Walking with God & Doing God’s Work Together through Prayer- a sermon for Lectionary 17C/Pentecost 7C

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Luther Memorial Lutheran Church on a steamy and sunny summer morning in Omaha.

It was a joy to be with the good people of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska today (July 28, 2019) thanks to the invitation of Pastor Carm Aderman. I was invited to come and preach, and to also speak about Deacons and the Ministry of Word and Service. What follows is the majority of the manuscript from which I preached or at least based my sermon, based on the appointed gospel story for the week according to the Revised Common Lectionary for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year C/Lectionary 17C), Luke 11:1-13

Grace and peace from God in Christ, who loves you, is with you, and is for you. Amen.

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Pastor Carm Aderman.

Good Morning Luther Memorial! It’s great to be with you. Thank you so much Pastor Carm for the invitation and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas and from your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Juliet Hampton; as well as from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I am grateful to be with you today, to dig into God’s word for us today and see and sense a bit deeper about who our God is, what God might be calling us to see, wonder, and do; as well as to think some about being a deacon, and perhaps calling a Deacon into the work of this church together.

Situating the Story
This week’s story picks up right where last week’s left off, which started right where the week before ended too. These past few weeks we have moved along the road with Jesus from stopping and talking with man wanting to justify himself about eternal life and what it means to truly and fully love one’s neighbor, in which Jesus answered the man’s questions with a story we know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. That conversation ended with Jesus’ command to “Go and do likewise.”[1]

As he left there he entered a village and then Martha’s home, where her sister Mary was also at, and enjoyed Martha’s hospitality and sharing his stories with the sisters, particularly Mary who as we heard last week put herself right at Jesus’ feet to soak in all of his wisdom. For this we heard that Mary “has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”[2] And that brings us to today. Somewhere along the road, Jesus has stopped and was off praying. Once he had finished, an unnamed disciple asks Jesus to teach him how to pray.

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One of the more famous paintings of prayer there is, found on the back wall of the congregation’s fellowship hall where the congregation is worshiping this summer while work is being done on its air conditioning.

The Lord’s Prayer
Jesus begins with words we know today as the Lord’s prayer, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[3]

At first glance, one might think that by this response Jesus is teaching the spiritual practice of prayer. And he might be doing that. But I suspect just below the surface is a disciple’s desire to get a deeper sense of Jesus’ belief in God; to get a deeper sense of what it means to be in relationship with God as Jesus clearly is.

Jesus’ response here isn’t so much a “how to” guide to prayer, though if you use it as one it’s not bad at all, but rather his response is really an articulation of a theology.[4] Jesus’ response to the request in today’s story to teach, is to teach about prayer but perhaps even more so, to teach about who our God is. To teach about what kind of God, God is. And to invite us to grow deeper in relationship with God ourselves.

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Some of the congregation at Luther Memorial greeting each other and passing the peace.

When Jesus prays, “Your kingdom come,” and when we pray these words now as we do in the Lord’s prayer, we are reminding ourselves that we are not God, but we’re also inviting and praying that God’s kingdom breaks in.[5] We are praying that God’s work is done, and inviting God to call us, guide us, and use us in that.

We are praying for God’s love to be made real. We are praying that our hearts, minds, and our whole selves might be moved like Jesus to be open to God’s movement and activity around us. We are praying that our eyes might be opened, and so that we might be as Jesus has just recently explained, out in the world to “go and do likewise” as bearers of God’s love, mercy, grace, peace, and justice in the world participating in God’s kingdom building work ourselves; and to be in relationship with God in Christ like Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet soaking in his Word, wisdom, and love for us, and for all.

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Abby sharing her gift of music during worship singing the song “You Say” by Lauren Daigle, Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury.

In praying this prayer, Jesus is praying for provision too. By praying, “Give us each day our daily bread,”[6] as Luther says in the Small Catechism, we are pleading and praying for our daily needs for “Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies.”[7] This isn’t a prosperity gospel sort of nonsense here where we are praying to a Genie God who will give us everything we ask for, nor is it a plea for “more, more, more.” No, rather by praying these words Jesus is showing us to pray for enough, to pray for the basic necessities of life for self and others, so that we might live abundantly and that all of God’s beloved children might live and participate in God’s abundance as well.

This prayer isn’t an exclusive prayer, just meant for a few people. Rather by Jesus teaching this to the disciples today, he is calling them again to go and do likewise. And from this prayer, he begins to even more so articulate a theology of who God is.

Some Who, What, and Why about God?
By teaching this prayer, and the anecdotes and stories that Jesus uses to unpack it today, he is saying a few things rather clearly about God.[8] Jesus is teaching that God hears. If not so, why would Jesus teach us to pray?

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Another famous depiction of prayer, found adjacent to the other prayer painting in the congregation’s fellowship hall.

This isn’t a lesson about the right and wrong ways of praying, but as I suspect you know, knowing who your pastor is, praying is more like breathing. It’s a state of being in conversation with God throughout life. And it’s one we are always growing into. It’s one where perhaps many people who have shaped you and invited you into this life of discipleship over your life have modeled.[9]

For me, I often think about my Grandma and the way she prays, sometimes even forgetting or stumbling over her words, but her prayer is more of a conversation with God. And that makes it not just relatable, but I think points to like this story does today, the reminder that God not only hears us, but is with us. And that’s a reminder my wife and I are now trying to model for our 15-month old daughter Caroline by praying before meals with her, and singing a baptismal song as her lullaby before bed.

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The congregation’s “All Ages” Vacation Bible School is coming up soon.

By teaching this prayer, Jesus is also reminding us that God provides for our daily needs, and that God forgives. And in shaping this prayer like this, Jesus is connecting this forgiveness to us, and calling and reminding us that we are called to forgive each other too, like Abraham reasoned with God to potentially forgive the people of Sodom and Gomorrah if Abraham can find even potentially ten righteous people.[10] And by teaching this prayer, Jesus is also teaching that God protects. This is an idea central in the faith, and alluded to in stories and the psalms, like where the psalmist remarks, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.”[11]

Our Response
This is who God is, for you and for me. And God’s work for us, is pure gift we could never earn or deserve. But it does elicit a response.  Normally when out preaching this is where I would probably unpack some of what I might mean about stewardship, but with your indulgence I am going to hold that lesson until the next time I am here with you and preaching in November. Instead, I think I can point to the rest of this story as it relates to our response in baptism.

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The Praise Band practicing before worship.

Jesus is trying to explain the lengths to which God will do all that God does for us. There really are no limits to God’s love in this. But Jesus is also pointing to how we are called to embody this love and life, and to participate in it, ourselves. That participation is really a fulfillment of the promises and actions made in baptism, where when we were buried with Christ in our baptisms, we are also raised with him through faith.[12]

In this raising in baptism, God is calling us into a life of discipleship and stewardship. God has claimed us as one of God’s own, but in so doing, we are moved and filled with gratitude. And this movement and joy leads us into lives of service and vocation. And that seems to be part of Jesus’ explanation of who God is in this gospel story today too.

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God’s work being done through us- including reminders of God’s presence and God sightings through the fun adventures with Flat Jesus.

In connecting the prayer with the story about the man asking for bread from his neighbor, and then pointing to different examples even as ridiculous sounding as, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?”[13] God really expects us to be generous to one another.[14] This generosity for one another is a sign of God’s kingdom building work being done.

God most certainly provides, and we are called to do likewise. And here’s the kicker, sometimes God’s provision actually shows up through us and through our neighbor for us and for each other. See, even when I am not preaching a stewardship sermon, I can’t help but make a stewardship point. I guess that’s what you get for inviting your Synod’s Director for Stewardship to come and preach.

The Role and Call of Deacon
In that call I serve as your partner in ministry, I serve also in the office of Deacon. I am a Minister of Word and Service. And it’s with this in mind that I am delighted that all of you, have recently made clear your intention and desire to call Koren Lindley to walk alongside you, and partner with you as a minister of the gospel. By hiring her for work related to faith formation, you are making an investment in teaching the faith to all generations within and around your faith community. And by showing your desire to call her, you are making a statement to the whole church that you see her gifts and see how they might fit the needs before you.

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Some of the gathered faithful, worshiping together and staying in good spirits (even if the room might have been a bit warmer than warm). Luther Memorial is a resilient, welcoming, and grateful congregation, that’s for sure.

A Minister of Word and Service is someone set apart for a ministry and call of the whole church. Yes, we often show up in congregations, but not always. Bishop Maas is famous for having said once that “Deacons are the Duct Tape of the Church,” and I think he is right, as they partner with pastors and lay members in God’s work. They are seminary trained and called, but with particular gifts of service- whether for faith formation, worship and music, administration, chaplaincy, public ministry and advocacy in the world… deacons can often best be described as the one who connects the worshiping body of a congregation with the needs of the world outside around the church.

Think of them as a translator and messenger whose office might be the steps or sidewalk right outside the church. In older liturgical practices, deacons would be the ones praying and crafting the prayers of intercession because they would be the ones with the ears of to the needs of the community to bring and lift up before the whole community.

Deacons are called to teach like Jesus does in today’s story, and they can be called to preach, as I am today. They are certainly called to serve in the model of Jesus, who gets down on his knees to wash his disciple’s feet. They are called to walk alongside. So again, I am joyful and grateful for your commitment to this ministry Luther Memorial.

But I do need to clear one thing up. Though you have hired Koren, you haven’t technically in the eyes of the church called her, yet. Deacons and Pastors are called as ministers of the whole church, and because of that, they both go through the same assignment and call process. So, recognizing that, it will be a little while yet, as the churchwide assignment and call process will have to work through its structures. So, I ask that you be patient in the midst, and if the process works itself out as I trust it will, I look forward to celebrating with you all, in calling Koren and in her consecration or ordination as a Deacon to come.

Our Work Together and Gratitude
That process and celebration is part of life together as the whole church. A life you participate in through your continued participation in mission share. Mission Share is the undesignated offering you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA, through which you do ministry that spans the globe and changes lives. Thank you so much for this, and I’ll unpack this more when I am back with you in November.

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Koren Lindley (soon to be deacon) listening intently in worship.

But suffice it to say, one of the big things that you do through mission share is you help raise up new leaders, pastors, and deacons of our church, like Koren. I am grateful for that, especially as we have over 45 full-time open ministry calls in the Nebraska Synod at this moment now, and nearly 1,200 full time ministry call openings across the ELCA. It’s all of our call and responsibility together to notice gifts for ministry around us and in each other, and in so doing, we join in prayer like our Lord taught us, so that God’s kingdom work might be done, and we invite God to show us the way to be a part of it here, today.

As Jesus teaches about prayer today, he is showing us that God’s love is deeper and more abounding than any other love, and that love not only can do the indescribable, it also often shows up in doing the ordinary of meeting daily needs of food, water, and shelter so that one may have life and live it abundantly. Sometimes even we are called to be bearers and participants of that love and work ourselves.

Thanks be to God who is with us and hears us, who loves us and provides for us, and who, as we will remember in the meal to come, is for us, too. And thanks be to God for all of you, God’s disciples gathered here together in Omaha at Luther Memorial through whom some of God’s work is done. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Luke 10:37, NRSV.
[2] Luke 10:42, NRSV.
[3] Luke 11:1-4, NRSV.
[4] Based on Matt Skinner, “Who Taught You How to Pray?” 21 July 2019. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=5367
[5] Luke 11:2, NRSV.
[6] Luke 11:3, NRSV.
[7] As articulated in “The Fourth Petition” of “The Lord’s Prayer” in the Small Catechism of Martin Luther found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 1163-11
[8] From Matt Skinner, ‘Who Taught You How to Pray?” Rev. Dr. Skinner greatly inspired this portion of my sermon this week with his wisdom in connecting the prayer and Jesus’ teaching to Jesus’ teaching about who God is and what that might mean for us.
[9] An idea and question raised by Matt Skinner in, “Who Taught You How to Pray?”
[10] Based on this week’s appointed First Lesson, Genesis 18:20-32.
[11] Psalm 138:7, NRSV; from this week’s appointed Psalm 138.
[12] Based on Colossians 2:12, part of this week’s appointed Second Lesson, Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19].
[13] Luke 11:11-12, NRSV.
[14] Matt Skinner, “Who Taught You How to Pray?”

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