Sermons

4 Versions of the Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer
4 versions based on Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4
(Also see sermon “Teach Us To Pray” from Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ground of all being,
Mother of life, Father of the universe,
Your name is sacred, beyond speaking.
May we know your presence,
may your longings be our longings in heart and in action.
May there be food for the human family today
and for the whole earth community.
Forgive us the falseness of what we have done
as we forgive those who are untrue to us.
Do not forsake us in our time of conflict
but lead us into new beginnings.
For the light of life, the vitality of life,
and the glory of life are yours now and for ever. Amen.
~The Casa del Sol Prayer of Jesus, The Rev. Dr. J. Philip Newell

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Teach Us How To Pray

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Lesson: Luke 11:1-13

One of my favorite prayers, one that I’ve recited numerous times over the years, goes something like this…
Dear Lord,
So far I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossiped,
haven’t lost my temper,
haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I’m really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God,
I’m going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I’m going to need a lot more help.[i]

The prayer I probably say the most is very similar to Anne LaMotte’s “Help me. Help me. Help me. Now. Now. Now.” This morning our scripture includes possibly the most famous prayer of our tradition, what has become to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” It begins with the disciples asking Jesus about how to pray. Jesus responds with this prayer. It is one of two places where this prayer is recorded in our scriptures, the other being the gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s version has a few more lines and a little closer to the Lord’s Prayer we all probably know by heart.

You may wonder what is so special about this prayer? Well, it is the only time Jesus gives instructions on how to pray. Jesus prays quite a bit in the gospel of Luke. Luke records that Jesus prays here and there, after this event and so forth, but this is the only passage where we learn a little bit about how Jesus prays. We call it the Lord’s Prayer because our Lord, Jesus, taught it to the disciples. The direct connection to Jesus gives it an extra importance and spiritual weight, if you will. It is one of the actions we can participate in along with him and the ancient disciples.

This historic, communal aspect to it makes it unlike any other spoken prayer. Our Presbyterian tradition typically says the Lord’s Prayer in weekly, corporate worship. We are not alone in this practice. Other protestant denominations and the Catholic Church around the globe share it, too. People have been reciting it for two thousand years. It’s a prayer that people know by heart. It is one of the few if not only prayers we Christians know by heart. There are beautiful moments when the prayer, because of its repetition and familiarity, it can become a way a prayer can binds us together.

Kathy is Christian school teacher in North Dakota and during her tenure the public schools went through desegregation. Native American and Caucasian children were in the same classrooms for the first time. She recounts that in the midst of trying to get these two groups to become one, she struggled to find commonalities. The children did not all know the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. But, in both schools, the children had been taught the Lord’s Prayer. That was their starting point. Yes, the public schools evidently said the pledge and the prayer in their schools each morning. It gave them a common language to begin their day together.

Last month the California/Nevada Conference for the United Methodist Church gathered at a large hotel ballroom in South San Francisco. Part of the conference was an awards ceremony for excellence in ministry. One of the recipients was an elderly pastor who is Native American and serves his community on a reservation in Nevada. He suffered a stroke, which left him with impairments in his ability to speak and create verbal language. His community supported him and asked that he continue to serve with a little help because they had so much respect for him. Their story was told and this pastor got up to the microphone in front of a thousand church leaders to accept the award. The emotion of the moment overwhelmed him. He started to stutter and couldn’t get his words out. I’ve heard multiple people relay this story, so I can say that not only was he struggling to get the words out, the audience was also feeling the tension and discomfort.

Finally, his wife leaned in and whispered to him “pray the Our Father.” Then the words sprung out of his mouth with crisp certainty. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” he began. The room filled with tears and voices as they joined him in the prayer. The congregation assembled supported him and followed his lead – praying the words that he knew so well and allowing God to fill that moment in a way that no acceptance speech ever could. It was a powerful moment. So powerful in fact that not only did my friend, who initially told me the story, use it in her sermon the next week. The week following, a lay leader repeated the story because she felt the need to give her own account and witness to the beauty and holiness of that moment in the ballroom when the Lords Prayer brought everyone together.

This is the power of prayer when it is known in our hearts. It is part of us – and can speak for us when we are unable to say more. Ancient Christians thought that this was the prayer to pray and a devout person should pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.[ii] Perhaps they understood the power of inscribing prayer within our being? It is also important to be aware that we are not just repeating the prayer and rattling it off as we inch ever closer to the postlude and coffee hour. I may be speaking from experience here.

Rather, can we speak this prayer and still meant it – still pray it? How long has it been since you paid attention to the words? Sometimes it’s helpful to hear a different version of the prayer so that we can hear what it is we are actually saying. You have an insert in your bulletin with not one, but four different versions of this prayer. [click here] Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pray one of these versions each day this week and see how you feel about the prayer in the end? What lines resonate with you? What lines are challenging? Are there words or phrases you would like to take our? What would you add? Or, is this all the prayer you need? I am interested in your feedback. I am interested to know if there were a version of this prayer you’d prefer us to say during worship? We might try praying with a different version for a month or a season to see if we can hear the prayer and learn to really pray it?

You may find yourself inspired to write your own version. I’ve read many, many versions of this prayer and I can tell you that it is a faithful practice to sit down with scripture and put it into your own words. We ask for daily bread, but what does that mean to you personally? Does the meaning change if you consider the prayer for the entire community? Do we have enough daily bread and need to pray that others have full stomachs, too?

The point of prayer, in a general sense, is to align ourselves with God’s self. One of the defining features of the Lord’s Prayer is the way it begins. Our Father. Jesus addresses God intimately. Father. This was and is a big deal. Jesus addresses the power and might that is the holy mystery we call God in terms that are relational and mutual. Jesus invites us to do the same, to be part of the relationship. He is teaching us to call out to God in a way that we might tell our deepest concerns and dreams to a parent, spouse, lover, or dear friend. It is important to not get too hung up on the words that define the relationship. Rather, use whatever words bring you intimately close to the holiness that undergirds our being. One version not in your bulletin names God like this:
Our Mother
who is all around us
hallowed be thy many names.
For this author, a United Church of Christ seminarian named Maura, this was the way she spoke to God most intimately. I wonder how you might address God in your prayer?

Finally, I want to encourage us to imagine prayer as the act of living. Sitting with our heads bowed and hearts open is one of many acts of devotion. Some form of quiet contemplation is an important part of the Christian practice. And yet, this is not the only way to understand prayer. Prayer is about intimately knowing God and it brings us together. What is the purpose? To create God’s reign right here – to become ever closer to living lives of praise that includes getting closer to justice and peace and wholeness for all of creation.

I am challenged by Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar In the World. Many of us have read this book, and I continue to go back to it for its very title expresses the focus and challenge of her message. The entire earth, our entire life can be open to relationship with our creator. Being in relationship with the mysterious presence that we call God, Father, Mother, the Big G (to quote some of our youth), is not something that needs to wait for the right time or the right words to happen. IF we are brave and persistent and honest with our prayers, with what we ask of God to help us with, perhaps that relationship can become deeper and more encompassing in each moment we are alive? What if prayer is not passive? What if, instead, it was about living in relationship with God and the creation so that everywhere we go we see markers of God’s presence? What if our actions became prayers – answering our own concerns and possibly those of others?

What if we understood prayer to mean not only telling God our concerns for the hungry, but prayer also includes buying the can of soup for the food bank? Visiting someone in the hospital? Stopping to talk with a stranger as we both play Pokemon Go? What if we believed we are part of making a difference and we saw our selves as living prayers? I think many of us often do these things – may we do them with more attention. Perhaps we start with – and return to – this prayer and we use it to help guide us …and we do not stop there. Perhaps we can learn to live in such a way as to be a living prayer? Perhaps we can live each moment in such a way as to embody the desires and needs that we so strongly feel, and in so doing, pray in the ultimate way Jesus taught: to live fully and to allow our hearts and actions to be God’s home. May this be our communal hope and prayer. Amen.

© Diana C. Bell

*Image: Subirachs, Josep Maria, 1927-2014. Eucharist Door with Lord’s Prayer, detail, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56218 [retrieved July 19, 2016]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portal_Detail_at_the_Sagrada_Familia.JPG.


[i] One version can be found here: http://www.beliefnet.com/prayers/protestant/morning/morning-prayer.aspx#j34Z5vXkIBI5UFF6.99

[ii] See the Didache, chapter 8, point 2. http://www.thedidache.com

Mary vs. Martha?

Detail Mary and Martha

Lesson: Luke 10:38-42

As a child, the Bell side of our family lived close enough to gather for big family dinners at holidays and birthdays and sometimes just for fun. Typically we would all gather at my grandmother’s home which was just large enough for most of the women to talk and work in the kitchen, the men to sit in the living room, and the cousins to divide ourselves among the parlor and office to play. I would like to note that if you didn’t help cook, you had to clean which meant the guys scrubbed all the dishes.

As child I would play with my cousins until the meal was served. There were eight of us and I was the third in birth order. But really, my oldest cousin was 4-5 years older than I so it felt to me like my cousin who was ten months older was the leader of the pack, so to speak.

At some point this cousin was asked to help put drinks on the table for the rest of the children. I remember thinking I was glad it was her and not me because I could keep playing. But, then there was a point, Read more →

Who Is My Neighbor?

Lesson: Luke 10:25-37

This morning’s parable is familiar, and even beloved. Many of us learned it in Sunday school, and practically know it by heart. A man was robbed and was left for dead; a priest and a Levite pass right by; and a Samaritan stops and helps. The Samaritan, showing mercy, shows us how to be a neighbor. We should do likewise. But is that it? Certainly there’s nothing wrong with reading the Good Samaritan parable as a “Go and do likewise” kind of story. After all, we are called as Christ’s disciples to imitate him, and so to help, to show concern, and to offer compassionate care to those in need. The Good Samaritan offers us a beautiful example to follow.

Or did Jesus have something more provocative in mind? When I was in seminary, I learned that while myths and fables “create” worlds, in other words, create a framework for why the world around us makes sense, parables “explode” worlds. A parable is supposed to turn our current understanding of the way things work on its head. We’re not supposed to read it, nod agreeably, and walk away comforted.

So what is it in this parable that explodes worlds? A lawyer approaches Jesus with a million dollar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Inheriting eternal life” is not just another way of saying “What must I do to go to heaven?” We could translate this, “What could I do to be really alive, so that my life is not a life for death, but a life for life, a life forever?”[1] The lawyer is saying, “Show me the good stuff, Jesus. Show me the path to the life of God.” Read more →

The Kindness of Strangers

Lesson: Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

The title of this morning’s sermon comes from the most famous line in Tennessee Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Blanche DuBois speaks the line at the end of the play as she’s being led away to a mental institution following a breakdown. It’s supposed to signal to us that Blanche has slipped further into a fantasy world she always inhabited to some extent. She has always had to rely on the kindness of others, and thereby give up some control over her life, because she’s always been out of touch with reality.

Which makes relying on the kindness of strangers sound like not such a good thing – a vulnerability we might like to avoid. Maybe even out of touch with reality. And yet in today’s passage in Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells his followers that’s exactly what they must do. He’s sent them out to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God “has come near”[1] – in other words, that the reality of life lived as though God is the ruler of our hearts and minds is available now. He instructs them to take nothing with them, so they have to rely entirely upon the hospitality and generosity of others for their meals, for a place to stay, for everything.

If Jesus really is sending out these 70 disciples as lambs in the midst of wolves, shouldn’t they be more outfitted, not less?[2] Why, in a potentially hostile environment, would you make the sharing of God’s peace so unavoidably reliant on the kindness of strangers? Don’t Jesus’ instructions seem more than a little out of touch with reality? Read more →

Drop Everything

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Lesson: Luke 9:51-62

Nearly every Sunday for several years now, we include in our morning announcements an invitation that goes something like this: “Wherever you are in your faith journey, there is a place for you here at First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo.” What we mean to communicate is that we recognize that people come into this sanctuary from different faith backgrounds and from no faith background; some know exactly what they believe and some aren’t sure; some aren’t sure they want to believe anything but maybe they’re curious. Maybe they like the feeling of community, or they like that we host a shelter during the winter, or have a great choir, or tackle justice issues like anti-torture, which you can learn about following worship today.

Belief can be hard and it’s worth acknowledging that. So when we say, “Wherever you are in your faith journey, there’s a place for you here,” we’re saying we welcome both believers and skeptics to process their doubts and beliefs here. And let me be really clear about one thing we are not saying. We are not saying, “We want you to hang around here long enough that you come to believe exactly that way the rest of us do.” For starters, if there are 150 people in this sanctuary this morning there are probably 150 ways of believing, too. So there is no lock-step approach to faith here.

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Legion

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Lessons: Luke 8:26-39

I remember the first time it struck me how challenging life is if you’re tormented by your thoughts. I was a young Assistant U.S. Attorney, and the lawyers in the office took turns dealing with people who dropped in with off-the-wall complaints, which happened more often than you might guess. One day when it was my turn, I was sent to the reception area to meet with a man who wanted to bring an action against the F.B.I., because, he said, F.B.I. agents were trying to kill him by poisoning his breakfast cereal. I was stunned, and it was a little scary. What I remember thinking was that, otherwise, he seemed pretty functional. He was dressed normally; he’d found his way to the U.S. Attorney’s office by getting on the right bus.

In 2016, we use medical terminology to describe mental illness, but my encounter with this man helped me understand why people might describe mental illness in terms of possession, of being held captive by a power beyond our control. Now, years later, I’m not sure I know anyone whose family isn’t touched in some way by mental illness. And yet it is still our culture’s last “leprosy” – it’s still frightening to many, it is dealt with inadequately and it leaves the people impacted feeling both shame and somehow “unclean.”

The man in today’s highly symbolic story in Luke’s gospel is considered unclean because he is possessed by what Luke calls demons, and what we might call schizophrenia. He is out of his mind. He is not at all functional. He’s so violent that he’s taken to living in the tombs, among the dead – an unclean place. Read more →

Who Needs Forgiveness?

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Lesson: Luke 7:36-8:3

We always pray for “illumination” but what’m really praying for is God’s help this morning as I preach about forgiveness the same morning we’ve learned that 50 people have died in yet another mass shooting, this time in Orlando.  Today’s sermon deals with God’s forgiveness and our own sense of being forgiven.  What we should forgive, and when; how we can begin to forgive atrocities – these are topics for another day.  However, knowing we’re forgiven by God fuels our compassion to forgive others – so today’s topic is relevant to this morning’s news, as well.

This morning’s passage in Luke’s gospel seems familiar. A woman, ointment, Jesus’ feet: haven’t we heard this before? Yes, and no. While all four gospels feature a version of this scenario, Luke’s version is the one that’s not like the others. It doesn’t point us toward Jesus’ impending death, and it has a surprise ending. In Luke’s version, we are at a dinner thrown by a Pharisee named Simon, whose guests are likely as prominent in the community as he is. At the center of this meal is Jesus, the prophet everyone is talking about. We don’t know why he was invited. Are Simon and his friends admirers, or just curious, or is this something of a test? We don’t know.

Then a woman crashes the party because Jesus is there. Luke tells us she’s a sinner, but we aren’t told the nature of her sin. It could be anything, and the assumption made by past commentators that she’s a prostitute says more about the commentators than about the woman. Her sin might not have been sexy. It might have been cruel or calculating or mean. Whatever she’s done, Simon, at least, and perhaps the other guests as well, seem to have heard about it. Read more →

Things Fall Apart

Today’s sermon was preached by our seminary intern, Patrick Kiptum

At the turn of the last century, colonization was in full blossom in most parts of Africa, my homeland. The British came to my homeland and they stayed and everything changed. For my people, our entire way of life changed. The Europeans came and they introduced Christianity and traditional African civilization crumbled in their wake.

Almost all African tribes and cultures had elaborate civilizations before colonization. They all had the taboos and traditions. Each tribe had its own form of worship. As part of worship, each tribe had its own rituals. For example, I am from the Kalenjin tribe in the Great Rift Valley.  In my culture, one of our rituals was to perform rain dances as a form of prayer for rain each spring.  My tribe offered corn, milk and alcohol to the spirits, in hopes we would be blessed with good rains.

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The “Spirit” in “Spiritual”

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Lesson: Acts 2:1-13; John 14:8-17

Americans are getting less religious but more spiritual, according to the Pew Research Center.[1] Those terms are more than a little vague but in this particular study, “religious” is measured by how important people say religion is to them, and by how often they attend worship services and pray. Which I would argue are also “spiritual” practices but I’m getting ahead of myself. People are classified as “spiritual” in this study if they say they often feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being, as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe.[2]

Behind this, I suspect, is the cultural shift that contrasts “spiritual” against “religion,” by which most people mean, “organized religion,” by which they actually mean what’s perceived as the negative aspects of organized religion. “Religion,” says much of our culture, is full of unreasonable rules and rigid beliefs; it is old-fashioned, judgmental, boring, and irrelevant – and those aren’t even the worst things people come up with. This is why “spiritual but not religious,” or “SBNR,” for short, has become the fastest growing approach to religion in the country – or rather, to non-religion.

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