s184g01 Somerton Park Sunday 17 29/7/01
"Father, hallowed be your name" Luke 11.2
In last Sunday's sermon I spoke about praise with these words: "those who would deride Jesus rather than praise him for including others ... those who would actually crucify Jesus for including others ..." And I went on to show how Christ shows us that God has been this open to other people for all eternity. So I want to begin today's sermon reiterating this message, for so often when we talk about prayer and praise, we get into a mindset that prayer is all about me and God ... and no one else.
Our God is ever in the business of including others, so our prayer and our praise, if it is entirely personal and unrelated to how we interact with other people in our lives is actually not really acknowledging God as God really is ... is not being faithful to the Jesus who was crucified for associating with others ...
So whenever we say the Lord's Prayer, and I guess there are few of us here who wouldn't say the Lord's Prayer, at least once or twice a week - we start by praising God with the words "hallowed be your name". We always begin our prayers saying that God is special, acknowledging that God's mercy encompasses the whole of creation, not just those who come to church ...
And we continue, not by praying that we may be granted entry into God's kingdom, but by praying that God's kingdom comes - again for others as well as for ourselves - for the whole of creation - for all on earth - as it is in heaven - in Matthew's remembrance of the prayer. And it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the coming of God's kingdom on earth will be facilitated if WE forgive and love as we are bidden. It is not all God's work - indeed we could well assume that it is more up to us than it is up to God to do something, or something more ...
And of course the rest of the Lord's Prayer similarly points us to our relationship with others. It is not "Give me this day my daily bread" ... Others have a right to their daily bread as well as us. The blessings we receive are meant to be shared with others. It is not just that I can live in a relatively stress free situation - everyone else has as much a right to this as I do. The baskets of scraps, the wine for people other than the guests, the hauls of fish left for others ... such is the extent of God's blessings.
And we are to forgive others.
It is interesting that having the greeting of peace right at the beginning of the service as we now do, highlights different things. Having the greeting in the middle of the service, sometimes just after the confession and absolution, means that we (rightly) respond to our being forgiven by forgiving others. On the other hand the catechism tells us that the requirements of those who come to the communion are that "They should examine themselves to see whether they repent of their sins and intend to lead a new life. They should have a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death and resurrection, and they should love their neighbours as themselves." (APBA p818). Having the first thing that we do greeting one another, places more emphasis on this and a requirement rather than an optional extra, a tacked on afterthought, which we can neglect if we love God sincerely (or correctly or whatever ...) enough .... And this is also reflected in the saying of Jesus: "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24). This ought to leave us in no doubt about God's real priorities. God wasn't and isn't interested in establishing a new and more correct religion, the adherents of which can gleefully disregard the rights of everyone else. No, God is on about we and all people respecting the rights of others as our FIRST priority.
Do we forgive just as a result of our being forgiven? The parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven his debt of 10,000 talents (Matthew 18.32) points us to the reality that God indeed forgives us first and we should forgive as we have been forgiven. But I have no doubt that we will do well to forgive, even if (mistakenly) we aren't sure that our sins have been forgiven. We can't indeed earn forgiveness of our sins by forgiving others - for there is in fact no need to try to do so. On the other side of the coin, we as Christians can't go around being discourteous to others and excusing ourselves by thinking that we aren't sure that we have been forgiven in the first place! Just forgive others ... allow others the courtesy of the right to exist.
And of course both the other examples that Jesus' gives us in his teaching about prayer in our gospel reading for today, highlight again, that our prayer is inextricably linked to other people.
Jesus gives us the example of the friend who comes to a friend at midnight and the host has nothing to set before his guest and so has to go to another friend for provisions ... It is not just me and my relationship with God. It is me looking for help in providing the appropriate hospitality to someone else who needs it.
And we do need help to provide assistance to others who differ from us. Providing help to those of our own circle of friends is easy. It is much more difficult to provide assistance to those who differ from us, those who don't share our faith perceptions ... If we pray to God persistently we will find that that aid will come and we will have the wherewithal to be of assistance.
And the second example is of a parent and child. Here we are brought back to those with whom we have a proper responsibility. Charity does begin at home. There is no point spending all our time helping the less fortunate and neglecting the members of our family who have a right to our attention. It is often easier to devote our time and energy raising money to feed the starving millions in countries a long way away, than it is to love members of our own families who we perceived to have wronged us.
It strikes me also that we do our duty caring for our families and providing hospitality to those who come to us. We do not actually have to look for others to help, we do not have to solve the whole world's problems ... We are not better Christians because we have the ability to render assistance to every "down and out" within a 10 kilometre radius ...
Our prayer and our praise inextricably links us, yes to God, but most importantly also to other people in acceptance and forgiveness. If it doesn't, then it isn't the God I worship.
The end of our gospel passage talks about God giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask. Of course everyone wants the gift of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on them - or do they? The Holy Spirit will inevitably lead us, not to heaven and God, but to other people, and this is always the more problematical :-)
I guess my attention was also drawn to this as we sang the words of Charles Wesley's lovely hymn recently: "And can it be that I should gain ..." The end of the fourth verse says: "My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed Thee." However where does this following lead us? The end of the fifth verse seems to sum it all up: "Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ, my own." (Living Praise # 11). Something seems to be seriously missing here. There is no reference whatsoever to anyone else in the entire hymn! Is a crown a suitable reward for someone whose religion is entirely personal? I suppose in it's defence, it is a hymn of wonder at the magnitude of God's love which extends even to me, so therefore it can extend to anyone, and yet it really doesn't ever say this.
The words: "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." are in fact not a reference to us having to be persistent in our attempts to strengthen our personal relationship with our heavenly Father - they are an indication that we will have to be persistent, primarily in our own mind, that God will indeed give us the wherewithal to help others. Indeed the assurance of seeking and finding and the door being opened, is the assurance that God loves the person we are seeking to help as much as God loves us who are trying to help the other. Persistence isn't necessary because we are more merciful than God, and we need to cajole God to be more readily merciful towards others. No, persistence is necessary on our part if we ever are to really appreciate just how broad is God's mercy.
I want to end this sermon today to remind you of the paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer found in the service of Compline from the New Zealand Prayer Book (p181) which I think are particularly beautiful:
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen.
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