Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sermon: Teach Us To Pray



A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Associate
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12 Year C
July 24, 2016 (Saturday, 7/23 5:30pm service)
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts
be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

How many of you have ever been asked,
“can you teach me to pray?” What was that like?
Or for how many of you have you asked someone else,
“how do you pray?”

Prayer in any form is a common language.
Prayer is, simply, conversation with God. 
“In the beginning was the logos, the Word,
and the Word was God, and the Word was with God."

Roughly translated, the logos can mean “intimate conversation.”
“…in the beginning was the intimate conversation.” 
And that is prayer.

Sometimes when I am asked how to pray
(it comes up in Baptism preparation,
or in pre-marital preparation,
or when counseling someone about a recent loss or struggle),
I recall the little book by Author Anne Lamott.
Help, Thanks, Wow.[1] 
In about 100 pages she unpacks
with laughter and tears
the three essential prayers for today.
Help, Thanks, Wow. That works, in a pinch.

In today’s gospel text, the disciples ask Jesus
to teach them to pray. 
Jesus responds by instructing his disciples
how to have an intimate conversation with God,
how to have a conversation that centers on the Kingdom of God.[2] 

This Kingdom of God, for Jesus,
was shorthand for his message and his passion,
both spiritually and politically. 
In this Kingdom, God empowered Jesus and his work. 
In this Kingdom, God presented
the mystical reality of all things, seen and unseen. 
In this Kingdom, God blessed the people
with a beloved community. 
This Kingdom of God perspective grounded Jesus
and guided him throughout his ministry.

See, the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed
stood in stark contrast to
the Kingdom of Herod or the Kingdom of Caesar
that surrounded the peasant people, his followers, at that time. 

The Kingdom of God, to which Jesus alluded,
promised a life where God was king
and the rulers of the world were not.
To the first followers of Jesus,
his vision of this kind of Kingdom
offered hope for life on earth.

As scholar Dom Crossan would say,
“Heaven’s in great shape; earth is where the problems are!”
That’s why Jesus taught,
“thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

And, for the earthly life,
Jesus prayed for the basic needs: food. 
“Give us our daily bread” was a real need in the 1st century. 
Bread, enough food, was always an issue for that time.
Many people were hungry, especially in the peasant class.
In God’s Kingdom, there would be enough bread for everyone. 


For this earthly life,
Jesus prayed for the basic needs: forgiveness.
Debt, along with bread, was a primary survival issue
in peasant life. 
Indebtedness could mean losing the land
and could lead to the precarious life
of a tenant farmer or day laborer. 
When landless, people with debt
could then be sold into indentured labor. 

So, this well known prayer names
two central basic concerns of peasant life:
bread and debt forgiveness. 

This prayer invites us to wonder today:
how we can do God’s work in the world
to bring about the dreamed-of Kingdom of God?

What about daily bread:
what do we, personally and communally,
need to sustain us for the journey?
And - to whom might we be invited by God
to provide that daily sustenance? 
What about forgiveness:
to what are we, personally and communally,
in bondage?
For whom can we release from any debt
that we may hold from others,
inviting them to live a liberated life?

Today’s good news is that we are living in God’s kingdom.
God gives us (through others)
the “bread” we need for our hearts and for our souls. 
God forgives us and releases us
from the bondage of what holds us back,
which is why and how we can forgive others.
All this good news is manifest in both
the prayer we say together and
the Holy Communion – the bread and wine – we share.

A few years ago, I came across this little book,
Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus.[3]
It is a study and interpretation of the Lord’s prayer
as translated from the Aramaic,
the language that Jesus actually spoke.

In this small and powerful book
we find an alternative and expansive understanding
of this prayer that Jesus taught. 
Here is one possible translation from the Aramaic:


O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us – make it useful:

Create your reign of unity now –

Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.

Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.

Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.

Don’t let surface things delude us.

But free us from what holds us back.

From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.


Truly – power to these statements –
may they be the ground from which
all my actions grow: Amen.

God’s invitation is to open our hearts today.
God is praying us into a new Kingdom.
God is opening the door on which we are knocking. 
God offers us extravagant Love. 

In this kingdom, bread for the journey is abundant.
In this kingdom, forgiveness liberates our hearts and souls.

Inspired by God’s gift, may we also share in that heavenly kingdom.
Amen


[1] Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, (New York, Riverhead Books, 2012)
[2] Sections inspired by Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 131-134
[3] Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus (San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1990)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sermon: Go and Do Likewise



The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
A Sermon of The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, MI
RCL Proper 10, Year C
10 July 2016

"Lord, surely this commandment that you have commanded us is not too hard for us, for you promise that the word is very near to us; it is in our mouth and in our heart ..." Amen

The great 20th Cty theologian Karl Barth
is often quoted that one should preach
with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. 
Turns out, he never said that exactly,
but he did say something close[1]
…and what he meant was, read both,
but interpret newspapers from the Bible.'"[2]
Interpret newspapers from the Bible.

And so, today, we’ll start with the news and interpret it from the Bible.
The news, well, you all know.
It has been awful.

More black men[3] killed by police officers.
More police officers killed by civilians.

I am heart broken, feeling woefully inadequate
to describe the news, let alone interpret it.
Yet, I rest in the promise that
the word is very near us,
in our mouth and in our heart. 
Karl Barth encourages me as today’s gospel collides with our context.

Today’s scripture offers a passage so familiar
it is almost dangerous. 

After the lawyer sought to test Jesus
by asking him to clarify who the “neighbor” is,
Jesus said: “A man was going down
from Jerusalem to Jericho,
when he was attacked by robbers.
They stripped him of his clothes, beat him
and went away, leaving him half dead.
A priest happened to be
going down the same road, and
when he saw the man,
he passed by on the other side."

My sisters and brothers:
We, here, the priesthood of all believers,
we cannot pass by those black men
– Alton Sterling and Philando Castile –
And what they represent for our society.

These are just two of the 136 black people
killed by police this year.[4]
That is the question to ponder:
what this represents.

Like you, I sometimes feel
trapped in anger and fear,
and paralyzed by an inability
to know what to do next,
wondering if this situation
has become more than a parable
for our church. 

Today’s gospel: The familiar
Parable of the Good & Compassionate Samaritan.
We might think we know the moral already:
Love your enemies and help the one in need.
And there is more:
Jesus calls us to go further within our context.
Who is our neighbor?
Who do we see as our neighbor?

I wonder if our sight is part of the problem.
Who is our neighbor that we don’t see,
or don’t want to see
because it is inconvenient?

Can we relate to the priest in the parable, reacting to the one in need by withdrawing
to the opposite side of the road,
so as to preserve religious purity?

Can we relate to the Levite in the parable, reacting to the one in need by seeing them
but still passing by,
so as to avoid someone who might tarnish?

Last week, three times, I found myself
passing by a motorist
whose car had broken down in an intersection.

Did I stop to help? No, I kept driving. 
I had some place “important” to be. 
It was “inconvenient” for me to stop.  Inconvenient for me to see the one in need;
they were invisible.

In 1952, Ralph Ellison wrote a book called Invisible Man.
It tells about the social and intellectual issues
facing African-Americans early in the 20th cty. 
The narrator begins by saying that he is an "invisible man, not because of his physical condition—he is not literally invisible—but “…because of
the refusal of others to see him.”[5] 
This perspective begs the question:
who do we see as our neighbor
and whom do we overlook?

Perhaps, like the priest and the Levite,
we overlook and avoid those who are in need
because of our intolerance for “inconvenience.”

But when we allow our hearts to be
“moved with pity,”
we know that we have no choice. 
“We move from
‘what will happen to me if I help’ to
‘what will happen to the person if I don’t help’”[6]
We realize, it’s not inconvenient. 

Can we relate to the Samaritan in the parable, reacting to the one in need by seeing them,
by being moved with pity,
by doing compassion?

For that is where we find God.
And that is where God finds us.
God show up when people act like the Samaritan. 
This is what it means to accept
the Lordship of Jesus Christ:
that we do “down to earth compassion”[7]
for anyone in need, even an enemy or
even one whom we have been taught is
“not” our neighbor.

“For Jesus, compassion was
a badge of discipleship
and not merely a religious amenity.”[8]

Biblical Scholar A.T.Robertson once remarked,
“This parable of the Good Samaritan
has built the world’s hospitals,
and if properly understood and practiced
would remove race prejudice,
national hatred and war.”[9]

The Samaritan offers us clues
for our life,
for our community bound together by our shared need and
for our own vulnerability. 

For here is what we believe: 
God is Love,
and God serves as our Samaritan,
our only salvation in this midst of this news
and our conviction
in the face of these scriptures. 

Jewish theologian Elie Wiesel taught,
"The opposite of love is not hate,
it's indifference."
Indifference because of inconvenience
is the opposite of love. 
Indifference to a pattern of societal racism
is the opposite of love.
Indifference to our neighbors
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
is the opposite of love. 

God continues to work
through so many Samaritan-like people
who have cared for us until now.
God wants still to meet our needs
through others
(and sometimes through those we would least expect or want to help us.)[10]

And, with God’s grace,
we will not be indifferent
to the societal sin of racism. 
on Sin and Redemption>

We must look directly at it
and begin the conversation, for the words are very near us.
With conversations grounded in “I” statements,
we can touch that place in our own lives
sharing our personal experiences of racism. 

With these conversations,
we can examine our lives
and confessionally express our need
for each other. 
And we can touch God’s presence
in the intimacy of our vulnerability. 

God’s mercy, which lasts forever,
inspires us to do compassion.
God’s compassion, which endures all things,
saves us from indifference. 
God’s Love, the source of all that is yes,
calls us into discipleship. 

Compassion:
God’s original response to humanity.
Go and do likewise.
Amen


[1] Close to it, such as "Der Pfarrer und die Gl√§ubigen sollten sich nicht einbilden, dass sie eine religi√∂se Gesellschaft sind, die sich um bestimmte Themen herum dreht, sondern sie leben in der Welt. Wir brauchen doch - nach meiner alten Formulierung - die Bibel und die Zeitung." ["The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need - according to my old formulation - the Bible and the Newspaper."] Cited on Princeton Seminary’s blog at http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2015/05/09/ars-praedicandi-preaching-with-the-bible-in-one-hand-and-the-newspaper-in-the-other/ on July 9, 2016
[2]Cited on Princeton Seminary’s blog at http://www.ptsem.edu/Library/index.aspx?menu1_id=6907&menu2_id=6904&id=8450 on July 9, 2016
[3] According to The Counted, a project of The Guardian, 136 African Americans have been killed by police so far this year. Alton Sterling was number 135. Philando Castile was number 136. The Police officers were Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens.
[6] Portions excerpted from Martin Luther King’s Good Samaritan Sermon cited on July 9, 2016 at https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2012/04/why-didnt-they-stop-martin-luther-king-jr-on-the-parable-of-the-good-samaritan/
[7] Peter Rhea Jones, The love command in parable: Luke 10:25-37 from “Perspectives in Religious Studies,” 6 no. 3 Fall 1979, p. 224-242 on ATLA0000779569
[8] Ibid, p. 240
[9] A.T. Robinson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, cited at http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/luke/luke-10-37.html on July 9, 2016
[10] Inspired by David Lose, “Who is my Neighbor” from July 8, 2016.