Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Like a Mother

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Isaiah 49:8-16a:

Today we continue in our series on prayer by looking at our images and metaphors for God.  If I were to ask you to tell me or to me draw me a picture of what God looks like, I can probably guess that most of us would describe the image we see all the time.  God is an older man, white of course, with a long white beard, maybe, like Michelangelo’s famous portrayal in the Sistine chapel of the creation, he is incredibly buff, but he’s floating in the clouds looking powerful and maybe all knowing.  If you do a Google image search this is the first image that comes up, and we would all shake our heads and say, “yep, that’s what God looks.”  But is that really what God looks like or who God is?

The scriptures give plenty of metaphors for who God is and most of them are male, not necessarily of someone who spends all their time in the gym as Michelangelo would have us believe, but male nonetheless.  Now, some of the male imagery used for God is not very flattering.  The prophets Hosea, Jeremiah and Ezekiel all picture God as an abusive husband, but it’s okay because his wife, who is Israel or Jerusalem depending on the prophecy, “Hey, she was asking for it.”  How we think about God and the metaphors we use for God matters.  Is the image of an abusive husband the image of God we want to hold onto and someone we want to pray to?  If we were to always conceive of God as an abusive husband, our practice of Christianity would be very different, and I strongly suspect that many of us would not be sitting here.  We would not want to follow or worship a God who was like an abusive husband.

Jesus, of course gives us the masculine identity of God as father.  But, the word translated as father, abba, might be better translated in most cases as daddy.  It’s not a title as it is a deeply personal relationship.  So when we pray to God as father, do you conceive of that as someone who is an authoritarian figure, who is sort of around but not intimately involved in our lives, who is more there as protector or provider or disciplinarian, or do you conceive of God, as daddy, someone carrying you on his shoulders, teaching you how to throw a ball or slide into a base, or sitting down and having a tea party with you?  These are two radically different images of God from the same metaphor, and depending on how we use them will impact how we pray.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lord's Prayer

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 6:5-15:

Just 58 words, or 69 words as we say it every week, comprise the Lord’s Prayer, probably the most famous prayer of all time.  A prayer that most of us learned as children.  A prayer that is so familiar to us that most of us can say it without even thinking about it.  And that is part of its problem.  Because we say it every Sunday, at the very least, it’s one we often don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about what we are actually saying or why, it just becomes sort of a rote activity, and we don’t really think about what it is that we are saying or praying for, and so as we look through prayer in the season of lent, we are going to take a brief overhead view of  the Lord’s Prayer

Last week we heard Luke’s version, which can be found in Luke 11which was given after the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  Luke’s version is an abbreviated version of the prayer.  The one we pray is from Matthew, which is given right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.  We should note that this is a thoroughly Jewish prayer.  It is rooted in Jewish prayers and tradition that Jesus and the disciples with which they would have been familiar.  And   I think that based on both versions of the prayer that we shouldn’t really call this the Lord’s Prayer.  Although it was certainly given to us by Jesus, it was given to the disciples, to us, to prayer and therefore might more appropriately be called the disciple’s prayer, and so when we pray, we should pray like this:

Our father…  Based on this tradition, this is how many of us begin our prayers, but as familiar as this is, the term here is not actually father.  The word Jesus uses here is the Aramaic word Abba, spelled like the disco band, which more properly should be translated as daddy or papa.  It’s a word of endearment and of closeness.  Now father in and of itself implies relationship, and potentially close relationship, which is important to note here, because Jesus does not say pray O God of the universe, or Great and guiding light, instead he prays father.  Those other terms can be useful in prayer, but praying to father implies a God who is present and in relationship with us, and praying daddy, implies a God who is close to us.  It’s sort of like the old card that says that while any man can be a father it takes someone special to be a dad, but many of us feel uncomfortable praying to God as daddy, and so we use father.  I should also note that there are some people who have problems with using the term father for God, for lots of different reasons, and we’ll talk about that next week when we talk about the metaphors we use for God and how those impact our prayers.  But we pray to a God who is like a parent to us, who is close to us, who is in relationship with us.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 11:1-13:

Prayer is at the heart of Christianity.  Martin Luther said “to be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”  When you join the United Methodist Church, you pledge your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.  The order is not insignificant.  I do believe that prayer is first because it is the most important.  But, prayer is one of those difficult things for many Christians.  I suspect that even with the quote I just read that few of us have actually ever been taught how to pray, at least formally.  Even though prayer is vital to who we are, to what we do, and to deepening our relationship with God we don’t spend a lot of time learning how to do it, but for the weeks of Lent, we are going to be looking at prayer in many different forms, and we won’t even begin to touch the surface of everything that might be said.
by Carrie Grant, behance.net

Prayer is very important for Luke.  He talks more about prayer than any of the other gospel writers, and he has Jesus praying all over the place for lots of different things, but apparently to the disciples, whatever it is that Jesus is doing does not look like or feel like what they have been doing.  Jesus seems to be like the old EF Hutton commercial, “when Jesus talks, God listens.”   Comparing themselves to Jesus, they must have been feeling a little inadequate, so they begin to think that maybe they are not praying correctly, or maybe that they don’t know anyone about prayer at all, and so they go to Jesus and say, “Lord teach us how to pray.”  This is the only time they ask Jesus to teach them how to do something, and that should give us some comfort I think, because like the disciple, it feels like we should know what you are supposed to be doing and you don’t, and you want to say to Jesus, just like the disciples did, “Lord teach me how to pray.”

I remember as a child sitting in worship one day with my mother, and we got to the point in time in the service when we all recited the Lord’s prayer, and this was the time in which everyone was assumed to know it and so it wasn’t printed in the bulletin, a standard we can no longer expect, and so I turned to my mother and asked her how she knew the prayer, and she told me it was just something you learned by going to church.  That is my earliest memory about prayer, and being taught about prayer and what it meant to pray.  But, how I really learned how to pray was by sort of being pushed into the deep end and being told to swim, which is what happened as soon as I said that I was going to enter the ministry, then I became the designated prayer at seemingly every event, from family meals to church meetings.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Building Monuments

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 17:1-9:

Today’s Gospel passage is known as the transfiguration, and it is read today because it is, appropriately enough, transfiguration Sunday, which is always the last Sunday before Lent begins.  Transfiguration is not a word we use a lot these days, although the Harry Potter fans amongst us probably remembering him going to transfiguration classes.  But we are probably more familiar with the Greek word used here, which is metamorphosis, which means to change, or to be changed.  Jesus is changed into something different from what he had been in his normal appearance so that the Peter, James and John come to understand him very differently than what they had before, although they still don’t get it, or at least Peter doesn’t get it.  But to illustrate that we have to take a step back in the story.

Six days before this, which is how today’s passage begins, Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is, and they respond that some say John the Baptist, and other’s Elijah or one of the other prophets, but then Jesus says, but who do you say that I am, and it is Simon Peter who speaks first and says “You are the messiah, the son of the living God.”  This is the first pronouncement by the disciples of who Jesus is in Matthew, and Jesus responds his famous phrase that Simon is “Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”  It should be noted that Cephas, which is the Aramaic word for rock, also had a connotation when applied to someone of meaning something like blockhead, although as a term of endearment, and that certainly applies to Peter, but then Jesus begins to teach them about what it means to be a disciple and says that “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  How often?  That’s actually a trick question, because it’s in Luke’s gospel that Jesus says daily.

Jesus then leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain, where he is transfigured before them.  We should be seeing some strong parallels here between Jesus and Moses.  When we began looking at Matthew just after Christmas I talked about Matthew’s emphasis in comparing Jesus to Moses, but making Jesus greater than Moses, thus Jesus delivers the sermon on the mount and when he gives the great commission at the very end of Matthew, where do the disciples meet Jesus?  On the top of a mountain.  But this of course is more than just Matthew as Mark and Luke also have this even taking place on a mountaintop, and any time we hear in scripture that something is taking place on a mountaintop we should begin paying close attention, because important things take place on mountains, encounters with God take place on mountaintops. And here is where the disciples come to understand who Jesus is, not just something they can proclaim, but see for themselves.