Monday Gen 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
On Sunday we closed out our sermon series on the Lord’s prayer with, ‘Lead us not into the time of trial, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.‘ In order to reflect on this in what I hope was a more accessible way, we focused on the story of Abraham and Sarah. We started with ‘lead us.‘
As much as the both the First and New Testaments speak of the life of faith as a journey and as following God/Christ or being lead by God/Christ, and as much as we talk about following and being lead, I’m not sure that we often reflect on what that really means. I just assume that we all know what following/being lead means. But it really isn’t all that obvious is it? I remember a time early in college where I really struggled with what following Christ meant.
That alone, a sense that we were created and called to follow Christ is a vitally important part of faith. After all, most of us, and our children for that matter, have grown in culture, where following is not valued. We hear more about leading or about forging our own way in the world. These are our heroes, the leaders, the lone wolves, the self-made man (or woman)! It really is a myth, this self-made, self-discovery story. We are deeply imbedded in families, communities and cultures that affect and influence the way we see the world and ourselves, and which teach us how to make sense of experiences and events. No one is self-made or self-discovered. The myth of being self-made and/or discovered is just a useful marketing tool to get us to buy products; self-help books, exercise equipment and videos, different styles of clothing, cars, etc, etc. So in the illusion that we are making or discovering ourselves, we are really just following the lead of consumerism toward the goal of personal well-being that products will never provide. In order to avoid this pointless journey, not only a sense of being created and called, but the practices, such as prayer, worship and service, which teach us how to follow Christ, must be central to our lives. These constant practices of seeking God’s will and following Christ’s path are also important because, as we saw on sunday, God’s way is not always clear. We do not get a fully disclosed plan, just a call, a command, an invitation. To follow is to give up control and put in second place our plans and that is frightening.
When did you first experience the call to follow Christ? Have you heard a call lately?
Tuesday Gen 12:10-13 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. 11When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, ‘I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; 12and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife”; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.’
You recall that I used a translation of the day’s scripture verse that we don’t normally use, lead us not into the time of trial. Lead us not into temptation, while familiar and traditional is problematic because it is too focused on personal piety. The Lord’s prayer is meant to draw us out of ourselves and into the story and mission of God. When we pray this verse we are not praying about the temptation of chocolate or another beer or giving someone the finger on the highway. We are talking about our fears coming true. ‘Lead us...‘ is a difficult prayer because it calls us to let go of control of our lives and take the risk of the path of Jesus, going among strangers and even the unlike, the enemy, in a spirit of gentle peace, forgiveness, and generosity. Or, to go the powerful and influential and settled with a disturbing and shocking wake up call. Either way is risky.
In today’s part of the story of Abraham, he first of all experiences one of our fears, the unintended consequence. He left his home, his land, which was safe and settled and secure, and ends up in a land in famine. Unforeseen situations arise in life, especially in the life walked with Christ. I don’t like unforeseen circumstances. (Unforeseen circumstances are why we pray ‘give us this day.‘ Give us this day reminds us that God will provide what we need to make it through unforeseen circumstances.)
So Abram goes to Egypt, but that is frightening. A new place, new people, unfamiliar customs and culture. Jesus called the disciples to follow him to samaria, a land of distrustful people, strange customs and different beliefs. Jesus calls us to be hospitable to strangers, welcoming to outcasts and outsiders. To follow God, Abraham is realizing, means we sometimes end up in unforeseen, unfamiliar and uncomfortable places.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was invited to return to Union Theological Seminary in New York, from his native Germany in 1939. He was increasingly disturbed by Hitler’s Germany and so came to New York. But he did not stay. He returned. He felt that he could not one day return to rebuild Germany and its church, if he did not join his people in this time of trial. Eventually he was arrested and killed by the Gestapo. Thankfully, we are not challenged with such life and death decisions. But following Christ among the lost, the least, the struggling, will put us in unfamiliar and uncomfortable positions. Sometimes following Christ causes fear. Have you ever felt afraid of where Christ called you to go, what Christ called you to do?
Wednesday Gen 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2and Sarai said to Abram, ‘You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
Deliver us from evil/the evil one. The evil one is the personification of what happens when fear overcomes the disciple, who then refuses the call, who cannot then go where God is leading. The Bible is filled with stories of those who could not follow. Jonah, Elijah, Peter, and many more, could not accept the challenge of faithfulness to the call of God, the way of Christ. Even Jesus himself struggled with the call, we are told, in the story of his temptation. Surely, there must be an easier way to embody God’s rule on earth, Satan tempted him. Certainly, it doesn’t have to cost this much.
In the story of Abraham the root of the fear is waiting. Abraham and Sarah have been promised a child. God has made a promise. Abraham and Sarah have accepted the risk of following God on an unknown path toward this promise and have made it through many challenges and unforeseen obstacles, but they still await the fulfilling of the promise, the child. So Sarah and Abraham takes things into their own hands, wrench back control of their lives and put into motion their own plan to achieve the promise.
The root of our debilitating fears is not always waiting. For Jonah it is the fear of God’s mercy for Israel’s enemies. He knows that if he obeys God’s call to preach to the enemy, and they repent, God will forgive, and Jonah wants retribution, not mercy and forgiveness. Elijah follows God’s call to confront the political and religious might of his own King Ahab. Elijah is the lone voice to criticize his cruel and unjust leadership. But the message does not cause immediate change. As a matter of fact it put’s Elijah’s life in danger. Peter, like Elijah I suppose, expected success and victory in following Christ. Instead, he got the way to the cross. The way with Jesus was more about giving than receiving, loosing for the sake of others, instead of gaining for the self.
We are tempted to water down this gospel which challenges us to offer mercy instead of vengeance and retribution. The cost of advocating publicly, as did Elijah, for the poor and against the political and religious powers has lead the church of America in the 20th century to completely spiritualize the gospel, making it about my personal inner soul and not justice and peace for the community. Peter’s experience of cost instead of immediate gain has lead many to present the gospel as a self-help strategy instead of a mission that asks much and costs much.
When has faithfulness been hardest for you? When have you been tempted to water the gospel down because it just seemed too hard?
Thursday Deuteronomy 1:8 See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I* swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them.’
Although the NIV Bible does not include the final phrase that we pray every sunday, ‘For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever...‘ I do want us to consider its meaning and purpose in the prayer.
But first, a return to the story of Abraham to help us to experience the end of the Lord’s prayer. When God calls Abram, God not only promises a child, but a people, a nation, and a land. Walter Brueggemann says that this is God’s promise that Abraham and his descendants will have safety, security and status. But if you notice today’s verse, while Abraham does indeed see the fulfillment of the promise for a child, Isaac, the fulfillment of a land and a people if fulfilled long after his death. It is many generations and hundreds of years between Abrahams first step away from home, to Israel’s first step into the promised land and there is a great deal of adventure, chaos, joy, sorrow and life in between.
Lead us...Deliver us is the shocking admission in the Bible, that our future is uncertain, or at least, we experience it that way. We are not guaranteed constant peace, joy or success. And as much as the American Dream tells us that through hard work anything is possible, we know that sometimes trauma and tragedy comes into our lives no matter how hard we work to avoid it, no matter how little we deserve it. Instead Lead us... Deliver us is a prayer that we will not be dissuaded from the life of faith, from the persistent pursuit of justice and peace in the world, when trauma and tragedy comes.
Which is why the Lord’s prayer ends by taking us back to its beginning. ‘For thine is the...glory,‘ we pray, which loops back to ‘hallowed be thy name.‘ When the stress and strain seem to much, when we feel that too much is asked of us, when the pursuit of justice and peace leaves us hollowed out, we take up this prayer which reminds us of that which we sacrifice for, the glory of God. It draws us up, out of despair and into the very life of God, which is the life open to others and offered to others. That is the glory for which we pray, the glory which we experience, despite tough times, the glory of opening ourselves to receive others, of offering ourselves to others, and in the exchange, knowing the presence and power of the living God.
The closing line of the Lord’s prayer reminds us of why we are called to be disciples, which is, so that God’s name remains holy, that the kingdom of God is experienced, glimpsed by those who need it most, so that God’s will is put into action on earth.
Have you ever wondered what the point of faith and faithfulness is?
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘Forgive us our debts.’ Talking about sin is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the life of discipleship and the duties of the church. There is no denying that talking about sin was a part of Jesus ministry. Both he and his forerunner John the Baptist preached about repentance. One of the memory verses I was encouraged to commit to mind was Romans 3:23 in which Paul writes, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’
I personally find it challenging to talk about sin because I believe that we are bombarded in our culture today with so much negativity, from talking heads on the various cable new channels, to contrived criticisms and arguments on sports radio, to the daily stresses of life that cause unfair criticism or fair criticism presented in hurtful ways at work or at home. I feel church should be an oasis from all of that negativity. Church should be that one place where we are loved unconditionally and affirmed whole-heartedly.
But even in saying ‘unconditional’ in reference to love, we are, perhaps passively admitting that there are times and situations in which we do not live up to the witness of Christ’s life in terms of forgiveness, reconciliation, generosity, compassion, sacrifice, etc.
Peter Rollins, in his latest book ‘The Idolatry of God’ writes, ‘theological language has a name for this sense of gap at the heart of our being - Original Sin ‘ - it also has a name for the imaginary object that we believe will fill this gap: the Idol.‘ I think that Rollins’ point points us to the reality that many of our sins are not the result of malice or evil on our part, but instead on the very real need/want to experience wholeness. We do not sin out of rejection of God, but out of fear and pain that result from feeling alienated from ourselves and others, or threatened in some way, by others. To admit we sin is to admit that as human beings existing in a sometimes threatening and always broken world, we choose Idols to bring us comfort or stability and in this way, contribute to our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world. I don’t think this excuses our sin, the way it deforms us and others. But it is a more honest way of looking at ourselves and the world. This is also not to say that some people do not carry out truly evil actions.
So praying, forgive us our debts/sins and repenting is not meant to stir within us feelings of guilt and unworthiness as a person. It is the confident prayer of one whose admits sickness and is reaching toward the only source of lasting healing.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
It is common when disciples of Christ consider or discuss ‘forgiveness‘ for them to focus on the interpersonal aspect of the practice. In other words, we immediately bring to mind a person or people who have hurt us so deeply that forgiveness and reconciliation seem impossible. One of the ways that we tend to respond to these situations is to focus on the personal benefits of forgiveness. We think to ourselves or say to one another that forgiving others is something I do for myself, so that I am released from bearing the weight of anger and pain. While that is true, I hope in today’s reflection to dig a little deeper into forgiveness and reconciliation. The command to forgive as we are forgiven starts with the interpersonal, but goes much deeper.
Forgiveness is rooted not simply in ourselves and our mental/emotional/spiritual health. It is rooted in the being of God. We do not forgive one another simply for personal benefit, for indeed, if we are completely honest, forgiving others will not necessarily reap immediate benefits. We forgive because love is who God is and reconciliation is the mission of God. reconcilare Latin for ‘bring together again.‘ This is the story that we are told about ourselves and the world. There was separation between Adam and God in the garden. The stories of separation continued with Cain murdering Abel and being sent away. The story we are told is that either through our own anger or despair we chase idols and are separated from God, or through the sin of others (systems, powers and principalities) we are separated from God and one another. The mission of God then, is reconciliation, to bring together again, Creator and creation.
We read in John 14: 10 -12; Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,
The work of Jesus is the work of God the Father, our Creator. In this passage we hear that not only is Jesus called to do the work of reconciliation, but so too are the disciples, so too are we, called to be reconcilers. The foundation of the practice of forgiveness, is the work of God, reconciling and healing the world. A work we are called to participate in.
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Socrates is said to have written, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.‘ Many years later Henry David Thoreau would pen the words, ‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation.‘ Jesus‘ instruction that we should pray, ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,‘ is wisdom and grace intended to interrupt the cycle of the unexamined life so that we can leave behind a life of desperation. Thinking about, talking about and admitting sin often raises within us more desperation, which is what we are trying to avoid. Confession, repentance, and prayer for forgiveness is not meant to cause guilt or shame. All too often, this is how the church has operated, taking far too much glee in pointing out the sins of ‘others.‘ The prayer of forgiveness is meant to open our eyes and make us aware of the systems of oppression that we are a part of without even realizing. Miroslav Wolf writes, in his classic, ‘Exclusion and Embrace;‘ What gain does recognition of solidarity in sin bring: in addition to freeing us ‘from delusions about the perfectibility of ourselves and our institutions‘ (Wink), it pricks the balloons of the self-righteous of perpetrator and victim alike and protects all from perpetuating evil in the name of presumed goodness.‘
One recent example of this comes to us from Bangladesh. First, almost 400 people were killed in a garment factor which collapsed and then 8 were killed in a fire in another garment factory days later. While these factories supplied companies in the UK, Europe and Canada, we also know of the poor working conditions and pay of laborers around the world who supply goods that we here in America buy. Also recently The Foot Locker, Macy's, Sears, JcPenny's, North Place, The Gap, Kohl's, Nordstrom, Carters/Osh Kosh, North Place, Cato, The Children's Place, American Eagle and Target all refused to sign agreements requiring them to pay $500,000 over a five year period to dedicate to workplace safety improvements. This expenditure was not financially feasible.
We grocery shop at Wal Mart and shop at Target. Are we any less culpable for these recent death’s simply because we live far away and have nothing to do with the decisions made by these companies? I think not. We pray, ‘Forgive us,’ so as to be reminded that none of us are innocent. Especially in this age of globalization and multinational corporations, we are connected to people, through our consumer activity, around the world. Our buying and spending affects their lives.
The harsh news is that we are not innocent. The good news is that when we submit to examining our lives and then repent and change our actions, we not only are freed from our own desperation, but also free others, from theirs.
Thursday Eph 2:13-14;18-19
13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
Today’s reading doesn’t specifically mention ‘forgiveness’ although it does describe in concrete terms, the mission of God, which is reconciliation. Earlier this week we considered the heart of forgiveness, which is not our personal emotional well-being, but, instead, the invitation of God to join in God’s being and God’s mission, which is reconciliation. Christ came to reconcile, to bring together a frightened, angry, alienated and violent humanity. And this tells us not only who God is, the Creator and Reconciler, but also who we are. We are those, who through Christ are brought close to God and so discover a way of joy, confidence and peace, for we have nothing to fear. There is no alienation for us, for we are reconciled to our Creator.
This is always important for us to remember. Our acts of forgiveness and reconciliation do not simply affect our own lives. They also bear the seeds of the Kingdom, of a God event, for others. In this day and age others may not see the need for Jesus, but they do experience the need for joy instead of stress, peace instead of anger, and fellowship instead of isolation and alienation. We can talk about Christ and his church being a community of joy, peace and fellowship, but words are cheap. When people see joy, peace and fellowship, which are only ultimately available when we confess, forgive and reconcile, we will have been true witnesses to the reality of God and the need that all people have for Christ. People will only come to understand the vital importance of discipleship to Christ and obedience to God when they see the fruits of it in our lives, first and foremost, in our healthy relationships which are built on forgiveness and reconciliation.
And this brings me to one final point. It is the point that Paul is making in today’s reading. If we wish to convince others that Christ brings peace to our lives, we then must live in peace with one another. Specifically in Ephesians, as in much of what Paul wrote, is the subtext of the divisions between Jew and Gentile which was not simply theological, but cultural and social. Paul was encouraging and instructing both Jews and Gentiles to make space, not only in the church, but in their lives, in their hearts, for people who were truly ‘other.‘ Forgiveness in our personal lives and reconciliation as the work of the church, internally and externally, creating relationships with those who are not ‘one of us,‘ are the seeds of Peace. These are the ways that we teach the world how to exist without violence, aggression or vengeance.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.