7. A Reflection on Easter – 2012

We have all heard it before, why did Jesus have to die? We have also heard all the theological and ecclesiastical answers to the questions; and I must confess that I embrace a few of them. But today I want to explore this question on a bit of a different path.

Jesus was born in the must humble means, his birth brought God into the everyday realities of humanity. Jesus was raised by a common ordinary Jewish family; with a blue-collar father and a mother who devoted herself the responsibilities that surrounded the home. In spite of all this commonality, Jesus was nonetheless God; but because of his external appearance and nature those who should have recognized the deity that was hidden behind human flesh and bones either could not or simply refuse to do so.

The compassion that Jesus had towards all of humanity, his ability to suspend the laws of nature, and his ability to heal diseases and disabilities should have been enough for people to be convinced of his divinity. However, Jesus meet the same fate that all the sages and prophets of old did, in that the people had their vision of God and were not willing to conform to the divine direction because it required them to embrace something that they did not what. Jesus gave them every kind of evidence of who he really was, but because he was not their image of God they ignored him and did their best to distance themselves from his compassion. Every time Jesus did a common miracle they wanted an even bigger symbol that he was God or at the very least an earthy king; and because of this he knew that he would have perform something grand and powerful for them to realize that he was God.

So now we come to the proverb, be careful of what you ask for. Jesus was going to give them a miracle that would be on one hand the grandest thing that humanity would ever witness and on the other hand would confounded humanity to no ends. As humanity understands things, a miracle or wonderful act comes about because someone performs it in an external manner; such as reaching out and touching something or moving an object from one place to another. Jesus was about to perform an action that would profoundly proclaim that he is God and leave no doubt of his identity. What Jesus was about to do was not to perform a miracle upon someone else, but to perform a miracle upon himself; under normal circumstances this does not sound like an event worthy of a notation in history. However, the miracle that Jesus was going to do would go far beyond curing himself of a common form of influenza or even a common form of suspension of natural science. Like I said, be careful of what you ask for.

Jesus allowed the citizens and authorities of Palestine and Jerusalem to set the stage for this miracle and put things into motion; he allowed them to be as abusive as they desired and even was passive towards them as they caused great and unmentionable harm towards him. In other words, he allowed them to think and believe that they were in control and masters of the moment. By dying through an ugly form of death Jesus proved that he was completely human and subject to every joy and pain that humanity was created with. Through proving beyond any doubt that he was human he was setting the stage to prove that he was divine. By dying disgracefully he allowed them to mock him and prove that he was truly abandoned and very dead. Again, he allowed them to believe that they were masters of the moment.

From a human stand point, dead people cannot perform miracles, the body is lifeless and void of personality. In other words it cannot do anything and is worthless. Therefore on one hand Jesus was dead and in the other hand the stage had been set for a great miracle. Now Jesus was buried in a nice place and to ensure that his body would remain safely and secured in the tomb a unit of Roman soldiers were assigned to guard it. Some of these soldiers witnessed the body of Jesus being placed into this grave and once the tomb had been closed they placed a seal on it. Jesus could not be more dead and buried.

A couple of days later the morning detachment assigned to guard the grave were going through the normal routine when things quickly went from very normal to very abnormal; these brave and strong Roman guards went from confident individuals to being scared beyond their wildest imagination. These warriors whom the known world feared and respected were witnessing the power and authority of the living God in a way that very few throughout history have. At first they may have thought that a strong earthquake had happened, an earthquake would rattle the nerves of these Romans, but it would not scare them. From their stand point, the earthquake caused the stone to move in a way that opened the grave; this would be an easy fix and they could seal the grave once the repairs were done. However, what happened immediately after the grave was opened was anything but normal. As it turned out, the grave had been opened because of an authority within it and a dead person whom some or all recognized, not a ghost, walked out of this grave. The person who was dead an hour ago was now very much alive and most likely said to them in a very human voice, peace be with you. Needless to say, these mighty warriors were reduced to a fear that resemble insanity and their only response was to run away (could you blame them?).

Now who was the master of the moment? Jesus had performed a great miracle and had proven that he was the living God. He had awakened himself from death in a manner that resembles a human being awakening from a deep sleep. No human or heavenly being came and caused him to awake from this sleep; he did it on his own and had highly creditable witnesses, Roman soldiers. In time they would not be the only witness, but these Gentiles were the first human witnesses of this great awakening. Jesus, the Holy Anointed One of God, was alive and doing just fine. Glory be to God on high and peace to the people upon the earth. Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger April 16, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

6. Clash of Realties

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Notice to the reader – the following is a challenging read and may be troubling; therefore please read with care and wisdom.

As it stands today, those who commit any act of domestic violence must face the laws of the state and are punished through the criminal justice system. Acts of domestic violence could be physical harm, psychological harm, or environmental harm (intimidation). In other words, striking someone, playing mind games with someone, or destroying property to ensure conformity.
Now that we have reviewed public law, let us review a segment of society that is challenged by the laws. Individuals who live with developmental and psychological disabilities face many challenges and barriers in their daily lives. One of their greatest struggles is their mental health, when their mental health is compromised they often become emotionally unstable. When they are like this they also can become unpleasant and vulnerable to the intermittent explosive disorder (a common co-occurring condition with developmental and psychological disorders).  When this happens in private homes and in the city parks the police are called and this often means they are arrested. This is an unintended and real consequence of the anti-domestic violence laws and has led to the institutionalization of disable individuals as criminals. When they become inmates they do not receive the professional care needed for appropriate stabilization and management of their disabilities. In other words, they are separated from their network of care and support.
Therefore, many individuals who live with establish disabilities must contend with anti-domestic violence laws that cast such a wide net that they often find themselves entangled in its webbing.

Those who are very passionate about domestic violence have created many laws to protect domestic partners and families from domestic abuse through someone’s need to use violence to control and dominate individuals (as if they were property). In their zeal to seek out justice and social reform these advocates against violence did not offer any kind of consideration towards those who have an established medical history of developmental or psychological disabilities and the intermittent explosive disorder that is often associated with these disabilities. This lack of acknowledgement also creates conflicts between the basic concepts of the 1963 Community Mental Health Act and the anti-domestic violence community.

The idea of treating everyone who commits any kind of domestic violence in the same way is another way of seeking a one size fits all approach. If a one size fits all approach is the direction that society wants to go, then we need to completely change the criminal justice systems on both the federal and state levels and remodel many correctional buildings. This kind of major change is grounded on the fact that correctional facilities are currently designed for the detainment of those who have committed a criminal act and are not designed to be the primary care and treatment centers of those who have developmental and/or psychological disabilities. This is especially true for city and county jails, they often do not have the staff and funding that would allow them too properly care for those with these kinds of disabilities. Sadly, this lack of resources has already led to abuse and even death of those with disabilities.

As a rule, I do not have a disagreement with the process and punishment of those who have harmed their domestic partner for the sole purpose of controlling, dominating, and perversely coveting them. However, I strongly believe that the criminal justice system is the wrong place for those who have been professionally diagnosed with a developmental or psychological disability. Instead, I believe that they need to be dealt with by the health and social services community, so that they may receive a thorough mental health evaluation and inpatient treatment. In addition, if they cannot be stabilized they need to be confined for an extended period to a facility for those who have seriously impaired mental health.

Concerning medication. Science has not kept up with the general concerns of society and Federal and State laws; the development of medications to control the genetic based behavior of the intermittent explosive disorder and other similar disorders that often co-occur with developmental and psychological impairments is still in its infancy. It will be a long time before medications are developed that will successfully control this behavior in all individuals with these impairments; as it stands today the only way medication can pacify the impairments of an individual is to be in a high enough dosage that it renders a person into a zombie state.

Criminalization. When anti-domestic violence laws do not take in consideration the medical science of the symptoms of developmental and psychological disorders and make provisions for them, there is only one out come, the criminalize of the genetic nature of these disabilities. Without consideration and provisions in the laws, the impaired DNA that is at the center of the disability and the cause of the symptomatic behavior, will make disabled individuals candidates for criminal prosecution by virtue of their genetic code.

Another serious matter. What makes things really difficult for those who work with those with these disabilities is the fact that all “First Responders (police officers, mental health counselors and case workers, teachers and so forth)” must to report any “person to person violence (verbal, attempt and actual).” This has forced advocates and supporters of those with either with psychological and developmental disabilities underground or into the shadows of society.

What would go a long way in reconciling all these parties and bring them together would be an acknowledgement that the current domestic violence laws need to be reformed and work together to bring about a revised code of law that acknowledges that violence committed by those with established psychological and developmental disabilities is a symptom of these disorders and not a criminal act.

Written by Dave Pflueger March 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

Dave Pflueger is certified for mental health peer counseling

5. Relevancy of Social Justice

Recently I have been reflecting upon what I think is relevant for humanity in the area of justice and I have come to this thought. Today there are so many social justice issues on the table that should be address; one could hardly know where to start. Rev. John Schramm and Rev. Dan Erlander give us a strong foundation to which we can build on, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Rev. Nyer Urness of Seattle gave the world powerful examples on how to address the needs and concerns of the poor and disenfranchised of the inner city, and then there are the social justice concerns that surround those who live with developmental or psychological disabilities; they face many barriers within faith communities and because of the domestic violence laws they are often forced underground or disenfranchised from society.

So relevancy is a good starting point. However, what is relevant for one generation is not always so for another generation. In the metropolitan urban environments this can really play itself out. So listening and encouraging discussion is often the best means to gage what is currently relevant; through this process the more pressing social concerns become known and therefore addressed for that generation. With this said, the principle ethic of Christianity is to care for those who are less fortunate, such as the poor, the disenfranchised, and the disable. This goes far beyond food for the poor, fellowship for the disenfranchised, and inclusiveness for the disable; it means to be living examples of Christ and his teachings.

As Christ is the central point in worship, the teachings of Christ are to be at the center of our lives. As the presence of Christ is the central point in the Great Thanksgiving that is offered, the presence of Christ is to be evident in our offerings to humanity. Saint Francis and Mother Teresa did not think about doing things, they simply did things. Christianity should not be a religion that favors safe harbors, but instead engaged in the good, the bad, and the ugly of life and humanity; just like Jesus of Nazareth was, even unto the giving of his life for others. As the chalice of Christ is unconditional love for humanity, we are to pour ourselves out for the sake and benefit of humankind. This is out ethical position – unconditional love for humanity and unconditional trust in God. What does LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 May the peace and compassion of the Spirit of God bless you always.

Written by Dave Pflueger April 4, 2012 © copyrighted Pflueger

4. A Reflection on Luke 22:66-71

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Not long after sunrise, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led him away to their council chamber. A spokesperson said, “Are you anointed? If you have been, for what purpose have you been anointed?” Tell us! But Jesus said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you a question, you will not answer.” However, I will say this, ‘Behold, I suddenly saw one like a son of Adam coming from the heavenly clouds. He went up to the Ancient of Days, who said to him, from now on be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” Then the spokesman said, “Are you the son of god?” And he said to them, “Yes, I am.” Then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves; from his own words.”  Then the whole body of them got up and brought him before Pilate.

While this is not a literal translation of Luke 22:66-72, this version of the meeting is more likely a more realistic presentation of the actual interaction between the council and Jesus.

I will begin with a quote from the book “Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young, “It is highly doubtful if Jesus ever appeared before the Sanhedrin. Leaders like Gamaliel would never have allowed such unfair proceedings in a trial. The Greek word ‘sunedrion’ is the term used for council. Sometimes it has wrongly been understood to mean the prestigious high court of the Sanhedrin. During the trail of Jesus, it becomes clear that this was ‘their council,’ that is, the council of the Sadducean priests (Luke 22:66).”  Brad H. Young put the spotlight the Sadducean priests and he also penned, “Jesus’ death was political rather than theological.” The Sadducean priests were closely aligned with the Roman Empire and through this alliance they controlled the Temple. Over the last couple of years the council of Sadduccean priests had been looking for ways to rid itself of two messianic movements that had merged into one, John of the Mikvah and the Jesus community. These two groups merged after the death of John and become one large messianic movement that was centered in spiritual renewal. The Sadduccean priests and their closest associates saw this new movement as a threat to their political and economic realities, because they knew the messianic convictions of the Jews were closely watched and strongly oppressed by the Roman Empire.

There is something here that the modern day reader might miss, but those governed by the Roman Empire would not. I am talking about the title Divi Filius, which translates as the “son of god. This is one of the titles of the Roman emperor. When a Roman or a subject of the Roman Empire heard the title “son of god” mentioned, they immediately thought you were referring to the emperor and no one else. We cannot forget the fact that Roman emperors were very jealous and defensive of their titles, and they would never share their titles with a non-Roman such as Jesus. When Jesus was asked, are you the son of god, the question was not theological but instead it was political. When the Roman trained ears of the council heard Jesus say “yes I am” there was only one translation for his response, and that was this “I am an emperor (a king).”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus only referred to himself as the Son of God in the context of the third person. He never directly used the title “son of god.” He knew if he publically called himself “son of god” it would be an open invitation to be arrested by the Romans. This is why you never read in the Gospels Jesus addressing a public gathering like this, I am the son of god and I would like you to listen to what I have to say. Before his death, Jesus wanted to avoid conflicts with the Roman title Divi Filius.

At the end of this hearing the council has evidence that could be used to charge Jesus with creating a rival kingdom, something that the Romans would not tolerate. Since Jesus agreed with the council that he was the “son of god” he could be charged with sedition, over-throwing the Roman state and establishing a new kingdom with him as the emperor. This is the target of the council. It would not only bring the death penalty for Jesus, but it would spread suspicion upon his entire movement and open any of his followers to Roman persecution. Most likely, the council of the Sadducean priests was hoping to stand before the Roman authorities and use the response given by Jesus as a declaration for an insurrection. By doing so they were hoping to invoke a defensive response from them and therefore the council could use the self-preservation nature of the Roman government to do their dirty work.

There was one barrier to the plan that the Sadducean priests had created and it was called Pilate, the Roman Governor. As we read onward, we will see that he saw right through this dastardly plan and clearly saw the hypocrisy of this council. Although Pilate had a responsibility to monitor and repress all Jewish messianic individuals and their followers, Pilate knew Jesus represented a different and unusual kind of messiah. In all likelihood he was well aware of Jesus and his activities, but since Jesus avoided any attempt to be called emperor and instead focused on teaching, healing, and living in harmony with God and mankind he did not present a military threat against Rome. In this light, Pilate would also be aware of the respect and compassion that Jesus had shown towards Roman soldiers and other non-Jews in the region over the last few years; and this would have separated him from the Zealots, a known terrorist’s organization that sought to overthrow the Roman authority over the Hebrew people. So when the counsel of the Sadducean priests informed Pilate of the statement that Jesus made he did not believe that Jesus posed a real threat to the empire. However, Pilate was convinced that Jesus could be punished for disturbing the peace for acting inappropriately.

The council of the Sadducean priests knew what they would be facing when they confronted Pilate with Jesus. They knew if they wanted Jesus to die they would have to control the environment of the trail before Pilate and use their followers to convince Pilate to fulfill their desires. Through controlling the environment they would be able to convince Pilate that Jesus was a leader of terrorist movement and send a message to everyone who might threaten the religious establishment of the temple. Since Pilate was not going to be easily convinced that Jesus was a serious threat against the Roman state, they would have to ensure that the trail would happen in a place they could control. Therefore, in all likelihood the two times that Jesus appeared before Pilate probably occurred in the strong fortress of Antonia in the northwest corner of the temple complex. The majority of the group that gathered in that fortress was probably Sadducean priests and those of the general public who supported them. It is worth noting, that while Sadduceans and their followers were putting Jesus before Pilate, most people in Jerusalem were at home and focused on the celebration of the Passover.

In closing, how often have we lost jobs and other opportunities because we threaten someone’s comfort zones? I fear this happens all too often in our world that has grown to demand passive individuals who do not threaten anyone in anyway. In this story Jesus is clearly teaching us that we are to stand firm in matters of personal and institutional religious convictions. He is also making it very clear that we are to do this regardless of what the authorities or mob might do to us. After stating his case before his emperor and other authorities, Martin Luther looked right at them and gave them a look of defiance and said, “It is neither right nor safe for one to go against their conscience. Here I stand, God help me. Amen!” Archbishop Oscar Romero challenged the political authorities of El Salvador and they martyr him while he elevated the chalice during the Eucharistic Prayer. This is the very kind of spiritual strength that Christ wants us to have and live by; and for Christian clergy Martin Luther would add … “they must have teeth.”

Written by Dave Pflueger March 17, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

3. 1963 Community Mental Health Act – After 50 Years

It has been almost 50 years since the creation of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 and the creation of the Medicaid program in 1965. The Mental Health Act deinstitutionalized the care and support for those who were diagnosed with psychological and developmental disorders and Medicaid provided a means for the disabled to receive professional medical care. During this fifty year period, American society has gone from a workable network of support and services for those who live with psychological and developmental disorders to a point where the network is fractured and services have been reduced to dysfunctional levels. The Community Mental Health Act is still the norm, but the broken network and lack of services creates serious public safety issues; if a nation is going make deinstitutionalization its gold standard, it better provide the highest levels of public funding for community based programs or acknowledge to the citizens that public safety and health is not a priority. In our nation we have a real crisis facing us and if we do not address it, things are going to become very dangerous; because when a disability has destabilized the mental health of someone without a network to provide them with pro-active treatment and services, something very bad can happen in the city parks. As a nation we need to decide if we want to continue with deinstitutionalization or start building secured facilities with professional staff members to operate them. Failure to decide is an unwise and unhealthy option. As faith-based communities, Christians need to decide what direction they are going to take on this serious matter and take steps towards their decision and promote it. For Christians this is an issue of social justice and a matter of social morality.

Before us we have three options: deinstitutionalization (fully funded community based programs), public institutions (secured facilities funded by the government), or make no decision (the most dangerous option).

Written by Dave Pflueger May 2012  © copyrighted by Pflueger

2. Hey Lutherans! Time for a New Vision of Ministry

I am writing this from my Lutheran heart. The time has come to dispose of the one size fits all understanding of clergy. The first step in this process is to find a title for clergy that is not a job title. Currently most Lutheran denominations use the word “Pastor” as both a job title and a title that designates ordination; many Christian denominations simply do not do this. The Methodists call their ordained individuals Elders and the Anglicans call their ordained individuals either Priest or Deacon; and the time now has come for the Lutherans to find a title for ordained individuals other than Pastor, which is a job title for someone serving a congregation.

Among Anglicans, Methodists, and Roman Catholics an individual serving a congregation as a Pastor could be an Elder/Priest, a Deacon, or even a lay minister. For them the word Pastor does not denote ordination, but instead serves as a job title; and a very serious one at that.

Currently Lutherans have a very well-defined concept of individuals serving as Ministers of Word and Sacrament and these individuals are highly educated professionals. They are so well educated and trained, that in the secular world, these Ministers would be identified as either an executive director or a chief executive officer; and to a degree they perform many of the functions of these positions within the congregations that they serve. With this said, Lutherans need to find a way to identify the individuals serving as these Ministers without using a job title; two titles from Christian Scriptures come quickly to mind, Elder and Presbyter.

Unlike the Anglicans and Old Catholics, many Lutheran denominations have not embraced the concept of a local version of lay professional Ministers of Word and Sacrament (clergy). A ministry in which the Minister does not attend a seminary or other kind of accredited school of theology; but instead is trained and mentored on the local level (like EFM program of the Episcopal Church). To some degree, but not entirely, this is because of the collegiate nature of many Lutheran bodies, which promotes only professional clergy.

Over the years, Lutherans have struggled with the concept of Minister of Word and Service (Deacon). In more ways than one, this struggle is centered on identity; in that, Lutherans in North America have not made a clear choice, either to stand with the Evangelical Protestants or the Sacramental Protestants. In others words, to stand with those who favor the heritage of the Hauge Synod and the Lutheran Free Church (Evangelical Protestants) or those who favor the heritage of the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Sacramental Protestants). In this light, the Evangelical Protestants favor lay deacons and the Sacramental Protestants favor ordained deacons. It is my concern and fear that the North American Lutherans will choose to remain conflicted in this matter rather than making a decision.

Both the Anglicans and the Methodists have Ministers of Word and Service and a few of these Ministers serve as Diaconal Pastors in congregations, mostly in missions and rural areas. While they do not provide the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharistic, they do provide pastoral care and management of the flock. Through its focus for human services and social justice Lutherans already have a good foundation for Ministers of Word and Service; all they need to do is open themselves to this ancient concept of Christian ministry.

Lutherans have also struggled with the idea of licensed/certified Lay Ministers. The United Methodist Church has not only embraced this kind of non-professional ministry, but celebrates it and bestows spiritual leadership upon it. The Certified Lay Ministers of the Methodist Church serve rural congregations that could not be logically served by either an Elder or a Deacon. The Episcopal Church has accepted, in their own way, the idea of Lay Ministers serving as lay pastors; they are formally identified by the Canons as a “Pastoral Leader.” They serve congregations in much the same way as the Methodist Certified Lay Ministers do. Like the Deacons, Lay Ministers cannot provide the Sacraments, but they can offer pastoral care and guidance to a little flock in need of a shepherd.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has lay Associates in Ministry, but these individuals serve in specific areas of ministry that is professional in nature; therefore they cannot be placed in the same category that the lay professional Anglican and Methodist lay ministers are in. The Lutheran community has many congregations that have minimal resources and financial limitations; and therefore could benefit from having a Lay Minister serve them as their Pastor. With this in mind, I encourage the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran bodies in North America to learn about the Certified Lay Minister program of the United Methodist Church, especially from those Conferences that serve large rural areas.

In closing, as I said in the beginning of this article, the Lutheran faith community needs to discard the one size fits all and embrace different concepts of public ministry and a wider vision of what can serve congregations as a Pastor. It would mean that many in the Lutheran faith community will have to move away from comfort zones and established new ideas. But the time has come to start looking at developing a bigger picture of ministry; one with color and concepts not currently in use, but nonetheless holding a history that has benefited many congregations and individuals throughout the history of Christianity.

Written by Dave Pflueger July 14, 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger

1. A Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer

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This sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on July 28, 2013.

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

The Prayer: Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help. That throughout our study of the Scriptures, which begins, continues, and ends in you, we glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Text: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (11:1-13). He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “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.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 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? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus [Christ] be with you.”

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord is “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The Reason: The reason that I am preaching on the Lord’s Prayer is so that we may understand the prayer in a more meaningful manner

The Points: 1. Our Relationship with God. 2. God: Sustainer and Provider. 3. Our Relationship with God and Our Neighbor. 4. Avoiding Separation from God.

THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SERMON

I will begin this introduction with a tradition that was common for a rabbi. It was a custom of a rabbi to teach his disciples how to pray and the prayers that a rabbi taught his disciples often reflected the core values of the rabbi. Jesus continued this custom by offering his disciples the prayer we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. On one hand it is a short and easy prayer to memorize and in the other hand it is a profound message that proclaims a very personal relationship with God. With this in mind, let us explore this prayer.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON

The First Point: Our Relationship with God.
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It is both a great mystery and a fact that the creator of the entire universe is our beloved Father. Our Father is almighty and holy beyond the imagination of our human minds; but our creator is also personal and loving like any father; with this in mind we should always remind ourselves to walk away from our busy lives for a moment and spend it with our heavenly Father.
Our Father, the living and eternal God of all, rejected the concept of sovereign and minion and instead embraced the concept of Father and his children, who inherit the realm that belongs to him.
We do not know why God did this and I am certain the reason is completely beyond our limited ability to comprehend; but the almighty Father of all and source of all wisdom would rather be our Father then a dictator, whom we have no relationship with.
Furthermore, God created us with the ability to act like any child towards their Father. We have ability to draw near or to be rebellious and separate, we have been given the ability to praise and honor our Father and we have the ability to ignore or even reject our Father. Regardless of how we treat our eternal Father, he is always faithful and loving towards us. His relationship towards us does not change, if change happens it comes from us. So like the prophets and sages of old, let draw near to the living God who is our loving Father.

Before moving onward, here are some quotations from the Old Testament that I would like you to reflect on:
From Deuteronomy: Is this the way you repay LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is He not your Father who has created you? He has indeed made you and established you.
From the Psalter: You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
From Isaiah: O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay and You are our potter. All of us are the works of Your hand.
Also from Isaiah: You, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer.

Now let us reflect on respecting and hallowing the name. In his catechism, Martin Luther wrote this about hollowing the name, “In this petition [of the Lord’s Prayer] we ask for exactly the same thing that God expects of us in the second commandment: You shall not take the name of LORD your God in vain. Therefore, we are not to misuse his name by using it to swear, curse, lie, deceive, and so on, but use it properly to praise and honor God.”
In light of this, Christians have the responsibility to honor the holy name through their words and deeds. Therefore, when we say hallowed be your name we are not only praying for the name of God to be honored among humankind, but also that we may never forget the commandment: You shall not take the name of LORD your God in vain (Deut. 5:11).
The greatest form of honoring our Father and his sacred name is to live according to his will and guidance. By living and walking according to the will of our Father we grow in our own sacredness and become a light that shines the Gospel of Christ upon humanity.
Another word for this kind of living is called “sanctification.” According to Oswald Chambers in his book “My Utmost For His Highest, “Sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and to keep all the strength of our mind, body, and soul, for God’s purpose alone.” This follows what Martin Luther said, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.”
Chambers said we are to be focused God’s view point and Luther mentioned we are to occupy ourselves with the Word. Both are telling us that God should be first and foremost in our lives; in that we should make the Word, God’s view point, the cornerstone of our lives and by doing so we respect the name of God and hallow his holy name.

Your kingdom come, your will be done. In our modern world the word “kingdom” can be sometimes confusing, because when we hear the word kingdom we think of a geographic place that can be found on a map or a globe. However, a kingdom is more than just a geographic territory, it is the king himself; therefore, wherever the king is – so is the kingdom.
John the Forerunner announced that the kingdom is at hand and we better prepare ourselves to receive the kingdom when he comes among us. When Jesus comes and knocks on our door, are we prepared to invite the King of Kings into our lives? Are we ready to devote our entire life to the King? When Christ the King comes, he will want us to do is will and serve him alone. Can we do this? These are questions we should not only reflect on, but also answer. Because when we open our doors to Christ, we allow his kingdom to come into or hearts and allow his will to be our command. So when our hearts hear Christ knocking on the door, we should be prepared to open the door and give Jesus an answer.

Some might ask, what is the will of God requiring us to do? The words of the prophet Micah clearly explain the will of God, “What does LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (6:8).” Finally, always remember that Jesus is both the king and the kingdom, may we serve him with honor and praise.

The Second Point: God: Sustainer and Provider

At first read this sounds like a clear and simple request; however, throughout history the Fathers of Christianity have pointed out that the message behind this simple request is complex and multi-layered. With this in mind, let us listen to two commentaries on this petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
From the Life Application Commentary: When we pray “Give us today our daily bread” we are acknowledging that God is both our sustainer and provider. It is a misconception to think that we provide for our needs ourselves. We must trust God daily – to provide what he knows we really need.
From Martin Luther: This petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in the world, for this is the only reason why we have to have daily bread. Now, life is not just a matter of having bread, food, clothes, and all the other things our bodies need. It also includes our need to get along in peace and harmony with all the people with whom we live and spend time with in our circumstances.
As you can see from just these two commentaries this petition has a lot more to it than the simple words that comprise it.
This petition reminds us that our Father knows what our needs are and he knows the priorities of our needs; therefore, our heavenly Father knows what is best for us and acts accordingly. With this said, we also must bear in mind that not all needs and concerns will be address in a way that makes us comfortable or can be immediately understand. There are times that our Father will answer our prayers in a way that makes us take a deeper look at our lives and our spiritual journey.
Now let us turn our attention to our relationships with God and humanity. Our relationship with God directly affects our relationship with humanity. If we have a healthy relationship with God and walk according to the will of God our interaction with humanity will generally be more positive. In promoting positive relationships with our neighbors we face many barriers, such as personal comfort zones, cultural differences, and political views. Therefore, it is very important that we take all our concerns and fears and place them before our Father.
We also have to remind ourselves that our ancient foe is the one who makes our fears grow, question other cultures, and hinders our ability to make compromise with others. The devil knows all too well if humanity follows the wisdom of God and works to live in harmony with each other he grows weak and the darkness he sows becomes light. In other words, our ancient foe cannot stand it when we take our fears and concerns and place them before our heavenly Father.
Now for a final reflection on this petition. Bread is the principle food of those who live in poverty throughout the world, in the Old Testament bread is the host where the presence of God resided, and in the New Testament bread was offered at the feedings of the multitudes. For Christians bread is also a part of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the bread of the very presence of the living and loving Christ among us.

The Third Point: Our Relationship with God and Our Neighbor

Concerning sin, I have always enjoyed what the Book of Common Prayers says about it: “What is sin? Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”
Our Father is more than willing to forgive those who realize that they made a mistake and further realize the need to make amends and take responsibility for their actions, regardless if the mistake was by word or deed.
With this said, our greatest challenge to our obedience to God is Self-Will. Our Father created us with Self-Will, the freedom to have self-determination. Therefore, we have to make a decision at every sunrise; that is, to either be self-centered or to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Because we have the responsibility for self-determination, which path will we choose?

Now let is review the challenges we face when forgiving others. Let us begin by turning again to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: “How does sin have power over us? Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.”
The biggest stumbling block to forgiving our neighbor is our basic human nature and our emotions. When our nature and emotions get involved one of the first things that often gets ignored is the path of God, especially when it involves our emotions. It is human nature to seek revenge or the strongest form of justice when we have been wronged or extremely harmed; but this distorts our relationship with God.
Through Moses God has spoken about human relationships and how we are to deal with matters concerning our neighbors, this is especially true in the book of Leviticus: “Do not do anything that endangers the life of your neighbor. Within your heart do not hate your brother. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but instead love your neighbor as yourself (18:1).” This can be very challenging to our sense of right and wrong and our position of what is justice.

One of the things that God is trying to tell us is this, that he is the ultimate judge and he alone will decide the ultimate fate of each and every individual, regardless of what we say or what action we take. For he alone knows both our hearts and the real truth.
When we find ourselves struggling to forgive someone, let us reflect upon Jesus of Nazareth. He has insulted and grieved while he taught the sacred path, he was whipped and beaten, and finally he was slowly, painfully, and inhumanly killed. If anyone had the right to take revenge and seek the harshest form of justice for such cruelty and insensitivity, it was Jesus. However, rather than dispensing strong and terrifying justice upon those who most deserved it, he forgave them and by his resurrection, brought on by a most inhumane death, he brought salvation to humankind.
Therefore, when we are reflecting on something bad that has happen to us, let us keep the life and death of Christ in the forefront of our thoughts and do not allow it to leave (especially when the pain can still be felt); and remember that he forgave all of humanity and expects us to forgive those individuals who sin against us.
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The Fourth Pont: Avoiding Separation from God
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Now let us turn our attention toward temptation.
There are two kinds of temptation that I will address today: the devil and our human nature. One tempts us externally and the other tempts us internally. I have always thought this petition of the Lord’s Prayer should have been written as, lead us away from all kinds of temptation. Regardless if the source of the temptation, the devil or our human nature, the result is the same, a broken relationship with God. With every crack in that broken relationship the devil celebrates and dances with glee.

With that said, let us turn to the one who tempts us externally, that is, the devil. When we disobey our Father the devil is the one who benefits the most when temptation is successful. In the Gospel of John, the true character of the devil is explained very well: “[The devil] was a murderer from the very beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (8:44).”
Deception and death are the hallmarks of the devil, or in other words temptation and brokenness. I can think of no better warning about the devil then this, the devil is a master of the gentle touch and the silent approach; once you realize that you are in one of the devil’s traps it is too late and you have been compromised. In my youth a theologian once said to me, that I should become more aware of my weaknesses and the emotions that are the strongest within me, because the devil and his associates will do their best to use them against me.

Now let us address that which tempts us internally, our human nature. Humanity was created in the image of God and this means individuals have the ability to make choices. We are free to choose to walk closer to God or to walk away from God (corruptibility). Because the temptation to walk away and live according to ourselves is so strong, Jesus encouraged his disciples to ask God to lead them away from temptation and deliver them from that which is evil.
Adam and Eve were the first human beings to misuse their freedom of choice and self-determination, when they consumed the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit not only gave them a greater intelligence, it allowed them to teach this knowledge to others. While the gift of knowledge can enlighten and greatly enhance an individual, it can also bring rebellion and the temptations of lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, envy, pride, wrath, and any other vice that separates an individual from God. Like a father wanting to protect his children, God was trying to keep Adam and Eve away from this kind of advance knowledge, so God warned them not to eat the Fruit of Knowledge. However, they did eat the fruit and through this disobedience they received a knowledge that was much greater than that of a child. From this knowledge came an inclination and a curiosity towards those things that are contrary to living in harmony with God. What was the punishment for the rebellion of Adam and Eve? They were removed from the garden and in the pages Byzantine Christian Study Bible we find this written about the consequences of their mistake, “The sin of Adam and Eve caused mankind to become subject to death. While this is often seen mainly as a punishment, or penalty, the emphasis concerning God’s judgment on Adam and Eve at the fall is best understood in terms of His mercy. For an example of this, concerning man’s mortality, St. Gregory the Theologian states, “Yet here too provides a benefit – namely death, which cuts off sin, so that an evil may not be everlasting. Thus His punishment is changed into mercy.” Since God did not withhold punishment from Adam and Eve, then we will also face a judgment of our hearts.

Now about that curiosity. It is a troubling seed that comes upon us and can cause us no end of hardships. Through this seed we are tempted and rebel through our freedom of choice. We should always be watchful in the environment of our lives, because a curiosity for something that we should avoid can be planted and from deep within our being this curiosity is cultivated until it becomes so tempting that we simply cannot resist it and then we let go of all the sacred wisdom and embrace it.

From a careful examination of the temptations of the devil and our human nature we can learn and become aware of both the internal and external means which can entice us. Our only hope is a merciful God who can lead us away from temptation through inspiring us to move another direction or make a better decision. Therefore, we really need to be open to the Holy Spirit and its gentle voice and the wisdom that comes from sacred Scripture so that we can stand firm against that which wants to separate us from God our loving Father.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERMON

In Closing, let us give the glory to our Father who enriches and benefits our lives through giving us good gifts. We should never forget to say, thank you heavenly Father, for the gifts that he brings to our lives and the blessing he bestows upon us. Our Father has bestowed upon each and everyone us talents and skills that are not only meant to benefit our lives, but also humanity as well. Therefore, as another means of giving God the glory, let us first give back to God what the Holy has first given to us, ourselves, our time, and our talents. Amen!

Written by Dave Pflueger July 28, 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger