Monday, July 21, 2008

Oops--Audio from July 13

In the baby hubbub, never posted this sermon here! E-mail me for the text...

Sermon from Sunday, July 20

Sorry to be late with all this--Jill and I welcomed our new baby Jack on Sat, Jul 12 so life has been hectic. In addition, didn't get to record this week's sermon, but here it is in written form, based on Acts 3:1-10, the healing of the lame man by Peter and John at the temple.

This morning finds us at our second sermon in our summer series on the Lord’s Prayer. Last week, we looked at the opening phrase, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and we explored the way in which those names both give us a picture of God as intimate and distant. He is our Father—he is close to us in good times and bad, he provides for us—and yet there is a very real sense in which he is distant and very different from us. Both of these ideas—God’s closeness and God’s distance—are very important in getting a picture in who God really is, and both of these ideas are very important in the way that we pray. Yes, we approach God intimately, like a friend, but we dare not forget the fact that he is other than us.
Today, we move on to the next phrase, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Hallowed is kind of a funny word, which we don’t really use much anymore. You probably have heard the word “hallowed” in the last week if you’re a baseball fan. The All-Star game was held up at Yankee Stadium this past Tuesday night; those of you who follow baseball know that Yankee Stadium is going to be torn down after this year. I regret never having gone there to see a game; last summer I was in northern New Jersey for a few days and thought about going up to the Stadium to see a game, but I decided not to. Tough choice, and I sort of wish I had gone. Yankee Stadium is one of those places which I feel like I should have seen; the place where the giants of the past and present played the game: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle . Yankee Stadium is one of those few places that for baseball fans is “hallowed ground.” That word—“Hallowed”—is one we reserve for venerable, old places or concepts. Perhaps the concept of hallowed is best described as “especially honored.” We speak of that “hallowed ground” of Yankee Stadium because the great ones played there; we speak of the “hallowed halls” of our alma mater because we honor the schools where we grew up and learned. Those places are especially honored.
And so in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “May your name, O Lord, be especially honored.” It is a strange prayer, because in some ways, it seems totally obvious. I mean, we sometimes feel like “May your name be honored” can just be sorta understood. I mean, the very fact you’re praying to God seems like it suggests that you’re the kind of person who honors God’s name. If you didn’t, you’d be off drinking or gambling or robbing banks, but probably not praying. It especially seems that way in the Lord’s Prayer; one of the features of the Lord’s Prayer is that it doesn’t waste words. Jesus even says as much; when he’s introducing the Lord’s Prayer, he says, “When you pray, don’t do like the pagans do and heap up empty words on each other.” Instead, pray like this: and then he gives us the Lord’s Prayer, this short prayer that’s really to the point. And yet here it is, this seemingly extraneous phrase, tucked in there: “May your name, O Lord, be especially honored.”
Why would Jesus include these words here? He must have had a reason—the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t have any wasted words. I think what Jesus wants us to see here is that God’s name being honored is at the heart of it all. All that will be said in the prayer: May your Kingdom Come, may your will be done—will come naturally if we are honoring God’s name rightly. All that we ask in the prayer—our daily bread, forgiveness for sins—will be granted to us if we are honoring God’s name rightly. Honoring God is at the heart of what we seek and at the heart of what we ask.
What does it mean for us to especially honor God’s name? After all, this is not just a request we make with our lips but an intention we state with our lives. After all, just a few weeks ago, we talked about the way that all creation honors God in moos and barks and squeaks and cries. Just by being the animals and the plants God created them to be, creation honors God. We can choose whether or not to honor God, but when we do, it is the highest honor because it is a conscious decision to honor him. And so when we say, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are not just asking God to do something, but also pledging ourselves to honor God’s name, because we can give him the highest honor. So the question we need to ask is “How do we hallow God’s name? How do we especially honor the name of God?”
I wanted to look at this phrase through the lens of the text at the beginning of Acts chapter 3. This is one of the most important stories in all of Scripture, because it is the first time we see the disciples performing a physical healing after Jesus has gone to heaven. Before Jesus goes to heaven, remember, he promises the disciples the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit which gave him his power. But the disciples don’t really know what that means—will they be able to heal people?—until they run into this man outside the Temple. I want to suggest that there are three ways that God’s name is given special honor in this story, two ways in which his name is hallowed. I believe these three ways can give us insight into how to hallow God’s name.
The first way that I see God’s name being hallowed is right there in the first verse, the verse most of us skip over. “One day Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.” Peter and John, being good Jews, were continuing the practice of fixed-hour prayer. In those days, Jews had formal prayer at 6 AM, 9 AM, noon, 3 PM, and 6 PM. That was a no-matter-what kind of thing; if you were off by yourself, you would say the prayers on your own, or if you were near a synagogue or ideally, the Temple in Jerusalem, you could join with other Jews in praying there. This is the case with Peter and John; now keep in mind that these two men have seen Jesus risen from the dead, and have preached with power, but still they are retaining this ancient spiritual practice, praying five times a day.
Now this sort of prayer may be a bit different than the kind of prayer we often practice today. It was not so much giving a monologue to God, or coming up with something meaningful to say. It wasn’t so much asking for specific prayer concerns, or praying for missionaries. It was getting together, and reading the psalms; as the practice was adapted by Christians, it started including the Lord’s Prayer. In short, it was more or less a time for the people to pause from their day, read a Scripture, ponder it and offer themselves to God before returning to the busy-ness of their day.
I think the time has come for Christians to practice this sort of prayer again. After all, if we truly want to see God’s name honored, then speaking honor to God is a natural way to start doing it. Consider all the noise that we hear each day; so little of it honors God. If we are serious about giving special honor to God, part of it will have to do with intentionally setting aside time in our lives to shut out other noises and to lift our voices and our hearts in honor to God. You may tell me that in your life, it would be impossible for you to practice this kind of prayer: it would be impossible to take even five minutes out of your work schedule to go and pray, to re-center and re-orient yourself and your life around God. That may well be true, and I can’t be the judge of your life, what you can and can’t do. Yet I would encourage you to find creative ways to sneak in a moment just to read a psalm and to be silent before God and pray. I think it shows God that we choose his easy burden rather than our heavy burden; I think it shows God great honor, and I think it hallows his name when we choose to take time with him.
The second way I see God’s name being hallowed was in the brave response of Peter and John. A lame man was carried to the entrance of the Temple, where he would ask people for money. It’s always a good time to hit people up for money, when they’re on their way to pray. On their way into pray, they might figure it never hurts to give a little bit to the poor. And you never know, on the way out they might just feel good enough that they’d give a little bit more to him. It was a good place for him to sit and it enabled him to make enough to live on.
This was a scene played out again and again around the Jewish world, and I’m sure in other religious peoples in the Roman Empire. Judaism required giving alms to the poor, and the poor needed alms to get by. It was a good system, because the religious folk got to do their giving and the poor folk got to do their receiving.
Now I don’t mean to be disrespectful to this person, because they were only doing what came naturally. But you know what I’ve always wondered? I’ve wondered, “What if a poor person wanted to be religious?” The system set up at the time more or less assumed the religious folks were the well-off ones, while the poor might get money from religious folks, but they were never really assumed to be equals with the religious folk. They were merely objects of charity; if you want to be really cynical about it, they were pawns of the religious folks. The rich would throw a few coins at the poor; it relieved their guilt, and they thought it might give them a special in with God. But you know there comes a time in every person’s life where they don’t want to be a pawn in a rich man’s game; where they don’t want to be mere objects of charity, but they want to be treated as equals, on a level playing field.
This man sits at the Temple, begging for money, hoping that the guilt of the religious folks will put bread on his table that night. Peter and John look at him and I’m sure they were tempted to drop a few coins into his bucket; after all, it did make them feel better to be helping out. But instead they do something courageous and brave. They said, “You know what? No. We’re not giving you this money. We know you think you want it, and part of us wants to give it to you too. But there’s a man named Jesus, and he didn’t come so you so that we could continue this cycle that keeps you in poverty and keeps us one step ahead of guilt. He came so you could have healing. In his name, stand up and walk!”
I believe that the second part of us giving special honor to God’s name is in healing people in Jesus’ name. Some of you are getting very nervous. You have seen faith healers on TV, charlatans who stand up and swat someone on the head in the name of Jeeeeeee-zus and then they fall over and claim to be healed. And so you think to yourself, “I’m wary. I don’t think God still heals the sick and the poor today.”
Let me start by saying that you may be right. I don’t know. But let me ask this: how do you know? We see the tremendous spiritual power that the disciples had, power that they could speak to illness and lameness and defeat those ailments with words. Just because we do not see that, here, in America, today, how do you know that it doesn’t happen? Perhaps the reason we do not see spiritually powerful actions like this is the fact that we are a spiritually weak people. After all, I could build a pretty convincing case that none of us here has a spiritual life like the spiritual life of Peter and John. Few if any of us pray like Peter and John did; the fact that they gathered in the Temple five times a day to pray and re-orient themselves, to remind themselves that they were God’s children—this practice was key to their spiritual lives. This practice helped them to grow spiritually and have great spiritual strength! Why would we be surprised that they could do things we can’t?
Also, to be brutally honest about the state of American Christianity, far too many of us are involved with throwing money at people rather than allowing God to use us as instruments in solving the problems of others. It is very tempting for those of us who have some wealth to assume that what people need is money. We hear about problems in inner-city schools and the response of most suburban Christians is, “The government should really do something about that. We support higher taxes to give money to the problem” rather than actually encountering those problems first-hand. It never even occurs to most of us that we could leave our current lives and move to the inner-city and get involved in a neighborhood there. Yet that would certainly have occurred to Jesus, who opted to come live on earth when he could have thrown money at us from heaven. And we see here that John and Peter have the same mindset—when this weak man asked for money, Peter and John were wise enough to say, “Money isn’t the issue. Healing is the issue.” Did you notice in the text how Peter and John insisted on seeing the man’s face? They said, “Look at us.” In essence, they said, “You are not a project to throw money at, you are a person, and if God touches you like he touched us, you can be more than a project, you can be on equal footing with us.”
What I am saying is this. Our mindset is nothing like Peter’s and John’s. We—most of us, anyway—don’t practice the spiritual disciplines they practiced. We generally fall victim to throwing money at people rather than seeing them as people. Since our mindset and our practices are nothing like Peter’s and John’s, why should we be surprised that we don’t get the results they get? Why should we be surprised when we can’t heal people when we don’t do what they did to get the spiritual strength to heal people? It’s a little like me claiming that I can’t bake a cake when I have no intention of following the recipe! Of course I can bake a cake if I am willing to follow a recipe—but if I leave out ingredients, I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t wind up with cake but a sticky mess!
The healing of this lame man gave special honor to God. It hallowed his name. I don’t know if we can heal people like this, to be honest. But I do think we have an obligation to be spiritually prepared like Peter and John were spiritually prepared. Their practice of regular prayer prepared them spiritually for the tasks they faced. And that practice also gave them wisdom to discern that this person didn’t really need what he thought he needed. I believe that if we are spiritually prepared like Peter and John were spiritually prepared, we will be agents of healing. Will it be physical? I don’t know. But try a practice of praying regularly—I dare you to do it—and see if you aren’t better equipped to heal in whatever way God wants you to heal the world. See if you aren’t better equipped to discern what the real needs of the world are. See if you aren’t more ready to see people and not projects.
And then—miraculously—once you have helped in healing another—watch as that person walks and leaps and praises God. Watch as that person honors God’s name. Watch as that new person hallows God’s name, because of the spiritual strength and healing they saw in you.