Saturday, July 30, 2016

How should we pray?


The Lord’s Prayer
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father,hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Perseverance in Prayer
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

What do you pray for?
When we read the Lord's Prayer in Luke....what do you see?  Well we do notice it’s not the form we usually use liturgically. The Matthew version is closer to what we say whenever we say the Lord’s prayer. First of all, it’s direct. Begins with an ascription of holiness to God. Naming God as singular and holy.  And it assumes an intimacy, a relationship. God is like your father, or mother. No grandiose, cosmic, regal, honorific titles...And it deals intrinsically with the most basic needs, our daily bread in all of its forms.
He prayer presents us as worthy of  forgiveness based on an action of ours, that we have already forgiven others. And the word associated with sins is debts, the way we Protestants pray it.  There is this very real sense of obligation, what is owed to others, what others owe to us.  But we can’t miss the fact that thee is also the very concrete sense of economic debts as well in that it was an essential paft of the Jewish understanding of the law that there was to be a debt amnesty every seven years. (The basis of our bankruptcy laws). The principle was that no family was to be perpetually indebted to others, that poverty and dependence was not to extend over generations.  And Jesus’ self-understanding pf his own mission can be seen as wanting to make that finally real. The sermon on the mount, the beatitudes, can e  seen as an expression of the principle of jubilee.
The Lucan version ends with the desire that we not be tested. it’s a conscious awareness of how hard it is on a daily basis to do the right thing, with values often in conflict and situations often complex.
The request are all very direct. There’s not much "buttering up" of God going on.
It’s interesting that Jesus follows up this teaching with a parable. Of a late night visit to a friend ready for bed. Who has to be pestered until he finally gives in. What does the parable tell us? Is Jesus telling us that God is like that neighbor?  Is he perhaps reflecting his own experience? Encouraging us to keep praying, keep focused, keep asking even when God seems unresponsive? It’s an interesting image of God.
But In the end, there is reassurance. He calls on our shared experience as parents. That most parents will do their best to give their children  good things. (The reference to you who are evil is closer to imperfect than morally evil. Jesus view of us in this teaching about prayer is quite compassionate. Throughout this whole discussion Jesus is quite understanding of  the frailty of w e humans who despite our limitations, struggle to do our best. (Again, does this understanding come from his own experience?)
In the end, what is it we are absolutely assured to receive? Well, not exactly what we ask for. We will receive what we need, not necessarily what we want. And In this case, what we are guaranteed is the Holy Spirit...that which can sustain us through all the difficulties and frustrations.

So, when you pray….be direct. Be explicit. With no fear. Say exactly what you feel. And keep coming back. Again and again. And be open to receiving the Holy Spirit and willing to trust and rely on its sustaining power.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A basket of summer fruit


As we gather for worship today, we are here on the one year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner.  (Last week  also the anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland…)  And so I must ask, one year later, where are we?

Amos gives us an image of …  a basket of summer fruit… I’m sure at least one year when this passage came up I actually brought in a basket of summer fruit for us all to share…it’s ironic because it is basically a pleasant image…but for Amos, it’s a sign that the best is past…that what looks fresh and pleasant and abundant is already rotting…
Thank you, Leila....

We recall that Amos last week protested that he was not a “prophet or a prophet’s son…”, just a simple working man, a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees…but nevertheless, he answers God’s call to speak to God’s people, and his people in his own language…

In his book Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Breuggeman sees this passage as a sign of a society where everything and everyone has been commodified….
Where there is no time for rest because as, the prophet says,
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat for sale?

What has been set in motion is a time of a society falling apart…and be clear, this is not a judgment imposed from outside but a result of allowing  the bonds that tie us together to weaken and break…our worship, our feasts and celebrations will be empty…and meaningless in Goid’s eyes…tp the extent that we do no tcare fpr the weakest among us, we bepcms vulnerable to falling apart…vulnerable to any enemy
And in such a society, the biggest loss of all will be the absence of the word of God…
Prophecy is like the best science fiction, like Star Trek, for example…….it’s not a predictive describing of what will be but a metaphoric description of what already  is…
On this Sunday one  year after the death of Eric Garner, what is in  our basket of fruit?
Given that Eric’s last words were I can’t breathe, I was moved to include this hymn today:
1 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
2 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
3 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
4 Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

And then these words from the Peace Poets:

"I still hear my brother crying ‘I can’t breathe’
Now I’m in the struggle and saying 'I can’t leave'
Calling out the violence of these racist police.
We ain’t gonna stop till people are free
We ain’t gonna stop till people are free"

Might I say, I’m proud that the Peaec Poets recorded their CD here at West- Park…

This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit.[a] He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”[b] Then the Lordsaid to me,
“The end[c] has come upon my people Israel;
    I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple[d] shall become wailings in that day,”
says the Lord God;
“the dead bodies shall be many,
    cast out in every place. Be silent!”
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, “When will the new moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
    and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
    and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
    and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
    I will make the sun go down at noon,
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
    and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
    when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Reflections on the nation....


We gather for worship on the day before July 4th.

So there’s our American flag.
It’s always been involved in controversy. It was removed from the sanctuary in ‘70’s. The question was raised as to whether there should ever be any presence of the American flag at all in a church? We brought the flag back on the Sunday after 9/11, which was September 16th. Andre came in wearing an American flag shirt. He brought along a friend who was a Muslim to play the flute. To show we would not give in to the hysteria. (That still is with us…) This was one of the times I was most proud of what we were doing. We wanted to express love for our country and people and at the same time make clear that our grief was not a call for vengeance. The flag remained  for several years. I can’t say why or when it came down again. 

I think of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Who said the inspiration of a prophet must be Love. A prophet musty come from a people and speak to that  people. Always owning identity with that people.

Today our bulletin cover features Katherine Lee Bates. 
She was a professor at Wellesley. For 25 years she lived with Katherine Coman. Though Katherine has been claimed as an lgbtq hero, there has been an ongoing academic  debate. Over that issue with much discussion of the topic of  “Boston Marriage”… One friend recently cleared this up by saying well, she may or may not be lesbian, but she sure was QUEER.

I remember Seeing our flag raised in Managua, Nicaragua, celebrating our revolution. And having Bill Coffin lift up these words: 

Oh, beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

They seem to have special meanings we stood on the brink of an invasion.  That was the first time I felt the critical power in that song...

Our texts today have much top say about “De-privileging” and hospitality. There is the story of Naaman. He was a serious Syrian with all  the accouterments of power.  And a case of leprosy that won’t go away. It’s a captured slave girl who tells him about Elisha. He goes to the king. And by doing so scares him to death. Then he is directed to  Elijah. He expects big dramatic demands and actions from this famous prophet. Waving hands and all. Dramatic magic. But Elijah only makes a simple request for washing. And Naaman comes out Clean “as a child”..(did he have a new child like point of view as well?) It was like Baptism. The metaphor here is that Naaman  has to give up all the trappings of power and privilege to be healed.

Likewise, in Luke, Jesus sends his workers out “stripped down” and vulnerable. (They are not even to wear sandals…so that their hosts will have to wash their feet…hospitality…) It’s about Inviting us into a new space of openness and vulnerability.

Paul in Galatians talks about  giving up privileges of “circumcision…..”

We should notice a couple of points…if we are not offered the peace of the house, we are to shake off the dust from our feet and move on…there is no command to keep beating your head against the wall….

The disciples come back boasting of their accomplishments. Jesus, says, yeah well I saw Satan fall from heaven….all that is important is that your names are written in heaven…

We spend some time talking about these passages together and then we celebrate communion.  This is Russ’ first time to be serving  communion as an ordained elder.
And we finish the service by singing I’m gonna live so God can use me…

Our conversation on these issues has only just begun…