If my sermon yesterday sounded a little grumpy for someone just returning from a wonderful vacation, then you should know that the majority of the work was done before I left. Maybe that explains some of the edge. When I returned, refreshed and joyful, however, I still saw the value in preaching it.
There's an old fable about a king who wished to give his throne to the person who could pray ceaselessly. Three men were selected to attempt the task. The first knelt right where he was from the moment the instructions were given and did not move until the competition ended. The second ran to the chapel and remained in prayer there throughout the competition. The third started toward home where he could pray without being distracted, but didn't get far before he saw a hungry person and went to find her bread. While seeking the bread he saw another person in distress and sought to give comfort. On and on it goes and, as you probably guessed, his actions were judged by the king as the best sign of a life of true prayer.
God is incredibly beyond what we can sort out with our limited minds and hearts. We have taken hold of the idea that God is three Persons, the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are great gifts in knowing God as trinitarian. We learn from God being in community that we are meant to be, as well. We also are given different Persons to attach to in different ways and at different times. Just as you might have gone/go to one parent for some conversations and another for others, to a spouse for much of your life's joys and burdens and a good friend for some particular ones, so it is with God. And, which Person you go to for which topic might change from day to day.
We used The Lord's Prayer as a guide on Monday and some did throughout the week. It is a familiar prayer and sometimes familiarity leads us to be less creative. We might struggle to imagine another way to say something because "that's just how you pray The Lord's Prayer." Maybe, knowing what's coming, we move through it too quickly. Sometimes fresh phrases can startle us into more creativity and openness.
It is a good exercise to let something familiar and common guide you in prayer. The Lord's Prayer is often used as a guide for this kind of activity. You can pray, "Our Father," then talk to God as you would to a divine Parent. What do you need your Father to know? What do you need your Mother to be? What respect do you owe this Parent? You can work through phrases personalizing The Lord's Prayer in a way that honors the original intent, but also brings your life into it.
Anne Lamott says there are really three prayers to pray: Help. Thanks. Wow. Her book by that title reminds us that those simple words summarize much of what prayer can and should be. I expect to have a lot of wows in the days ahead as our family ventures into God's creation in the mountain west. I also hope to listen as much as I talk.
By now I should expect it at Central, but I'm still surprised by mid-July grace. Never in our worship planning do we peg July 22 as an extraordinary day in the life of our church, but it was. We had 2 people baptized, 6 joined, and inspiring and uplifting music in each service, including a world-renowned organist who was here almost on a whim. As is always the case, even if there were no sermons, those of us who worshiped God together yesterday were blessed by showing up.
It's human nature to want God to agree with us. Since we've worked our way into our conclusions and they suit our worldview and how we live our lives, we'd like God to get on board. There are times when we know that we're fooling ourselves - God cannot get on board with this and, in fact, we just don't want to change our minds or lives. But, many times, we rationalize things until it would only make sense for God to agree. What kind of God would disagree with me on this? We didn't invent the struggle.
One of you told me after yesterday's sermon that you have a print which reminds you that, "You can be a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time." I sure hope so.
We were made in God's image - a masterpiece. We are imperfect and need guidance and grace through this life - a work in progress.
You likely know the stories of David the Shepherd-Boy turned giant-slayer, David who survives Saul to become king, and David and Bathsheba. Somewhere in the midst of all of that, David also became a dancer. He danced before the Lord and the throngs of Israel and under the scornful eye of his wife (and Saul's daughter) Michal. 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 tells that story. We'll read it Sunday.
If Jesus' model for his followers and Paul's goal for churches was to dominate others, the word Paul received from Jesus ("My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" - 2 Corinthians 12:9) and Paul's final claim about himself ("For whenever I am weak, then I am strong" - 2 Corinthians 12:10) would make no sense. Clearly, their goals for us are not domination, but ministry. When your Savior saved through dying on a cross - a stumbling block for many then and now - humility and service and mercy and weakness become practices you seek and attributes you acknowledge, not avoid.
The principal scripture at each worship service this weekend is 2 Corinthians 12:2-10. Derrick nor I have ever preached it before.
It's fun to research a passage for a sermon for the first time. No, really. It pushes you to read it differently, communally, which is really how the Bible is meant to be read. There is certainly value to hearing what God is saying to you (singular), but the Bible's voice, as a whole, is to you plural (to us).
Guided by the lectionary, the sermons yesterday (based on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15) focused on stewardship. Rev. Cattenhead and I checked, you are allowed to preach on stewardship on Sundays outside of October. As with Paul's plea to the Corinthians, so it is with every church on every Sunday - the opportunities to return God's tithes and to sacrifice for the benefit of others can't be relegated to a "season." Jesus' sacrifice for us is beneficial every day. Our call to follow him as his disciples continues every day. How we share from the abundance we have been given matters every day.
St. Paul, who had plenty of critical things to say about the church at Corinth, is complimentary of them in the passage we'll read Sunday (2 Corinthians 8:7-15). He says they excel in faith, speech, knowledge, eagerness, and being loved. That's quite a list. If someone as known for his directness and honesty as Paul wrote that to our church, I'd feel pretty good about us. Even with all those accolades, however, Paul had another goal for the Corinthians.
"Do you care?" is a question that gets to the heart of our relationship with others. We'd like people to agree with us. We'd like them to support us. We'd like them to like us. But, whether they agree, support, or like us, the question at the core of the relationship is one of care. I can't agree with everything my children or even my wife offers up or chooses to do (nor can they with me), but even when we disagree, there is no doubt that we care for one another.