lord's prayer

Sermon: "Earth Invaded by Heaven," June 21, 2015 Lord's Prayer Series Part 2

This sermon was given as part 2 of our 4 part sermon series and adult study on "Living the Lord's Prayer." You can find out more about the series here.

June 21, 2015
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-4

"Earth Invaded by Heaven"
Rev. Ryan Slifka

"Psalm 85" by John August Swanson

"Psalm 85" by John August Swanson

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We started our sermon series last week with “Our Father, in heaven,” and talked a bit about God coming close, yet being beyond our imaginations. Something of a mystery we can’t see. Yet one that is close as our own breath.

God is an intangible mystery, as close as God may be. God is not concrete in the sense that we can grasp and touch God directly. And so one of the famous criticisms about Christianity, and religion in general, even, is that they are all about “pie in the sky when you die.” Not concerned with the material world. The stuff of everyday life. Or human suffering.

But then we have this next line: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Kingdom” is a bit of an old timey-word that we in the democratic nations of the West don’t use much anymore. It conjures up images of Kings and Queens, Knights and maybe even the occasional dragon (if you watch Game of Thrones). Sometimes in the Bible it’s called God’s kingdom, sometimes the kingdom of heaven, but the meaning is the same. In the Bible it’s often imaged as what’s called the “peaceable kingdom.” Human beings put aside their warring and study peace on God’s Holy mountain. Lion’s and lambs lay down together. Human hunger and poverty are wiped out. In favor of abundance.

One of the most powerful images happens shows up in the final book. The heavenly city of Jerusalem comes down from the clouds to earth. A tree of life grows up in the midst of it. All tears are wiped away. Suffering is no more. Death no longer holds power over the inhabitants of the earth. Occasionally, we have thought of God’s kingdom (or the kingdom of heaven) as some otherworldly place off in the clouds where God lives. And we go. If we are lucky. But it’s the reality of God coming to us here. It’s God’s royal rule. God’s reign, God’s realm, God’s commonwealth. What it’s like when God is in charge of things. The material world. When we pray this way we are praying for God’s invisible reality to become the visible reality of life on earth. Your kingdom come. The earth finally set right.

Which is kind of a strange thing to pray for, if you think of it. Because by praying this way, we imply that the way the world is arranged. The world as it is. Is not how things are supposed to be. That the world as we know it is not the way it is supposed to be. Or God wants it to be. When we look out on the world, look out on our country, and look in to human history we see all sorts of struggle, suffering and trouble that make us think: “that should not be.” War. Violence—both religious and secular. Inequality. Poverty. Hunger. Disease. Ecological destruction. Or when we look into our own communities. Our own backyards and in our own lives we see lives touched by brokenness and pain. Trauma. Intergenerational abuse and violence. Addiction. Cruelty. Greed. And the sometimes untimely deaths of those who we love and care for. When we encounter these things, we realize that there is something that isn’t quite right about them. There’s something deep inside us, some deep intuition that says, “this is not the way it should be.” It ought not to be that way.

“Thy kingdom come” touches that deep intuition that many of us—if not all of us hold—is true. At least according to the story of the scriptures. And according to this prayer. That the running assumption in the Bible is that the world as it is, as we see it, is not the world as it is meant to be. That things as they stand in human life are not the way that God created the world to be, nor the way God intends the world to be. It ought not to be that way. And it should be different. To pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven is to pray for a different world. A whole new one.

Now, I am well aware that talk like this can sound sentimental. Some kind of flowery, hippy-dippy talk. To say that a better world is possible. We have this temptation in the church and in society to simply think that if only people were nicer to each other. Or more educated. Or would vote for the right political party. Or recycled. Or, on the opposite side of the political spectrum—if we just threw all the bad guys in jail or killed all the terrorists. If we all just would do the right things. Then God’s kingdom would come. If only it were that easy. Because we probably would have got it done it by now.

But we have this conviction as part of our faith tradition not just that a better world is possible. If we do x, y, or z. But rather that God is already at work creating that kingdom. And it’s not just a fanciful dream. But we have received a vision of that kingdom here on earth. We have caught a glimpse of it. In the flesh. In fact, one of the first things Jesus says, in the good news according to Mark—the earliest of the accounts of Jesus—is “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God has come near. Has been inaugurated. Has become present in the here and now. In Christ we have seen that future that our hearts long for already among us. In Jesus, we see the kingdom breaking in. Heaven, the unseen beauty and reality of God, invading earth. And turning it all upside-down.

We followed the whole of the good news according to Mark from January until Easter this year. We saw Jesus ministry in full. In Christ, people experience healing. In Christ, demons—all the things that hold us captive and hold us back from life as God has always intended it—are cast out. In Christ, the hungry are fed. And those who cry out for mercy receive it. Those who are poor and those who are oppressed are given justice. And receive fullness of life. And even in his own death, the powers of the world, the power of death no longer hold their sway. Because in Christ we’ve seen the dawning of a whole new world. We have received an answer to that prayer “your kingdom come” and “your will be done.” Because heaven has touched down on earth for all the world to see.

The thing is… the good news for us, is that it means that not only the world might be different. It also means that our lives might be different, too. We pray that God’s kingdom might come. And God’s will be done. That heaven might invade our own lives, too. Here and now. It means that we can experience healing an wholeness for ourselves and in our relationships. Forgiveness is possible. For us and others. It means that we can be set free from our own demons that hold us back from fullness of life. Addictions, histories of violence, and family abuse. It means that the alleviation of poverty, hunger, homelessness and disease, are not just idealistic pipe-dreams. But God’s will and God’s way, God’s dream for the earth. Because for those of us who have seen that glimpse of God’s kingdom. Have seen a better way. Won’t settle for anything less any more.

Brothers and sisters: we pray “your kingdom come” and “your will be done” with a sense of incredible hope. And expectation. That the world, and our lives, not only ought not to be that way. But that they don’t have to be that way, either. And are, in fact, not gonna be that way in the end. We can start again. Because we have seen the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.[1] Walking the earth. In the flesh. Feeding, healing, and raising the dead. In Christ there is resurrection. In Christ there is new life. God’s future kingdom can be known. Can be experienced. In the here and the now. And always.

And so we pray “thy kingdom come” and “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Because our eyes have already seen the glory of the coming of the LORD.

Amen.

[1] I owe the phrase “that better world our hearts know is possible” to my friend Trevor, who got it from Charles Eisenstein. See Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, North Atlantic Books, 2013.

Following the sermon, the congregation was invited to sing "O Day of God, Draw Nigh," a hymn that, in similar fashion to the prayer, calls for God's kingdom to come. The tune is the well-known St. Michael, from the 16th century Geneva Psalter. The words, however, were written by R.B.Y. Scott, a United Church Minister and world-renowned scholar on biblical wisdom literature. Written in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, the hymn reflects the deep social concern of the Biblical story:

O day of God, draw nigh
in beauty and in power;
come with your timeless judgment now
to match our present hour.

Bring to our troubled minds,
uncertain and afraid,
the quiet of a steadfast faith,
calm of a call obeyed.

Bring justice to our land,
that all may dwell secure,
and finely build for days to come
foundations that endure.

Bring to our world of strife
thy sovereign word of peace,
that war may haunt the earth no more,
and desolation cease.

O day of God, draw nigh
as at creation's birth;
let there be light again,
and set your judgments on the earth.

Sermon: "Near and Far," June 14th, 2015 Lord's Prayer Series Week 1

This sermon was given as part 1 of our 4 part sermon series and adult study on "Living the Lord's Prayer." You can find out more about the series here.

June 14, 2015
Third Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-4

"Near and Far"
Rev. Ryan Slifka

JESUS MAFA.   The Sermon on the Mount  , from   Art in the Christian Tradition  , a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.   http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48284   (retrieved June 12, 2014).

JESUS MAFA. The Sermon on the Mount, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48284 (retrieved June 12, 2014).

                So, as I mentioned earlier, this morning we'll be hosting the beginning of the Lord's Prayer this morning. The first few lines: “Our Father In Heaven, Hallowed be your Name.” I’ll admit I won’t really go in to deeply about the “hallowed be your name” part, and will be concentrating on the “Our Father, in Heaven” bit. Guess you’ll just have to be a part of the adult study to get it all in!

                And, as I mentioned at the beginning of the service, the Lord’s prayer is the way Jesus teaches his followers to pray. So the Lord’s Prayer sets the pattern for prayer.  While this is true, it’s not the whole picture. The ancient church used to use a Latin phrase to describe the relationship between prayer and everyday life: “lex orandi, lex credendi.” As we pray, so we believe. Or “the way of prayer is the way of living.” How we prayer and who we pray to paints a picture of how we see God. And it shapes the kind of people we are supposed to be. The great English writer John Stott once said that the whole point of the prayer is to teach us what sort of God our God is. And what sort of priorities a follower of Jesus should have.[1] To put it another way: the prayer offers us a vision of who God is. And what it means to be God’s people. Who God is. And who we are to be.

                And so with the first line we learn what sort of God we have. When the prayer begins, “Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

                God as Father. This is the word that Jesus used to describe his relationship with the divine. That God is spoken of as divine parent. The word “Father” has become difficult for some. Some have grown to see the word as a sign of a larger built-in inequality between men and women. That when God is called “father,” or imaged exclusively as male it inherently reinforces sexist patterns of thinking and behavior that are already deeply ingrained. This can be, and has been the case. And this needs to be taken seriously. Because God is ultimately beyond our human categories of gender (our Father in heaven—which is what we’ll get to). And beyond simple biology of male and female. Not to mention the fact that we miss out on a multitude of feminine images there are for God. Found in the bible itself.

And yet, the point of the prayer is not that God is male. But that the image is one of relationship. A parental relationship. Between one who cares for, loves, guides, and protects their children. And knows them intimately. This means that God is not in some far off place or dimension beyond the clouds. But God is intimate relationship, is involved and active in human life and in the whole of creation.  “Our Father.” An immanent presence. One who knows us at the core of our being. A mothering presence. Nurturing, and with us in our joys and in our struggles. Mothering and Fatherly. Caring, as a parent should be. And close as our own breathe.

Yet, God is also figured as “in heaven.” A God who is also transcendent. Ultimately beyond our full knowing and not limited by our joys or our struggles. There is some confusion as to what the scriptures mean by “heaven.” Often, in a way that has been shaped by pop culture, we tend to see heaven as a sort of place off in the clouds that we go to when we die. That is not to say that God’s relationship with us end in death. We affirm, with Paul that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ. Yet, in the scriptures, the heavenly realm is not simply a place where we God when we die. It is the unseen reality of God that is ultimately beyond our full sight and our full knowledge. We “see as through a glass darkly” says Paul. This means that God is there with us in our struggles, but God is not limited by our struggles. God is with us in the present moment, but beyond it. We can imagine a future beyond a dead end we or the world might face in our lives. Because God is not just bound to what we see with our eyes. To speak of God as Father is to speak of a God who is caring, and intimately close, nearby, not in some far off place. Yet, to speak of God as “in heaven” is to speak of a God who is ultimately beyond our full knowing. And our full knowledge. This is, in John Stott’s words, this is “the sort of God we have.”

But what does this all mean? It’s all fine and good to have ideas about God. As I said before, praying in this way is not only about the God we have. It’s also about what it means to follow Jesus. To be God’s people. Our lives are lived out in response to the God we’ve got. It’s about what it means to be the kind of person, the kind of people, who call God our divine parent.

Even the first word means so much. Our. Not “my Father.” Not our church’s Father. But ours. We don’t just have an individual relationship with God. It’s not just about me and my faith. Or me and my salvation. It’s communal. When we pray like this, we join with Christ as our brother, and all the others whom God has named as children. It might be thought of as prayer with all the people of Jesus. But it also may be thought of as a prayer alongside of every human being and all of creation. Because all people, and indeed the whole creation, have been claimed by Gods love. And invited in to relationship with God. God has filed the adoption papers, even if not all have said “yes.”

Here there is a radical equality among people. No one comes to God with any kind of special privilege. None of the categories that divide people, or give them a leg up over other people in our world count before the creator of all things. Not our race. Not our gender or our sexual orientation. Not how much or how little money we may have. Not what we’ve done. Or have had done to us. Whether we are from the suburbs of Vancouver, the streets of Baghdad, or a Cree reserve in rural Manitoba. Nobody owns God. Nobody has a leg up over the other. Because God has drawn intimately close to all people. Because God is the divine parent of all people. And because God has claimed us all as beloved children. This is the kind of people we are to be.

And this is why we do a lot of the things we do as the people of Jesus. The Sonshine Lunch Club soup kitchen, and the St. George’s Pantry offer food and companionship, unconditionally because we believe that we have been made brothers and sisters with all people. This is why we offer deep welcome pass the peace of Christ at the beginning of every service. Because in God’s eyes there’s no difference between a member and a new comer, someone who’s got their life together or someone whose life is in shambles. And this is why Christians since the beginning have believed in the sacred worth of every human life. Because this is how Jesus taught us to pray. And as we pray, so we are. And to become more like every single day.

So, dear friends. Brothers and sisters of Christ. And in Christ. The be a Jesus person is to be a person of prayer. Not just any prayer. But the prayer that begins like this: “our Father…” “In heaven…” The God who we pray to is a God is with us in the here and now. Yet everywhere and always, always beyond our wildest imaginations. To pray like this is to enter into relationship with the God who has claims us as our divine parent. Making us not only beloved children of that parent, but brothers and sisters with each other. And all people through space and time. One that erases the distinctions, things that we use to divide us from each other. And one that invites us in to a whole new way of living. To pray as Jesus prays, and to follow Jesus into the world, is to live in this kind of relationship. Not just with God. But with our fellow creatures. As full equals. God may be ultimately beyond our knowing. But this is who our tradition says God is. And who we are created, and called, to be. Here and now.

AMEN.

[1] John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: IVP Academic, 1985).

Living the Lord's Prayer: Adult Study and Sermon Series

"Christ Teaching his Disciples to Pray," by an Unknown French master, 13th century

"Christ Teaching his Disciples to Pray," by an Unknown French master, 13th century

This summer, we'll be taking a four-week journey through the Lord's Prayer--the most well recognized prayer in the Christian tradition. Christians all over the world (if not most of them) say the prayer each Sunday as they worship. Yet, even some life-long worshipers haven't had the opportunity to stop and consider it's meaning or practical application.

In this exploration of the Lord’s Prayer we discover this prayer as the guide for all of our praying. It is the pattern that Jesus gave his followers (you, me, us, the church) to pray authentically and faithfully. Every Sunday we recite and are reminded of how to pray, what to pray for, and to whom we pray to. As we pray it is also an invitation to live our lives in the way Jesus invites us to, and to imagine the world as God imagines it for us. This series and adult study is meant for people of all different experience/knowledge levels--whether you have no idea how to pray, are a beginner to the Way of Jesus, or whether you've got it tattoo on your heart from praying it your whole life.

Sermon/Worship Series

Sunday, June 14th: "Near and Beyond" ("Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name")
Sunday, June 21st: "Earth Invaded By Heaven" ("Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven," and "give us this day our daily bread")
Sunday, June 28th: "Free to Forgive" ("Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us")
Sunday, July 6th: "A Power Not Our Own" ("Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" and "yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen")

Adult Study

Monday Mornings June 8-29th 11:00am (location to be announced)

In the adult study we will reflect on each portion for the prayer set for that Sunday. Signup is not required. There will be no required readings ahead of time (other than the prayer itself!), but if you wish there are several books for further reading that can be ordered online or into our local bookstore.

If you'd like to hold a small reading group of your own on one of these, please let Ryan Slifka know, and he can order the books for you.

Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord's Prayer and the Christian Life
John Dominic Crossan: The Greatest Prayer: Recovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord's Prayer
William J. Carl III: The Lord's Prayer for Today