Sermon for Sunday, October 16, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem PCUSA
Rev. Dr. William Hess
Just before our seminary graduation ceremony, the president, Dr. Joseph Schultz, preached a sermon titled,
“What is Most Important for a Successful Pastoral Career?”
He went through the list:
Great preaching? No!
Good teaching? – No!
A charismatic personality? No!
Firm administrative leadership? No!
What is most important? A disciplined prayer life that reflects a close
personal walk with God.
I will never forget the passion with which Dr. Schultz preached: “Everything depends upon God – not you guys! Thank God! Do not forget – there is a Savior of the world – and you are not it.”
C. S. Lewis understood the secret to living the victorious Christian life: “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”
Prayer at its essence represents the childlike faith that believes in God, trusts in God, and wholly relies on God and God alone. Prayer at its very best is a conversation between you and the One to whom you can take the everyday questions and concerns of your life.
I enjoy the prayers of children – because they so often represent that beautiful, pristine, natural conversation about everyday issues. Here are a few from a book of children’s actual prayers:
Dear God, I went to this wedding and they were kissing right there in church.
Is that OK?
Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.
Dear God, It must be super hard to love all the people in the world, especially my brother. I don’t know how you do it.
Dear God, I wish you could not make it so easy for people to come apart. I had to have 10 stitches and a shot.
Dear God, Is it true my Father won’t get into heaven if he uses his golf words in the house?
I think a good place for us to begin is the Lord’s Prayer.
In Luke’s gospel, the context of the Lord’s Prayer is the observation by the disciples of Jesus that John’s disciples are being taught to pray. Knowing what we now know about the disciples – it may be that they were jealous or envious that John’s disciples were getting something they were not.
The context of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s gospel is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking about the hypocrisy of those who pray in public to be seen by others. Jesus suggests that we should pray in secret, and the Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Nevertheless, Jesus then offers a prayer that is intended to be prayed with others:
Our Father – Give us this day our daily bread – Forgive us our debts – Lead us not into temptation
It is good to pray with others. Who can forget Jesus’ words as he drove the money changers out of the Temple?
“My Father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
I like what one church had in its Sunday bulletin – “This is a House of Prayer for all people.”
There are many reasons why we come here – preaching, teaching, good music, family, friends, a place to serve – but there is one reason that should be at the center of everything that happens here –PRAYER. This is a house of prayer. If you come just to pray – that is a good enough reason to be here.
“My Father’s house is a house of prayer.”
Good friend Bryant Kirkland served at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, NYC. He was named by Time Magazine as one of America’s top ten preachers. Bryant confessed that his ego got the best of him.
The following Sunday, they had just installed a new sound system. After church he was shaking hands with parishioners. There was an elderly, Scottish woman who came every Sunday and always sat in the very last pew.
He asked her, “Were you about to hear when I was preaching today?”
She answered, “Dr. Kirkland, if I wanted to hear what ye had to say, I’d sit nearer the front!”
Some people come to church just to pray – and that is OK.
When Peyton Manning was interviewed after the Super Bowl, he was asked if he was going to retire. His answer was that he first wanted to hug with his wife and children, drink Budweiser, and thank the man upstairs.
The man upstairs? How do you think of God? By what title — by what name?
God is Spirit – not male or female. We relate to God, however, with what we call anthropomorphisms – we think of God in human terms. The truth is, we historically have approached God as male. The Lord’s Prayer uses the Greek term pater – “Father,” and Jesus was known to pray Abba – the Aramaic term a child would use – “Dad.” If that is how you approach God in prayer – fine.
But for persons who have been abused by a father, for those who have had hearts broken because of a father’s unfaithfulness – where trust has been broken again and again – well – Father is a difficult term with which to approach God.
The truth is – the Bible has many names for God – and those who have developed a disciplined prayer life approach God by many of these names.
Elohim – God, the Creator; El Shaddai – God the Almighty; Adonai – the Lord;
Yahweh – Jehovah – Lord God; Yahweh Jirah – the Lord will provide;
Yahweh Shalom – the Lord our Peace.
Spirit in Hebrew is in the feminine form – ruah.
Shekinah – used in the Talmud, represents the feminine attributes of God.
Isaiah 49:15 – “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that we possible, I would not forget you.”
Matthew 23:37 – Jesus laments over Jerusalem and says, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
“Who art in Heaven”
We are reminded that this is not our home. Heaven is our home. We pray with the trust that the psalmist expressed:
“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”
From the cross our Lord said to the penitent thief, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”
That is all we need to know.
“Hallowed be Thy name”
Holy is God’s name. Revered and respected is God’s name.
The Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
Have you noticed that Muslims are respectful of the name of Muhammad – for when they say his name they say – “peace be upon him?”
The very name of God demands our utmost respect and honor.
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”
Hebrew parallels. One line defines the next. God’s kingdom comes where God’s will is done. There is a huge difference between growing up in a loving, healthy, Christian home, and growing up in a dysfunctional home of selfishness, greed and bitterness. One can be like heaven on earth, the other can be like – well – you know what it can be like! God’s kingdom comes when and where God’s will is done.
“On earth as it is in heaven”
There is more to our faith than believing in Jesus so you can go to heaven. Christian faith is more than fire insurance.
How we live on earth matters to God. Didn’t Jesus teach us, “When you have done it to the least of these . . . you have done it to me.”
Who can dismiss the hope of what the angels were singing at our Lord’s birth, “Peace on earth, good will to all people.” Our Reformed Tradition has long affirmed the mission of the church to address both the spiritual and the temporal needs of all God’s people. There is no peace without justice.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
It is a humble request for our basic daily necessities. There is that very important word from Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12).
There is that word from the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
I was taught that this is true – not because God provides us with everything we want, but it is true because God changes our wants.”
“And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”
Forgiveness is one the most important aspects of living a Christ-like life. This petition is so important that Jesus, as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, says that if we forgive others, God will forgive you, but if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has expressed this well:
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
“And lead us not into Temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “We gain the strength of the temptation we resist.”
Thomas Merton, “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”
John 17:15: “I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
“For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
This is the ending to the Lord’s Prayer that is found in some versions of Matthew 6:13. It is a later addition to the prayer that was not in the original texts.
The Didache – written around 90 AD – was an early church worship book. It includes this ending – so we know that it has been used since the earliest days.
Many of the early followers of Jesus were faithful Jews – and they would all be very familiar with a popular text from I Chronicles 29:11-13.
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.”
It is good to have the Lord’s Prayer. When we find it hard to pray – here it is to help us.
Years ago a deacon and I were taking Home Communion to a person in a dementia unit. The woman was non-verbal, not a word. We prayed and when we started the Lord’s Prayer she praying it word for word out loud – and I was so shocked I opened my eyes – to see that the deacon had her eyes open too – we were both stunned.
I suspect that even when we have lost all our faculties – The Lord’s Prayer is still in there.
A final comment about prayer from one of my heroes, C. S. Lewis.
C.S. Lewis – There are two kinds of people: those who pray to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says,
“All right, then, have it your way.”
In the Humble Service of our Risen Lord,