Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | June 7, 2020
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
I miss seeing all of you. We are encouraged at the gradual opening of venues. Let me remind you that we will continue to be online through June. The session is meeting on June 29 to determine if we will open soon thereafter.
Also, in case some of you have missed the announcement, Pastor John Mann and I are switching roles. Starting this month, he is going to be the primary preacher and the moderator of the congregation and the session and I will be the primary fill-in, usually preaching once a month. This was not an easy decision and comes only after months of prayer and discernment. There are several reasons that I requested this change, the top two among them are that I really missed worshipping with my spouse, and I have been simply too busy for someone who is supposedly retired. I have several part-time positions and I have been stretched too thin. What made the decision relatively easy for me is knowing that you are in such good hands with Pastor John. So, I am grateful to him and to the sessions of the two churches for approving this change. And I am so glad I will continue to see you on a regular basis.
Congratulations to Olivia Oberfeld, daughter of Tara and Tom, who recently graduated from Isle High School. We all feel so bad for these seniors who were faced with challenging situations because of the pandemic.
For today’s sermon I am returning for our final look at the Lord’s Prayer. In the first two sermons we made our way from “Our Father” through “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
We start today at the line, “Lead us not into temptation.”
Does that line trouble any of you? It troubles me. In one of the commentaries I read in preparation for this series, the authors entirely skip over this line. We don’t like to think of God as leading us into temptation. Why would God do this? In fact, this line is the primary reason I prefer the new Ecumenical Version of the Lord’s Prayer. That version contains what I believe to be a much more faithful translation: “Save us from the time of trial.”
Do you have trials? Of course. You may have heard me say more than once that when I look out from the pulpit at the middle-class congregations I have served, it would be easy to presume that these freshly-scrubbed smiling faces reflect mostly pain-free lives of ease. It might be easy to assume that unless one is their pastor, and has been privy to some of the pain that people are encountering. In my experience, almost every single household is struggling mightily with something, or was last month, or will be next month—job loss, memory loss, relationship challenges, trouble with children, trouble with parents, challenges in school, addictions, childhood trauma, shame-based religious backgrounds, abuse, mental illness, cancer, heart disease and a plethora of other health issues….
Every human being has trials.
But this line is about even more than that. Remember, this powerful prayer is a response to the disciples asking Jesus how to pray. He is giving instructions to those who have said yes to him. Saying yes to Jesus, deciding to follow the Way, will indeed save us from some problems, but it will lead us into others.
Remember, Jesus commanded his followers each to take up one’s own cross. And one’s cross to bear is NOT one of those challenges I just listed, one of the normal vicissitudes of life. Those are difficult things, very difficult. But theologically, biblically, they are not “crosses.” The symbolic “cross” that Jesus is talking about is a difficult situation arising as the natural result of following him.
If we say “yes” to Jesus, we are saying no to that tempting affair. If we say “yes” to Jesus, we are saying no when the boss asks us to dump the company’s refuse into the river. If we say “yes” to Jesus, we are spending our money differently than before. If we say “yes” to Jesus, we may be taking a job with one-third the salary we could otherwise make. Those are crosses.
“In the Middle Ages, the church showed its glorious wisdom by placing statues of the martyrs at the front door, in the portal of the church.” (Praying Like Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity, p. 102)
In this prayer we are asking God to save us from the easy way and to give us the strength to choose Jesus’ way.
I’m going to use some language now that you don’t often hear from mainline pastors. No, I’m not going to start cussing. I’m going to use theological language you don’t often hear from mainline pastors, but this is my experience and I would be remiss not to share it with you. Here goes: When people make a commitment, or renew a commitment, to follow God as revealed in the person of Jesus, the forces of evil take notice. They don’t like it. Therefore, I warn people in new member classes, or people coming home from a “mountaintop experience” like a retreat or a mission trip, that they may now face unusual temptations. They may be “under attack,” if you will.
William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas note, Words like “save” and “trial” and “deliver” are words of crisis. They remind us that to pray this prayer means to be thrust into the middle of a cosmic struggle. At this point the temperature rises within the Lord’s Prayer. Things are not right in the world. It is as if something, someone has organized things against God. You pray this prayer faithfully, attempting to align your life to it and the next thing you know, it’s like you are under assault. (Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & The Christian Life, p. 88)
I think of Jack, not his real name. He and his wife were invited to a neighborhood Bible study. Jack had not grown up in a religious family and he had no faith background or biblical knowledge whatsoever. He and his wife started attending worship at our church and within a few weeks they joined the new member class. In that class, I gave the warning I just did. Beware when you make spiritual gains, that you may be under attack from the Evil One. Jack joined the church and he was all gung-ho for a while. But soon he was under attack. And he gave in to the temptation. He stopped going to the Bible study. He stopped coming to worship. Soon he left his spouse and three young children. And he has never returned to any kind of faith life. “Save us from the time of trial.”
But… note again that this is not just an individualistic prayer. Just as we began with “Our Father,” here again Jesus instructs us to pray, “Save us from the time of trial.” As James Mulholland notes, this “is not a personal mantra for protection. It is recognition of our tendency to march lockstep into sins with great social and global implications. When we fail to emphasize our corporate need for deliverance, we make the closing words of the Prayer of Jesus into another selfish petition. (Ibid., p. 111)
In Paul’s letters we are reminded that when we say yes to Jesus we enter into the struggle against principalities and powers. That’s a whole sermon or series of sermons in itself. But in brief, things like racism, like nationalism, like greed, some political groups, parts of the media, are “powers” we need to counter with the power of the Holy Spirit, with prayer and truth and justice-making.
“When we pray for deliverance from evil, we acknowledge that we have not the resources, on our own, to resist evil. The Lord’s Prayer is so honest.” (Ibid., p.94). We need the power of the Holy Spirit, as Paul wrote in Romans 8: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (8:26-27)
And we need one another, the Church. “Standing alone, as isolated individuals, we are no match for the powers.” (Ibid., p. 95)
“Deliver us from evil” is the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer in the biblical record.
The concluding line was added by the Church some time later: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” Politics again.
Jesus ushered in a new kind of kingdom, a kingdom of sharing, a kingdom affirming the dignity of each person regardless of nationality, age, gender or socio-conomic condition. Jesus ushered in a new kind of power, not “power over,” but “power from within,” not the short-term power of violence and military action, but the eternal power of nonviolence and justice. And finally, Jesus ushered in a new kind of glory, a glory found not in wealth and fame and the adulation of millions, but simply in faithfulness to God.
We end with “amen,” which does not mean, “Here’s the end of the prayer; you can look up now.” It means literally “so be it,” meaning, “Yes, we affirm these words and make them ours.” It’s like saying “I do” after the questions in a marriage ceremony. So, when we pray this Prayer of Jesus and conclude with “Amen,” we are saying, “Yes, Jesus. This is the desire of my heart and I dedicate my life to it.”
Please pray it with me, if you dare: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!”
We have been through some trying times—three months of pandemic, two weeks of racial tension. I trust we have all been praying like we rarely have prayed before in our lives and I am sure we will continue to do so.
What I want to do now is lighten things up. I want to share just a few positive stories coming out of these two crises, first Covid-19 and then the George Floyd tragedy.
There are, of course, thousands of heartwarming stories. Here are a few.
Schoolkids have been working online for these past ten weeks. I saw a photo online of a sixth grader who had a math question. Her teacher drove over to her house with a white board and stood on her front step while she was inside the door and he went over the concept with her. In person.
You may well have heard about a 93-year-old grandmother who put a sign in her window: “I need more beer.” Coors delivered it.
A college student and her mom designed masks to help the hard of hearing. They are cloth, with clear plastic over the mouth, to allow lip reading. Many have followed their lead.
Ford donated a fleet of vehicles to help the World Central Kitchen deliver meals across the LA area.
Our daughter, Anji, works with children with severe autism. Because of the virus, her center closed in March and she lost her job. Her landlord immediately said not to worry about April’s rent. She didn’t have to pay it. But then Anji got on unemployment quite quickly, but still her landlord said, “Nope. I said no rent this month and I still say no rent this month.”
Rolo is a dachshund, a wiener dog, who has been so happy that everyone is home for quarantine, that he “sprained his tail from excessively wagging it” and couldn’t wag it anymore. Rolo is currently on pain relief and the vet said he should be healed within a week.
My wife Kris works for a bedding company, Siscovers. They have donated free-f-charge 100 gowns and have made thousands of masks at cost.
A silver lining in the slowing global business output is that the water in the canals in Venice are clear again. Pollution is way down in China and to a lesser extent throughout the world.
Final virus story: One Covid-19 patient wrote a heartfelt message to the medical staff outside his ICU room window: This window has been the most impactful window in my life. On days when I watched you work hard to keep me and others alive unable to thank you for the time that you poured into me and although I will probably never get the chance to pour that same love and support into you, I want you to know that I think you all are rock stars. I watched some of you have good nights and some bad nights, but what was consistent every night was that you care for people. Today I leave this ICU a changed person, hopefully for the better, not only because of your medical healing and God’s direction and guidance, but with the fact of knowing that there are such wonderful people dedicated to the care and concern of others. God bless each of you.”
Now a few stories in response to the racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
Alexander Cash, 23, organized the Black Lives Matter march in Pennsylvania. He handed out water to riot police guarding a Target store in East Liberty, Pennsylvania. He said, “I know you guys are out here doing your jobs. I’m not mad at you.” (Daily Mail, June 2, 2020.)
So many people have donated money, to the tune of millions, hundreds of millions, of dollars. A number of my friends, not wealthy people, ordinary working folks like you and me, have donated their stimulus checks.
Hundreds of folks were out cleaning up the glass and mess in the days following the riots.
My niece’s husband is a criminal defense attorney who is offering free legal defense to protesters who were arrested.
Here in Minneapolis “The Southside Boys and Girls Club, like so many organizations, has morphed into an emergency support center during this crisis…Their gymnasium became a food distribution center this week because the Boys and Girls Club in the Little Earth community ran out of space from the flood of donations…
The Little Earth community center, packed with cereal, soup and diapers, served 1,000 Little Earth residents as well as 7,500 people from the nearby neighborhoods—turning away donations for the first time ever…
A mile away, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Jackson Odenbach, 17, and five of his co-workers from an insurance company near LaCrosse, Wis, arrived Tuesday after driving nearly (two) hours to volunteer. He stood at a table piled high with tortillas and trail mix.
Earlier in the day, Odenbach had seen a woman waiting for about half an hour. He held up a package of baby formula and asked if she needed it. ‘She just started crying,’ he said.” (Star Tribune June 3, 2020, p. A8)
We pray that this time finally some real movement will take place in the area of police reform and overall racial justice in our country. On our church website last week I offered a brief list of specific actions we folks might take. We dare not stand idly by, saying this is for people in the Twin Cities, or this is for young people or any other excuse.
To quote William Sloane Coffin: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”
As you have heard me say many times:
Let us align ourselves on the side of real power,
which is compassion and justice and suffering love,
Amen. So be it!