Monday, July 25, 2016

Abba Father

Proper XII+C 29, July 2016
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Genesis 18:20-32 Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-5, (16-19) Luke 11:1-13

How do we think of God? Do we think of God? In the Older Testament, God is referred to in a rather formal way. In fact, in the whole of the Older Testament, the word Father is used for God only ten times! Even so it is not in the way of a personal relating or biological father but rather as Creator. In stark contrast, Jesus uses “Father” to describe God hundreds of times and the rest of the newer Testament dozens of times.

With Jesus as mentor, the disciples noted how Jesus prayed and something about it amazed them enough to ask Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. What followed were words that would shatter the Jewish concepts of God, the Jewish approach to God and the Jewish understanding of God forever. Who was God to the Jew of Jesus’ day and generations before him?. He was to the Jew the Holy, Strong and Immortal One whose Name “I AM THAT I AM” or today as many have taught us the sacred Tetragramaton, Y-H-W-H or Yahweh was only whispered by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies once per year.

Jesus gave the Apostles and all who should follow him what has been called the model prayer. Jesus said: When you pray you are to say Our Father. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for Father is Abba. Child psychologists tell us the first word a child usually says is Dada.
A child in Jesus= day would have said Abba, like Papa or Daddy Its use denotes extreme familiarity trust dependence our dependence on God. That was a rude and presumptuous way to approach God. It was unheard of among the Jews at Jesus' time. Their prayers began, "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth," and this iterant Rabbi comes along calling him “Daddy”.

Some of our liturgical prayers begin this way too. And there's nothing wrong with lofty language when in the presence of the all-holy God. But that makes Jesus' first word that much more surprising. Abba, (Father). For the first time in human history, God, the Holy, All Powerful and Immortal One, had a human face. He was no more to be known as a God to appease, a God who looked down disapprovingly on his creatures, a God to fear, He was now to be Papa.

We take this for granted. Hasn't God always been thought of as Father= to all the religions of the world? The answer is an unequivocal NO! To refer to God or Allah as father for the Moslem is blasphemy. God is nothing like humanity, not related to us or like us for Islam. Our relationship with God is Father. Not that God is like an earthly father but rather, God is the model for the fathers in our lives. Historically a father is the head of a family, provider, protector, giver and guide. He is the one to whom his children may run for comfort and freedom from fear.

Why, because he=s our father! Jesus said,Except you come as little children you will not enter the kingdom, (the assembly, the reign) of God. Every time you pray - and it is your blood of Jesus bought privilege to pray as one of his baptized - you are appearing before the throne of the almighty, all-holy, all-knowing God of the universe, and calling Him "Father" because we are now his family. The Apostle John, in exile and writing from the Island of Patmos wrote these words: ”See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” I John 3:1 IHS opened up undreamed of doors of possibilities of prayer with God. To say that the Jewish people had a difficult time in accepting this concept would be the understatement of the decade. Like the followers of Islam, they called Jesus a blasphemer and the penalty for blasphemy? You guessed it, DEATH!

Following this, Jesus said in his model for prayer this element of honoring God.: Hallowed be your name. What is something hallowed something holy? It is something set apart consecrated as we in Christ are this morning. God is set apart by His Holiness and We are set apart by God=s Holiness by the Spirit of God that dwells in our hearts. In the Baptismal Rite in the anointing with oil we say: Cyou are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ=s own forever. Our life journeys are initiated into and imitate the journey of Christ. So it is with Confirmation and Ordination. We show humility in this expression hallowed and respect for God=s name. There is very little respect for God=s name in our day.

Many in our day only speak of God at the beginning of a profane expression. Along those lines, I once saw a little placard that said Jesus Christ is Lord of humanity, not a name for profanity. Jesus then continues this teaching by saying: Your Kingdom come. This means our willing submission to God or our coming under the mission of God and His will for our earthy walk and eventual heavenly journey. Remember Paul said: we are ambassadors for Christ! (2 Cor. 5)

Jesus now tackles our heart problems: forgive us our sins our debt to GodCThis reminds us of our indebtedness to Him. Sin incurs a debt that must be paid. But as the hymn says: Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Lead us not into temptation. Do not put us to the test. Save us from the time of trial. Have mercy on our human condition, our weakness. Jesus gives us elements of prayer. It is not intended to be the end of prayerConly the beginning. As we spend time in conversing with God we become like Him.

What manner of prayer should we have? The book of Hebrew tells us: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” The King James version says: Boldness ! the Yiddish word we might use is Chutzpah! Remember the words I say every Sunday? And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are (what=s the word?) BOLD to say.

Prayer is the chutzpah of a friend pounding on your door at midnight, waking up the kids, to borrow three loaves of bread because he has an unexpected visitor from out of town and his cupboard is bare. That's chutzpah!.and Jesus said in the gospel, "I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness (his chutzpah), he will get up and give him as much as he needs." It implies reliance upon the dependability of the relationship shamelessness! But if God is your papa, why be shy? We pray in hopefulness not resolution or fear. Often when we say Anot my will but yours be done.
We are trying to give God an out. It showing a lack of trust a lack of nerve. And what happens when God answers prayer? Too often even Christians say, A what a coincidence!

A coincidence is a miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous. When we stop praying coincidences stop happening. And what does our Episcopal/Anglican tradition teach us? The Prayerbook has four sections called daily Morning Prayer or “daily Evening Prayer!

It was that we might have daily communion with God in prayer. Prayer was as natural to Jesus as eating and drinking are to us. He prayed perfectly, without needing to be taught or encouraged, but for us, prayer is something that must be learned. The disciples got it right. Lord, teach us to pray. We need to pray, to learn the rhythmic discipline of prayer - in the morning when we wake up, during the day before and after we eat, at night before we fall asleep. Each of us needs to learn to pray and to practice the daily life of prayer. Then we will find how unnatural an activity prayer truly is. How our sinful nature finds every excuse not to pray. How the devil cleverly arranges for us to be distracted from prayer. How the world makes prayer into something other than the conversation between beloved children and their dear Father in heaven. But prayer, practiced, learned as a discipline will reap benefits in your life, in your relationship with God, in the lives of those whom you care for and pray for, more benefits that you could ever imagine!

Prayer is a discipline which becomes a habit. It needs spontaneity, It needs authenticity not pretense. It must become an ordinary part of life. Brother Lawrence was a kitchen monk who wrote prayers about ordinary tasks. The book is called, Practicing the Presence of God. While doing such tasks he prayed. Prayer is the umbilical cord between humanity and God. It should be natural for us, but it requires work. I’m still working on it! It requires Practicing the Presence of God.

I read a story about a pastor who went to Korea and was very impressed with the attitude toward prayer of the Korean Christians. Many of them arose very early in the morning and went to the Church where they would pray for an hour before going to work. He came home excited to attempt this himself. The first morning he set his alarm early, went to the Church office while it was still dark and quiet and sitting at his desk he began to pray. He prayed for the sick, those in the hospital, those anxious and afraid, he prayed for those who would be working that day, all those who would be at home, at school and on the road traveling, the Church at home and abroad, the nation, its leaders, the nations of the world and their leaders. He prayed for everything deserving of prayer and not deserving of prayer. When he finished he looked at his watch and only ten minutes had passed. We may laugh but many if not most of us are strangers to prayer. We and God are barely on speaking terms. It is no wonder a disciple of IHS asked Him to teach them to pray.

You and I are to come boldly to God in confidence as our Father who we love and who loves us. It is the norm for us. A prayer less Christian is barely Christian. Today let us take these words of Christ to heart. Let us let Christ, teach us to pray

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Becoming a Miracle

Proper X+C                          10  July AD 2016                     The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Deuteronomy 30:9-14                                                                                                   Psalm 25:1-9
Colossians 1:1-14                                Becoming a Miracle                                       Luke 10:25-37

We just prayed these words: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord”.  Is that not a Christian dilemma?  How do we live out our lives as followers of Jesus?

This is not a question that the average High School counselor asks, but this is not an occupational question but a vocational question. To what are you and me called?  Today the operative question is “who is my neighbor”?  Christians are in a strange position versus the non-Christian.  Jesus gives us commandments over things that the world thinks are optional. We are to be miracles in the world. What we call “miracles” the Bible calls “signs.”  We know that we may  be the only Jesus than anyone in the world sees, so let us keep that in mind as we live each day.

This story begins with a scribe or as the story puts it, a lawyer.  For us today, the Bible is not the Law, but a story of God’s work in the world.  For the pious Jew, keeping the law was everything.
The scholar of the Law of God was “testing” Jesus, more likely trying to trip Jesus up and show everyone Jesus was not as smart as the man thought Jesus thought he was.

He asks Jesus how to get to heaven.  Jesus, especially when challenged, often answers a question with a question. “You tell Me,” he says. He answers with what we know as the great commandment.  To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.  AWho is my neighbor?@  Ever ask that question?  ConsciouslyCI mean.  SubconsciouslyCwe ask it oftenCperhaps even constantly.

When God gave the Israelites the command to love your neighbor in Leviticus 19:18, the Israelites felt confident that they knew who that wasCfellow IsraelitesCof course.  They were tribes; all somehow related through their ancestorsCthe 12 sons of Jacob.

Who do we think our neighbor is?  I=ve lived in so-called Aneighborhoods@ where I knew absolutely no one.  No one spoke to one another.  Neighbor apparently referred to a geographic distanceCbut is this impersonal arrangement what a neighbor is?  How do you define it?

This gentleman seems to be in his own high regard and is approaching Jesus to apparently show Jesus he's not as 'smart' as the lawyer thinks that Jesus thinks he is!   Strangely enough, Jesus lets the man answer his own question by responding to a question WITH a question. Don't you hate that!  A pastor once asked a rabbi, "Why in the Hebrew tradition does the teacher always answer a question with a question?" He answered. "I don't know. Do we always do that?"

But as all things with our Lord, he knows how to take the opportunity of a teachable moment. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan as we have come to know it as we have grown up in the Church.  What we may not have realized is some of the subtleties of this story.  There was a bit of selectivity in the Jewish observance venue of Jesus' day that Jesus had no problem pointing out by again letting the listener answer his own question.
But here comes that selectivity.  They only read in practice, the earlier part of that chapter and left out the uncomfortable part that came a few verses later: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."  (Lev 19:33 & 34)  

Not content to leave well enough alone apparently, the doctor of the law says: "but who is my neighbor?"  Jesus begins what we call the parable, (or literally story beside a story) of the "Good Samaritan".  

A man was going down the 17 mile stretch from Jerusalem to Jericho. In that short distanceCthrough a very barren and arid terrainCthe ground drops 3000 feet.  It is an ideal place for robbers to hide and ambush travelers. As fate would have it, robbers attacked him and stole his clothing and beat himCleaving him to die.  Now is when this gets interesting.

A priest happens byCthen a LeviteCa liturgist, a professional charged with the maintenance of the Temple worship.  They both go way over to the other side of the road. What is wrong with this picture? This is somewhat a scandalCsurely these religious men should have done something!  I know…excuse! Even today we can always come up with one of those for something we don't particularly want to do!  “I don’t want to get involved.” Perhaps they were afraid that the robbers were still near. Perhaps they thought the man was already dead and to touch him would make them ritually uncleanCso they would be unable to serve in the Temple.

A Samaritan comes by.  They must have thought: "a who?" "What?"  Now this must have been quite a jolt.  Jesus always seems to have a Ajolt@ in his stories; a cosmic reversal; an unexpected twist!  It must have taken Atemerity@ for Jesus to put a Samaritan in the story!  The Jews felt about the Samaritans like the Jews feel even today about Nazis and other "groups" pitted against other "groups" seem to feel about each other: avoidance, distaste, dislike or even unbridled hatred! 

The Samaritans were a half breed peopleCJews left in the land during the Babylonian captivity, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple.  They had intermarried with the Assyrians from years earlier.  They had opposed the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and said they were the only legitimate heirs to Jewish worship.  They had their own Temple on Mount Gerizim. Jews considered them as detestable heretics, apostates who denied the faith.

The Samaritan heretic, the one generally treated despicably by the Jew, takes care of the Jewish manCdisinfects his wounds and takes him to an inn and leaves about two month=s rent with a promise of more if it is needed.  And Jesus asks Awho was neighbor to the man?@   The lawyer  replies, and you can almost see him gritting his teeth trying to get the words out: Athe man who showed mercy.@  You can almost hear the people thinking: "is it getting warm out here?"  Is Jesus hitting a bit close to home for both us and them?

The lawyer had really been askingCWho is not my neighbor?  What are the limits to my responsibility? That is a question each person who believes in Christ must ask constantly.  It would be nice if we could choose to be neighbor to the people who we like and who could do us some good!  But that would make us no different from every other person born into the world without God=s love in them.  Jesus calls us to love people we don=t like and people it is of  no earthly advantage to know.  Indeed, it is the contrast between erosCthe love that demands its own interest and agape the love that is generous in its interest toward others.  But love, true love is not some weak sentiment. Song of Solomon (8:6) says Alove is as strong as death@ (NIV) It is able to conquer all other things.  Love is the Christian miracle.  It is our vocation. We are the lovers of God who are called to love the non-lovers into the kingdom of God.

Sometimes that is tough love.  Parents often have to administer tough love.  It is very hard on the parent, but is for the ultimate good of the child, although the child may kick and scream at the penalty of his or her actions and say horrid things to the one painfully loving them. Even harder with another adult!   A question we must ask ourselves isCAwith whom do we identify in the story?@  I mean REALLY?  I think we should be conscious that we are at least in one sense Samaritans.   We have by our lives denied the faith in thought, word and deed and yet...  In spite of our birth right to be sinners, Jesus has redeemed us and made us Agood sinners@...@good Samaritans@.  He has done a miracle in us, with us and through us. In our baptismal covenant we pledge our determination to love neighbor, and to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being  but honestlyCdo we not often walk on the other side afraid to dirty our hands?  Do we need to justify ourselves?  Who are the Samaritans in YOUR LIFE?  Whom do we feel Ajustified@ in despising, rejecting, pre-judging?  When do we side with the priest and the Levite? With anyone different from us?  Someone we feel treated us unjustly or a friend unjustly?  How can we be God’s miracles, when the miracle He wants to do with us is stopped by US?

 Everyone is neighbor for the Christian.  The question is will we be neighbor! Martin Luther King Jr said.: "The first question which the priest and Levite asked was "If I stop help this man, what will happen to me?" But…the Good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"  The collect petitioned God that we might know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; …  Do we  really want that? If so, we are called to be a living miracle for others.

If God=s love flows through us, is in usCit must be acted out in the love of neighbor.   In I John 4:19-21 we readCAWe love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, AI love God,@ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.@  O God, let that sign and miracle be realized in us, through Jesus, your Son, our maker, defender, redeemer and friend.