Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28 Sermon: Praying for Stuff

Sermon Texts: Matthew 7: 7-11
1 Chronicles 4: 9-10

Sermon Notes:

Praying for Stuff:
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a mercedes benz
my friends all drive porsches I must make amends
worked hard all my lifetime no help from my friends
so oh lord, won't you buy me a mercedes benz

Problem with praying for stuff is that I am suspicious about putting so much of my attention on myself will distract me from looking outward and praying for the relief of suffering much worse than my own desire for more or better things.

The desire for more or better things is a slippery path in our society. This way of thinking is the state religion of the culture we live in. It is too easy to get washed down the treacherous river of greed when we spend so much time thinking about what we might lack.

But, I’ve also had the opportunity to witness and talk with those who have

(((((((I brought these kinds of ideas to my idea of having this sermon, and I thought what I could use as kind of a foil book that was the counterpoint to what I wanted to say, that I could easily defeat in a preaching smack down. But, I hadn’t read the book. What I thought it represented was the essence of the prosperity Gospel.

The prosperity Gospel confuses consumerist impulses with God’s guidance. In all times, there have been pretenders to the Gospel, and I believe the prosperity Gospel, which uplifts the financial magnanimosity of the minister and leaders as evidence that God blesses them with gifts.

From the sheer spectacle of a minister flying from one megachurch to another in a private helicopter to the sickening displays of frivolous expenditures on expensive cars, suits, and jewelry, the prosperity Gospel communicates a message to it’s adherents that “if you do what we do, and believe what we believe, you can live how we live!”

The last stanza of Joplin’s “Lord won’t you buy me, puts into satirical lyric what the prosperity gospel actually broadcasts to the world:
lord won't you buy me a night on the town
I'm counting on you lord please don't let me down
prove that you love me and buy the next round
oh lord, won't you buy me a night on the town

So I took all these kinds of suspicions to the book that I had heard articulated that heresy that God wants to give you more stuff to glorify God. But, I did so with smugness, and fortunately, I decided would be unfair of me to criticize what I had not even read—and the size of the book wasn’t quite enough to say that I was intimidated by it’s length!

what I took away from the prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkenson, is that God can work in mysterious ways, Wilkinson addresses my concern in the first few pages: he writes, “Is it possible that God wants you to be “selfish” in your prayers? To ask for more—and more again—from your Lord? I’ve met so many earnest Christians who take it as a sign of immaturity to think such thoughts. They assume they’ll seem impolite or greedy if they ask God for too many blessings. I want to show you that such a prayer is not the self-centered act it might appear, but a suprememly spiritual one and exactly the kind of request our Father longs to hear.”

Basically, throughout the book, the author shows that asking God to “enlarge his territory” is another way of saying, “bless me to help you expand the boundaries of the Kingdom of God.”
1. Asking for blessing is asking for God’s grace to be visible and reflected in your life.
2. Expanding your territory is making more room for God to move in the world.
3. Once we have received the great blessings of God, we ask God to keep us from evil—we ask to be kept from the temptation.

The author wrote that he’s been asked if it was wrong to pray for advancements in the world of business, and he answers that if that business is being done in a way that Christ would find appealing, then yes, of course. Why not ask?

Perhaps praying for stuff is better than not praying at all—if you’re sincerely and genuinely seeking connection and guidance with God, that’s better than just being aloof. God can direct you if you’re seeking a connection.

Perhaps seeking that connection will help us discern just how difficult it is to conduct business in a way that Jesus would find appealing. As far as investments go, would Jesus applaud the growth of a tobacco company that targets children in Africa to become the next generation of smokers? Would he applaud the church that gains from investing in that kind of company?

As with praying out of anger, staying in touch with God even when we are “asking for ourselves,” it is better to commune with God in all our fallen state. God knows who we are, so we might as well be honest with ourselves about that.

Praying for Personal Gain for when one is already surrounded by plenty can turn to greed. Praying for personal gain when one is surrounded by debt and confusion can turn to a sense of God-given purpose and direction.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Father's Day Sermons: Praying out of Anger:

Prayers that make me angry/prayers of anger.

Have you ever been in a situation where you overheard a prayer that made you angry?  Perhaps it was the way something was said, or something that the person praying attributed to God that you don’t or can’t believe God participates in.  Perhaps it’s a prayer of retribution, like we heard in the Psalm, involving the cruel and cold murder of infants for the purpose of ethnic cleansing. 

Maybe it’s just something that gnaws at you.  A word or a phrase that someone uses that really gets on your nerves.  This past week, I was driving and listening to Sports radio, where Dan Beebe, the commissioner of the Big XII was announcing that the 10 remaining schools of the Big XII would stay together in one conference.  He then attributed preservation of the Big XII (something that occurred in backroom deals between billionaires and TV executives, and University Board members) to God’s will. 

Yes, a deal that ingratiates nine Big XII member schools to the University of Texas, making it even more rich and powerful, is something that God wants, so if you’re opposed to it, you must be opposed to God too. 

Speaking of God in prayer in this way annoys me.  It’s fairly humorous and transparently wonkish in the case of Dan Beebe.  I wanted to write him and say, I’m a Hog fan, does God love the SEC too?  You would think so, with five straight years of National Championships, after all. 

A key question of prayer is, “to what should we attribute God’s attention and power?”  Is it appropriate to solicit God’s action in matters that benefit some, (including yourself) while disadvantaging, even harming others? 

If you do believe that some prayers wrongly characterize God, how are we as Christians who believe certain things about God, supposed to encounter such prayers? 

Perhaps the prayers that make me angry are some of those borne of an anger that I have not felt.  Perhaps I am just ignorant of the feelings (and blessedly so) that would cause some people to pray for God to take vengeance or bash babies brains out on the rocks.  Does that mean I should sit back silently and accept blindly those prayers when I hear them being prayed? 

If I were one of those Israelites enslaved by the Babylonians and betrayed by the Edomites, would I be praying the same thing, or if I had the wherewithal to speak up, would it be right for me to say, wait a minute Ahaz, I don’t think we should be asking God to take innocent children and bash their brains out on the rocks—after all, what if people hear that and think that God is giving us license to act in the name of God in that way, and do something terribly inhuman. 

What do we do when we encounter prayers that make us angry?

The following is the opening paragraph to the "angry prayer project."  The introduction helps us learn to be in communion with God even in the midst of our anger:
                                                                                --Elie Wiesel 

        Inspiration and healing through angry prayer?
        At first, those ideas don’t seem compatible.  But if you’re so stuck in an angry place that you can no longer commune with the Divine then how can you ever experience inspiration and healing?
        All people of faith are called to a life of honesty and prayer.
        Sometimes, however, because of the way we are raised up, even the most faithful find it difficult to pray truthfully during times of anger, frustration and stress. 
         Are you one of those people who is angry at God or who feels bottled up with this brokenness?  Have you ever considered how many biblical heroes felt that same kind of brokenness with God and yet prayed their way through it?
         I believe that God calls us to transition through the difficult emotions that plague us toward a place of peace by naming the problem, proclaiming our pain and reframing our perspective.
         Naming, proclaiming and reframing: This is the potential of truthful prayer as it is modeled in the Bible.
         And this is the hope of the Angry Prayer Project, to practice the biblical tradition of praying truthfully even if we are angry at God.
         In order to read, to reflect and to participate, click forward.
         If you have never been so angry that you have discontinued your conversations with the Divine just when you needed them most, be grateful and try not to judge those that struggle to pray truthfully every day.
         Angry prayers may seem ugly and foreign to you, perhaps even blasphemous.  In truth, I believe, there is nothing so blasphemous as trying to fool God by just paying lip service in prayer.

Monday, June 07, 2010

June 5 Sermon: Part 2 of Lord's Prayer Sermon: Daily Bread and Forgiveness

Exodus 16: 11-21
John 6: 31-33, 48-51, Matthew 6: 9-12

Give us this day our daily bread. 

The emphasis on “today” is really what started the ball rolling for me in designing this sermon series.  It occurred to me that the entire Lord’s prayer is centered on the present and the future. 

The past is important, and we dare not forget what has come before us, but as a daily prayer, Jesus offers us the idea that we should be focused on the here and now. 

Daily Bread.  Jesus tells his followers to ask God to provide for them in the most basic of ways, but the reference to daily bread also calls to mind a story of relying on God day by day, and not taking more than we need to keep relying on God’s grace. 

Manna in the wilderness story. 

Perhaps since we sit in the relative lap of luxery—I imagine you are somewhat similar to me in that you could take the contents of your pantry right now and probably get by for about 3 or 4 months.

So, since we have removed ourselves in many ways from the kind of dependence upon God that this line of the prayer speaks about, perhaps the prayer to “give us this day our daily bread” should help us remember all those who are hungry day to day. 

Perhaps it reminds us of the refugees around the world, who like the refugees in the Exodus story, count on God’s provision for them to eat.  Perhaps it reminds us of those who are living in the ruin of war, where the water is polluted with death and the food supply is uncertain.  Perhaps it might remind us of those fisherman whose livelihoods are being threatened by the disastrous oil spill in the gulf. 

Yes, perhaps the “us” in the Lord’s prayer should in our case be a collective “us,” since for the most part, we have little concern for the whereabouts of our next meal

I also included the “bread of Life” narratives from John in today’s Gospel reading, because I wanted us all to be reminded how closely Jesus identified himself with the bread that sustains us on the journey. 

Jesus said, “I am the bread come down from heaven.”  Jesus gives himself to us in the form of bread and wine, because Jesus is the only food that can give us true life.  Jesus does more than sustain us, he is the bread that transforms us.  He is the original “Wonder Bread.” 

And the petition to God to provide us with daily bread is followed by the most basic ingredient to our salvation: forgiveness. 

Forgive us our sins/trespasses/debts.  But God doesn’t just willy nilly forgive us our sins.  God is interested in how we forgive.  Are we willing to forgive those sins/trespasses/debts against us? 

5/30 Sermon--Part 1 of Sermon Series on Lord's Prayer: Hallowed Be Thy Name

Sermon Texts:
Exodus 3: 1-15
Matthew 6: 5-10

Sermon Notes

Growing up, I always knew the name of God.  I thought it was a funny name, I didn't really understand why we insisted every Sunday that "Hollow Ed" be thy name.  Perhaps that's why they made the Chocolate Easter bunnies hollow in the middle, in order to pay homage to "Ol' Hollow Ed" who was the reason for the season anyway.  

I also knew God was an artist, and frequently pictured God at an Easel with a Mortimer Ichabod Marker that Bill Cosby used on "Picture Pages" that made funny sounds as he drew.  My best friend Brandon had one of those pens.  He got it by being a member of the Pickles book club.  I figured God was probably the chief of the Pickles Book club, and thus must have the best one of those pens.  He probably let Bill Cosby use his special pen for the t.v. show since it was the best.  Or, perhaps he was like Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, since all that he drew came true.  I knew all of these things about God, because I knew the Lord's prayer.  Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  

We'll be focusing on prayer this summer in worship.  I plan to offer a sermon series starting today and lasting through July that will each week bring up different themes raised by prayers that are found in our Holy Scriptures.  

Name of God: the name of God has always been thought of as the most sacred thing anyone could say.  
In the movement Imiaslavie ("Name glorification") opposed by the Russian Orthodox Church, the name of God is God Himself and can be used to evoke miracles.[citation needed]
Shangdi 上帝 (Hanyu Pinyin: shàng dì) (literally King Above) is also used to refer to the Christian god in the Standard Mandarin Union Version of the Bible. Likewise, Korean Christians and Vietnamese Christians also use cognates of this name, to refer to the Biblical god.[citation needed]
Shen  (lit. Godspirit, or deity) was adopted by Protestant missionaries in China to refer to the Christian god. In this context it is usually rendered with a space, " ", to demonstrate reverence. (An alternate explanation for adding a space is that doing so simplified typesetting with two versions carrying or 上帝 made parallel.)[citation needed]
ZhuTian Zhu ,天主 (lit. Lord or Lord in Heaven) is translated from the English word, "Lord", which is a formal title of the Christian god in Mainland China's Christian churches.[citation needed]rase it if it is written. (SeeExodus 20:7) The tetragrammaton (HebrewיהוהEnglishYHVH or YHWH) is the name for the group of four Hebrew letters which represent the name of God. The Tetragrammaton occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew text in the Biblia Hebraica and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Neither vowels nor vowel points were used in ancient Hebrew writings.
Instead of pronouncing YHWH during prayer, Jews say Adonai ("Lord"). Halakha requires that secondary rules be placed around the primary law, to reduce the chance that the main law will be broken. As such, it is common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the word Adonai to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God "Hashem", השם, which is Hebrew for "the Name" (this appears in Leviticus 24:11).
A common title of God in the Hebrew Bible is Elohim (Hebrew: אלהים); as opposed to other titles of God in Judaism, this name also describes gods of other religions, angels, or even humans of great importance (John 10:34-36).

 Because Judaism forbids pronouncing the name outside the Temple in Jerusalem, the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton may have been lost, as the original Hebrew texts only included consonants. The Hebrew letters are named Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh: יהוה. In English it is written as YHWH, YHVH, or JHVHdepending on the transliteration convention that is used. The Tetragrammaton was written in contrasting Paleo-Hebrewcharacters in some of the oldest surviving square Aramaic Hebrew texts, and were not read as Adonai ("My Lord") until after the Rabbinic teachings after Israel went into Babylonian captivity.[2]
In appearance, YHWH is an archaic third person singular imperfect of the verb "to be", meaning, therefore, "He is". This explanation agrees with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where God is represented as speaking, and hence as using the first person — "I am". It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself for himself, and is the uncreated Creator who is independent of any concept, force, or entity; therefore "I am that I am".
This introduction to “Yahweh” as the personal name of God associates the divine name with the Hebrew verb “hayah” meaning “to be”.[29] “I will be what I will be” indicates “[m]y nature will become evident from my actions.”[30] Later in Exodus, God frequently declares that from his actions (such as the ten plagues) Israel and Egypt “shall know that I am Yahweh.”[31] Thus, as God, Yahweh is revealed by both his personal name and his mighty deeds in history rather than a list of characteristics.[32]
Moses askes God to tell him His name, God says, in a sense, Wait and See!”

Beliefs and practices surrounding the name of God

One the Ten Commandments is "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God". This is sometimes interpreted to mean that it is wrong to curse while making reference to God (ex. "Oh my God!" as an expression of frustration or anger)[citation needed]. Another interpretation of this passage is in relation to oath taking, where the command is to hold true to those commands made 'in God's name'. God's name being used in vain can also be interpreted as trying to invoke the power of God, as a means to impress, intimidate, punish, condemn, and/or control others. This can also be used to refer to the idea of saying that one acts "in God's behalf" when doing things that are clearly personal actions.
The Lord's Prayer contains the line "Hallowed be thy name", in reference to God the Father.[4]
Some Christians capitalize all references to God in writing, including pronouns. (ex. "The Lord, He is God, Holy is His Name.")
Most observant Jews forbid discarding holy objects, including any document with a name of God written on it. Once written, the name must be preserved indefinitely. This leads to several noteworthy practices:
§                     Commonplace materials are written with an intentionally abbreviated form of the name. For instance, a Jewish letter-writer may substitute "G-d" for the name God. Thus, the letter may be discarded along with ordinary trash. (Note that not all Jews agree that non-Hebrew words like God are covered under the prohibition.)
§                     Since the Divine presence (or possibly an appearance of God) can supposedly be called simply by pronouncing His true name correctly, substitute names are used.
§                     Copies of the Torah are, like most scriptures, heavily used during worship services, and will eventually become worn out. Since they may not be disposed of in any way, including by burning, they are removed, traditionally to the synagogue atticSee genizah. There they remain until they are buried.
§                     All religious texts that include the name of God are buried.

"Our Father, which art in Heaven"

Together, the first two words—Our Father—are a title used elsewhere in the New Testament, as well as in Jewish literature, to refer to God the Father. It also implies the close personal nature of the relationship between God the Father and those praying, like a father and child, as taught by Jesus in each of the four gospels. Nontrinitarians may take this line to refer to the positioning of God as the father of all things including Jesus who is normally positioned as the son.

[edit]"Hallowed be thy Name"

Having opened, the prayer begins in the same manner as the Kaddish, hallowing the name of God, and then going on to express hope that God's will and kingdom will happen. In Judaism the name of God is of extreme importance, and honouring the name central to piety. Names were seen not simply as labels, but as true reflections of the nature and identity of what they referred to. So, the prayer that God's name be hallowed was seen as equivalent to hallowing God himself. "Hallowed be" is in the passive voice and so does not indicate who is to do the hallowing. One interpretation is that it is a call for all believers to honour God's name. Those who see the prayer as primarily eschatologicalunderstand the prayer to be an expression of desire for the end times, when God's name, in the view of those saying the prayer, will beuniversally honoured.

[edit]"Thy kingdom come"

The request for God's kingdom to come is usually interpreted as a reference to the belief, common at the time, that a Messiah figure would bring about a Kingdom of God. Traditionally the coming of God's Kingdom is seen as a divine gift to be prayed for, not a human achievement. This idea is frequently challenged by groups who believe that the Kingdom will come by the hands of those faithful to work for a better world. It is believed by these individuals that Jesus' commands to feeding the hungry and clothing the needy is the Kingdom he was referring to.[11]

[edit]"Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven"

The prayer follows with an expression of hope for God's will to be done. Some see the expression of hope as an addendum to assert a request for earth to be under direct and manifest divine command. Others see it as a call on people to submit to God and his teachings. In the Gospels, these requests have the added clarification in earth, as it is in heaven, an ambiguous phrase in Greek which can either be a simile (i.e., make earth like heaven), or a couple (i.e., both in heaven and earth), though simile is the most significant common interpretation.

Ended last week’s sermon with a recording of the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic, which is the language Jesus hath spoken.  The congregation seemed moved by it. 
Didn’t say it should be their only prayer, do you think Jesus, a practicing Jew, would have expected that his Jewish disciples would quit practicing the traditions given to them by the very God who was redeeming them through him. 

But, the focus of the Lord’s prayer, which he gave to his disciples as a daily prayer, is all about the present and future.  Guide us, shape us.  The most common form of prayer in the Scriptures Jesus and his disciples practiced in their religion grounded themselves in historical references.  There was a significant change in focus between those prayers and the prayer that Jesus taught his own disciples. 

We lose something when we are solely focused on the present and the future, but I don’t think that Jesus intended for us to ignore our history and the stories of our faith, instead, he saw that a person’s daily life is focused on the here and now and what will be.  If we dwell in the past, we can be chained to the past.  We can get stuck in the past and forget about the possibilities that are before us. 

Prayer of Praise and Prayer of Intercession.

The Lord’s prayer has it right—the idea of God’s name being holy is followed immediately by the idea that God’s Kingdom is Coming, and that God’s Will should be done.  “I am that I am.”  I am that I become. 

Perhaps taking God’s name in vain, by this line of thinking, is more about what we expect to happen and less about saying the wrong thing.  Maybe it’s more about expecting too little of God.  If God IS who God will be, then perhaps the proper way to honor God’s name is to really expect God to do great things.  For “thy Kingdom to Come,” and “thy Will to be done, in earth as it is in heaven.” 

How can we hallow God’s name? By hallowing our lives.  By making our actions Holy.  Because that’s how God’s name is spoken—God is what God will be.  And though God “Is” completely independent from us and everything else in the universe, God chooses to be known in us.  God chooses us for his Temple.  So, keep God’s name Holy by striving toward the Kingdom and the Will of God in this day and time.  Amen