181209 – Harvesting – Advent Peace

Yr C ~ Advent 2 ~ Philippians 1:3-11

My main focus today will be on the last couple of verses of this lovely passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, but to get there I’m going to go through all the verses and try to amplify it a bit as we go.
This is the second week of Advent, so our theme is peace, even though that word doesn’t appear in this reading. As you’ve hopefully realized by now the kind of peace we’re talking about isn’t just the opposite of war or conflict – it’s more about that inner peace of mind and peace of heart that comes when your spirit is in tune with God’s Presence. I’ll talk more about that concept in a few minutes.

And in case you weren’t with us last week, I’ll continue to speak a bit about what theology calls “the second coming” of the Christ. When Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi it was only a couple of decades after the physical life of Jesus. The narratives about Christmas were not yet known. The 4 gospels we have wouldn’t be written for another few decades so the Jesus story was likely shaped much differently than the one we know so well. In their day they had a sense that Jesus really was coming again soon in a physical form and he’d alleviate their oppression and persecution.

When that didn’t happen in an overt physical way a different kind of theological view of what a second coming of Jesus might mean emerged. Instead of a physical arrival a more spiritual revelation was embraced.
In this season we take that image and incarnate it in the story of a tiny baby being born in a stable.
But spiritually what we’re hoping for, what we’re anticipating and expecting and waiting for in this season of Advent, is a rebirth of Jesus’ spirit within us – a second coming, or third, or fourth, or fiftieth – that knows that while Jesus may not be coming in the same way Paul and the Philippians imagined he is most definitely coming, has come, and is always still coming to us, here and now, in and through our hearts.
And such a coming produces the peace that we so long for. That’s our topic for the day.

Let’s have a look at Philippians 1:3-11.

3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy,
5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.

Paul calls these church members his partners. But it’s actually even better than that! It’s a wonderful Greek word: koinonia! It means spiritual fellowship, communion with, sharing in, helping.
It’s more than just being partners, it’s what we have here at this church – a spiritual fellowship that works together – both staff and members – to share in the gospel.
What does that mean? Gospel literally means good news – God’s good news about God’s love and all the teachings and life of Jesus and all that great stuff. We all share in that – in communicating that – in living it out – in loving it out!

Paul continues, v.6:

6 And I am certain that God, who began a good work within you, will bring it to fulfillment and maturity as the Spirit of Jesus Christ is ever more fully revealed to and within you.

The good work that God has begun in you is nothing less than the transformation of your heart and spirit into ever-deepening Christ-likeness!
That’s not just a good work, it’s an awesome work! And it’s an unending work – not because you’re some kind of problem case, but just because deepening has no end, as God’s love has no end.
You are a good work! You are a work in progress!
And the good works you do are an extension of the good work God is doing in (and through) you.
Doesn’t that make you feel great?! It made Paul feel great too!

He continues, v.7: read on

181202 – Strengthening – Advent Hope

Yr C ~ Advent 1 ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

It reads like a love letter from a minister to their congregation. It’s warm, and complimentary, and joyful. You can sense the pride this minister has for these people. A few verses before our reading starts the minister talks about how they sent a representative to check up on the congregation to make sure they weren’t falling away from their faith, and that the persecutions they were experiencing weren’t knocking them off the Way.
The report back was glowing. The congregation was exemplary. The pride is palpable. The minister is gushing over them.
It’s nice when a minister can do that! [smiles]

Now, let’s just pause a minute. The minister here in the reading is none other than the apostle Paul.
Paul! You know, the guy who’s always wagging his finger, and chewing people out, exasperatingly correcting their behaviour.
Paul has a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and stern task-master.
Perhaps more people should read 1 Thessalonians so Paul gets some credit for being a loving pastor too!

But none of this should really surprise us. Every one of us has experienced parenting (either giving it or receiving it!) and we know that the role of the parent is to sometimes be stern disciplinarian and sometimes be gushing supporter.
Sometimes it’s tough love, sometimes it’s soft love – but it’s all love. Parents hold those two things in tension all the time.
On one level it might seem like the two things are incongruent – but they’re actually just two aspects of a great love.
We hold them both simultaneously because they’re both true.

I’m pushing this metaphor because we’re now in the season of Advent. Advent is all about waiting, anticipation, birth. We spend the whole month going on about the coming of the Christ child and the light of the world shining in the darkness. And we do that as people who have been celebrating and honouring the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of that child for a couple of thousand years!

Jesus is already here! Jesus lives in our hearts.
Jesus is coming. Let’s wait for Jesus to be born!

On one level it might seem like the two things are incongruent – but they’re actually just two aspects of a great love.
We hold them both simultaneously because they’re both true.

One theological way to express this is to speak of the “already and not yet.” Another is to say that Jesus “has come and is coming.”
So every December we play this theological game. We speak about how we’re waiting in anticipation for the child to be born – even as today we celebrate the sacrament of communion that commemorates the ending part of his life.

It’s a good thing to rehearse and relive the drama each year. It speaks to how deep and powerful the story is.
And it speaks to how we still have a yearning for the newness, the light, the potential for a fresh new start.
I’ve been following Jesus for a long time – but maybe I’m not always doing it the best I could – so along comes Advent and I get to think about how having Jesus born anew gives me a chance to have my faith born anew.
Over and over, if necessary (and yes, it’s necessary)!

It’s curious then that the readings for Advent aren’t more about the birth of Jesus. In fact, we don’t even get much of that story until Advent 4 with Mary’s pregnancy.
So if Advent readings aren’t about the coming of the Christ child, what are they about?
Well, mostly they’re about preparing our hearts and spirits for the coming of Jesus – but not the first coming, the second!

The scripture reading from 1 Thessalonians isn’t talking about Christmas at all. It’s talking about the second coming of Christ.
And I know that the moment I said that some folks in this room started to squirm.
The problem is that that “second coming” language has been so thoroughly coopted by fundamentalists that many of us can’t hear it without thinking we’re going to get hammered with damnation and the end of the world stuff.
I assure you I won’t do that to you. But I will speak about the second coming of the Christ for a little bit. read on

181125 – Kingdomtide

Yr B ~ Reign of Christ ~ John 18:33-38a

The church liturgical year does not follow the same calendar as the solar year, so while there’s still a month and a bit to go in that one, a brand new church year starts next Sunday with the season of Advent, and that makes today the last Sunday in the liturgical year. This Sunday has a variety of names.
I recently learned of an English tradition that called it “Stir Up Sunday” from a reading from Hebrews that speaks of provoking us to faith – where the word provoke in Greek means to be stirred to action – and from a collect (a prayer) in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer that said “stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.”
For us though, the most common thing is to call it “Christ the King” Sunday, or “Reign of Christ” Sunday.

I really like the language and imagery of ‘kingdom’ and ‘reign’, although I know some folks have issues with it. I’ll dive into that in a few minutes.
It’s fallen out of practice now, but up until a few decades ago, in the Methodist and Presbyterian traditions (both of which are a significant part of our United Church DNA), they called this season at the end of the Christian year Kingdomtide.

I love that!

The season of Easter is known as Eastertide – the season after Advent is technically called Christmastide – and although almost no one uses that beautiful language I really like it. The suffix –tide means a season of something.
A season in which one ponders the bigger meanings of the thing.
It reminds us that Easter and Christmas aren’t just one-off, one-day celebrations.

So too with this idea of Kingdomtide.
A liturgical season in which we’d focus on and delve into this deep imagery and meaning of the Kingdom of God.
How great would that be!
So in honour of the tradition of Kingdomtide, I will speak deeply of the kingdom today.
Why? Because Jesus did! In fact, he did it a lot!

Our scripture reading today explores a dramatic encounter between Pilate, who was the Roman governor, and Jesus. It’s a reading we usually associate with Holy Week because that’s the context in which it takes place, but because it speaks so much of the Kingdom of God it’s perfectly appropriate for this last Sunday of Kingdomtide!
Let’s have a look and see if I can stir you up!

Right off the bat it’s a curious reading because it’s difficult to imagine the Roman governor of the region bothering to take even one minute out of his day to talk to a Jewish peasant.
But Jesus seems to have caused enough of a stir – it’s stir up Sunday, after all – to warrant an audience.
Pilate opens with a weird question. “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Pilate knew full well that Herod was the Jewish king, so on one level this is as weird as me asking you, “So, are you the Prime Minister of Canada?” But it’s not a question about facts – it’s about perceptions!

Jesus wonders if Pilate is actually asking on his own or because the Jewish leaders prompted him.
I think Jesus is trying to gauge whether Pilate is ready for the deep philosophical journey Jesus is about to take him on.
He’s not. But Jesus had to try.

Pilate is confused as to why Jesus is in trouble, so he asks Jesus “what have you done to make your own people so angry with you that they’d turn you over to us?”

At first it seems like Jesus is avoiding the question with his answer, but he’s actually sharing a great truth with Pilate.
It’s not so much a ‘this or that’ which Jesus did that ran him afoul of the authorities.
It’s that he’s playing on an entirely different level, and those in power don’t like it – because it fundamentally threatens them – and now it’s going to fundamentally threaten Pilate.

Jesus says, John 18:36 “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

World in Greek is cosmos, but when we hear that we think of the stars and galaxies out there.
That’s not what it means in Greek. It means the ordered system of worldly affairs.
It means the world as we know it; the ways in which this world typically works. read on

181111 – Birthpangs

Yr B ~ Pentecost 25 ~ Mark 13:1-8

(A paraphrase of Mark 13)
As they came out of the church, one of the members said, “Look at this beautiful church. I just love these majestic buildings. Church architecture is wonderful.” Then Jesus responded, “So you love churches, do you? In time, not one of them will be left standing.” The church members were very concerned and asked him, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the signs that it’s about to happen?”

Then Jesus began to say to them, “Worry more about whether you’re following the Way than what the buildings are like. Many church folks say they’re all about God’s mission, but they lead people astray. You may start to hear rumours about how the church is dying. Don’t worry about those rumours. The end is not immanent. Sure, some church buildings will become empty, and some church members will argue with one another about theology (and what colour to paint the walls), and denominations will disagree on things – it may even get nasty. But all this is just the beginning of something new being born.”

Author Phyllis Tickle has a theory that every 500 years or so the church goes into a major crisis and an old way of being church comes crashing down and a new one emerges.
For example, 500 years ago Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation happened. It was a major change.
500 years before that was the Great Schism that divided the church into the Eastern/Greek Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church.
She thinks we’re in the throes of another massive change right now. I think she’s right!

Our denomination, the United Church of Canada, was formed with a certain vision – that we’d be the church of the nation. And we set out to put a church on every corner so that we’d be a presence in every neighbourhood. Of course, that was back in the 1920s when cars were still a fairly novel idea and travelling distances was an ordeal. We also set up our structure with a vision of being the biggest church in the country, with overflowing numbers. It was a great vision – in its day. The day has changed.

And now the church is changing too.
Change is all we’ve been talking about for the last several years – there have been remits and rumours of remits! And those in leadership have been saying, “Don’t be alarmed! Yes, things are very challenging now, and the unknown is kind of scary – but it’ll be ok. Fear not! Trust that God is in the new thing. Even so, there’s no getting around it – as we change it’s going to hurt. That’s what birthing something new is like.”

But for some reason, even though it defies all logic, we seem to think that birthing something new is going to be like it is on TV – when a woman says, “Oh dear, I think my water just broke,” and she goes to the hospital, and squinches up her face, and pushes for about 15 seconds, and then woosh, out comes the baby! Right? It’s just like that, right?

No, of course it isn’t. I’ve been there! Well, I was in the room!
It’s agonizing. It’s super-hard. It takes a long, long time and it’s no walk in the park.
It’s messy. It hurts.
And it’s dangerous. Sure, it’s less dangerous now than ever before because hospitals are very advanced, but childbirth historically has been a very dangerous thing. Many mothers die in the birthing.

Now, on the other side of it, after that really hard ordeal, is a gift of new life that is overwhelmingly wonderful.
But you can’t get there without journeying through the painful ordeal.

This is what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in Mark 13. He used the image of birthpangs because he knew it would be so visceral that it would make his point.
There’s another layer to that too. Mark’s gospel was written in the 0070s, right at or just after the time that the Jewish Temple fell in Jerusalem. There was a war, an uprising, and as the Romans crushed the rebellion they also demolished the Temple.

If you were among the first audiences hearing Mark’s gospel being read to you that news would still be very fresh in your memory. And it was a very painful thing for the Jews.
You see, if we arrived here next Sunday and discovered that this church building had been struck by lightning and burned down we would be devastated, because this place is very special to us. We’d be heartbroken.
And then we’d get the insurance money and either rebuild it or go and worship at another church building. There’s plenty around!

But for the Jews it was fundamentally different. The Temple wasn’t just a special place for them, it was actually the very centre of their religious practice – God’s home on earth! There were small synagogues and meeting places in the towns and villages, but only at the Temple could you make the required animal or crop sacrifices and only at the Temple could you properly and fully practice your religion.

So when their Temple was destroyed it quite fundamentally destroyed their whole way of understanding their religion, and themselves. There was no insurance settlement. There was no other church to go to.
That was it.
And it was gone.
Can you begin to imagine how devastating that was for them?

And Jesus points right at it and says, “Folks, as important and central as they are, it’s not about the buildings. It’s about the Way, the path, the journey. And we’re birthing something brand new here. And it’s gonna hurt! But then it will be beautiful.”

Most of you here were once part of another church – whether it was one of our three parent churches (St. Andrews, Courtice, and Harmony) or whether it was a church that you used to attend before becoming part of Faith United. This is a fantastic place. It’s a beautiful new thing that has been birthed.
But you had to leave something behind to get here. You had to sell your beloved church, or leave a beloved community, and that would have been painful. Devastating, even. And the creating of this ministry, and the forging of this community of faith was (and is) hard, hard work. But now you’re here and the new thing is a blessing. read on

181104 – Full of Wholes

Yr B ~ Pent 24 ~ Mark 12:28-34

My challenge this week is how do I say something new about something that’s so much a part of us that it forms our logo? Let’s find out!

Mark 12 is a really interesting chapter. It begins with Jesus telling a parable about how God sends messengers of love, and light, and grace – but those in power keep rejecting and even killing them. Of course, he tells the parable to a bunch of people in power – chief priests, scribes, and elders! In other words, “in your face!” Which, of course, they don’t like very much!

So these powerful people send two groups of authorities to try to trick Jesus into saying something wrong that will get him in trouble, so they can do exactly what Jesus’ parable said they would do!

First it’s some Pharisees who tried to get him on the paying taxes thing. Jesus shoots their arguments full of holes and says, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s!” (Mark 12:17)

On come the Sadducees, which were a powerful elite group. They come at Jesus with a riddle about the afterlife, which they didn’t even believe in, and Jesus slices and dices their theological shortcomings and zings them with, “God is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:27)

Then a Scribe comes to Jesus. You almost get the sense he quietly came over when no one was looking – it’s a lovely little encounter.

Mark 12:28 – One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”

There’s no animosity in the question. This Scribe seems legitimately impressed with Jesus’ answers and he honestly wants to hear Jesus’ views on what the greatest commandment was.

It’s not like there was a set answer.
There are 613 laws or rules or commandments in Jewish theology. It’s not like they were numbered!
There was no consensus about what the most important one of all was.
Different Rabbis and Pharisees and Priests would emphasize different things – just like here at Faith I probably emphasize different things than my colleagues do at our nearby sister churches.

So the Scribe wants to hear what Jesus might emphasize, because he was impressed by how Jesus handled the inquisition!

He wants to know which commandment Jesus thinks is the most important, the principal idea, job #1.
It’s a great question.
If I asked you what your most important value or character trait is you’d probably need some time to answer, you wouldn’t like limiting it to one, and your answer would tell me a lot about what kind of person you are. Same goes for the Scribe’s question to Jesus. Of all those 613 wonderful commandments and laws, which one does Jesus think is the most important of all?
And more than that, the word “all” here does not just refer to all commandments but to all of everything. So, “Which commandment is the most important thing of all?”

And Jesus brilliantly and insightfully answers by quoting the Shema!

Mark 12:29-30 – Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

That’s the Shema, well, the start of it anyway. Shema is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen”. It’s from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – “Hear (Shema), O Israel, the Lord your God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

The Shema is traditionally recited by every Jewish child and adult at the start and conclusion of each day. In other words, they knew it by heart – it’s a heart prayer.
They know it as well as you know “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

So Jesus does two key things with this. read on

181028 – Decloaked

Yr B ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Mark 10:46-52

Faith. The final frontier. This is the journey of the church ship Faith United. Its 21 year mission, to explore God’s world, to seek out renewed life, and new interpretations. To boldly grow where deep disciples have grown before. [sing theme]

In case you’re not a fan, that was from the opening of the original Star Trek tv series.
If you are a fan you’ll appreciate today’s sermon on another level, and if not, I hope you’ll be happy to come along for the ride.

It’s a tv show about space travel, and one of the alien cultures our heroes encounter have developed a technology called cloaking.
They can make their ships invisible, and then, when you least expect it, they decloak and try to blow you up.

Of course, because you can now see them when they’re decloaked they’re vulnerable too!
Decloaking carries risk, and maybe reward.
Now, nobody gets blown up in today’s scripture reading, but someone does become decloaked, and it’s a pretty big revelation!

So with that in the back of your mind’s eye I’d like us to look at this reading from Mark 10 and see what we can see.
And if you noticed that that last sentence had several references to vision then you get a bonus point!

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving Jericho, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus” – which means “highly prized”), was sitting by the roadside begging.”

Couple things right off the hop.
At this point Jesus is travelling with a large crowd.
It’s not just his 12 disciples.
He’s attracted an entourage.
He’s becoming known.

That matters because Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is coming.
That means the people along the road are aware of who is at the centre of this crowd coming down the road.
It’s not “Jesus who?”
It’s, “Hey! It’s that Jesus guy everybody’s talking about!”

When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Bartimaeus calls out for mercy.
In their day a person with a disability or an illness probably would have been thought to have done something to deserve it.
I know, it sounds horrid to us, but if he was blind it was thought to be because he sinned greatly.
So he doesn’t ask for healing, he asks for mercy.

Then there’s this wonderful and weird detail put in.
Many rebuked or silenced him.
One translation says they said “Shut up!”
What’s not clear is whether it’s the entourage with Jesus that’s shushing him or the other bystanders along the road.
Either way, our boy Bart ignores the naysayers and yells louder. read on

181021 – Be Careful What You Ask For

Yr B ~ Pentecost 22 ~ Mark 10:35-45

I’d like everyone to turn and look at someone else in the congregation right now, make eye contact, smile, and now say these words, “I’d like you to do for me whatever I ask of you.”
Did they say, “Sure! I’d love to! What do you want?”
Did they say, “Shyeah right! Good luck with that buddy!”
It’s a weird thing to say to someone, isn’t it? The logical response is to ask, “What is it you want me to do for you?” – Well, the likely response is to be very warry of anyone who asks the “do whatever I ask” question in the first place, but curiosity will probably get the best of you and you’ll at least ask what exactly it is that they want.

That’s how this scene starts out in Mark 10. James and John, two of Jesus’ inner circle, decide to ask Jesus to do whatever they ask of him. I wonder if they thought that because Jesus is such a nice guy that he’d just say yes? (Christians are nice people – they always say yes!)
Or maybe they thought because they were part of the inner circle that they could capitalize on their position and gain some benefits?

Of course, that kinda makes you wonder if they’d been listening to anything Jesus had been teaching all this time, but we’ll set that aside. There’s a reason why I like to call them duh-sciples! They often seem to really not get it (which makes me feel a little better about myself, I must say).

So James and John ask for a yes to whatever they ask – and Jesus asks what exactly they’re after – and they say, v.37, Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

And Jesus replies, v.38, “You don’t know what you’re asking!”

It wasn’t part of today’s reading but directly before this scene in Mark’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples about how considering the path he’s on that he will surely be killed in the near future. It says, in Mark 10:32-34 that Jesus astonished the disciples with this teaching – even though it was the third time he’d taught them about his looming death! (Did I mention that they’re duh-sciples?)

And with that sobering teaching still ringing in their ears these two clowns run up to Jesus and ask to sit at his right and left hand in glory.
That means that they still think Jesus is going to be super-powerful and they want to share in that power. It is a remarkable exercise in missing the point!

Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

vv.39-40 They replied, “We are able.”

The Greek word is dynametha – as in dynamic, powerful – “we are powerful,” they say!

Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

The language is a little odd and cryptic, and the metaphors are fairly complex – but I think what Jesus is saying here with the cup and baptism thing is that he’s on a particular path – the life of faith is a particular path – full immersion in the presence and love of God propels one into the Way of Jesus which is a particular path that has significant consequences – and if you are really a follower of Jesus then you need to be prepared to live out that love and follow that path and know that there will be consequences.

In other words, he says, “Be careful what you ask for!”

I’ll come back to this. I want to finish going through the scripture passage first. read on

181007 – Steep Ye First

Yr B ~ Thanksgiving ~ Matthew 6:25-33

I was having trouble getting going with this week’s message. Then one word changed and everything started to flow. And I was thankful!
A different word was giving grief to our bible study group – the word worry.

Let’s be clear right from the start: I do not think that Jesus is telling us not to have concern for things or people. We can’t care for people or be loving if we don’t feel concern for them. No, the worry Jesus is warning us about in Matthew 6 is more than just being anxious about something, he’s teaching about the dangers of being overly preoccupied with things, being absorbed by them, being obsessed with them. Care and concern are healthy, preoccupation and obsession are not.

When Jesus says “Don’t worry” he’s really talking about a general state of anxiety and disquiet that insidiously sneaks into our being and starts to run our life. That’s the real soul-sucking stuff. That’s the worry that kills. I guess it’s always been a problem or he wouldn’t have taught it, but it sure seems like we’ve got a nasty case of it today. We need this teaching more than ever!

I think you’d agree that we live in a hyper-anxious and worried culture. Why do you think that is? What fuels this feeling?
The media is a big one – you can’t turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper without being inundated with doom and gloom from every corner of the world. Commercials and advertisements are constantly telling us that we’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or thin enough, or wealthy enough, or don’t smell good enough, and judging by the stuff we buy we believe them.

Then on top of that you add in the pace of life that we’ve chosen to live at. We’re always on, always plugged in, there’s no down time, our technology owns us. Just threaten to take away someone’s cell phone for a week, or a day, and watch them squirm. We are all wound way too tight.

The problem isn’t really that life has sped up and become more complicated; the problem is that we’ve lost our grounding in what’s most important.
Instead of drawing on our deep spiritual reservoir built up over years of loving God, loving people, and loving one another, we find ourselves worrying and fussing about too many things.
We can even become paralyzed by it all.

Maybe we’re in such an anxious culture because we patently refuse to follow Matthew 6:33. You know this verse by heart – we all do, but we steadfastly ignore it. Here’s the big message today:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all the rest will follow.
God first! Seek God first. Make the primary goal of your life seeking God and you’ll find the rest of it works out much better.

The trick seems to be to figure out what seeking means. But even that word “seeking” is anxiety producing! Seeking is an action verb. The NRSV suggests striving instead. That’s just as bad! Seeking, striving – “oh no, what if I’m not doing enough? What if my efforts to seek God fall short? What if my striving isn’t strong or thorough enough?” And boom, we’re right back to being paralyzed by worry again!

Remember I said I discovered one word and it all changed for me?
The word came from the Message bible translation. I want you to hear the whole passage from the Message – it’s really, really helpful. read on

180930 – Three Little Words

Stewardship Series 4 ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

We’ve been looking at mission and ministry this month and lifting up all the wonderful ways this church engages in loving God, loving neighbours, and loving one another, with an emphasis on the loving our neighbours part. It’s been stewardship month – a concept that reminds us that we are called to participate in the mission and ministry of the church through our energy, gifts, skills, passions, time, and faithfulness – and also through our money.

Last week I said it pretty plainly – mission takes money.
This fantastic facility costs money.
I cost money.
Staff costs money.
Programming costs money.
It’s just a reality.

We don’t like to talk about it usually because it can feel a bit unseemly. I mean, how do you put a price tag on Jesus? Well, you don’t, obviously. But it can kind of feel that way so we get a little squeamish.
And to make matters worse, the guy who’s the most expensive item on the menu is the one who ends up making the pitch. It can feel more than a little self-serving.

But there’s no avoiding it – mission takes money. So I’m going to go right at it, and I’m also going to try to help us see it in what I hope are helpful and inspiring ways.
To get there I’m going to have us dive into three little words from the 2 Corinthians 9 text – and I’m going to start by saying the bible is wrong!

Do I have your attention?
Well, it’s not totally wrong, but in the reading you heard a today there are three Greek words that are absolutely vital to understanding my message today, and two of them are mistranslated.

Now, I know that sometimes I dig pretty deep into the field of meaning in a word to try to get more richness and nuance out of a text, but what I’m talking about this time is just a plain mistranslation.
And that’s really surprising because the bible we almost always read out of – the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV – is the best translation there is.
So when the editors of the NRSV make a blatant error it really needs to be investigated.

Here are the verses, and as I read them it will all sound perfectly normal to you – mostly because that’s the way most of us have always heard them, but there’s also another reason I think is important, that I’ll get to in a minute.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 – The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Familiar right? So which are the wrong words?

If you sow sparingly you reap sparingly – and if you sow bountifully you reap bountifully.
Totally logical, right?
It completely suits our understanding of the world. If you want more, work harder!
That’s good, old fashioned, common sense capitalism!

Except that generally speaking the bible isn’t all that fond of capitalism – it tends to prefer socialism – you know, sharing and all that foolish stuff!

The wrong word here is bountifully. In fact, it’s translated so badly they substituted an adverb for a noun. Bountifully is the manner in which one sows. It’s a how. But the plain Greek word is eulogia which is the word for blessing – a noun. That’s not a how, it’s a what! It’s not the manner in which you sow, it’s the stuff you’re supposed to be sowing.

It should read: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows blessing will also reap blessing!

That is a huge difference!

The next verse has the second error read on

180923 – Poets Show It

Stewardship Series 3 ~ James 1:19-25

Last week we were all about sheep and goats and this week we’re all about hearers and doers. But unlike last week where we were supposed to choose one or the other, and picking the right one was really important (sheep!), this week we’re supposed to be both.
We are called to be both hearers of the word and doers of the word. So let’s have a look at it.

United Church folks have a long and proud history of being doers. And Faith United folks are United Church through and through. We are champion doers. We are instinctively more Martha than Mary. One of the things United Church types are best at doing is justice. At General Council this summer I can’t think of a single proposal that encouraged us into more hearing – but there were a truckload about doing more justice.

So it’s really interesting that today’s scripture passage doesn’t start with doing but rather with hearing. And it begins with a truth that should be really obvious, but it’s really hard for us to adhere to.

James 1:19-20 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
Does that sound like how we usually do it?
Not in my experience – and especially not if you’re using social media – in the comment sections it’s too often the exact opposite.

Quick to listen also means ready to hear.
It’s meant to convey an immediacy, a readiness, a predisposition to listening, to hearing. Our modern problem isn’t really that we never listen, it’s that we tend to listen the wrong way. Our usual thing is that as we’re listening to someone we’re already formulating our response in our heads, planning what we’re going to say next.
That’s not really listening – it’s more like pre-talking! And it puts the focus on you yourself and what you’re going to add instead of putting the focus on what the other is offering.

So James makes sure we get it right by not just saying we ought to be quick to listen but that we also must be slow to speak.
Give it space to breathe.
Let the offering sink in.
Don’t be afraid of silence.
Don’t be in such a hurry to fill up every moment with your brilliance.
Let it be about someone else for a minute.
Let it be.
It sounds simple enough, but for a bunch of doers like us just being a hearer at first is a tall order!

You have heard it said, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” – but the bible says, “Don’t just do something, sit there!”

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. The Greek word for speak here is interesting. There’s a much more common way to say speak in Greek. Instead, the unique word used here also carries the meaning of chattering or prattling on. Be quick, or ready, to listen and hear deeply, and be slow, or unhurried, and take your time before leaping into chattering.

I think if we did that better, if we were slower to speak (or furiously type) we’d probably do better at the slow to anger part too.

So far I’ve angled this toward human interpersonal communication – quick to listen to what someone is saying, slow to chatter back at them, slow to stand in opposition to their ideas. But as we go on through this chapter in James we discover that he’s talking about a different kind of listening – or at least, a different source.

James 1:21 says: Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and [any abundance] of wickedness, and welcome with [gentleness and humility] the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

James has taken us to a whole other level. It’s not just my words you should be quick to listen to (although, obviously you should!) – it’s the implanted word.
The implanted word.
I think you know exactly what he means.
That word, that holy word, that holy Presence, that is implanted deep in your heart.
Who do you think implanted that word in you? Don’t look at me! Look deeper!

It’s a holy thing from God.
And if you have a holy thing from God implanted deep within you – maybe we might call that God’s image imprinted upon your very soul – then you definitely want to welcome it with gentleness and humility – and you definitely want to get rid of the cruddy stuff within you that tends to hide or mar that implanted word – and you definitely want to be quick to notice it, and listen to it, and hear it, and focus on it, and not so much on what you’re going to say back, and hopefully very little about standing in opposition or anger to it.

Friends, we have all received a holy, implanted word from God – it is the word of God – it is God’s very Presence deep within us – it has been with us since our first moment – and we’d be wise to be incredibly attentive to that word, and really hear it, and really connect with it. read on

180916 – Co-Missioners

Stewardship Series 2 ~ Matthew 25:31-46

Today’s scripture reading is from near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, so it’s kind of like a summation, or a completion of all of Jesus’ teaching. In the past I’ve called this “graduate level Christianity” because it really requires us to leave behind all sorts of preconceived notions about how faith or religion are supposed to work and truly accept the vision of faithfulness that Jesus offers. He uses a lot of words, but essentially I think he’s saying “a transformed heart is faithful even when no one’s looking.”

In human interaction we find it completely natural and obvious that if I do something nice or helpful for you that you will think better of me or reward me. And if you have a lot of power then I’ll probably try to be even nicer to you, or curry even more favour with you because it will help me with my reward in the long run. That’s human nature – it’s a transactional economy – like buying goods for cash we like to buy favour with our positive actions toward someone.
A transactional economy certainly has its place, but it is even more certainly NOT God’s economy.

God fundamentally does NOT operate on transactions. God’s economy is about grace and love freely given, received by humans, internalized, and then channelled into loving action toward others.
BUT, and it’s a great big but, God is not on the other side keeping score of how well we do with our received gifts. God just keeps giving them.

And that’s confusing because that’s not how humans work. But that’s how God works.
That’s why it’s so hard for us to really understand God’s ‘grace and love’ economy. And what we’ve done as a religion is to try our best to force our human transactional economy onto Jesus’ lips, when in reality he says no such things. But because we’re looking for it we sometimes misread our stuff onto Jesus.

Take today’s scripture reading for example. It’s graduate level teaching because beginners can’t get past the first verses without getting it wrong.
Here’s how Matthew 25:31-33 starts:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

It sounds like Jesus is talking about some final judgement and ultimate damnation here but that’s just not true. Yes, he paints a metaphor that looks like judgement – and, of course, any time you say thing A is better than thing B you’re making a judgement – but it’s not an end of the world scenario he’s describing.

What do you think his purpose is here?

Well, it isn’t to scare you into worrying about your next-life address.
He’s trying to transform hearts and influence action right now.
The thing the sheep get is to receive the kingdom – and we know that the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is not something that awaits us upon death – it’s something that’s already here, now, surrounding us and awaiting us but we don’t realize it.

So he’s cast us all as sheep and goats to get us thinking.
We know the sheep do it right and the goats get it wrong, so we’ll be listening hard for what we sheep should do!

The sheep get the kingdom because, Matthew 25:35-36

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

And instantly our human transactional brains go “Yes! I did it right! Jesus needed help and I helped him! I earned my way into the kingdom!”

And then it hits us.
“Wait a minute. I never saw Jesus hungry or thirsty, and I never invited him in, nor gave him clothes, and I certainly didn’t take care of a sick Jesus or a Jesus in prison.
Oh no! What if he has me confused with someone else?!?!? Maybe I’m a goat!?!”

And Jesus replies that it isn’t just about him, but anyone. And when no one was looking and you were helping someone who couldn’t give you anything in return, or help you back, that’s when you were living in love. read on

180909 – Let Thanksgiving Flow

Stewardship Series 1 – Luke 10:25-37

Source sermon by Rev. Trisha Elliot
Adapted and expanded by Rev. Dr. Larry Doyle
Preached by Jocelyn Doyle

What are you thankful for?

My list is likely as long as yours and I have a hunch we would put many of the same things on it: a trusted friend, a decent bed, a sunrise, terrific music, a warm, gooey, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie!…okay, maybe you’d prefer ice cream or something to a chocolate chip cookie (everyone’s allowed to be wrong!…)
Anyway, I could go on and on, especially in the gratitude for food department.

But thanksgiving isn’t enough. Let me show you what I mean.

(Hold up an empty glass in one hand and a pitcher of water in another. Hold the cup of water over the baptism font or a large bowl sitting on a table.)

Let’s say that every drop of water I pour into this glass represents something you are thankful for.
As I pour, I invite you to pour out your thanksgiving in the sacred silence.
Let your prayers of thanksgiving flow to God.
Let’s take a moment of quiet so that we can be focused as we pray.

(Pause then begin to pour from the pitcher slowly, filling the glass.)

We have filled the glass with thanksgiving.
But the truth is that there is no end to God’s abundance.
No end to God’s blessing. Just look around…We are deeply and richly blessed. We are filled with blessing.

(Lift up the cup to show that it is full.)

The question is: How do we let that sense of the abundant blessing overflow?

(Keep pouring so that the water overflows into the font/bowl.)

How do we let thanksgiving spill out of us so that we live out God’s abundant Spirit?
It’s one thing to be thankful. It’s another to live in the spirit of thanksgiving.

I’m sure that the Priest in Jesus’ Good Samaritan story who passed by the man beaten on the side of the road could have rhymed off things even in the exact moment when he was crossing over to the other side of the street, that he was grateful for.
So too the Levite.

Maybe both could have filled up a gratitude journal and expressed thanksgiving for their status in life.
If they were asked, they might have said that they appreciated a trusted friend, a decent bed, a sunrise, terrific music, a great chocolate chip cookie!

But their thanksgiving didn’t go anywhere beyond them. At least not in that moment. It didn’t flow into their lives.
It’s one thing to be thankful. It’s another to live in the spirit of thanksgiving, isn’t it?

What made the Samaritan compassionate, I wonder?
What made him bandage a stranger’s wounds?
What made him pour out his oil and wine and offer up his own donkey and book him into an inn and pay for it himself?

Jesus doesn’t give that part of the story away.
He just says “Go and do likewise.”
He says “Be that kind of neighbour.”

(Pick up the glass and pour more water into it so that it spills over the edge.)

“Let the love I pour into you pour out of you,” is what he’s saying in a nutshell.
At Faith United we hear talk about God’s overflowing love all the time – about how God’s love could even be called extravagant, or even wasteful.
God flings around and pours out love like God’s made of the stuff!

The question that catalyzed Jesus’ story was a pretty simple but shrewd one from a legal expert: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We’ve heard a lot about eternal life here at Faith – about how it doesn’t just mean the time that happens after you die but actually means that special kind of transformed, Spirit-filled-to-overflowing life that we can have starting anytime!

I’d actually say that the so-called legal expert asked a weird question – because eternal life isn’t something you inherit, and it certainly isn’t something you earn – it’s more a reflection of your relationship with God – and the kind of life actions that flow out of (or through) a person in that kind of deep, spiritual relationship with the Divine.

So let’s dig a little more into Jesus’ answer to this question.

Trials and extraordinary circumstances don’t build character – they reveal it!
Well, to be fair, if they reveal your faulty character they can still be valuable if you learn and grow from them and then the next time a better character emerges.

We all know this parable well. The Priest and the Levite were supposed to be men of great character – but their actions betrayed them – and you don’t really get the sense that they learned anything from the encounter so they come out looking really bad.

What you might not know is that there’s a subtext to featuring a Samaritan as the good guy. To say that the Samaritans and the Jews didn’t get along was an understatement. The racial feud had been going on for years. They were once one people but then things got terribly messed up and they never made up. To be blunt, Jews and Samaritans hated one another.

Now, imagine you’re the innkeeper that this Samaritan brought the beaten Jew to. Imagine the stories that innkeeper would tell about the Samaritan who went to great lengths for the Jewish victim.

I can imagine the gossip at the inn…
(Pretending to whisper)
“You’ll never believe what just happened. A Samaritan brought the Jew in and told me to look after him. Paid me for it. Gave me two denarii. It’s no joke!”

Now, an innkeeper probably sees a lot in their line of work but I bet this rattled his cage, cracked open his world so that more light could get in.
Maybe his life changed like yours and mine does when we are just going about our day and are suddenly astonished by love.

And for sure, the Jewish victim’s life changed profoundly the moment the Samaritan knelt in the dust in front of him.
And again the moment that the Samaritan so tenderly wrapped the clean bandages around him.
And again the moment that he poured out his own oil, his own wine, his donkey, and his wallet.
And again, each time he thought about those moments for the rest of his life.

How could that beaten Jewish man not help but be more kind to every Samaritan he came across?
How could he not care in turn?
How could the world not spin a little more gracefully on the axis of that experience?

Now think about this: do you think the Samaritan was trying to accomplish that?
Do you think the Samaritan helped this Jew because he was trying to score points, or impress somebody, or repair the racial divide, or profoundly change and influence lives?
No, of course not!

So why did he help? Because he couldn’t not help!
He was so filled with God’s Presence and love that he was overflowing with gratitude for it, and his gratitude needed an expression, and that expression was to help.

Love moved him into love!

And here’s the mind-blowing part of this story that we can miss if we’re not careful.
Jesus is saying that just because you’re a fine, upstanding religious person (like the Priest or the Levite – or maybe even you or me) doesn’t mean you necessarily live love.

In fact, it was only the Samaritan who was the one living out God’s love.

Jesus is literally saying to his followers that even the worst person you can imagine is capable of being so filled to overflowing with God’s love – and so teeming with thankfulness for that love – that they can’t help but live in that spirit of thanksgiving and love even their worst enemy!

Jesus was asked what one must do to have life eternal?
So he tells this story, and he simply wraps it up with: “Go and do likewise.”
The “go and do likewise” part is the key to life.
But that doesn’t just mean to rush out and look for troubled people on the street and help them (although, obviously, that’s not a bad thing to do).

Go and do likewise means as you go in the world let that holy love you feel filling you up – the love that grows through worship, and learning, and serving, and supporting one another – let that love flow out in whatever ways present themselves in your life.

And that love makes us feel great.
And that great feeling makes us feel grateful.
And that gratitude has to find expression – or, it fades.
Because just like a wonderful deep breath you can’t just take it in and hold it for yourself.

God’s love only really comes to completeness and fullness by being breathed back out!
It’s one thing to be thankful. It’s another to live in the spirit of thanksgiving.
Go and do likewise!

This is the beginning of a 5 week series about stewardship and loving our neighbours.
For the next few weeks, we are going to be talking about mission: our personal mission, our congregation’s mission, our denomination’s mission, and through it all, we are going to contemplate and celebrate God’s mission.

God’s mission is epitomized in this story. A story about the outpouring of gratitude and love on a dusty, nameless street between Jerusalem and Jericho that could really be anywhere. It could be the street in front of your home, or the street of your workplace, or the street near your hangouts, or the street that runs through the heart of your relationships.

There is “someone on a road” somewhere in your life waiting for your thanksgiving, your gratitude to overflow in love.

(Pick up the pitcher and the glass and start pouring. It should overflow again over the edge.)

Waiting for the abundant, overflowing grace of God.|
What are you waiting for?

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
Let thanksgiving flow!

(Scoop the water out of the font/bowl and let it drip between your fingers.)

This is what we are baptized and called to do.


180902 – Within Without

Yr B ~ Pentecost 15 ~ Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I hope you can picture the scene this reading paints. It doesn’t say precisely, but this early part of Mark’s gospel has Jesus travelling in the Judean countryside teaching, healing, and gathering crowds. He’s just fed thousands, and healed many, and when he gets out of a boat at a new town people recognize him and come running. In other words, he’s causing a stir and getting noticed.
What happens when an upstart itinerant preacher starts gathering followers?
Well, obviously, the powers that be need to go and check him out.

Here’s where we start:

Mark 7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him…

They’ve come all the way from Jerusalem to investigate. What do they do?
They gather around him and the disciples. It’s almost like they’re encircling them, surrounding them.
I read that as being pretty intimidating!
So they’ve come to judge but they don’t even bother to wait to hear what Jesus might have to say, because as soon as they arrive they see a clear violation.

v.2 …[They gathered around him and] they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

And then the narrator conveniently fills us in on the reason why this is such a bad thing. Mark 7:3-4 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews [even, presumably, Jesus and the disciples!], do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

Unclean hands! Oh the horror!
Ok, it’s easy for me to mock, and it sounds ridiculous to our ears, but in their time and place this was a ceremonial no-no. I’m sure we can imagine all sorts of things that if someone came in here and did a certain thing that we’d be shocked and dismayed and cluck about how wrong it was. We’ve all got our stuff!

The religious powers-that-be are bent out of shape because some disciples didn’t wash their hands. They use the word defile. It’s used 4 times in this reading!
The Greek word is koinos (koy-nos) and it means to be stripped of sacredness – reducing what God calls special to something mundane. It happens when a person treats what is sacred (set apart to God) as ordinary (“not special”).

Think about that for a minute.
The underlying message here is that our hands, our bodies, are actually sacred things until we treat them otherwise.
Sure, it was a basic hygiene thing too. Humans ought to eat with clean hands so as not to thoughtlessly risk sickness.

But that’s not what the Pharisees are concerned with. Theirs is actually a very high religious concept.

Pharisees get the short end a lot in Christian circles when they probably shouldn’t – and they’re going to come out on the wrong side of Jesus’ teaching here too – but it isn’t because they’re thoughtless and don’t care – it’s because they’re so worried about the tiny little trees that they’re missing the forest. They are portrayed as thinking that if they take care of all the outward little ceremonial things that they’ve done enough.
Jesus, insightfully, cuts right through that and gets to the heart of it – all those little rules and regulations don’t matter a bit if your heart isn’t changed.

Mark 7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

I bet you’ve heard yourself say, on more than one occasion, “Why can’t the younger generations live according to the traditions of their elders? Why does it seem like all the rules have gone out the window?”
Maybe we all have some Pharisee in us! read on

180826 – A Football Faith

Yr B ~ P12 ~ Ephesians 6:10-20

Let’s talk football today – because, obviously, football is a perfect metaphor for faith. There are many different kinds of football to talk about. There’s Canadian football with 3 downs – there’s American football with 4 downs – there’s Australian Rules football which is more like rugby – and there’s what we call soccer – which is really the only game in the bunch that should logically be called “foot”-ball at all, but that’s another conversation entirely.

Football – every variety – is a real team game. While there may be individual stars the success of the team depends on the play of the whole team working in concert toward a common goal. And in many games the individual stars may not be able to work their magic if the other members of the team don’t execute their roles well. Unlike individual sports like tennis or swimming or track and field, you really can’t play football without a team.
Faith is like football – you need a team.

Guess what the number one spectator sport in the world is? – football!
You can call yourself a fan without ever having even touched a ball. You can sit at home on your couch and be a knowledgeable, devoted, passionate follower of football without ever doing more than reading the sports page and watching the hi-light shows on TV – heck, you don’t even have to sit through a whole game.

You can watch TV shows analyzing the game, reliving the best moments via replay, and second-guessing the players and coaches. If your team wins you can celebrate by dancing around your living room, and if they lose you can stare blankly at the screen, shut it off in disgust and start pointing the finger of blame. Ever notice that it’s “Hurray, WE won!” – but it’s “I can’t believe THEY lost!”?

Being a football fan like this is a safe, clean, warm, easy way to be into football. But it’s amazing how even so it still has such power that it can engender so much heat and passion among even its most casual followers. The positive parts of all this are that at least you’re following the game – thinking about the game – being moved by the game.
Faith is like football – even the fringe people get something out of it.

Now, if you’re a really big football fan – a real fan – you can actually go to the games. You can pay the ticket price and hang out with other people who share your passion and cheer on your team. You can enjoy the camaraderie of the tailgate party and high-five-ing your fellow fans when good plays are made. Because you’re actually at the game you can really feel the energy and excitement that’s generated by football and you can get swept up in it, deepening your passion for the game and your enthusiasm for seeing more.

When your team loses you probably clap for them anyway, or you might boo them if they stunk the joint out – but when your team wins you can celebrate with all the other fans and really share in the joy of being there. You’ll scream out “Wha-hoo” at the top of your lungs. You’ll hug total strangers. You’ll feel more a part of football because you actually spent the time and energy to attend. You stood in the hot sun or cold wind – you sacrificed. And while you’re there you see so much more than you get at home on TV – it’s a much fuller, richer, more satisfying experience.

Millions upon millions of dollars are spent on football each year by the fans. There’s sports memorabilia – hats, jerseys, bumper stickers, beer mugs, key chains – you name it, if they can put the logo on it fans will buy it. There’s that awesome, healthy stadium food – $7 hot dogs and $12 beers. There’s the cost of the ticket to get in. You even get to pay for parking! It’s a serious investment to be a real football fan – but it’s worth it.
Faith is like football – the more you invest, the more you receive. read on

180715 – Thy Kingdom Come Forth

Topical Sermon ~ The Lord’s Prayer ~ Matthew 6:5-13, Luke 11:1-4

Everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer, right? Even in this modern, post-Christian, secular, Western, pluralistic culture there aren’t too many places where if I said “Our Father” I wouldn’t hear back “who art in heaven”! And for church people it’s absolutely automatic. In just about every Christian denomination you will find that people have this prayer deeply ingrained in their memories. There may be differences in some of the words but the prayer is one of the few common threads in Christianity.

Did you know there are two versions in scripture? You heard them both read this morning. The version in Matthew is longer and more familiar, and we’ll talk about all that in a few minutes, but first I want to ask you a question.

Why this prayer?
The simplest answer is probably found in the Luke version.

Luke 11:1-2 – Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say…

So, in Luke, Jesus was quietly praying, his disciples waited until he was done, and then they said ‘teach us how’.
It’s about as direct a teaching as Jesus ever gave. So we grab onto it and pray like he told us to.

I find it interesting that we have diligently memorized the prayer but we pretty much ignore the instructions. The preamble Jesus gives in the version in Matthew is also crystal clear. And yet, as I read it to you now, notice how we pretty much do the exact opposite to what he says – especially here in church!
We took his teaching on prayer so seriously that we memorized every word of it – except for the parts that told us HOW to do it. (And we even kinda messed up the WHAT to say part, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Here’s Matthew 6:5-8

5 Jesus said, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

We’re not so much street corner pray-ers in our tradition, but how many of you really go into a private place for prayer, and shut the door, and pray in secret? Or do you leave most of your praying for this place?

And as for heaping on empty words and phrases because we think we need to cover every possible topic and so that all our words will get heard? – Heck, you pay me to do that!
And from time to time preachers hear complaints that we didn’t include such-and-such in the prayers – like if we didn’t do it God might not know about it!

But Jesus says “don’t be like that”! So is he saying that we shouldn’t be praying together?
Not at all.
He’s saying to avoid a public show and not pile on words because to do so makes the prayer all about your head, and your desires, and your ego. The truth is you could pray just as badly on your own in secret. It’s not the location or the language that really matter – it’s your heart.

Interestingly, the language in the prayer Jesus teaches them is corporate “we” language. I guess he was worried that using “I” language might lead to that ego-based prayer I was just talking about, so he encourages corporate “we” language.

Ironically, I do the exact opposite. Our tradition is SO “we” based that I worry that people may think that personal faith is less important than our corporate faith. If we always say “we” we can pretend that the dude in the next row is really responsible for this or that, and since “we” are collectively doing it “I” don’t really have to. So I swing the pendulum back the other way and encourage “I” language. Again, it’s not the place or the language that’s ultimately important here – it’s the heart.

Ok, so let’s finally dig into Jesus’ prayer. Matthew 6:9 begins: read on

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