The Crazy Love of God
Thought for Meditation:
If we continue to try to follow the Law we shut ourselves off from the love of God. When we try to earn God's love (by the law) we turn our backs on God's grace and God's love can't reach us. H. Ridderbos, Paul
The Crazy Love of God
Kingdom, Power, and Glory!
Thought for Meditation:
Jesus gave a new meaning to the word kingdom. The Church knew that in Him the kingdom had come upon them. At Calvary it had been proved stronger than sin. On Easter Day it rose stronger than death. George Buttrick, “So We Believe, So We Pray”
Kingdom, Power, and Glory!
When a child is first born it knows how to suck. That is how a baby eats. As a child grows older Mom and Dad start feeding it solid food. It is a slow process and sometimes messy, but eventually a child learns how to feed itself. When they become adults they even learn how to prepare food.
In some ways that is a metaphor for learning how to pray. Everyone has an innate ability to relate to God. However, over time we learn how to pray in new ways that nourish our lives. One of the gifts that Jesus gives to us, that teaches us how to pray, is the Lord’s Prayer. Through Lent we have been looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a model to teach us how to pray.
Today we are looking at the last line of the prayer; “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.” Now, you might have noticed that those words are not actually in the Scripture lesson I just read. Actually, they are in the footnotes of most Bibles. Jesus probably did not include these words in this prayer when he first taught it, though he would have known the passage that Mark read from 1 Chronicles. It is a very similar type of doxology.
Most likely, the early church added on this doxology as a way to close the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer starts with praise and God’s kingdom – “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come…” And now it ends with praise and the heavenly kingdom – “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” What I’d like to do this morning is look at each of the three main words in this last line; kingdom, power, and glory.
The kingdom of God was the central theme of Jesus’ ministry. Right at the beginning of his ministry, in his first sermon, he proclaimed “The kingdom of God is near.” Many of Jesus’ parables were about the kingdom. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, or like a treasure in a field.” On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a king and the people cried out, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Most of us have heard about the kingdom of God, but I have the sense that God’s kingdom is not an idea that we think about very often. We live in a democracy, with presidents that we elect, not kings who rule. The message that the church has proclaimed, at least in our country for the last 200+ years, has tended to focus in one of two areas. Mainline churches have emphasized Jesus as an example who showed us how to live. The Christian life, therefore, is being like Jesus, a nice person who does good works. Evangelical churches have focused on Jesus’ death on the cross, through which we are forgiven. Salvation is all about a private relationship with Jesus and getting into heaven.
Both of those ideas are good, but according to Jesus, the center of his life and ministry was, and is, the kingdom of God. Salvation is participating in that kingdom. Let me share with you two ideas about what it means to participate in God’s kingdom.
First, God’s kingdom is not a place, like the kingdom of Israel, or the Roman empire, or the British kingdom. It does not have geographical boundaries. When Jesus proclaims that the “kingdom of God is near, or even here,” he is referring to himself. He is the king and wherever Jesus is, wherever the king is, the kingdom is present.
Jesus promises that he is always with us, which means that there is nowhere we can go that is outside of his kingdom. I would suggest that one of the main prayers that we need to be praying is that God would open our eyes to his presence around us and to his love for us. We need eyes of faith to believe that Jesus, our king, is right here among us.
The second comment about the kingdom comes from Tony Campolo. He wrote a book called “The Kingdom of God is a Party.” The theme of the book is the idea that God’s kingdom is a party to which we are invited. On Maundy Thursday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Typically, the Lord’s Supper is a very somber occasion. Thursday that is especially appropriate because we are remembering what took place on Friday, with the cross of Jesus.
However, the Lord’s Supper is also a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, the heavenly party to which we are invited. In one of my churches, as people received the bread and the cup, the music was not the normal quiet and reflective music. The bells, a small brass group and a saxophone, played a jazzy, high energy piece. People were dancing in the pews. As Christians we are to celebrate the presence of Christ and the love of God. In our worship, in our everyday lives, in everything we do, we are called to celebrate God’s kingdom with joy, joy, overflowing joy.
The second word in the Lord’s Prayer is “power.” In our modern world power is the ultimate good. In essence, power is god. The most successful people in the world are the most powerful. We honor people with power, who can get things done. We buy power suits and power ties. We believe that the more power we have the safer we are.
When I was a kid we used to play a game called King of the Mountain. We’d play it any place where there was a mound of some sort, but our favorite place was at the playground. There was a metal structure with a platform that was about three feet high and about two feet wide. From the platform there were slides that went down to the ground. The goal of this game was to be the only one on top of the platform, to be king of the mountain.
It was actually a rather stupid game. We did everything we could not only to get on top, but to get other people off the top. We’d push, trip, climb and paw our way to the top. I don’t remember why we stopped playing the game, probably because it was rather dangerous. Or maybe we didn’t stop playing. We just changed what we were climbing. Some people never stop playing. Those who play today we call politicians.
The only true power in our world belongs to God. And in Jesus God has redefined power. As God said to the apostle, Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” The power of God is found in a helpless baby who was born in Bethlehem. Jesus is the most powerful person who ever lived. He changed the world more than anyone else, yet he never held an office. He never had much money. He never was esteemed by the world. He was even killed by the so-called powers of the world. His death is the ultimate example of God’s power, for through the cross the powers of hell have been defeated.
As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the power of God, in all its weakness, transforms our lives so that we become God’s beloved children.
The third word I want to look at this morning is glory. The Old Testament word for glory means weight. Something with glory is something heavy, something important. In Exodus God’s glory shone in the cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness. When Moses went up the mountain he saw God’s glory and his face shined like light. When the Israelites set up the tabernacle, the tent where God lived, God’s glory filled the tent and no one else could go near it. God’s glory was blinding and people were afraid of it.
The New Testament word for glory is doxa – doxology comes from this. It means light. God’s glory is a radiance that shines brightly. That glory is seen in Jesus. In John’s gospel we hear “The Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In the story of the transfiguration Jesus went up the mountain. A cloud came down on the mountain, pointing back to the cloud that lead the Israelites through the wilderness. It covered Jesus and his face was filled with God’s glory. All the glory, all the majesty and wonder of God, is found in the person of Jesus. In Jesus we see the glory of God at its brightest.
Louis XIV was the king of France for 72 years, the longest serving monarch in European history. He lived a magnificent and spectacular life, and he planned his funeral to be a glorious spectacle. He died in 1715 and was laid out in a gold coffin in the Notre Dame cathedral. He wanted the whole funeral service to be completely dark, except for one candle which was right above his coffin. Thousands of people filled the cathedral for his funeral. The priest, Jean-Baptist Massillon, led the service. At one point he walked up to the casket, snuffed out the candle, and said, “God alone is great!”
The glory that gives meaning to our lives, the glory that alone is worthy of our worship, belongs to God. In our prayers and in our lives, let us always give glory to God.
By Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
To be human is to face temptation daily. Many temptations, having been dealt with, no longer exercise any real power over us, but others remain troublesome throughout our lives. And there are unanticipated temptations that catch us off guard and find us vulnerable… “Grant me the strength to resist temptation.” Douglas R.A. Hare
A suburban pastor had a meeting downtown in a big city. He drove downtown in plenty of time but couldn’t find a parking spot. He drove around for a while, then realized that he was running late so he ended up parking his car in a no-parking zone. He put the following note under the windshield wiper:
I’ve circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here I’ll miss my appointment. Reverend Thomas. FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES.
He went in to his meeting. When he returned to his car he found a citation from a police officer, along with this note:
I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.
This is our fifth sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. In the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer the fifth line says, “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.” That is quite different from the King James Version that most of us know: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” If you look in different Bibles you will probably notice that this line is translated in many different ways. Let’s take a closer look.
In Greek there is one word for the phrase “the time of trial.” It’s (peirasmos). This is the word that causes some of the confusion because it can be translated two different ways, one is positive and the other is negative.
When the positive meaning is implied peirasmos is usually translated as a trial or a test. Life is filled with trials, struggles that make life hard. These tests are intended to help us grow and become strong. That is why James tells us that “whenever you face trials (peirasmos), consider it a joy.” These trials will make you stronger and help you grow.
About five years ago there was a survey on spiritual formation. Thousands of people were asked when they grew the most spiritually. The number one contributor to spiritual growth was not the fabulous preaching people hear Sunday mornings. That is rather humbling. It was not the thought-provoking Sunday school classes led by the pastor. It wasn’t being in a small group or reading books. It wasn’t finding ways to serve in ministry. The number one cause of spiritual growth was suffering. People grow the most during the trials of life; grief, conflict, struggles of any sort.
Sometimes God brings these trials and tests into our lives, for the purpose of helping us grow. One of the most disturbing stories in the Bible is in the 22nd chapter of Genesis. It starts off like this: “After these things God tested Abraham.” What follows is the story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. God wanted to see if Abraham’s faith was real. He tested Abraham to see if God was the most important thing in his life.
Tests and trials show us the depth of our faith and the integrity of our commitment. They show us the areas we need to grow and are intended to help us grow in our faith. [5:30]
That is the positive side. When the negative idea of these trials is intended peirasmos is usually translated “temptation.” Lead us not into temptation. This is a seduction toward sin. It’s turning away from God to something evil. What makes this confusing is our passage in James. In verse 2 James tells us to celebrate the trials. They are something good. But in verses 12-14 James says that these temptations – it’s the same word here, peirasmos – are evil and God is not part of them. “God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). I’ll be honest with you; I don’t know how to make sense of the fact that sometimes God tests us to help us grow in our faith, but this passage tells us that God doesn’t tempt us, and the word test and tempt are the same Greek word. This is one of the mysteries of following Christ. All I know is that life is filled with trials and temptations.
Temptations usually look good. Eugene Peterson put it like this:
Virtually every temptation that comes to those of us who are committed to Jesus … comes in the form of something right and necessary and obviously good. The devil doesn’t waste his time tempting us to do something that we know is evil. He hides the evil in something good and then tempts us with the good.
These temptations look good, but in the end, when we give in to temptation they hurt us. That is why we pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The second phrase in the prayer we are looking at today, deliver us from evil, suggests that peirasmos is a temptation. It is turning away from God toward something evil. In the Greek, the word evil, “deliver us from evil,” can also be translated the evil one. It could refer to evil things and situation that lead us away from God, or it could be talking about satan, who wants to draw us away from God. It really doesn’t matter. Either way, we need God’s help to keep from falling into temptation. And so we pray, “Don’t let us fall into a test so that we will sin and fail. Don’t allow us to be tempted in ways that overwhelm us and we turn away from God and toward evil.”
In Greek mythology there are creatures called sirens. They are beautiful and look like mermaids. They sing gorgeous songs and lure sailors to come to them. The sailors are captivated by their ravishing beauty and their hypnotic song. They sail their ships toward the sirens. However, their ships end up crashing on reefs near the islands where the sirens live, and the sailors are killed.
Temptations are like a siren. They lure us away from God and destroy us. Unfortunately, life is filled with temptation. Some of them are temptations of the flesh. These are passionate temptations. Sex would certainly be one of these. Sexual temptation is around us all the time, whether it is images on your computer or in magazines or TV. These images tempt us to believe that sex automatically leads to intimacy. We all long for intimacy and connection, and certainly sex is part of that, but intimacy is so much more than sexual.
Another temptation of the flesh is food. The historic term for this is gluttony, which is one of the seven deadly sins. It seems to me that the church has ignored this temptation. For the last ten years or so our culture has started paying attention to problems with food because people are overweight. What hasn’t been addressed enough is that there is a spiritual aspect to gluttony. We try to fill ourselves up rather than admitting that we are empty and need to be filled by God’s love.
There are many other passionate temptations – power, fame, money. However, I have a sense that we struggle just as much with temptations that are quiet. How about busyness? How often are we encouraged to take time, to make time, to slow down – to read a book (without feeling guilty), to spend 45 minutes watching a beautiful sunset and listening to the birds, or even to sit doing absolutely nothing? We fill our calendars believing that the busier we are the more important we are. At least we hope that we feel important and others will think we are important. The truth is, busyness is a sign that we don’t trust God to take care of all the things that need to be done.
What about the temptation to bitterness? It is so easy to hold on to our anger. No one can see our bitterness. We may not even see it ourselves, but the temptation to harbor that rage in our hearts will make our lives, and those around us, miserable.
How about the temptation to avoid the pain of life? Or the temptation to keep our walls up and not share our lives with others? Or the temptation to buy things to fill the empty space inside our hearts? The list of temptations is endless because we live in a world that is filled with temptation.
God doesn’t want us to sin. God doesn’t want us to fail. However, by our own strength we can’t keep from sinning. We need God’s help to overcome the trials and to avoid the temptations of life. We need to be rescued from the evil of our world. Let me offer you four steps that we can take in dealing with temptation.
First, we need to pray – “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We need God’s help to overcome temptation. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are asking for that help. During Lent, as we have looked at the Lord’s Prayer, we have used this modern translation. Last week I mentioned that debts or trespasses don’t make any sense to us so I would prefer that we keep praying “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I have just the opposite reaction toward today’s phrase. The traditional “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a better understanding of what Jesus invites us to pray. We pray because we need God’s help.
The second step in overcoming temptation is not to allow yourself to think about the temptations that you struggle with. You can’t control the thoughts that come into your mind or the images that you see in the world around you, whether it is a beautiful woman or food that makes you want to stuff your face, or something else. However, you can choose not to think about those thoughts. We focus our attention someplace else.
I love coats. I have more than enough coats, but there is something about coats that I always want more. L.L. Bean puts pictures of coats on my Facebook page, tempting me to buy another coat. However, I don’t have to click on that image and go to L.L. Bean’s website and look at all their coats and what wonderful deals they have for buying one. That is the difference between a thought that is tempting and thinking about a temptation which is taking a step toward the temptation and away from God.
Third, surround yourself with friends who will encourage you to avoid the temptations. I read an article last week about CC Sabathia. He is an all-star pitcher for the New York Yankees. He made news last fall when right as the baseball playoffs were beginning he checked into an alcohol rehab center. He admitted that he needed help and got himself sober. The interesting part of the article was how he said that he was going avoid the temptation of alcohol this year. After games he plans to go out to parties with his teammates. People wondered about that, going to places where alcohol might be served. His comment was that the real temptation for him was being by himself. In the past he had problems when he went back to his room and drank alone. He needed to be surrounded by his friends and teammates who could hold him accountable and help him avoid the temptation to drink. We need other people to help us overcome the temptations of our lives.
And finally, the fourth step of overcoming temptation is that we need to confess our sin when we give in to temptation. We never get to the point where temptations stop attacking us. We never get to the point where we stop sinning. As we talked about last week, we always need to ask for forgiveness – “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
May God help us avoid, or overcome, the temptations of our lives. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” And may God forgive us when we do sin. “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The Lord’s Prayer: Forgiveness
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
To forgive someone is the hardest work we do… Not forgiving makes you toxic. And then you really have very little to offer your family or the world or your audience, because you’re faking it. Anne Lamott
The Lord’s Prayer: Forgiveness
Most of us, at some point in time, have borrowed money. Maybe you borrowed $20 to buy lunch, or a several thousand dollars to buy a car, or a couple hundred thousand dollars to buy a house, most of us know what it is like to be in debt and need to pay it back. Here is my question for you, when you finished paying back what you owed, did you stop praying the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”?
One of the main reasons I wanted to use the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer is that debts and debtors does not make sense to most of us. Tanya and I still owe some money on our house and I’d be happy for the bank to forgive that debt, but I’m not expecting that to happen. If you grew up Methodist or Roman Catholic you probably used “trespasses” rather than “debts.” When was the last time you walked on someone’s property illegally? Being in debt or trespassing isn’t a big deal, but sin is a problem that we all have to deal with. “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
A seminary professor told about his son’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. He was obviously from the “trespass” tradition. His son prayed the Lord’s Prayer like this: “Forgive us our trashbaskets as we forgive those who trash can against us.” We laugh at that wording but I sense that this boy was on to something. What needs to be forgiven is the trash and garbage of our lives. People have dumped trash into our lives and we need to forgive them. In the same way, the ugliness of what we have done needs to be thrown out. We need to be forgiven. Let me share with you four comments about this prayer – forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
First, if you have been here the last several weeks you may have noticed that I added two extra verses on to the end of our New Testament lesson. The Lord’s Prayer is in Matthew 6, verses 9-13. Today I also read verses 14-15, in which Jesus expands on the topic of forgiveness. Notice that he does not say anything extra about praising God in heaven, or God’s kingdom and following God’s will, or asking for bread or about temptation. Yet he does expand on the topic of forgiveness.
Jesus knew that forgiveness was central to the spiritual journey. Forgiveness is at the core of the Christian faith; being forgiven and forgiving other people. Jesus knew that to have a healthy relationship with God we need to be forgiven and we need to forgive others.
He also knew how hard forgiveness is. In theory, everyone agrees with forgiveness and it sounds wonderful, until you actually need to forgive someone. One author called forgiveness “love’s hardest work.” I have a four week Sunday school class on forgiveness that I’ve taught several times. Every time I teach it I’ve had some people who come to the first class but refuse to come back. One lady actually walked out in the middle of the first class. I talked with all these people later and every one of them said that forgiveness was just too hard. Jesus knew how hard it was, so he put extra emphasis on forgiveness.
For my second comment, let me try to define forgiveness, so that we are working from the same definition. There are some misconceptions about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same thing as avoiding conflict. We live in a culture that is afraid of anger. It’s scary and we don’t know what to do with it. When something hurts us and we feel angry there is a tendency to pretend that we aren’t angry. “It’s no big deal. I forgive them.” We bury our anger but it eventually comes out in some way that is not healthy or helpful. We haven’t really forgiven. Forgiveness is not avoiding conflict, but facing it without allowing the anger and hurt to determine how we act.
Forgiveness is also not the same thing as forgetting. There is a story that preachers often use to illustrate forgiveness. I’ve heard it in several sermons in various forms, but it goes something like this. A woman claims to have conversations with God. She says that God comes to her and they talk. People are skeptical about this idea, including her pastor. Her pastor asks her to talk to God about the sin he committed two weeks earlier. She says “Okay.” A week later she comes back and tells her pastor that she has had another conversation with God. The pastor asks her what God said about his sin, and the woman tells him that God didn’t remember it.
This illustration is intended to show us that God forgives our sins, yet I have always had a hard time with this story. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, how could God forget something. God isn’t stupid or absent minded. Rather than saying God forgets our sins, I think it is better to say God treats us as if he had forgotten.
So here is my definition: Forgiveness is choosing not to use the memory of being hurt against the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is facing the reality of what the other person has done to you, but deciding that your relationship with that person is more important than the hurt and anger you feel. Forgiveness is saying that in spite of what you have done, I still want a relationship with you.
The third comment about forgiveness is that this prayer only makes sense when we admit our own sinfulness. Jesus assumes that all of us are sinners who need to be forgiven. This is an idea that seems to have been lost. I doubt that anyone would claim to be perfect, yet I also have a sense that most of us don’t really think of ourselves as miserable sinners. Over the past fifty years or so the Christian message has changed. It used to be “We are sinners who need to be forgiven.” In our day we have psychologized the gospel so that now the basic Christian message is “We are hurting people who need comfort. We are lonely people who need a relationship.” I’ll be the first to admit that I have probably preached more sermons about how God loves us and meets our needs than I have about how God forgives us because we are sinners.
In 1960 Adolph Eichmann was captured. He was taken to Israel and put on trial for his part in the Holocaust of World War II. Prosecutors brought a variety of concentration camp prisoners as witnesses. One of them was Yehiel Dinur, who had survived Auschwitz.
On the day that he was to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at Eichmann as he sat behind the bulletproof glass. Here was the man who had murdered his family and friends. He had tortured and massacred millions of other Jews. The courtroom grew silent as these two men stared at each other. Then something unexpected happened. Yehiel Dinur began to cry. He sobbed and collapsed to the floor.
In 1983 Mike Wallace interviewed Dinur for 60 Minutes. Wallace asked him what happened in the courtroom. “Were you overcome with hatred? Did the terrible memories overwhelm you? Were you overcome by the evil on the man’s face?” Dinur said “No.” It wasn’t any of that. He expected to look at Eichmann and see the personification of evil. But when he saw Eichmann he saw an ordinary man. Dinur said “I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable of doing this exact same thing. Eichmann is in all of us.”
Friends, all of us are sinners. We have all turned away from God. We have all done terrible things to hurt other people. Any time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we admit our sinfulness and our need to be forgiven.
The fourth comment about this prayer focuses on one little word – “as.” “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This suggests that the forgiveness we receive is connected to the forgiveness we give. The question is how they are related.
At first glance, it seems as if forgiving others is a condition of our being forgiven. If we forgive others God has to forgive us. If we don’t forgive others God won’t forgive us. The problem with that idea is that it denies grace. In essence it says, “We earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others.” Yet the Christian message is that God freely chooses to forgive us. We don’t deserve it.
Let me offer you another way to think about this. Rather than saying “If we don’t forgive others God won’t forgive us,” it makes more sense to say, “If we don’t forgive God can’t forgive us.” Or even better, “If we don’t forgive others we are not able to receive the forgiveness that God offers to us.” If we cling to our desire for revenge we will be so tied up in knots that we will miss God’s grace.
Let me illustrate this. Imagine that you are holding this stability ball. Don’t let go of the ball. Use both hands and hold on tightly. Someone tosses some candy to you, or maybe it’s silver dollars or something even more valuable. But you still have to hold on to this ball. How much candy or silver dollars are you likely to be able to catch. If you are good or lucky you might catch a few pieces, but that big red ball will keep you from catching most of the candy. If you let go of the ball you could probably catch a whole lot more.
This ball represents what someone did to you. The bright red represents your hatred and desire to get revenge. It burns inside of you. As long as you hang on to your hatred and desire for revenge you are going to find it very hard to receive the forgiveness and love that God sends to you. It’s not so much that God won’t forgive you as it is that you can’t receive it. Your hatred gets in the way.
Forgiveness is not a bargain we make with God. It is a gift that God gives to us, a gift that makes it possible for us to forgive others. As Max Lucado said it, “Forgiving others allows us to see how God has forgiven us. The dynamic of giving grace is the key to understanding grace, for it is when we forgive others that we begin to feel what God feels.”
Friends, the fact that you are alive means that you have been and will continue to be hurt by other people. And it means that you have and will continue to hurt other people. We all need to give and receive forgiveness. It is hard work. It takes time. Forgiveness is risky, yet forgiving is worth the risk because it is the only way we will experience the forgiveness that God offers to us. And so we pray, “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Amen.