Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
Mary Oliver, in “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” imagines the scene we’ve just been reading about, from the perspective of the animal who carried Jesus into the city.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
The donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
He stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow,
Leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
Clatter away, splashed with sunlight!
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let a stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
As he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
That closing line, “and stepped, as he had to, forward,” mirrors so beautifully what Jesus himself was doing on that important day, doesn’t it?
The crowds were impressive, and Jesus was greeted with great acclaim, with waving palm branches, with cloaks strewn across his path, and shouts of “Hosanna! Save us!”
But he knew what he was getting into. Luke had alerted us to this some 10 chapters earlier in fact. Back in Luke 9:51, we read, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what was coming when he reached the holy city, and he and the donkey both “stepped, as they had to, forward.”
We’ve been talking about the Lord’s Prayer over the last several weeks, and today we arrive at its conclusion, words that appear in a few ancient manuscripts at the end of the prayer, and which most Protestant churches include when we say the prayer together: “for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.”
This line may have been added later on – no doubt by someone who felt it was a bit abrupt to end with the line we discussed last week, about being delivered from evil – but it is certainly a fitting conclusion to end the prayer with a doxology like this, that is, words of praise and glory to God.
It sounds an awful lot like King David’s doxology in I Chronicles 29:11, in fact, and may have even been drawn to an extent from that source. That prayer reads:
“Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty… yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”
At the very least we can hear echoes of King David’s prayer in the one we pray together every Sunday, ending as we do with the words: “thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”
Focusing on these words on Palm Sunday, however, brings to light just how differently Jesus understood kingdom, power, and glory than did those who greeted him in Jerusalem that day.
Kings, after all, would have arrived in town on impressively large horses, or drawn in royal chariots, not on the backs of donkeys, however sweet and obedient they might be.
And the power Jesus brought along with him was indeed power to save, but not in the way the crowds expected. They were looking for a triumphant overthrow of the Roman government, not a savior whose greatest moments of triumph would come first on a cross and then in empty tomb.
And as for glory? The kind of glory Jesus demonstrated is summed up for us beautifully in Philippians 2:
"though he was in the form of God,
[he] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross."
That’s the kind of glory we’re told Jesus exhibited.
It’s all turned on its head, isn’t it?
Defining glory in terms of humility and sacrifice.
A powerful ruler, who rides into town on a donkey.
A king who washes his own servants’ feet.
But this shouldn’t surprise us, really, if we’ve been paying attention to Jesus story as it’s given to us in Luke’s gospel.
After all, these kinds of dramatic reversals were just the sort of thing Jesus’ mother Mary sang about back in chapter 1, as she caught a glimpse of the world that her son would bring about:
A kingdom in which God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts,
Brings down the powerful from their thrones,
Lifts up the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things,
and sends the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)
Jesus himself had given us fair warning too, when he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue back in Luke chapter 4.
His kingdom would be one with good news for the poor,
And release for the captives,
Recovery of sight to the blind,
And freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4:18)
Elsewhere, Jesus taught that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for [his] sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
He taught that true greatness is about welcoming the last and the least. (Luke 9:48), that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
He taught that treasure in heaven comes from giving away all we have to the poor. (Luke 18:22)
Those whose lives are marked by the sort of power, glory, and authority that the world dishes out, really ought to get a little nervous when they hear Jesus’ kingdom talk in the gospels.
For the kingdom of God is all about upsetting expectations.
But for this same reason, the proclamation of God’s kingdom comes as tremendously good news for all who are beaten down, trampled underfoot, and in danger of losing hope.
That’s one of the reasons this prayer has been such an encouragement to so many.
“In a prison camp in World War II, on a cold, dark evening after a series of beatings, after the hundreds of prisoners of war had been marched before the camp commander and harangued for an hour, when the prisoners were returned to their dark barracks, and told to be quiet for the rest of the night, someone, somewhere in one of the barracks began saying the Lord’s Prayer.
“Some of his fellow prisoners lying next to him began to pray with him. Their prayer was overheard by prisoners in the next building who joined them. One by one, each set of barracks joined in the prayer until, as the prayer was ending with ‘Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,’ hundreds of prisoners had joined their voices in a strong, growing, defiant prayer, reaching a thunderous ‘Amen!’…
“And then the camp was silent, but not before the tables had been turned, the prisoners had thrown off their chains, and a new world had been sighted, signaled, and stated…
“Wherever, since the day that Jesus taught us, this prayer has been prayed, even in the darkest of days, the worst of situations, prisoners have been set free, the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have good news proclaimed to them, and a new world, not otherwise visible to us, has been constituted.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord Teach Us, pp. 108-109)
Jesus’ betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane await, later this week, as does the cross on Good Friday … but so too does the glorious triumph of Easter morning, when we will be invited to re-imagine, yet again, what it means to celebrate God’s rule. (Spoiler alert: death doesn’t get the final word.)
Still, the whole of Holy Week is so important, in helping us to appreciate the joy we will share together next Sunday.
So I pray we will notice just how differently Jesus’ story unfolds, in Jerusalem, than it would have if he had bought into the world’s understanding of kingdom, power, and glory.
I hope, finally, we feel brave.
I hope, finally, we love the man who rode so lightly upon that donkey.
As he now lifts one dusty hoof to begin this journey with Jesus,
May we all step, as we have to, forward.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We’re nearing the end of our Lord’s Prayer series, which has been our focus throughout this Lenten season.
Our final line when we say the prayer together here at church (the line about “the kingdom, the power, and the glory”) appears in some manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel, but you’ll notice it’s absent from the main text in our pew Bibles. We’ll come back to that final element next week, on Palm Sunday.
Meanwhile, the basic prayer, as we find it in both Matthew and Luke, ends with talk of trial, temptation, and evil.
In Luke 11: “do not bring us to the time of trial” (or “do not bring us into temptation”)
And in Matthew 6: “do not bring us to the time of trial” (or “into temptation”) but rescue us from the evil one” (or “from evil”)
It seemed only fitting to read these lines in conversation with the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness, following his baptism, a story we often read during the season of Lent.
As I read these texts together, I’m reminded of a few important truths.
First, that Jesus doesn’t take us anywhere he isn’t willing to go. If we’re going to find ourselves tried and tempted over the course of our lifetimes, having to face evil or even “the evil one” head-on, we won’t be going it alone. Jesus has been there. He is there. Right alongside us.
Secondly, evil is real, and powerful. The minute Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is made clear, at his baptism, he comes under attack.
Our Christian identity, too, will at times be put to the test. For “the Christian life is no safe harbor, secure from storms and struggle…” (Hauerwas & Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 87)
It also occurs to me that the evil from which we ask God to deliver us has various dimensions.
For instance, there is evil of our own making – this is what we’re talking about, when we ask not to succumb to temptation, which actually follows nicely on the heels of all of our forgiveness talk last week. As flawed human beings, we screw up sometimes. Our own sins are part of the evil in the world. So we ask: deliver us, Lord, from the mess we ourselves can make of things.
But we also know that there are powerful forces of evil at work in the world that are far outside our own control. Not just obviously powerful and well-organized physical forces of evil like Isis, or Boko Haram, but even the powerful appeal of evils like greed, violence, selfishness, exploitation of others for personal gain… Deliver us, Lord. Us here. And ‘us’ meaning God’s children everywhere, as well.
There can even be a future element in this petition for God to deliver us from evil. This could be a now-and-not-yet kind of prayer, referring both to good and evil slugging it out here and now, but also in the last days. Perhaps there is a degree to which the “time of trial” Jesus refers to here has to do with the end times, the eschaton.
Whether primarily understood as present or future tense, though, “words like ‘save’ and ‘trial’ and ‘deliver’ are [clearly] words of crisis. They remind us that to pray this prayer means to be thrust into the middle of a cosmic struggle.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, 88)
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon explain what’s at stake: “[Here] 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… you become a virtual battleground where the living God fights the powers… In praying that God will not ‘put us to the test,’ we pray that God will not make us vulnerable to those powers that rage against God’s kingdom… [For] Evil is large, cosmic, organized, subtle, pervasive, and real.” (Lord Teach Us, pp. 88-89)
We do know to whom we can appeal for help, however. The God who will never leave or forsake us. The God to whom we have been speaking all along in this prayer, “Our Father in heaven.”
I can’t help but call to mind in this context the strong message of comfort and encouragement we found in the NT book of Revelation, when we studied it together earlier this year.
There too we read powerful words about a raging battle between good and evil. Yet the author urged us not to be afraid, to take comfort, for Christ is enthroned in the midst of his people.
The battle may at times be frightening; its eventual outcome may seem uncertain, but as Christians we have read the final chapter, and we know who wins in the end.
And in the meantime? NT Wright reminds us: “As God’s children, we are entitled to use the same defense as the Son of God himself. Think back again about to Jesus took Satan on, in that story we just read about his 40 days in the wilderness.
“Store Scripture in your heart, and know how to use it.
“Keep your eyes on God, and trust him for everything.
“Remember your calling, to bring God’s light into the world.
And say a firm ‘no’ to the voices that lure you back into the darkness.” (Matthew for Everyone, p. 26)
As Tom Long puts it, “The best way to understand the petition ‘do not bring us to the time of trial’ is to envision the congregation heading out the front door of the church to do God’s work in a storm-tossed world … [while] whispering the prayer ‘Keep us safe out there, O God. Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when we go out.” (Matthew, p. 72)
“Keep us safe out there, God. Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around.”
Don’t those sound like important words to pray for all who are in the front lines of battle right now with terrorist cells around the world? Soldiers and intelligence officers and diplomats trying to take on that magnitude of evil, not to mention all who are themselves under attack?
Don’t they also sound like important words to pray both for police officers and protestors, as racial tensions continue to escalate across our own nation? (Lead us not into temptation, Lord; deliver us from evil.)
Don’t they sound like important words to pray for kids facing the terrors of bullying, at school or in cyberspace? (Keep us safe out there, God. Deliver us from evil.)
Don’t they sound like important words to pray for ourselves, anytime we are tempted to be something other than the faithful disciples Christ calls us to be?
So how do we arm ourselves against evil, both within ourselves and out there in the world? Again, we look to Jesus’ example, in his encounter with Satan in the wilderness:
“Store Scripture in your heart, and know how to use it.
Keep your eyes on God, and trust him for everything.
Remember your calling, to bring God’s light into the world.
And say a firm ‘no’ to the voices that lure you back into the darkness.” (N.T. Wright)
Let us pray:
Lead us not into temptation, Lord. Save us from the time of trial. Deliver us from evil. “Keep us safe out there, God. Let the forces of evil tremble to see us coming, rather than the other way around, and bring us home at the end of this day even stronger in faith than when [you send us] out.” Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
This is now our fourth sermon in a series on the Lord’s Prayer, and if you’ve been here during that time you may have noticed we’ve been using the same Scripture reading, from the 6th chapter of Matthew, all along.
Today we’ve just read Luke’s version of the same prayer.
They’re not that different, really, with the exception of the very last line, which we’ll get to next week. (You may also have noticed that neither version includes the words with which we normally conclude our prayer when we pray together here in worship. We’ll come back to that later on too.)
Meanwhile there’s really just one difference between the two gospel versions of this prayer in the section about forgiveness, which is our focus for today.
“forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
And in Matthew:
“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
If you’ve ever wondered why different churches use different English words when we get to this line – debts, trespasses, sins – it turns out three different Greek words do come into play, in Matthew and Luke.
Matthew uses the Greek words closest to English debts and debtors in the actual prayer, but then uses the Greek word closest to English trespasses or transgressions a few verses later when referring back to this line about forgiveness.
And Luke uses the Greek word closest to sin, in his version of the prayer.
Traditional denominational preferences for one version over another, then, are simply that – traditional preferences - since all of the options are rooted in the Greek gospel texts.
And all are really different ways to get at the same basic idea, right?
We might think of trespassing as stepping out of line, or over the line.
Of sin as missing the mark.
And as for debts? “Our books are in the red, as far as our relationship to God is concerned. We have run up a debt with God so large that all we can do is ask for forgiveness. We can never hope to pay it back.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 79)
Each word choice, when we say this prayer, acknowledges we are continually making mistakes, falling short, falling down on the job. And each acknowledges that others are continually doing these things as well.
Teaching us to pray in this way, “Jesus assumes that we will need to ask for forgiveness not on one or two rare occasions but very regularly. This is a sobering thought, but it is matched by the comforting news that forgiveness is freely available as often as we need it.” (NT Wright, Matthew for Everyone, p. 59)
And so we pray:
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Now you may have noticed which words didn’t change there, in the three versions:
“Forgive us… as we forgive…”
Does this mean God can only forgive us if we forgive others?
Tom Long notes: that would be like saying “God waits to see how forgiving we are, and then matches our level. [But] our behavior does not somehow transform an unmerciful God into a merciful one. God is forgiving even when we are not. God is generous and merciful because God is God.” (Long, Matthew, p. 71)
So is God’s grace is only as big as our own? Certainly not!
But might we increase the odds that we’ll understand and appreciate that forgiveness when we’ve done the hard work of forgiving someone else?
NT Wright suggests this understanding may be built right into the prayer itself: “we ourselves must be forgiving people, [for] the heart that will not open to forgive others will remain closed when God’s own forgiveness is offered.” (Wright, p. 60)
And really the chronology moves in the opposite direction anyway, right? For God’s grace, God’s mercy always precedes any action on our part.
So “our forgiveness begins as a response to our being forgiven. It is not so much an act of generosity toward our fellow offending human beings as an act of gratitude toward our forgiving God.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, pp. 82-83)
Tom Long further notes: “Forgiveness is not a matter of bookkeeping; it is part of a living relationship with God and others. Forgiveness is not a matter of some distant divine accountant burning the note on our sinful debts and saying, ‘Well, that’s that.’ Forgiveness is to the Christian life like breathing; constant and life-giving. What we breathe in from God’s mercy we express to others. Inhale. Exhale. Forgive us, as we forgive; as we forgive, forgive us.” (p. 71)
Now it’s terribly important not to forget the place of repentance in the whole forgiveness equation.
When we’re talking about our own sins, we shouldn’t be asking for God’s forgiveness as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, without being truly sorry for what we have done and trying our hardest to do better next time. We also need to acknowledge that our sins can have real and lasting consequences. We, and others, can bear the scars. Those scars don’t go away simply because we have said, to God or anyone else, “Forgive me.”
But where repentance is real, God does offer us fresh starts and new beginnings, second chances and opportunities to hit the ‘refresh’ button on our lives. As many times as we need.
It’s a bit trickier when it comes to forgiving others. We have some control over whether or not we honestly repent of our own sins, but we can’t control whether the person who has done us wrong is truly sorry, or intends to change their behavior in any way.
I admit to feeling conflicted about what to advise in these situations.
On the one hand, if God expects repentance from us, before God forgives us, and God’s mercy and grace far outstrip ours, then it’s entirely unfair to expect us to forgive those who have hurt us, if they show no signs of remorse or repentance. Our anger and hurt may be justified. And certainly we’d want to act wisely, and protect ourselves from further injury, not remaining in a situation of abuse, for instance.
So let’s be clear that forgiving others does NOT mean saying what they are doing is ok, nor does it mean we must allow them to keep hurting us.
On the other hand, what does it do to us, to hold onto anger and injury for a long period of time? Not acting on it (for instance, to get ourselves out of a bad situation) but simply dwelling on it, picking at the wound.
You may have heard the saying: “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon offer an interesting take on this. They say:
“In commanding us to forgive others, Jesus is not saying that the injustice we have suffered is inconsequential. The sin we commit causes pain. The sins committed against us cause pain. Rather, Jesus is refusing to let sin have the last word in our story… In commanding us to forgive, Jesus is inviting us to take charge, to turn the world around, to throw a monkey wrench in the eternal wheel of retribution and vengeance. We don’t have silently to suffer the hurt, to lick our wounds, lying in wait for the day when we shall at last be able to return the blow that was dealt to us. We can take charge, turn things around, be victors rather than victims. We can forgive.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord, Teach Us, p. 84)
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s not easy to offer, when we feel ourselves deeply wronged, and it’s not always easy to ask for it, for ourselves.
But forgiveness is an important part of God’s path of life and health, wholeness and peace.
Which is why, if you’ve been here since the start of worship today, you have heard and said words like these:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning.”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In humility and faith let us confess our sin to God.”
We remind one another every single Sunday that we are imperfect people. We are sinful people, debtors, trespassers, but we are also people who can be forgiven.
One of my very favorite assurances of pardon is this one we said this morning:
“While it is true that we have sinned, it is a greater truth that we are forgiven through God’s grace in Jesus Christ. All who humbly seek the mercy of God can say with confidence: In Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven.”
I’m going to provide a moment of silence as I conclude, and you’ll see in the bulletin that I’m inviting you to lift up in prayer one of two things:
Either an area of hurt in your life, something or someone that it is hard for you to forgive.
Or something you have done, for which it has been hard for you to ask for God’s forgiveness, either because you are too busy beating yourself up over it, or because you aren’t really ready to change
Don’t worry about trying to articulate it in the right words. Let’s be honest. It’s likely to be a real mess, this thing that has been hurting you, or this thing you’ve done that’s weighing on you because you know it’s wrong. You don’t need to sort it all out right now or even think of a way to express it verbally at all.
Just hold it for a second. And then, in your mind’s eye, lift it up. Hand it off to the only One who can really help you with it. Lift up the whole stinkin’ mess, and give it to the God of grace and mercy and forgiveness. Trust that God knows what to do with it, even if you do not.
Let’s pray in silence for a moment…
Forgive us, Lord, for having difficulty forgiving others. Invite us to let go of that hot coal we’re carrying around in our hand.
Thank you for understanding those situations in which someone might not be able to forgive quite yet, without risking further damage to body or spirit. First offer a way out, a safe place, and then extend an invitation later on, to forgive.
Forgive us, Lord, for telling you we’re sorry when we don’t really mean it, when we don’t intend to actually change our ways, to step back into line, to hit the mark. Bring us to a place of true repentance, so we realize what a gift your forgiveness can be, and so that we can want it with all our hearts.
Forgive us, Lord, for being afraid to ask for your forgiveness. Allow us to admit to you the mistakes we have made, and then free us to move on and move forward in your grace.
Forgive us our debts…our trespasses…our sins.
Loving God, work your peace into situations that are anything but peaceful right now.
And thank you for the amazing good news we receive here each and every week.
For while it is true that every one of us has sinned, it is a far greater truth that you show yourself abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, mercy and forgiveness, to all who call on your name.
And all God’s people said: Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We’re a couple weeks into a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer now, and this week our focus is the line: “give us this day our daily bread.”
We’ve talked about the fact that the prior lines direct our attention to God, and remind us that the same God that knows and loves each one of us intimately, that can be addressed as a loving parent, is also the Creator of the universe, holy and set apart, all powerful, all knowing, to be greatly respected and revered. It is God’s kingdom, God’s will we ask for, as we begin.
But in this next line of Jesus’ prayer, notice that he gives us permission to shift our attention from the One to whom we direct our prayers, to our own basic needs: “give us this day our daily bread.”
It’s important, as we said last week, that prayer isn’t always and only about “give me this” or “give me that.”
But Jesus clearly teaches us here that it is ok to ask God for what we truly need.
Bread was the most basic food there was in the Middle East in Jesus’ day, the essential sustenance folks needed to survive. And Jesus says go ahead and ask God to provide that for you.
That said, let’s be clear about what it really means to pray like this.
First, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we’re reminded that the food on our tables is only there because God has seen fit to give it to us. If we “say grace” before we eat, it is because all food is pure grace. We give thanks to the one who created the earth, watered the soil, allowed the wheat to grow, so that this bread would even exist.
All “human life depends upon daily gifts from the hand of God.” (Thomas G. Long, Matthew, p. 70) So first of all, we’re invited to remember the Giver of our daily bread, even in asking for the gift.
Jesus also reminds us that it is daily bread for which we pray. And biblical stories abound of those who lost sight of God providing for their basic needs and became greedy.
One is the story about God’s provision of manna for the people of Israel as they made their way through the wilderness from Egypt to the land of Canaan. So long as they were content to gather up each day just what they needed for that day, all was well. As soon as they got greedy and tried to gather and store up extra, the manna spoiled. (Exodus 16)
In other words, no hoarding, folks. Enough is enough. We are invited to ask for our daily bread.
Later on in the gospels, Jesus tells a memorable story of a rich man whose crops produced so abundantly that he didn’t have enough room to store all of his grain. So he said, “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and all my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry’ But God said to him ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12)
Again, no hoarding. Enough is enough. We are invited to ask for what we actually need.
In other words, “give us this day our daily bread” doesn’t exactly mean “God, fill my shopping cart to overflowing with luxurious treats. It means God, allow me to eat today…
The other thing that stands out to me from this line of the Lord’s Prayer – likely because last week we were also talking about pronouns – is the presence of the words “us” and “our.”
Last time we mentioned that it was important to remember that the words “thy” or “your” called our attention to God, in that it is God’s kingdom, God’s will, for which we pray.
So here in the words “Give us this day our daily bread,” I wonder if the first person plural is significant. I confess it’s not something I’ve thought a lot about, as I’ve prayed this prayer. Certainly I’ve said it a great many times in congregations like this one, surrounded by a community of fellow Christians. But have I thought enough about the fact that I am not praying simply for myself, but for us all?
As we said when talking about the opening “Our Father,” the ‘us’ in question isn’t just us here in this room, either. Think for just a moment about who else is praying Jesus’ words around the world right now.
Coptic Christians, being abducted and executed for their faith.
Christians living in desperate poverty in famine zones and Ebola zones in Africa.
“A woman in a little village in Honduras trudges up the mountain each day to gather and then carry down the mountain the sticks for her cooking fire. She then goes back up the mountain to fetch water for cooking the food. Then she grinds the corn that her husband has raised, cherishing every kernel, hoping that this season’s corn will last through the winter. The tortillas are made in the palm of her hand. She drops them in the pan, cooks them, and feeds them one-by-one to her children, the only food they will have that day to fill their aching stomachs. That woman undoubtedly prays ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ differently from the way we pray that petition.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 75)
Bono, of U2 fame, famously sings “where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die,” but sadly it seems to be the case sometimes, doesn’t it?
Many of us here this morning are among the safest, best-fed people in the world. We ask for daily bread each Sunday morning as we pray this prayer without – in most cases –being at all worried about where our food is actually coming from.
So what would it mean to pray this prayer with an awareness that “our” daily bread means the bread of every one of God’s children in our city and around the world? They, too, are “us,” are they not?
I expect I don’t need to remind anyone that our planet is quite capable of providing enough food for every person on earth. (Though the World Food Program of the UN has plenty of information on this, if you would like to learn more.)
This says to me that God’s holding up God’s end of the deal, and providing that daily bread for all. We’re just not doing a very good job of sharing it around.
If more of us here learned what it means to be content with enough, how many more of us around the world would be able to enjoy the provision of daily bread?
To be honest, the Lord’s Prayer can get a little uncomfortable about the time we realize that praying these words also requires living into these words.
But we know where to start. We know we can begin live into our prayer when we set aside coins and bills, or write checks, to support the Presbyterian Hunger Program through One Great Hour of Sharing, or when we give canned goods to the Ballard Food Bank, or when we serve a meal at Operation Nightwatch. And there are countless other opportunities to share too, of course. We need only remember that daily bread is something God intends to provide for everyone, not just for me. And sometimes a bit of redistribution is in order.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
If you are in a place of desperation today, or simply a place of need, hear in this prayer words of comfort: God hears you, God knows your need, and God can provide.
And if you are quite comfortable today, quite well off in terms of your material needs, hear the challenge inherent in these words: who might you help to find their daily bread, so they too might celebrate the surprising ways that God provides? Perhaps you could be the vehicle through which God intends to answer someone else’s prayer.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Remember the Giver.
Remember what it means to have daily bread – enough is enough. Don’t hoard.
Remember what it means to pray for “our” daily bread, and not only my own.
Above all, remember, that everything we have is a gift. Grace, pure and simple. Grace alone.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We’re gradually working our way through this prayer Jesus taught, the Lord’s Prayer, throughout this season of Lent. Last week we looked at the phrase “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name.”
Today our focus will be the next brief section: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
So it’s all about kingdom of God talk today. But this in turn raises some interesting questions.
For instance, when Jesus says in this prayer, “your (in other words, God’s) kingdom come,” does he mean something that is to happen here and now, or then and there, later on, in the final days?
And it is something only God can bring (this coming kingdom) or is it something you and I are supposed to be working toward?
If you do any reading around in biblical commentaries you will find advocates for all kinds of options here.
I find myself weighing with a pretty clear ‘yes’ to all of the above.
In other words, is God’s kingdom something that happens here and now or then and there? Yes, absolutely.
And is God’s kingdom something only God can bring, or something you and I are supposed to be working toward? Yes, definitely.
It seems to me these are questions with ‘both-and’ kinds of answers, rather than ‘either-or’s.’
Only God can save the world. But God doesn’t invite us to sit back, twiddle our thumbs, and wait it out, while God’s children are suffering all over the globe. After all, as I heard one of my presbytery colleagues say recently, we can only call ourselves followers of Jesus if we actually follow Jesus, and do the things he commands us to do. (Paul Smith)
In other words, God alone is truly able to bring about the kingdom of God, but we can bring forth the kingdom too. Both.
And as for the question whether the kingdom of God is with us now, or something that will only come later on – well, we only need to look around our world to know that God’s kingdom isn’t here yet, not completely. As we noted back in our sermon series on Revelation a couple of weeks ago, evil too often still seems to have the upper hand. Certainly God rules the world, and God will win in the end, but the battle isn’t over yet.
So the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom may have to wait, but we can catch little glimpses of it now and then, can’t we?
In last week’s sermon and again at children’s time today, we’ve talked about metaphorical language for God. No single image can tell us everything about God, but each one can hint at something of what God is like.
So, too, with talk of God’s kingdom. In the gospels Jesus uses dozens of images, metaphors, parables to help us understand what God's kingdom is all about. For instance:
It’s like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a huge tree, with birds sitting in its branches.
It’s like a net full of fish, of all kinds and descriptions.
It’s like the yeast that leavens a loaf of bread.
It’s like a father who rushes out to meet a prodigal son, dispensing with the rules of propriety in an extravagant act of love.
It’s like a great wedding banquet to which are invited those who would never have a place on most of our guest lists.
And much, much more…
Some of these parables of the kingdom of heaven are more confusing than others, of course. I’ve yet to meet anyone who feels they’ve quite mastered all of the nuances of Jesus’ kingdom talk.
But surely we can act on what we do understand. And this is what I mean by noticing, or even offering to others, little glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth.
After all, our best model for what the kingdom of God is like, is Jesus himself.
As we read stories in the gospels of Jesus healing the sick, forgiving sinners, eating dinner with those not often welcome in polite society, we are watching the kingdom of God in action. If there was anyone who practiced what he preached, it was Jesus.
As kingdom people, we can demonstrate in our own lives that this King to whom we have pledged our allegiance teaches us a new set of rules, an alternate script, a different way to live.
One in which we are to pour our energy into caring for those whom the world considers last and least. One in which the good life isn’t about fame or money, status or power. It’s about remembering God is at the center of the universe and is worthy of our worship. It’s about serving others in God’s name.
As World Vision president Rich Stearns reminds us, churches are meant to be outposts of God’s kingdom, deepening and strengthening God’s people to do God’s work in God’s way, to turn the world’s values on their heads.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we really lived like this? If we could show ourselves to be an extraordinary group of people actually practicing what we preach? What kind of a response might that bring from our neighbors?
As God’s kingdom people, we won’t always get it right. But what if we got it right just enough of the time to provoke curiosity, just enough to make people wonder what those church folk on the top of the hill there, at 28th and Dravus, are all about?
Have you ever encountered someone who made you sit up and take notice like this? A person or a group of people who are living proof that the kingdom of God is breaking out in small but remarkable ways here and now, even as we await its final fulfillment later on?
People of God putting others’ needs ahead of their own? Devoting their lives to service and sacrifice? Living as Jesus calls us to live?
So the kingdom of God is something that will happen then and there, later on, in the last days, of course. But we also know that the kingdom of God is among us even now, for we see it in these hints and glimpses. It’s both-and again. And thanks be to God for that.
Finally, going back to today’s lines from the Lord’s Prayer, it was pointed out to me recently that we shouldn’t just skip over the possessive pronouns, on our way to important nouns like “kingdom” and “will.”
After all, it is God’s kingdom, God’s will that we are asking for. Let’s not get ourselves so bogged down in the details of what that kingdom looks like, or how we might figure out that divine will, that we forget who it is we’re talking about – talking to, actually, in this prayer.
We pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon note:
“Too often, we are conditioned to think of prayer as asking God for what we want – dear God, give me this, give me that. But now, in praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are attempting to school ourselves to want what God wants… to pray ‘your will be done’ is [not to beg for] what we want, but rather to beg to have our lives caught up in some project greater than our lives… the adventure of what God is doing in the world.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, Lord Teach Us, p. 66)
“Prayer in Jesus’ name is lifelong training in taking God’s will a little more seriously and our own will a little less so.” (Hauerwas and Willimon, p. 69)
For again, we can only call ourselves followers of Jesus if we actually follow Jesus, and do what he asks us to do.
Or as we said last week, prayer is “bending our lives toward God.”
Let’s continue that vitally important task of bending our lives toward God this morning as we pray in conclusion the words you’ll see printed next in your bulletin. I invite you to pray them in silence first, and then aloud when I invite you to do so, both times emphasizing in each line the words in bold print. Let’s do it silently first:
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven. Amen.