Sermon presented at
Resurrection Lutheran Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia
on 25 July 2010 -- the 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Children’s sermon: Starfish thrower.
Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
A couple of months ago I was walking around the battlefield at Gettysburg, with a group of wildland firefighters from around the country. One of their very senior leaders brought up an interesting topic for our leadership discussions – “common sense”. We’ve all heard of “common sense” before. And I don’t mean Thomas Paine’s revolutionary war pamphlet or , I mean phrases like “that’s just common sense” or “he just doesn’t have any common sense”. We’ve all heard that before, but what does it mean to have “common sense”. In our discussions, the firefighter offered up this simple explanation. Common sense is related to paying attention. To have common sense means that you pay attention to the world around you. Maybe that’s how you get common sense too…by paying attention.
Today’s Scriptures lead us to pay attention to three things:
1. Pay attention to the lectionary;
2. Pay attention to your prayers; and
3. Pay attention to the Christ in you.
First – pay attention to the lectionary. Every Sunday we are gathered together in this place, and we join with Christians throughout the world in reading or listening to the Holy Scriptures appointed for that day. Each Sunday we have a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the Epistles or another part of the New Testament, and a reading from one of the Gospels. There’s also a Psalm in there. In the Eastern Church, the appointed lessons are repeated every year according to the liturgical calendar. In the western church, since the early 1960’s, Lutherans, Anglicans, Romans, and others use the Revised Common Lectionary, which repeats after a three year cycle. The first year most readings of the Gospel are from Matthew, the second year from Mark, and the third year from Luke. The Gospel of John is read during the Easter Season and other Festival days. So since today’s Gospel is from Luke, we are in the third year of the cycle – and come November 28th as we start the next Church year on the first of Advent, we start the three year lectionary cycle all over again. So if you come to church each Sunday (which we all ought to do) over the course of three years, you’ll hear over 450 passages from the Bible! And if you forget any of that, come on back the next three years and you’ll hear it all again! In-between, of course, those who have been given the gift of being able to read should diligently study the Scriptures to fill in all the blanks. If you start paying attention to the lectionary and why particular scriptures are selected to go together on a particular Sunday, you’ll develop a whole lot more common sense about the Bible and about your meaningful participation in the Body of Christ.
Today’s readings for example, are all linked. From the Old Testament we heard about Abraham praying to God to spare the good people who lived amongst the evil. And God pays attention to Abraham and mercifully answers that prayer. And the Lord’s prayer is the central topic of the Gospel today. Disciples wanting to learn how to pray. And from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we see that through baptism we have received Christ Jesus, and that through a prayerful life abounding in faith and thanksgiving we ought to continue to live our lives Him, rooted and built up in Him.
But that’s not all! Pay attention to how the Lectionary links readings from one Sunday to the next. Last Sunday you recall was about the Lord appearing to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre as Abraham sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. And then the Lord appearing to Mary and Martha. And you remember how Pastor Jim in his sermon talked about Mary “crossing the boundary” by not doing what was expected of her (helping Martha) but went to pay attention to Jesus by sitting at his feet and listening to what he was saying. And now today, we see Abraham crossing the boundary to pray to God and asking him – leading him – to spare the righteous. And then the disciples asking Jesus – leading him – to teach them how to pray directly to God. Common people like you and me praying directly to God, the creator of all that is seen and unseen. How’s that for crossing boundaries? I wonder what boundaries we will cross if we pay attention to next week’s lectionary readings?
Second point – pay attention to your prayers. God pays attention to the great evil violence happening in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of “the outcry that has come to him.” He also pays attention to Abraham who prays to God “Far be it from you to slay the righteous with the wicked”. God listens to Abraham and commands the angels to deliver Abrahams nephew Lot and his family from the cities before they are destroyed.
In the Gospel for today, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. And the words of the most familiar “Lord’s Prayer” are recorded here in Luke and also in the Gospel according to Matthew. In both Gospels, the familiar ending “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever Amen” are not recorded. We get that ending from oral tradition all the way from the first century, which was affirmed when we found a copy of the Didache in a Turkish monastery in 1873. From Matthew we also learn that we must not pray like the hypocrites who love to stand and be heard in the temples and on street corners, but we should go to our rooms and shut the doors, and pray to our Father who is in secret, and our Father who sees in secret will reward you. Note in the Epistle lesson, Paul tells us all these legalistic requirements of praying so many times a day and facing a certain direction, all these legal demands are just a shadow of what is to come – the substance belongs to Christ. And from the Christ in the Gospel: just like we who are parents know how to give good gifts to our children, so our heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him to. Sounds like God pays attention to your prayers. You should too!
Finally our third point – pay attention to the Christ in you. In the Old Testament lesson, where do you see Jesus in the text? Perhaps you see Jesus as the judge of right and wrong who is merciful to the righteous, and will not destroy the cities if even 10 good people are found there. How many see Jesus in Abraham? Praying to God on behalf of these sheep of his flock? How about John the Baptizer? The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray just like John taught his disciples. Do you see some Jesus in John? DO you see Jesus in the disciples, wanting to learn how to pray to God? And the Epistle from Paul reminds us that we are all to live our lives in Christ Jesus who is the head of the whole body of life, and all of us grow a growth that is from God when we hold fast to the head. So pay attention to the Christ in you as you leave this place each week and walk along those beaches filled with starfish thirsty for the life that only Christ can give!
In this month’s Lutheran, Bishop Duane Pederson challenges us to read the bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. We need to pay attention to the Scriptures, pay attention to our prayers, and pay attention to the Christ in us, so that we may interpret the newspapers – the world around us – based on the common sense we all gather on our journey together through our relationship with Jesus.
May the Peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds always in the Risen Christ Jesus. Amen.