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