Monday, November 24, 2008

Whose Life is it Anyway?

(This is the eighth and final message in a series titled, 'A Declaration of Dependence: The Lord's Prayer')

You learn pretty early in life that there are some things that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite conversation. The obvious ones are religion and politics, and to that you can usually add the concept of sin and anything to do with money. These things are important to all of us, which accounts for the heat they generate around the dinner table. But we don’t always give them their due.

The real question is: Who’s in control?

Today we complete our journey through the Lord’s Prayer. We’ve been saying that this prayer of Jesus is at the core of our faith—that it shows us the heart of what we believe and also what we’re called to do about it. The Lord’s Prayer functions like a heart in that it takes us in wherever we are: broken, wounded, afraid, and depleted. It takes us in and restores us—it gives us back our spiritual energy—it renews us and sends us out for service again.

Even though we say it over and over, we’re different each time—we’re in different places each time, and that makes the prayer new and different and life-changing…each time.

We’ve prayed the entire prayer already:

Our Father, the one who really exists,
You reveal yourself to us as holy and loving,
Bring your Kingdom,
Make this world into the world you meant it to be from the beginning.
Provide for us, O God, and teach us to provide for others.
Forgive us, and teach us to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation everywhere.
Don’t test us beyond our limits, O God, and while you’re at it, protect all of us, especially the weakest, from the evil all around us.

The version of the prayer we’ve all learned adds a benediction, a restatement of the themes of the prayer, as a way of communicating the hope that goes along with our faith and our call to action. The last part of the Lord’s Prayer turns us outward—it’s meant to be inspiring—it’s meant to call us to action.

“For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” My life, my family, my possessions—it’s all yours, O God. We believe you. Amen.

This last part of the Lord’s Prayer as we say it isn’t even in the Bible. But it was a common part of the teaching in the early church, and has been a part of Christian practice since the 4th century or so.

So back to religion and politics. The Lord’s Prayer has some important things to say about what we believe, and also about how we think we should be governed. These are two crucial questions about our lives and how we live them—no wonder they cause so much tension and conflict.

We find the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, the longest stretch of teaching by Jesus himself in the entire New Testament. Remember that the Sermon on the Mount has a point—it’s not just a list of interesting things that Jesus said. The point of the Sermon is to describe what the world would be like if people lived according to the values of the Kingdom of God—as if God really existed and meant what he promised. Prayer is a part of that life—of those values—and so Jesus pauses in his sermon to teach his disciples how to pray.

It makes sense that the Lord’s Prayer starts with clear, unmistakable statements about both religion and politics

Our Father, the one who truly exists.
This is your kingdom—run it according to your perfect will.

Now that’s some serious religion, or faith, and it’s also a pretty bold political manifesto.

Believing that God exists is a powerful statement of faith. Part of that comes from our own personal spiritual awareness, part of it is a level of trust that the biblical record is accurate, and the rest comes from our interaction and shared experience with other Christians—with the community of faith you see in this room.

In other words, our belief in God is something we know in a way that is different from the way we know everything else. It’s not a list of facts or theorems or forensic evidence—they’re never going to prove or disprove the existence of God on CSI. And yet our belief in God is just as real—just as valid—just as important as the things we know in other ways.

Believing that God exists is also a powerful political statement. ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done’ is the most radical statement anyone in this room has ever made—that includes those of you who protested the Vietnam War in the 60s, or in the fight for civil rights, or in any other demonstration to accomplish an earthly goal. ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done’ tops all of those other revolutions—even the ones that were driven by faith.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done’ is a statement of our belief that the Kingdom of God is exactly that—God’s Kingdom, Christ’s reign, the eternal rule of Father, Son and Holy Spirit over everyone and everything, even death. No revolution or coronation or election can compare to what the world is like when faithful people acknowledge that God is sovereign—that God is in control.

But control is still a huge issue for us, isn’t it? The people who poke fun at Christian faith will call it a crutch—an act of neediness—an unwillingness or inability to take control over our lives. And yet, when the Scriptures talk about what the life of faith is all about, they say things like: ‘the first will be last and the last will be first’; ‘in order to be truly free, you have to become a slave’; and the big one…'Present your bodies as a living sacrifice—this is your spiritual act of service.’ Not a lot in there about winning or controlling.

As we look at the Lord’s Prayer, what do we make of that? As we move ahead as individuals and as a community of faith—as a church, what do we make of the Lord’s Prayer?

Do you remember the play and film called “Whose Life is it Anyway?” An artist is paralyzed in an accident, and over the course of the story decides that he doesn’t want to live any longer. The man is hopeless—wanting to have control over his life—and in the end, wanting to die.

The message of the Lord’s Prayer is the polar opposite of the answer given in this play and movie. The prayer is about surrendering control to the one who made us and redeems us. It’s about wanting to live—to live life the way God intended.

“For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” My life, my family, my possessions—it’s all yours, O God. We believe you. Amen

After getting religion and politics out of the way, the Lord’s Prayer turns to the problem of sin, as we saw over the last two Sundays. We forgive as we’ve been forgiven, and we trust that God will keep us out of the way of temptation, and that he’ll protect us from the evil that exists around us and in us. There isn’t much that this prayer leaves untouched.

And then we come to the benediction: “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” My life, my family, my possessions—it’s all yours, O God. We believe you. Amen.

Everything belongs to God. We could wallow in some pretty deep theological waters on this one, but the basic teaching of the Lord’s Prayer is simple. Everything belongs to God. God is in control. That brings us back to the question from the story we talked about earlier:

Whose life is it anyway?

I read an amazing story in the Guardian last week. Martin Burton was 16 years old when he died, and his family had to make some incredibly difficult decisions at the most awful time of their lives. In the end Martin’s parents decided to allow his heart and other vital organs to be transplanted into a half dozen other people who faced death without those gifts. These are familiar stories these days, but no less touching and powerful when we hear them again. The bare details of the story are what caught my eye.

A boy died—someone’s son died—and some other people now get to live. I know I’ve heard that story somewhere before…

Whose life is it anyway?

“For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” My life, my family, my possessions—it’s all yours, O God. We believe you. Amen.

This last line of the Lord’s Prayer, even if it was added later, is the point of the entire passage. It’s the lesson that we take away from the prayer no matter how many times we mumble through it on a Sunday morning, or say it as the break between our ten Hail Marys, or when we spend two and a half months hearing about it in church. As we think about pledging our time and talent and money, let the point of this prayer be your guide. God is in control.

Whose life is it anyway? Everything belongs to God. God is in control.

“For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” My life, my family, my possessions—it’s all yours, O God. We believe you. Amen.

In a few minutes we’re going to demonstrate our response to that prayer as we bring up our pledges and pray for the ministry of the church.

As you bring your pledge to the front this morning, let the good news of the Lord’s Prayer wash all over you: Everything belongs to God. God is in control.

As we go downstairs to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast together, remember what we’re really thankful for: Everything belongs to God. God is in control.

Let’s stand and pray the Lord’s Prayer together.

1 comment:

  1. "The Declaration of Dependence"

    Father Help! And HE does.......

    "Father, not my will, But THY Will Be Done".......

    Truth is never ending.......


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