Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Last Sermon, Part II: Praying and Doing

Here's the link to Part I of this "Last Sermon" I gave as a part of Zion Mennonite Church's 125th anniversary, a congregation where I had the privilege of serving as pastor for 20 years.

The key scripture I want to leave with you in this “last sermon” is one you all already know from memory, that’s how basic it is. It’s what we call the Lord’s Prayer, which should be our daily "pledge of allegiance" to God and to God’s rule, the prayer found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

"When you pray," he instructs his followers (and the you here is plural, like the Southern y’all), keep it focused on the main thing, on God’s business. It’s not about us, but its about “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” It's addressed to one holy, loving God who is sovereign over every man, woman and child in the whole world.

The next main thing in this text follows from the first. Triple underline this: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Note its not just, “May your will be done in my personal life, or in my family, or my church, or my country, but on the whole earth.” It’s a big prayer, about what God wants for all creation.

And God wants three main things:

First, God wants everyone to have enough. “Give all of us, every day, enough bread to live on,” on earth as it is in heaven. Could we possibly imagine in God’s heaven, some of the saints and angels suffering from eating and having too much while another group is suffering every day from not having enough? Of course not. That would be unthinkable, could never, ever be God’s will. So we, created in God’s image and given dominion over God’s earth, need to pray and do the same things God would do if he were in charge and so many of God’s children were hungry.

The second thing God wants is to have everyone on earth live in peace, to get along. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It’s God’s will that the world be a place of healing, where we extend God’s love and forgiveness to all who wrong us and owe us, including those who owe us financially. In Bible times people got into debt because they were destitute and had to borrow in order to survive. In the Pentateuch, Jesus’ Bible, people were commanded to forgive others their debts on a regular basis, every seven years, to reboot the economic playing field and give everyone a fresh start.

Jesus took his Bible seriously and believed it taught freely forgiving debts, trespasses, and sins on earth as is true in heaven. Can you imagine God’s heaven being a place of wars and conflicts and church splits and miserable divorces and impossible burdens of debts the very poor owe to the very rich? 

Of course not. God wants everyone to experience a clean slate, to be forgiven their debts, just as ours are forgiven.

And finally, God wants everyone to make it to the finish.
“Lead us not into temptations (tests or trials) that are too hard to bear, but deliver us from all evil.” So in addition to praying that all may live (have enough food), and that all may forgive, (live in peace), we pray, as God wills, that all people everywhere to be able to survive hardships, tests, hurricanes, persecutions, depressions, earthquakes, and come to a successful end. This could be paraphrased, “Lead us not into devastation, but deliver us from all evil.”

Can you imagine in God’s heavenly kingdom, where God rules, that there would be some who are provided for, protected, helped to survive and others not? Of course not. God wants everyone to make it to the very end, pass every test, overcome every obstacle.

That's what God wants, and God wants us to want it so much, all of us, that we pray passionately for it every day. In the end, it will be all that matters.

Recently I was at a friend’s funeral service, a former parishioner at Zion. At his memorial one of the ministers shared the story of a child who often played Monopoly with his mom. Most of the time she was the clear winner, ended up with the most properties and cash and her son was the sad loser. Finally one day, as he became more savvy at the game, he had the satisfaction of coming out on top, with numerous hotels, a couple of railroads, the electric company, and lots of other properties and cash. But then his mother said, as usual, “Now we have to put everything back in the box.” And he said, “But I don’t want to. I want to just keep everything I’ve gained on the board.” But she said, “No, when the game is over, we have to put everything back in the box.”

I couldn’t help, as I was hearing the story, focusing on my friend’s flower-covered casket there in front of us. In a sense, that is literally where they will put all that is physically left of us when our short time here is over. There will be no U-Hauls carrying our stuff behind the hearse that takes us to cemetery. Everything will be boxed up and put away. The only thing we’ll benefit from in the next life is what we’ve given away--what we've invested in the lives of others who will be blessed forever by how we’ve shared God’s blessings with them--and through whatever legacy of influence we've left with our children and others. It's what Jesus calls “treasure in heaven.”

Daniel Berrigan once wrote these powerful words that I want to use as a closing prayer:

“Somewhere in your life, hope you might see one starved person, the look on her face when the bread finally arrives. Hope you might have baked it or bought it or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on her face, for your hands meeting hers across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot or suffer a lot, or die a little even.”

Let's all say Amen to that.
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