Monthly Archives: June 2016

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” 06.26.2016 Sermon

Ephesians 1:15-23 • June 26, 2016

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Every one of us longs for connection with someone whom we can identify with and relate to during the joys and struggles of our daily life. On a deeper, even more profound level, each one of us has been created with a longing for connection with God. Whether we acknowledge it or not, or even whether we know it or not, every one of us is wired to know and be known by the One who created us for deep connections. Connections with God and with each other.

Prayer is that connection. Prayer is the personal experience and intimate connection with a loving God who invites us to know him by name, regard his name as holy and call him Father. God desires for us to experience deep connection with him through the holy conversation that is prayer.

Sounds simple, right…?

I have a confession to share. I struggle with getting my head around this. I have questions about and struggles with prayer. My struggles aren’t so much about speaking to God – I like to think that I have a fairly disciplined practice of prayer in my life and I’m invited to pray at public and private gatherings and with people individually dozens of times each week. My struggle is more with God’s response, or seeming lack of response that gets to me sometimes. There have been many times when I have shaken a fist at God and yelled – “God are you there!?” or even “God, with all due respect, I’m beginning to wonder whether or not you even give a rip about anything I’m praying about!”

I struggle with God’s silence.

God’s timing.

God’s response.

During one of these times of thinking that God doesn’t really care about me or any of my prayers, I drove by a car with the bumper sticker “Prayer Changes Things.” Now, I’m not a big fan of bumper sticker theology, but I want to believe that. I really do. But too often when my prayer life doesn’t change things the way I’d like them to be changed I get a little frustrated with God and have even said something like “You know what God! If I were you, I’d be doing things a lot differently!”

But then I take a deep breath – in case you haven’t noticed yet – a lot of the materials available to you and I during this worship series involve learning how important the relationship is between our breath and our prayer. So, I take a deep breath and realize that if I were in charge of everything, most of what I would do would only benefit me. And if it only benefits me, I’m probably harming someone else and that’s not very God-like at all – especially not very God-like in the God revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

I know many of you, ok – let’s be honest – all of you, have struggles similar to this with prayer and your prayer life from time to time. So, here’s what I think God is saying to us today about all of this. Jesus’ disciples were, at the very least, a bunch of guys who deeply resonated with Jesus, his life and what he was teaching. They were willing to set everything else aside – family, jobs, even their safety just to follow him and learn from him. They had seen Jesus heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, preach and teach and even raise the dead. But when it came time to ask Jesus to teach them how to do what he did, they had just one request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And what came out of Jesus’ mouth next is one of the most important things that God’s creation has ever heard. Jesus said, “When you pray, pray in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

The phrase, “Hallowed be your Name,” may best be understood when we consider Martin Luther’s explanation of this phrase in the Small Catechism. Nearly 500 years ago, Luther wrote, “God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that we may keep it holy.” Keeping God’s name holy, it seems to me, is the place where God’s invitation to know God runs into our need to be known by God. Keeping God’s name holy implies relationship; it implies movement and action on our part, which leads to change and transformation. Keeping God’s name holy happens when we are actively respecting and honoring God’s name.

We disrespect and dishonor God’s name when we misuse it in any way. And most of the time, I fear that we don’t even know we are doing that.
You and I say things daily that dishonor God’s name. I don’t think I need to waste any time giving you examples – although social media provides an abundance of them.

And you and I do things every day that dishonor God’s name. I don’t think I need to waste any time giving you examples of that either – although a few minutes with a news broadcast will easily prove that statement to be true.

Hallowing God’s name is to honor God and to honor the relationship that God desires to have with each one of us. Hallowing God’s name keeps open the window into God’s character and the doorway into God’s presence.

In the scripture reading that we received today from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul is talking about the blessing of knowing God, hallowing God’s name and being named and known this God.

Paul says, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

At the end of a prayer, we often say “in Jesus’ name we pray” or something similar to that. We are not offering our prayer in the name of Pastor Craig or Governor Dalrymple or President Obama or our neighborhood school principle. We are framing all that has been said in our prayer, or done because of that prayer, or hoped for through praying that prayer at that particular time – in the power and authority of God and affirming the relationship that binds us together with God through the Savior of the world, Jesus the Christ.

So…as we walk through the second week of this worship series, here are two things to carry with you.

First – I invite you and I to rethink how we use God’s name every second of every day. Think about how you use God’s name and when and why. Think about how you refer to God. Ask yourself what poor habits I might need to be given up or what new ways of
spiritual practice I can enter into in order to honor God’s name in every part of my life of faith, not just when I happen to be inside a church.

Second – I want to suggest one way that you and I can hallow God’s name together so that we can move through this week intentionally practicing, respecting, and honoring God in all that we say and do. If God is the one who first breathed life into us – and God is the one who did that brothers and sisters – we can honor God simply by offering prayer to God with our breath.

Simply breathing the second phrase or petition of the Lord’s Prayer over and over this week can serve as a prayer to remind us that our very breath comes from our Father, and that prayer is just about breathing in and out. It’s not about giving God a list of our grievances or begging God for the things that we want or think that we need or deserve. Prayer and being in relationship with the God of all creation is as simple as breathing in and breathing out.

I invite you to try it with me right now.

And if you’re comfortable, I invite you to even close your eyes.

Together we breathe in. Together we breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. As we breathe in “Hallowed be…” we breathe out “…thy name.”

As you continue to breathe in and breathe out in prayer, I offer prayer for us…

Jesus, we ask you to be with us in prayer today and throughout the week as we glorify your Father’s holy name. Open our hearts to the precious words you taught us to pray. Let these words connect us in new ways, not because we know them by heart, but because they come from our heart. Holy is your Father’s name, precious with mercy, hallowed with both judgement and loving forgiveness. To the Lord of heaven and earth, we offer this prayer with praise, thanksgiving, and reverence as we ask for safety, forgiveness, peace, and grace in the coming days. Amen.

[I’m forever grateful for the resources of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN that are an incredible help with Good Shepherd’s Summer Worship Series on The Lord’s Prayer. Much of the content of this sermon is based upon a sermon of Rev. Jeff Marian’s from the summer of 2009.]

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“Risk. Love. Battlefields. Healing.” Memorial Weekend Sermon 05.29.2016

Luke 7:1-10 • May 29, 2016 • 2nd Sunday after Pentecost/Memorial Day Weekend 2016

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

In December 1862, the confederate and union army lined up against each other in a town called Fredericksburg. On the confederate side of the battlefield was a young man named Sergeant Richard Kirkland. Sgt. Kirkland was raised in the low country of South Carolina. The son of a farmer. Not unlike most boys who served in this bloody civil war that pitted the United States against the United States. During the battle of Fredericksburg, Sgt. Kirkland served under General J. B. Kershaw.

The union army took severe casualties during this gruesome four day battle. On the battlefield between each army’s protective walls, hundreds of soldiers – union and confederate – lie wounded and dying. As shots continued to ring out across the field, no one was able to go and give the wounded and dying aid.

For an entire day and an even more agonizing night, these wounded soldiers remained on the floor of the battlefield. Begging for help. Pleading for just a drink of water. No one dared venture into the line of fire.

Until Sgt. Kirkland approached his commanding officer, Gen. Kershaw, and said, “General! I can’t stand this. All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water. I can stand it no longer. I come to ask permission to go and give them water.” Against all rational thought and any military training that the General had ever received that would have prevented him from doing so, the General granted permission.

Gen. Kershaw would later write, “Unharmed Sgt. Kirkland reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured the precious life-giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done, he laid him tenderly down, placed his knapsack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his overcoat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer. By this time his purpose was well understood on both sides, and all danger was over. From all parts of the field arose fresh cries of ‘Water, water; for God’s sake, water!’ More heartbreaking still was the mute appeal of some who could only feebly lift a hand to say, here, too, is life and suffering.” (www.civilwar.org; Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VIII, Richmond, Virginia, April 1880, No. 4)

Unfortunately, the hell that is war is all to real in human history. But not all battle lines are just about war.

In our journey of faith, we tend to draw all sorts of battle lines, don’t we? Battle lines that separate us into different branches on the Christian tree – Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, to name a few. Or what about the different battle lines Lutherans have decided to draw between each other – Evangelical Lutherans, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, Lutheran for Mission in Christ, Evangelical Free Lutherans, and that’s just a few of them.

Or how about the battle lines that we draw between race or ethnicity or political party affiliation or socio-economic status or national origin.

Those battles and the battle lines we draw within them are real as well.

And frankly, the thing that grieves me most is that I believe this us versus them battle line drawing has been part of humankind since the very beginning of creation. If you don’t believe me take a few minutes to read the first 4 chapters of the book of Genesis in your bible this week.

And to make matters worse, often times, I’m not sure we even realize we are waging these battles or drawing battle lines between us. And if we are aware, do we dare step outside of the safety and security of the walls that we build? Walls to protect us from the enemies. Walls that keep us from running directly into the battle field like Sgt. Kirkland did in the Civil War story I just shared?

An impassioned act of courage that carries with it great risk.

Do we dare take such a risk?

Because, brothers and sisters in Christ, this risk may also bring healing. Healing to the wounded. Healing for those who are on the outside as our gospel reading today from Saint Luke demonstrates. And, maybe even healing for our own wounds.

Jesus makes a very deep and direct connection with two people today – a centurion slave owner and the slave himself. Neither are part of Jesus inner circle. Neither are people of Israel. And did you catch the most striking part – neither the centurion nor the slave actually come to Jesus directly.

In this brief and powerful story early in Luke’s gospel account of Jesus Christ the savior of the world, a slave’s health is restored. A Roman soldier’s life is changed forever. Jewish leaders witness the mission of Jesus that calls for radical change in the world that God loves.

As one theologian offered this week, “The story shows divided people overcoming barriers in order to attend to human need. This mutual recognition of goodness within the other allows for real encounters between those who are different.” (Christian Century, May 11, 2016, pg. 23)

In her book An Altar in the World, author, pastor, theologian, and so much more – Barbara Brown-Taylor – wrote, “The hardest spiritual work in the world it to love the neighbor as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”

The civil war story that I shared with you a few minutes ago involves an unlikely character named Sgt. Richard Kirkland. A confederate soldier who boldly prevailed through the hell of war in order to offer love and healing to his neighbor. Even if that neighbor was a soldier in the union army.

In the gospel story, a Centurion soldier heard about Jesus. Our text doesn’t tell us how or where or who told this Roman soldier about Jesus. We are just told that somehow he knows about Jesus. And in every way, his Roman status is in complete and total opposition to the Jewish community and what everyone thinks Jesus mission in the world is about.

In true Jesus form, Jesus once again shows us that God’s mission to bless the world is far greater than anything any human being can imagine.

All of us, every last one of us sitting in this holy space today has faced a battle at one time or another. And if you don’t think you have, that denial may just be the greatest battle of all for you. Every one of us has called out in desperation, “Water, water; for God’s sake, water!” holding out hope that someone will arrive to help quench our thirst.

At the same time, I believe that every last one of you has also been the one that steps directly into someone’s battlefield and provides a life-giving and often life-changing drink of water in their time of need. It’s something, that as one of your pastors, I am blessed to be able to witness happening in and through this congregation every single day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t stop. Don’t stop caring for one another. Don’t stop reaching out for a drink of water when you need one. Don’t stop asking others to speak to Jesus for you when you simply can’t do it yourself.

And on this holy day, a holy weekend in the United States that encourages us to remember, may you and I remember. May we remember that because of what God has done and continues to do for you and for me through a savior name Jesus the Christ, we are never alone. No matter what battlefield we might be lying in today or walking through tomorrow, you are loved unconditionally and eternally by God. Amen.