We have a message that the Gordon Gekkos of this world find incomprehensible. It’s one that a Bud Fox on his way to jail does start to grasp.

One writer says, “Christians, quite literally, are to display another reality and an alternative way of living in and ordering our world—one structured by the message of the crucified and risen Christ and displays the presence and reality of the Holy Spirit. It is a reality shaped by cross and resurrection.”

So what I simply remind you about is that we are called to a certain way of life when we follow Jesus the reconciler. There really are some definite marks of this way of life as Christians on the way. We walk with one another in the context in which there are these texts, these stories, that remind us again and again that our lives are on loan. That we’re called to serve one another.

And yes there are definite challenges to the abundance most of us know and the search for a security in this world, that ultimately isn’t ours to have. You know, don’t you, that Jesus taught much more about our use of money than he did about prayer. Today’s story is just one example of the way our search for security in worldly wealth leads us away from God and what our lives are meant to be. Let me frame it this. This church doesn’t ask for pledges because some of us have an abundance. All of us live with abundance. Some just more than others. But every one of us lives with resources that the rest of the world only dreams about.

Paul says our lives lie hidden with Christ. But we are also to live in such a way that our walking with Christ shows our true character. Does what we share from our abundance really show, at least to ourselves, that we belong to Christ? Whether or not what you give away shows up here at St. Matthew’s really doesn’t matter as much to God. What we share, and how we practice charity, even bloody charity, because the way in which we are defined as belonging to Christ. So the challenge before each of us if we are to live as far away from greed as possible, and is to live as stewards for what he been given but to not think of it as all our own. Even our lives are on loan from God.

 

The Prayer That Gives Us Angel Wings

The Prayer That Gives Us Angel Wings

The Prayer That Gives Us Angel Wings

George Martin

A sermon for St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church—July 28, 2013

It’s good to be back at St. Matthew’s. I’ll be here for these two weeks—then I’ll take three more weeks to be in Northern Minnesota at our family cabin. Just before I come back to California I’ll make sure I spend part of a day at the Great Minnesota State Fair. Then I’ll fly back and start full-time as your interim rector. Our time together begins in September.

I’m sure you heard the news. The name “George” is back in style! It’s been a while. I doubt that this new Prince George, though, will ever hear on the playground what I often heard:

Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ an Pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry,
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away.[1]

There were times when I wished I’d had a different name. I’m sure others of you have similar stories of others of someone making fun of your name on the playground.

Three kids that had to have the worst time of all must have been the children of the 8th century Biblical prophet Hosea. What a strange reading we have for this Sunday morning. I find it amazing that these passages were memorized, treasured and passed on in the oral traditions of the Hebrew people who willing admitted that there were times they had gone astray from God. Hosea lived at such a time—the monotheistic faith of Israel was countered by the powerful worship of the god whose name was Baal. And there was this prophet, who’s message was in words, but also in deeds. In taking Gomer, a lady of the night, to be his wife It wasn’t just about love, but it was prophecy. Hopefully there was love. We know there were kids. In naming the first child Jezreel, he was thinking about a valley in Israel known as a place of warfare and bloodshed. The second child was named Lo-ruhamah. One translation is that the kid’s name meant “I’m God and I’ve run out of mercy.” And the third child was named “Lo-ammi” which in Hebrew means “I’m nobody. I don’t even have a name.” Those three kids really had to have a rough time playing on the playground outside the temple in Jersualem.

I sure more than one of us has though might think that the real lesson ought to be, “If you’re going to be a prophet, please don’t have kids.” But Hosea did. It’s in the Old Testament with words that are laced with the sharpest kind of poetic irony ever spoken.

The question posed over and over by Hosea: how is it that we are faithful to God, and what is right worship all about?

This brings me to Margaret a member of the parish I served as rector starting in 1975. She wanted everything to be just right all the time. Margaret was in some respects the grand-dame of the parish. She was extremely suspicious of this 32 year-old upstart Episcopal priest who was arriving in her church with ideas about renewal and Prayer-book revision. Ah, those were the times in the life of the Episcopal Church—miserable for some, exciting for others, and challenging for those us in leadership.

We had green books, striped books, and all kinds of liturgical innovations to try out. We asked people to actually touch one another in worship with something weird called “The Peace.” We were asking lay people to read the lessons and help administer communion. They’d not done that before. We were talking about the possibility that women might serve as priests and bishops. And you would have thought the world was coming to an end.

Margaret was my watchdog. There was hardly a time when she actually said that she liked something I did. And yet we had some good time together. They took our four kids, Caroline, and myself for a lovely day on their boat on the Mississippi river.

I baptized her grandchildren—at their home when her husband was so ill he couldn’t get to church.

Perhaps the biggest issue involved painting the parish hallway which led to the library and church offices. She had contacted her favorite interior designer who’d chosen a horrible wintergreen color intended to enhance the already dark wood-framed doors. Many heard what was planned for Margaret told others what she had decided. A great many came to me—they hated that color. It’s would be so dark and gloomy. How could we counter Margaret? It was the question asked by numerous others. I said, “We’ll get a secret color consultant.” And I did, and she choose a kind of muted sunset yellow, which predictably Margaret didn’t like. She asked, “Who is this secret color consulant?” I replied, “Margaret if you I told then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.

One more Margaret story. A few years after leaving that parish I was interviewed by a search committee, and I was thinking I was open to another call. The committee came to Minneapolis to hear me preach, to grill me, and to interview people who had worked with me. They had one strange request. They wanted to meet with three people who either didn’t like me, or with whom I had some struggles related to working in the church. Needless to say, Margaret was at the top of my list. I called her and explained the request. Her response: “Tell me when and where, and I’ll be glad to talk to them.” And she did.

Which brings us to the Gospel.

It’s the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer and Luke has it immediately after the Martha and Mary story. Remember, if you were here last week, that Brian’s sermon talked about how upset and irritated Martha was with Mary. Not the first or last time that siblings have issues, as we all know from our own lives.

I’m going to focus in on forgiveness and reconciliation — perhaps as being the heart and soul of this prayer. But before I do allow me to do a little teaching on this prayer. The version we all know isn’t the one we heard read from Luke. His version is a little shorter than the one from Matthew’s gospel. That’s what we all know and use.

First of all, the Lord’s Prayer is a Creation-Centered prayer. It’s about what’s suppose to be possible on this earth—namely how life here is meant to reflect heaven. It sees God’s rule, God’s kingdom coming—but not just around the corner—rather God’s rule is present and in  actual existence.

We have added in our practice what is called a doxology when we say at the end, “For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” You may know that there are some places in our prayer book, and it’s also true of a Roman Catholic practice, to say this prayer without the doxology.

The actual prayer taught by Jesus has three petitions for God and three things we pray for ourselves. We ask that God’s name be hallowed or kept holy. That God’s kingdom will come. And that God’s will, his purpose, his vision, this future life—that it will happen.

Then there are the petitions we offer. That we’ll have daily bread. That we’ll know how to practice forgiveness and reconciliation. And that in a time of trial or temptation we won’t fall away from God.

(By the way the temptation has nothing to do with chocolate, scotch, or that brand new car you saw the other day.) Hosea gets back in the picture here: how is that we can stay true to this God who created us, who loves us, who offers us forgiveness? The prayer is to hope that we never come to a time when we walk in a different direction than the one God calls us to follow. Except it will happen, and then we get to start all over again. And that’s why this a community prayer. You don’t pray “My father in heaven.” It’s “Our Father in heaven.” It’s a prayer that’s a practice inside a community of disciples—essentially we need to be taught this prayer over and over again.

The better translation of the actual Aramaic roots of the Lord’s Prayer isn’t to use the word temptation. Jesus probably said “Do not bring us to a time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” Once more that’s from Mathew. Our Book of Common Prayer has what’s misnamed the Contemporary Lord’s prayer— it gets the translation right, ending with “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.”

Margaret didn’t like that either. Maybe some of you would agree with her. Hopefully a little teaching helps.

I also like to recognize the different names for this prayer. We call it the “Lord’s Prayer.” Roman Catholics call ii the “Our Father.” And there are Baptists and Anabaptists like Mennonites  who call it “The Disciples’ Prayer.”

Now for the heart of this prayer. The forgiveness part. Or what the Presbyterians would tell you is the “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” part. And they aren’t entirely wrong. We think of “trespasses” as times we stepped out of line, did what shouldn’t have done, and wronged someone, something. But deep down in the world of Jesus there wasn’t this high level of personal introspection focused on a multitude of sins. There were, instead, these mutual obligations at work and mutual responsibilities. There was suppose to be this deeper sense of community and obligation to one another and for one another. As in that story from last week!

“Hey my sister isn’t helping me.”

“I know,” Jesus replied. “She’s sitting here. Like one of the disciples. You can come out Martha, if you’d like. I’d like that. I don’t know about these guys. You see having women in this class is kind of new. But it feels right to me.”

Of course that conversation isn’t recorded in scripture. I wish it was.

I want us to realize that Jesus is teaching a congregation—in this case his disciples—that they are to have a practice of forgiving one another. Before he dies he gives them another practice—a meal to have together. The Lord’s Prayer and the Eucharist have been linked going back to those days. And thus, I truly believe, that daily bread we pray for isn’t just bagels, or toast, or Italian bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar— it’s also the holy bread we share at this table.

And then there was that other teaching that said, if you coming to this table and you have something against someone. Leave your gift. Go and be reconciled. And then come back to the table. It’s why the confession in a Eucharist is so important.

One more thing. You and I are going to be like Peter, at times, wondering how often we must offer forgiveness. An even more difficult question that must be asked is this: Are there not some things that can happen or that have happened that are almost impossible to forgive? Yes, there are some things we’ve known that can’t be easily forgiven.

So hear me: I’m not saying that forgiveness is easy.  Forgiving others is way beyond difficult at times.

As just one example: A recent New Yorker article called “A Raised Hand” asks “What can we do to curb domestic violence?” Thankfully it’s a positive answer. There are some steps that can be taken to protect its victims from further violence. Even so the reality of domestic violence inflicts such lasting pain on so many. I know I could give other examples. I wish it were not so, but there are situations in life where forgiveness is on hold. It’s will be the hardest step taken.

But the call to practice forgiveness must never be relinquished in a community that breaks bread together and which prays “Thy will be done on earth as it was in heaven.” I know there are times I can’t change a wrong done to me, or a clear an injustice that happened. I can live for a long time saying that there is this debt incurred because of that wrong, but then it’s possible to remit the debt. I cancel it. Yes, something happened. The memory is still there. But I let it go. As strange as this may sound, I believe that’s when we can discover angel wings walking to this table.

I don’t know the whole story of St. Matthews, but I know from other times in doing interim work, that I needed to ask in those congregations if there weren’t things in the past that maybe now need to be forgiven. More importantly—if there weren’t people from the past in the life of the disciple community, I was serving, who needed to be forgiven. We can’t always do it with words, but we can do it in prayer. And with what the Prayer Book calls “sincerity of heart.” What might each of us let go for the future of God’s story at St. Matthew’s be in order that our story wears those angel wings?

Oh, and Margaret. Did I tell you she was a California girl, and got back here for the last part of her life? Did I tell you we stayed in touch with each other, with our long Christmas letters with the family doings in them, and then we always added personal notes to each other. You see Margaret and I were friends. We’d broken bread together so many times, loved the same church and friends together through so many different issues and challenges, that God gave us to each other. There was mutual respect. And there was humility. We’d been hard on each other at times, but there was grace too. And it was and is and always will be an Amazing Grace. Blessed be that tie that binds us to one another and to the love of God.

 

 

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