Sunday, July 10, 2011

“Thy Will Be Done” - Matthew 6:9-10 - July 10, 2011

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.”
“Bless, O Lord, both the gift and the giver.”
“God is great; God is good, Let us thank Him for our food.”
“Now, before I run to play, Let me not forget to pray. To God who kept me through the night, And waked me with the morning light….”
“May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your face…..”
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, Where there is injury, pardon Where there is doubt, faith….”

Deep within us is the yearning to talk to God. We want to tell God our needs and want to know that God hears and will respond to us. We teach our children simple prayers that rhyme with sing song verse. As we grow we find others that help us voice our cry. Sometimes they are the ones we heard our fathers or our mothers offer over the dinner table. Sometimes we claim the words we have heard offered in rooms like this one. Still others are prayers that have emerged across time and place to voice something meaningful, something we hear as more profound than the simple words we hear ourselves pray when no one else is listening. Somehow we have come to believe that those prayers are better than the ones in our heart.

In our focal passage for the morning we come to a prayer not written on parchment or punched up on a computer. It is the model prayer that Jesus taught as a part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had just talked about the big and dramatic prayer that was more focused on impressing the crowd than talking with God. Jesus had just talked about those muddled and meandering prayers that go on and on hoping that something will land with God. Jesus stopped – and mid sermon began to teach them a short but incredibly powerful model of prayer that would draw them – and us- to the feet of God. We have come to call it the Lord’s Prayer. We voiced it together at the close of the congregational prayer.

There is a little book on my bookshelves that was put together by three friends. It is entitled, Becoming the Jesus Prayer: Transforming Your Life Through the Lord’s Prayer. It is a short but meaningful little text. Early in the book the authors contend; “In our well-meaning and sincere efforts to memorize the prayer, we have lost its wild power. Intended by Jesus to be a prayer that helps us to soar, the prayer has become so familiar and so domesticated that we barely pay attention. Jesus’ Prayer has had its wings clipped.” (1) I think they are on to something. Jesus taught this prayer to help us to claim an authentic voice of prayer and to be shaped by its wild power. So over these next three weeks we are going to take a closer look at this model prayer and see what it has to say to us and how it can help shape how we talk to – and depend on – God.

This morning we look at the first few lines. We begin, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. The words roll off our tongue with a beauty and poetry. But whether we realize or not, these words invite us into an incredible divine tension. It speaks of God who is at one moment as close as our touch and beyond the bounds of place and time.

Renown Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias began a conversation in 1978 that still dominates recent articles and books about the Lord’s Prayer. He argued that Jesus’ use of the word of the Aramaic “abba” means that Father should be translated like “daddy.” I sure many of you have heard that the term translated that way. But what you might not realize that that it has led to a firestorm of responses both from those who embraced the intimate and personal feel of the daddy imagery to others who feel that this image/term limits God and undermines the wider scriptural understanding of the term Father in reference to God. (2)

I think the best way to hear this is as a both profoundly personal and transcendent. While “Our Father” invites us into an intimate conversation, “Hallowed be your name” reminds us of the holiness of God. The hallowed verbiage is born of the Old English – a better contemporary translation might sound something like….respected and honored is your name… The Living Bible translates it “we honor your name”, Today’s English Version reads;”May your holy name be honored.” Jesus teaches us that as we pray we find ourselves living in the divine tension with a God who is both holy and otherworldly – and at the same time personal and close. Our prayer is that the God who calls us by name, who knows the needs of our lives, and who has made the way for us to become the children of God – will be made holy. The prayer is not that God is made holy in some distant generic or abstract sense. It is about the God who is both intimate and eternal being made holy – revered, respected, honored, cherished, and valued -in our lives.

The Jesus prayer continues; Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. A more modern translation would sing out, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth just like it is in heaven. If we believe what we are praying we are asking God to do something that could profoundly reshape our lives and our way of life. Many of those gathered in the crowd that day would have come to hear Jesus with the expectation that if he was the Messiah he would fulfil their hopes and expectation for a military leader that could change their political rule of Israel. As I listen to many Christians today they come to God in prayer with the great expectation that God is a divine gift giver that will help address their wants and their agendas. I believe one of the reasons we watched the book on the Prayer of Jabez sweep across the evangelical Church was that it seemed that underlying premise was that if you prayed the right prayer in the right way God would expand your scope of influence – and the bounty of your wealth. It was the perfect message for an American audience driven by place, power, and possessions. All too often our Kingdom prayers have become earthbound to our own wants and wishes. Jesus reminds us to raise the focus of our eyes. In John 18:36 Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world." In fact, we have to hear this prayer for the Kingdom to come and the will of God to be done as it is lived out by Jesus in his personal prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Luke 22:41-42 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will , but yours be done." (NIV)

Our prayer that God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth – in our lives – as it is in heaven is a prayer to subjugate our will to God’s will. It means that we will trust God’s will for our lives. Praying your will be done does not imply resignation to fate; rather, it is a prayer that God's perfect purpose will be accomplished in this world (on earth) as it already is in heaven's throne room.(3) [This] “Prayer is opening one’s life to God. It is inviting Him to act in our lives. [This] Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is being willing to accept His will in our lives.” (4)

Jesus wanted those gathered on the hillside that day – and those gathered in this room today – to claim the kind of prayer life that would let us draw close to God and worship him with awe and wonder. It is the kind of prayer life that invites us to claim God’s will and God’s way for our lives and choosing to settle for nothing less. We were intended for relationship with God that has real power, but we just keep box ourselves in. Jesus invited us to pray in a way where we leave everything else behind and run to the feet of God who calls us his own – and to claim God’s will and God’s way as our only way. It is time for our prayers to quit being a religious exercise and let them become a real and meaningful conversation with a God who longs to hear our voice and is ready to show us the way.

Our Father, who is in heaven, Holy be your name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done – in my life as it is in heaven. Amen!

(1)Gregory Palmer, Cindy McCalmont, and Brian Milford, Becoming the Jesus Prayer: Transforming Your Life Through the Lord’s Prayer, (The Pilgrims Press: Cleveland, 2005), p.20.

(2)Robert J. Karris, Prayer and the New Testament: Jesus and His Communities in Worship, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2000), pp. 7-13.
(3)The Life Application Commentary Series Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 by the Livingstone Corporation. Produced with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved
(4)Augsburger, M. S., & Ogilvie, L. J. 1982. Vol. 24: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 24 : Matthew. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series . Thomas Nelson Inc: Nashville, Tennessee

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

“Do You Not Know?” - Isaiah 40:28-31 - July 3, 2011

Our church signs and worship guide proclaim the title for this morning’s message is “Do You Not Know?” It is an OK title, drawn from the first verse of the three we will focus on this morning. But if I had to do it over again I would borrow the title that William Mott III, an African-American scholar and preacher used when he preached on this text. His title is “People who could fly.” I like it because it tells you from the very first breath that there is something different, something remarkable that awaits us in the text.
We heard a part of our focal passage read in multiple languages earlier in our service, but let’s look it in its entirety. Isaiah 40:28-31 reads; Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

This passage is written to people who are broken and weary and ready to give up. They are captives in Babylon and all that they known and all that they have loved seemed long gone. They have cried out to God and find themselves sitting there, waiting for God to do something. They know that only God can change their circumstances because they have tried everything they know how to do and have failed again and again. They find themselves waiting of God, crying out to God, and on the verge of losing faith that God hears them or that God will respond.

There are times we find ourselves in sitting there with similar feelings. We find ourselves in moments like this as people and we find ourselves in moments like this as a church family. These moments are hard and stretch us to our limits. We find ourselves in situations where we have done all we know how to do and it is still not enough. We find ourselves in the middle of a moment where we do not know which direction to go. We find ourselves caught in a cycle that ends badly every time, but we do not seem to know how to break the destructive cycle. We find ourselves there annually as a church family when we dig ourselves into a financial hole and in panic try to crawl our way out. We worry. We wonder. And we wait.

A message arrives for the people waiting in Babylon from Isaiah. He has a word for them – and a word for us – that can change everything. I can only begin to imagine what it would have been like to be a part of that group hearing these words for the first time. I imagine that some thought Isaiah might join them in their lament for better days gone by. I imagine that others might have expected this great leader to offer them a game plan – a way out of the mess they were in. He brings them a very different word. We hear him thundering words of challenge as the passage begins; Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. Isaiah wants them to remember – wants them to think through every conversation, every message, every time when they had been told about the nature of God. Their walk with God was not to be defined by the moment they were in. The moment they were in was to be defined by their long walk with God.

Isaiah reminds them that God is the God of history – the God of before it all began, the God of forever, and the God of everything in-between. He paints a powerful picture; God is the everlasting God, God is the Creator, God is the God of the ends of the earth, God is the God that does not grow weary, and God is the God who knows them and knows their needs. Our translation claims the words: “his understanding no one can fathom.” Older translations read “his understanding is unsearchable.” The immediate image that comes to mind is the power of internet search engines that seem to be able to help us find out something about everything. But these words are even more powerful than the idea of an all knowing God. Isaiah is instead telling them that God has a heart-felt – love driven -sympathetic understanding of the needs of His people .(1) Did you hear that? God, the Creator of everything – the God who was at the beginning and is the God of forever – knows your name and knows your needs! He knows our needs! He knows them before we offer the first prayer. He knows them because he knows us. Isaiah passionately pronounces that God is still there with all of the might and all of the power they need. These are words that they – and we – need to hear. When we find ourselves sitting there, broken, wounded, and weary- we are in exactly the kind of place where God moves in brings restoration. God knew that they were in exile – struggling – hoping – on the edge of giving up. God knows when we are at the end of our rope. God knows when we have nowhere else to go. God knows and God stands ready to respond.

In a split second the tone and tenor of the passage changes. The demanding tone to remember the power and the presence of God gives way to an incredible picture of what awaits them. He tells them, but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Some of you may have memorized the verse just a bit differently. In the King James uses the word “wait” instead of “hope.” While I understand why the later translators used the word “hope,” I still like the word “wait” better in this context because I think it speaks best to what the people were experiencing. They were there – waiting on God to move – waiting on God to do something – for some, just trying to wait the situation out. The word from Isaiah was that when we find ourselves in a place where only God can change the story then we discover a faith born and tested in depth. He speaks to those who have been waiting in the divine hope for God to act. He speaks to those who are weary and wounded and wants them to understand that only God can change the story. He wants them to understand that in that moment when they – then we – let God become our lifeline- our only cord for escape (2) then we will become people who can fly! We were not created to held captive by the misery of pointless waiting and muck and mire of frustration and failure. This is a myth we have been sold from the depths of hell. We are created to soar!

I know that this is harder to live out than to say out loud. Our default is to try to come up with our own plan or strategy that we think can help us get out of the mess we find ourselves in. What we discover is that we end up feeling like a mouse on an exercise wheel, running as hard as we can and going nowhere. I’ve been there. I know many of you have been there too. The only way out is insane cycle is to get off the wheel and to get on our knees and wholly and solely on claiming God as our lifeline; as our only way out. This time we cannot settle for less. If we choose to live this way we would finally start looking like the redeemed children of God.

When we first talked about this passage, Kim Greer made an interesting observation about the progressive nature of the three images – a progression on the surface that would be the opposite we would expect. Isaiah tells them that they will soar like eagles – run and not grow weary – walk and not grow faint. You would think that you would progress from walking to running to flying. But, the fact the movement moves the other direction tells us a great deal about who we are and our walk with God. When we have been waiting, broken and frustrated, and we find release we soar. There is that spiritual exuberance that comes in the moment- but fades with the passage of time and the regular movement of life. In the midst of the moment we sprint in our relationship with God, seizing every moment we can to thank God and to grow in our faith. But again, our temptation is to return to the life pattern that got us in the mess to begin with. Isaiah has probably seen it played out in front of him again and again. So the word he brings them is that they will soar – they will run – but ultimately for their life to be truly changed they will have to learn a new way of living – a life born and centered in a daily walk with God – a walk that never wearies – a walk that leads us to the feet of God. If we want to be a people who fly then we must not only be redeemed from the path that led us to brokenness to begin with – we must learn to walk a whole new path.

The God of all of creation does not grow weary of loving you – God that knows you and knows your needs – God knows us as a church family – and God stands ready to move. God is ready to lift you up – to lift us up to soar like the eagles – but our flight begins in humility and on our knees.

(1)Henry Sloane Coffin, exposition, “The Book of Isaiah,” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 5, (Abingdon: Nashville, 19780), p. 446.

(2) Page H. Kelly, “Isaiah,” Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 5, (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1971), p.302