Sermon of the Week
The Lord’s Prayer:
Keywords: Tree of Life, Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, The Lord’s Prayer, Thine is the Kingdom, Fred Rogers, Love Wins.
This is our final Sunday exploring in more detail the Lord’s Prayer.
When we started, we observed how
this Prayer is one of those things that unites us
pretty much with every Christian everywhere.
Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox
high-roller prosperity gospel on the television
you name it,
just like in this Presbyterian church
and the other 10000 Presbyterian Churches
across this country
this prayer is there somewhere
playing an important role in our life and practice.
That’s something amazing, when you think about it.
But Jesus taught us to pray this prayer in this way
and so we do, not only here
but around dinner tables and in hospital rooms
and whenever we seek to center ourselves on God.
Maybe this sermon series has helped focus for you
some of what Jesus was trying to do for all of us
when he gave us this prayer.
Jesus first focuses our attention on God, and God alone.
God the father, but also Abba God, the intimate one
who, like a good and caring and doting parent
is there right beside you,
hurting when you hurt
encouraging and supporting you in your dreams
marveling at your warmth and creativity and compassion.
We ask for THAT God to bring about her Kingdom,
the reality of God’s shalom here on earth:
a promised time of peace where lion and lamb and kid
all can co-exist,
where people will no longer harm or destroy one another
because God will be in the midst of them.
We ask for God to give us daily Bread
reminding us of how God brought the Hebrews,
our forebears in the faith,
out of slavery with a mighty hand
and through it all, provided for what they needed–
food and clean water and a community with purpose.
We ask for our Daily Bread, and we know with certainty
that God wants all of us to have what we need to thrive.
Thoughts then turn to forgiveness
and to temptation, an understanding of our brokenness
a longing for the good, and our being drawn to so many things
that look enticing
but which don’t satisfy in the end.
In the end, God reminds us,
there is a better way
God’s way, the way of love and light and peace.
Finally, when we get through those four important steps
we end with a few words of praise about God:
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory. Amen.
This is called a “Doxology.”
If you’ve been around the church a while,
tou might have seen that word on a bulletin or two.
We use it here, for instance,
to describe what we do after our offering
when we dedicate our gifts to God.
A doxology is a shared expression of God’s amazing generosity.
It is the way we respond to what God is doing, by saying “wow, thank you.”
Today is our Be the Church Sunday,
and so we’ve planned a slightly shorter service,
(meaning a shorter sermon,)
so we can move to our outreach activities quicker,
but, truly, all of our giving back, all of our service,
is an act of doxology,
When we give thanks to the one who made us, who loves us,
through our own deeds of loving kindness.
Today’s reading, to bring all of this home
comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.
Listen today for God’s word to you, and to me:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, Rejoice.
5Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is near.
6Do not worry about anything,
but in everything
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
7And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved,
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
9Keep on doing the things
that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me,
and the God of peace will be with you.
And may God bless to us our reading
And our understanding, and our applying of these words
To how we live our lives. Amen.
After I got past my initial shock and horror and sadness yesterday
at the news of the shooting of our Jewish neighbors
at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh
I found myself thinking a good long time about their name.
The Tree of Life is an incredibly rich and powerful image in the Hebrew Scriptures
and it has evoked such beautiful art and reflection over the years.
I made reference last week to the Garden of Eden,
that place, according to Genesis, where the Creator God
put the first human beings, to till and to keep it.
We were talking last week about temptation, and forgiveness,
about good and evil,
so it made sense to talk about
the tree that was there, in the garden,
the tree that most of us remember, because it was the fruit of THAT tree
that, according to Genesis, messed the whole thing up.
That tree, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,
has a partner, one that we often forget.
It was called the Tree of Life.
Here’s the verse, from Genesis chapter 2:
Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow
every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,
the tree of life also in the midst of the garden,
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)
The tree of life, mentioned before that other tree,
The one that got us in trouble.
I don’t know if that faith community in Pittsburgh
gave their synagogue that name because of this passage in Genesis
or another passage, maybe the one in Proverbs, where wisdom is called
a tree of life to those who hold it fast
and all its ways are pleasant and all its paths are peace (Proverbs 3:18)
but either way, the idea of God planting a tree from which life shall flow
its timbers strong and secure
the shade from its branches offering repose: is just so lovely to me.
I can see why they would have given their community that name.
Even as it stands in such jarring opposition to the violence done to them yesterday.
We people of faith do not live in a vacuum.
This is sometimes, far-too-often it seems, a painful, hurting world we live in,
and it is our job, our calling, to give witness to a better way, a different way
particularly to stand up and with our vulnerable neighbors.
Many of my friends were noting yesterday
how CLOSE the Tree of Life Synagogue was,
there in the Squirrel Hill community of Pittsburgh,
the honest-to-goodness place where Mr. Rogers Lived.
Fred Rogers’ home, someone mapped out, was just a seven minute walk away.
It was, quite literally, in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood that this happened.
an exclamation mark on a week
that included pipe bombs and a different hate-crime shooting in Kentucky.
Mr. Rogers reminded all of us to Look for the Helpers
in times such as these
You will always find people who are helping.
And that’s true,
Because in the face of every evil, there are people who bear the good
who stand up with love and compassion
who refuse to let death be the last word.
There are many ways to do that
and we join with people of good will in other faith traditions as they seek peace.
For us, we follow God on the way of Jesus Christ
the one who rose from the dead to give this principle a living reality
the one who gave us THIS prayer,
to focus our faith towards God’s Kingdom here on earth.
When Mary sang her song of Praise to God
My soul magnifies the Lord…
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant
He has brought down the powerful…
And lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things…
Mary is proclaiming a world where people of faith
people who trust in God to keep them safe
to give them strength
Work together to set this world aright.
When Paul writes to his friends back in Philippi
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding
Will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul seeks to keep us on the way of God
that way where we seek what is
Honorable, and just, and pure, and pleasing, and commendable.
A world where we assert,
even in the face of all this violence and hatred and ugliness
that God’s love is stronger than that, and love will win.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory Forever. Amen.
That’s how we end our Lord’s Prayer.
This world is God’s world.
God is the one who is working to heal us in our brokenness
to end prejudice and hatred
to help us reach out to one another with acts of love and compassion.
Those are some of the things that mark God’s Kingdom:
A world where God’s Power and Glory triumph over the forces that divide us.
Today we’re going to join with some other Presbyterian Churches
in a day of service to others.
We’re going to take plastic bags and transform them
into mats for people who sleep on the street.
We’re going to gather cleaning supplies for women who are facing their addictions
and who want to build safe and healing homes for their families.
We’re going to put pen to paper and send messages of care and support
for teachers and administrators and staff from Center Elementary School
who are giving their all so that kids in their care can thrive,
even though they face many challenges.
These are acts that say Thank You to the God who inspires us to love.
This is how we stand up to the forces in our world that want to make us afraid.
This is how we marshal the incredible resources that God gives us
to make a little difference in our world
to be the helpers that Fred Rogers talks about.
The Lord’s Prayer leads right there: to acts of loving and serving our community.
May we, as The Kirk of Kansas City
seek out the Tree of Life right here, where we are
whose branches are for the healing of the nations
as we say Thank You to our God
the one to whom is the Kingdom, and the Power, and Glory forever.
May it be so.
Image Credit: Tree of Life by Catherine Barry Hayes. See her art at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/tree-of-life-catherine-barry-hayes.html