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Flooding our Life with Meaning: Prayer, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 28th 2013

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Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 28th 2013

United Lutheran Church, Oakland CA

 

Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 138 Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) Luke 11:1-13

 

Flooding our Life with Meaning

Let us pray:

“Almighty and ever living God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour out upon us your abundant mercy, forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience and give us those good things that come only through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. 

Prayer is the theme for this Sunday. His disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” and Jesus complies by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer with the parables that follow all about prayer. In our lives we can anguish, work, and toil, but to get anywhere, we have to learn to pray. In the last service, when I preached at Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, I was lucky enough to have my own son assist me in the liturgy. The way my father, Rudolf E.M. Krey, who was also a pastor, did before me, we knelt down and prayed in the sacristy for the Holy Spirit to be present, really present, to be with us during the service, to fill the needs, and nourish the people. People all noticed how much the service moved them. But we could not take any credit, despite how beautifully my son sang a solo. It was the Holy Spirit, who was very present and touched the peoples’ hearts.

There is real Gospel in the above Prayer for Today; that means really good news. Our Heavenly Father is more willing to hear us than we are to pray and more willing to give us good things (Luke writes the Holy Spirit) than we desire and deserve! Luke cuts right to the chase, because it is through the Holy Spirit that we receive good things. So some questions: Do you feel short changed by life? Do you feel deprived? Are you part of the 99 percent and even down near the bottom of that crowd as well? “Sometimes we’re up and sometimes we’re down, sometimes we’re almost to the ground. Oh, yes, Lord.” Then what we need for our lives is prayer. “It’s not my brother, not my sister, not my preacher, nor my teacher, but it’s me Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

There’s an old popular song that I always remember when it comes to the verses “ask and you shall be given, seek and you shall find.” It’s a Jim Reeves song, but I remember women’s voices singing it. But make believe you hear God singing it to you. I changed the words a little:

Ask and you shall be given,

Seek and you shall find,

Knock and the door shall be opened

into this world of  mine.

 

Call on me in prayer

With my arms unfurled.

I’ll be with you there.

Welcome to my world.

 

God invites us to pray without ceasing, as it says in your bulletin and our lives can become a prayer if we learn to pray without ceasing. Oh Lord, make our lives into a prayer!

Brian Stoffregen in his online commentary calls prayer a relationship.[1] That is what Jesus means when he invites us to call God, our Father. We should not miss what a marvelous and fearful thing that is. Now you may have grown up in a fatherless family, or have experienced a very negative father and I’ll return to that later. But the relationship with our Father in Heaven is the most wonderful relationship to have. This Father gives us the most loving, but also challenging up-bringing, because our upbringing includes the suffering of the cross. But our Father gives us the strength from heaven above to give us the victory.

In the words of my father: The battle we fight with ourselves is the toughest battle we ever fight and the sweetest victory, we ever win. With this wonderfully strengthening relationship with God, our Heavenly Father, we become more than victorious. That’s because we became God’s children when Jesus invited us to be his brothers and sisters by sharing his loving Father in heaven with us. So now we are the children of God and part of a wonderful new and heavenly family, enjoying the integrity of quality relationships.

So because of Jesus, now we are God’s children and make our prayerful requests to him. Brian Stoffregen compared this relationship with how we respond as parents to our children. When we have children, they often ask for things. A toy gun, for instance. That’s easy. We just say “no.” My father was a machine gunner in World War One and he did not even allow toy guns in our house. Still, we children played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers and we used thin long sticks and imagined them as rifles or we could always use our hands and point our fingers simulating make-believe guns. That’s how much we listened. Once in Germany I preached a really passionate sermon about making peace in the world and I had the youth group, the kids come down both sides of the aisle making believe they were shooting each other in the games we children always played.

     “I got you. You’re dead.”

     “No, you didn’t. You missed. I’m still alive.” We didn’t have a television in those days, but we still played like we were in shoot-em-up Westerns. Tragically, we’ve grown up to really shoot and kill each other.

     That violence runs so deep inside us. But at least we heard a solid “no” from Father and sometimes our heavenly Father also has to say “no” to our prayer. Like children, we ask for things that are not good for us: Our boys wanted a very violent video game. We would forbid them in our house and then in birthday parties they would get them as gifts from other families. I would have to tell the boys. “We don’t want you playing games designed to make you into thugs!” and I was not strong enough, But my wife Nora would take the games way and hide them.

     When he couldn’t say “no” directly to his kids, Brian Stoffregen said, he would say, “We’ll see.” He didn’t want to hurt the child’s feelings with a harsh “no.”

     So Jesus invites us to have a relationship with God like the one we would have with an earthly father, praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven!” Notice that Jesus did not make it “my Father, who art in Heaven” but our Father. It is very important for us to pray together in community, as well as daily praying ourselves. I am rather remiss, because I only pray before going to sleep. But even there, I discover that I feel a warm presence and it makes me look forward to praying there, although God deserves from me and perhaps you some better quality time and more disciplined prayer.

     Praying without ceasing is possible when you are going to an important meeting, for example, and you breathe prayers while you are driving there that it will all come through according to God’s will. Or when you are in a group, praying inside yourself, that God might send the Holy Spirit to be with you, asking God to really be present. I always have to pray for help listening, because I’m such a talker.

     The pastors’ bible study at Resurrection Lutheran this Tuesday morning was such a wonderful experience. What a quality conversation we had going over the Sunday lessons and sharing about prayer. And after talking all about prayer for over an hour, a young seminarian, mind you, not one of us old experienced pastors, a young seminarian needing a call, said, “Why don’t we pray right now?” What makes us have resistance to prayer? So we all prayed, each one of us, round robin. When it was her turn, she prayed and she must have had the Holy Spirit because she touched each one of us, praying for the real concerns each of us had, naming them all, just the way we had brought them up.

In this prayer something happened to me that has happened before: during communal prayer, God suddenly reveals wonderful insights to me, about things I was thinking about but had never understood! This time it concerned how to describe the Kingdom of Heaven there in the pastors’ bible study. I’ll never forget the other time. In Bethlehem Lutheran in West Oakland, they sometimes prayed-in a Sunday service. By that I mean they started praying Saturday morning, many members taking turns so that someone was always praying at the altar, all day, then all night, all the way until the ten o’clock service Sunday morning. Bobby McClain championed prayer in that congregation. I remember Florida Washington singing the Lord’s Prayer at the altar in a way that I will always remember. Sitting there myself in the pew awaiting another turn to pray, suddenly all these thoughts from God just poured through my soul that seemed to make all my graduate work integrate together. That’s the way the Holy Spirit speaks to you.

     Luther teaches his barber to pray in a writing called, “A Simple Way to Pray for Master Peter the Barber.” He has him recite the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, praying about each commandment, each petition, each article in his own words. Luther did not intend that Peter the Barber recite everything word for word:

Instead (Luther writes) I want your heart to be instructed as to what thoughts should be grasped in the Lord’s Prayer. The heart can, however, (when it has become warm and longingly in the mood for prayer), express such thoughts as well in different ways, with more words or just a few. For I do not even bind myself to such words and syllables; I speak the words one way today and another tomorrow, according to my feelings and what mood I am in. Nevertheless I stay as close as I possibly can to the same thoughts and ideas. Often it happens that, in one part or petition, I lose myself in such rich thoughts that I let the other six petitions go. And when such rich and good thoughts come, then one should forgo the other prayers and give room to those thoughts and listen in silence. Then take pains to make no hindrance, because there the Holy Spirit’s divine self is preaching, and when the Spirit preaches, one word is better than a thousand prayers. In this way I have often learned more in one prayer than I could have ever gotten from much reading and thinking.[2]

 

Luther just put this experience of mine into words, the ones that I had in prayer. So learn to pray and watch the way God floods your life with meaning. With that our hearts are strangely warmed using the words of John Wesley describing his experience while reading Luther’s Preface to Romans, or the words of the Emmaus disciples, who said, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”[3]  

Many times, however, like children with their parents, our prayers are filled by requests. Sometimes when God answers these prayers of ours, it is a “no” for things not good for us, and “we’ll see”, or a “yes”, and often we feel that in the times when God says “yes” does God answers us. But that is not true. We are wonderfully blessed with this relationship, this real presence of our Heavenly Father always near at hand.

     What to do about an abusive father that makes the wonderful Father Jesus is talking about, a nightmare for those who have been abused. Brian Stoffregen includes a poem by Catherine Foote, dealing with with someone who has been sexually abused. This is her poem told in the voice of a child:

Daddies hold their babies,
daddies hold them soft.
Strong daddy arms hold babies up
and gentle is the hold.

Daddies laugh with babies,
daddies smile with love.
Warm daddy eyes meet new eyes
and easy is the laugh.

Daddies care for babies,
keep them covered safe.
Big daddy hands reach baby hands
and tender is the care.

Daddies and their babies,
eyes and arms and smiles and love.
Then a daddy hurt a baby
Baby cold with fear,
Baby crying new tears,
Baby frightened, lost.
No more smiles for baby,
No more shelter here.

And God, they call you Daddy,
God, they say you care.
Do you hold your babies?
Do you dry their tears?
Do you match them smile for smile?
Do you shelter safe?

God, that daddy stole your name.
God, that daddy made me mad.
God, I want a daddy back
(daddies hold their babies).
God, please daddy me.
Amen. [pp. 44-45][4]

 

There is nothing like the protection, shelter, and love of a good father and this poet, speaking in the voice of a child, refuses to let a bad father take that away from her. Naming God, our Father, makes us children of God and family one with another, each of us sisters and brothers, related that way from God’s heaven above.

     But Jesus is realistic. He tells about a friend wanting bread for a midnight visitor and going to a bakery, and back in those days it was a house that the whole family slept in. and this prayer shamelessly expects the baker to get up, even if all his children wake up, and give him bread for his guests. If the baker refused, the whole village would know that he transgressed against hospitality the next morning and that he was shameless. Jesus is saying that we have to pray even at inopportune times, when the place that fills our needs must be closed, but we persist until it opens. But notice how he is praying for a friend, not really himself and notice how St. Luke says, how much more the Father in heaven can give us the Holy Spirit, when we ask. St. Matthew says “Good things” because even we, the sinners that we are can give our children good things. The snake and the scorpion are symbols of evil things that we should not give. Jesus says that as inadequate as we are, we give our children good things, how much more can the Father in heaven give us and Luke just plugs in the very best gift, the Holy Spirit.

     So our prayers should not be selfish ones, but also for others. The fellow did not disturb the baker and his family for himself, but for the hungry visitors, who came to him that late at night. Luther explained the Lord’s Prayer in many writings and first, he explained that “give us today our daily bread,” meant that we were praying to receive Jesus, the bread of life. But then Luther said, we also had to pray for our daily bread, in terms of our livelihoods, a job with a living wage, a shelter. Like one of the seminarians in our bible study said, she really needed a car. We also have to pray for our own needs, just like a child would ask from a father.

     Let me end with just a sentence about each petition of the Lord’s Prayer and you can chime in putting the petition into your own words the way Luther advised Master Peter his barber. Our Father! Hey, we are your children, O God and look to you to fill our needs and help us in any time of trouble. Let us make your name holy, so that we do not tarnish your name by a scandal or giving a bad name to Christians. Let your reign of abundance come about by our sharing with each other and let one injustice after another melt away through the marvels that flood the world with your love. Thy will be done, O Lord not mine. It’s what you want O Lord for me and not what I want. Help me make that sacrifice of my will so that instead of raising hell, your heaven descends upon this world. Oh Lord, give us good jobs, but also not at the expense of the workers in poor countries and stop the foreclosures on houses, and let the garments workers in Bangladesh and other countries not have to die in their unsafe and exploited working conditions. And Oh Lord, temptations are rampant in our lives. Don’t let us think that all there is to life is entertainment. Save us from the pornography of the internet! Free our minds from the constant brain-washing of advertisements and commercials. Deliver us from the evil of racism and lives that feel entitled and want privileges at the expense of others. Stop the hatred and violence that come about because of religions that get mixed up with power and want our religion to make them wealthy. Oh Lord, help us deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow you. Amen.

 


[1] Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks, Online Commentary http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke11x1.htm This is the first of several times that in this sermon I have used material from his site.

[2] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 221.

[3] Luke 24:32.

[4] Catherine Foote,  Survivor Prayers: Talking with God about Childhood Sexual Abuse http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke11x1.htm

 

Written by peterkrey

July 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

Jesus Makes “Neighbor” into a Verb, Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito Eighth Sunday after Pentecost July 14, 2013

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The Good Samaritan in the form of a Play script:

GOSPEL: Luke 10:2537

Narrator: Jesus is challenged to explain what is involved in obeying the greatest commandment. Jesus tells a parable rich in surprises: those expected to show pity display hard hearts while the lowly give and receive unexpected and lavish mercy.

Narrator: Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.

Lawyer: “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Narrator: He said to him,

Jesus: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

Narrator: He answered,
Lawyer:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Narrator: And he said to him,

Jesus:  “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”           _ _

Narrator:  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus,

Lawyer:  “And who is my neighbor?”

Narrator:  Jesus replied,

Jesus:  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest
was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a
Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan
while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him
and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own
animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.   The next day he took out two denarii,
gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you
whatever more you spend. I “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who
fell into the hands of the robbers?”

Narrator: He said,

Lawyer:  “The one who showed him mercy.”

Narrator:  Jesus said to him,

Jesus:  “Go and do likewise.”

Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 14, 2013

Amos 7:7-17 Psalm 82 Colossians 1:1-4 Luke 10:25-37

Jesus Makes “Neighbor” into a Verb

 

I was the Interim Pastor for Christ Lutheran Church 21 years ago, between Pastor Dennis Mower and Pastor Sharon Lubkemann. It is wonderful to be able to serve in this my home church once again. Do you remember the children’s program Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?

 

Do you remember Mr. Rogers? We can sing this together!

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood.

It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine? / Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty-wood

It’s a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you

I have always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So let’s make the best of this beautiful day.

Since we’re together we might as well stay.

Would you be mine? / Would you be mine?

Would you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please? Won’t you please?

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Mr. Rogers seems to be pleading in his children’s song, because when we hear what goes into being a neighbor in Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan, then we discover it is not easy. He makes being a neighbor into a verb. Being a neighbor means becoming a person who really cares and can deny him or herself and be there for someone else in need. The neighbor has eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart full of compassion. Someone “who knows how to sustain the weary with a word” as Isaiah says, (50:4) Meanwhile it can be reduced to mere doing. But our new being is required. You know how Sartre said, “To do is to be.” And Dewey said, “To be is to do.” And Frank Sinatra said, “Do be, do be, do be, do.” So Jesus says, “Do this and you will be saved.” And “Go and do likewise!” But there is more to it. Just like there is much more to this story, which we often miss because it is so familiar.

The lawyer was trying to justify himself by playing it safe legally and strictly requiring from himself only obedience to the law. Notice, however, that the priest and the Levite, a church worker, were also obeying the law by not becoming unclean before a service. Simply obeying the law does not justify anyone. Just because we have not killed anyone, committed adultery, or burglarized a convenience store does not tell us very much about a person. Such a person may never have done any good either. It is not illegal to be cold hearted and unloving. The law is not the way of salvation. Jesus Christ is the way of salvation.

Just a few verses in Luke before our story this morning, Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent [like those with Ph.D.’s] and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21) This lawyer riding on his high horse is testing Jesus. He did not get it. “Thou shalt not test the Lord thy God.” He’s testing Jesus.

But examine his question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Inheritance does not work that way. You don’t go to your grandmother and say, “What must I do to get your inheritance?” He does not understand something about genuine relationships. You don’t do something to get a gift that is freely given. It’s like a kid who tries to buy friendship by giving another kid his lunch in school. You can’t buy friendship nor inherit salvation by works.

Although the lawyer failed that test, he gives Jesus a good answer. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and [love] your neighbor as yourself.” He added “loving God with all your mind.” That is not in Deuteronomy (6:4). The Hebrews felt with their hearts and the Greeks expanded our minds with philosophy. So our knowledge also has to be oriented around God and the love of God.

But this lawyer was much more comfortable in disputes and arguments than really getting into the nitty-gritty, into the place where the rubber hits the road. Like what kind of faith just argues about the right beliefs to have and never has the compassion to see the needs of others and selflessly respond to them? You may well have already heard how we can be compared with icebergs.[1] We can orient ourselves completely to what we see above the surface, but there is much more to ourselves and others than that. My brother used to tell a joke. What’s the definition of a grapefruit? The answer: To which there is more than meets the eye. There is much more to a person than meets the eye. The lawyer did not want to go down there way out over his head. So he tries to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” He’s asking how to draw a limit. Who does he have to respond to and who not. Who can I rule out? How can I be more choosey about whom I call a neighbor? He wants Jesus to justify his being oriented completely around himself on his own terms.

But before God we are like that poor victim lying in the ditch and we have to rely completely on the mercy and compassion of God, without deserving it in the least, that is, for God’s justifying us by grace. The very last words that Luther wrote before he died were: “We are all beggars; this is true.” When we are up against changing ourselves, when we are up against the big questions, the end of life issues, the death of a child, fighting with cancer and realizing that one is losing the battle; seeing conflict escalate into bloodshed and war. We are quite helpless often, like the poor fellow in our story, bleeding, half-dead and lying in a ditch.

There is more to this story than meets the eye. The Jews hated the Samaritans calling them dogs. When the Jews traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, they would cross over the Jordan not to travel through the Samaria, the West bank of the Jordan, just to avoid them. They were half-breeds, who had not been deemed worthy of being exiled with the other Jews, because they had been unimportant. Their religion had become unorthodox, they did not look to the temple in Jerusalem and their teachings were not kosher.

Notice, however, that it is not the priest, not the church worker, but surprise! This Samaritan, whose heart becomes filled with compassion; who pours oil and wine into the wounds of the crime victim, stripped, half-dead where the thieves left him lying in a ditch. To be a neighbor means that a person sees another’s need and becomes filled with compassion, selflessly responding to it. It means caring and not considering who it is. It means seeing the hurt, the wounds, the fact that a person is dying if there is no help. That is all that matters.

Brian Stoffregen whose online commentaries I always read had to preach at the funeral of a child from this text. He said Jesus would come for the child, place it on his resurrection-donkey and take it to his Father’s heavenly inn, where there was complete recovery from all pain and suffering…and it has all been paid for.

Face it. To become a neighbor we have to be a Christ for our neighbor who is in need and we have to see Christ in that neighbor as well. When we see Christ in a hungry beggar or a sick child and when we become a Christ to them, then we notice that God’s heavenly reign has come near. The word “neighbor” means we have come near each other. In old English “neigh” is like “nigh” and “bor” meant “peasant” or “farmer,” (like Bauer in German, or Boer in Afrikaans, as in the Boer War). Neighbors come near to each other, near at hand, like the reign of heaven. We now walk in each other’s shoes, feel what the other is feeling. We get in there in the deep waters that make us so frightened of becoming close.

Now Jesus is confronting the lawyer with the surprise that the Samaritan has the love and compassion which shows that he is justified, while if you notice, the Lawyer won’t even let the name “Samaritan” cross his lips. Jesus asks him, “Who was the neighbor to the man fallen at the hand of the thieves.”

He answered, “The one who showed mercy to him.” He could have said, “The Samaritan.” But they called the Samaritans dogs and there was no love lost between them. Would Jesus today say a terrorist had compassion saw a need and helped someone? They are evil, but under the surface, we are evil as well. Imagine the terror our drone strikes reign down on the people of those countries? The word “communist” does not work anymore, so now we have terrorists, the new dehumanizing name we’ve agreed on, and we feel that it is doing God a favor to kill them. Jesus championed the Samaritan in this story and translated to our time, it makes us as uncomfortable as that lawyer.

Or getting close to another person and feeling their needs and seeing a neighborhood revive in the transformation: what do you make of the hunger strike by thousands of prisoners in the California prisons protesting solitary confinement, where prisoners arbitrarily, for indeterminate reasons are left in solitary confinement for ten to twenty years, even forty years. Imagine the cruel and unusual punishment that is for people who need other people? We are a great and wonderful country, but don’t forget, under the surface of the iceberg there is also a huge mountain of wickedness, that can easily take down another Titanic. Our faith becomes active in love and our love seeks justice. We have to take responsibility for our whole selves.

Do you care? Do I care? You know the old saying, “What do you think hurts the prisoners more, our ignorance or our apathy?” We answer, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

In our Vacation Church School in Coney Island, each class did a play or a song and dance for family night. One class performed a play about the Good Samaritan. They translated it for the New York of our time. You know, much like “West Side Story” is a translation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Their story of the Good Samaritan had a woman get mugged in Central Park. Those who assaulted and robbed her left her there beaten up, bleeding, and half dead.

A pastor came by and acted like he didn’t see her. He might get sued for trying to help. And handling that woman! People might have the wrong idea. An off-duty policeman came by and just thought of all the paper-work and he was already on his way home. He went by on the other side. A priest, too, did a perfect genuflection, and hurried by on the other side. Then a hooker comes by, sees her, and becomes filled with pity, wipes away her blood with her handkerchief, puts her arm over her shoulder lifting her up, and struggles with her all the way to the emergency room of the hospital. The little girl, who spoke the last line of the play, put it in soul-talk: “Some people we consider dirt care more than we do!”


[1] See “Active Listening” in peterkrey.wordpress.com.

Written by peterkrey

July 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons