Tuesday, July 16, 2013

God Has A List, Too - Luke 11.1-13

She came in and sat down one day in my office. “What can I do for you?” I said. She said, “I have this list.” “List?” “Yes, a list.” “What kind of a list?” “Well, I’ve got all these things I want to say to God.” “Yes,” I said. And so she unfolded a piece of paper and began to read.

“Well, why it is when you pray for somebody to be healed and one person is healed and ten others never got well? I don’t understand that. I want to know why the innocent suffer—little children, especially. I want to know why it doesn’t rain in some African countries for three years and everybody starves and somewhere else flood cover everything. I want to ask God about mosquitoes and alligators and cancer and rapists and mental illness and depression, especially. I want to know why God doesn’t do something about hunger or suicide bombers or all those other terrorists.” The woman continued, “ I want to ask God why God’s church acts so unChristlike sometimes. I want to ask God why it takes so long to learn what life is really all about and then about the time you’ve about got it—either you die or you are too old to enjoy your wisdom.”

Joyce, our secretary buzzed me. “There’s a man out here that says he wants to come in.” “Joyce”, I said,” I have someone in here. We’re talking”. There was silence for just a moment and then she says. “He insists on coming in. He says it has something to do with what you all are talking about.” I didn’t know what to do. I turned to my friend and said, “Shall we let him in?” She nodded: “I guess so.” And so the door opened and he came in.

I asked him to sit down. He told us he was God. I would never have thought it. In fact, I thought maybe he was delusional. Or maybe I was. He smiled at us and said, “I have this list, too.” How did he know what we had been talking about? And he pulled out from his pocket a piece of paper, unfolded it and asked if he could read it. I looked at my friend. My friend looked at me. I nodded.

“I have this list,” he said again. “It’s found in two of my gospels, Matthew and Luke. The church used to use it when people wanted to be new disciples. They felt like it was that important. It is found in the Lord’s Prayer that you say every Sunday. Luke thought it was so important to pray this prayer was be a disciple. But it is really my checklist for praying and for living. Once, years ago, the disciples came to my son Jesus and asked if he would teach them to pray. They had seen it happen a hundred times. Jesus pulled and pushed by too-many concerns would go off into the hills alone slump-shouldered and weary. And they saw him come back ready to face whatever there was with courage and dignity and power. And so they asked him his secret. And he gave them a prayer that the church has been praying ever since.

“Embedded in that prayer” he said, “is a list. “Do you mind if I share it with you?” And that is just what God did. 

Number One

 “No.# One.” Do you ever pray for my kingdom to come?” He looked us both in the eyes, which made us both a little nervous, and said: “Can you see around you little places where his kingdom has come? Sure, the TV blares, CNN and Fox News and all the others keep grinding it out, the newspapers can’t talk about anything but scandals, the movies are filled with violence and four-letter words. The world was a mess when my son, Jesus lived too. But,” he asked us, “can you see, embedded in your life and world God’s kingdom? One time Jesus talked about a treasure hid in the field. One man called it acres of diamonds. Like, underneath the surface was oil that could make a millionaire if you just drilled down a little. It’s all around us, this kingdom. Can you see it—or do you just see the dark side of everything?

Do you see the coming Kingdom? For, you see, with the world as it is, there is still so much that is yet-to-be. The rapists you talked about. Depression. Afghanistan and Iran. Cancer. Can you see in the little children out there with smudges on their faces and sometimes their souls—the possibilities that I have held out for us all? Look at your city, “ he said, “Where are the places where my work is far from finished? Birmingham is on my list—Do you see the kingdom of God here at all?” 

                                                                      Number 2 

His finger moved down the page. He looked up and said: “No.# Two: Do you pray for my will be done in you?  It’s part of the prayer, you know, thy kingdom come—thy will be done in us. It’s on the list. Are you helping bring heaven to earth or just whiling away your time? Remember the man with the talent Jesus talked about. One talent. Precious and rare. He was so scared he buried it in the sand. Buried the only precious thing he possessed. He was to use it. Let my will flow through you. Are you giving back or just taking in? 

Number 3 

“No.# Three”, he said: “Do you pray for daily bread? Somebody translated these words: Give us dependable bread, bread for the morrow. It’s a lot like that manna I sent when my people were in the wilderness. It’s like that for you, too. You get up every morning, put your clothes on, drive to work, open the door and begin the day. Or you get out of bed if you can , retired, no place to go and everything hurts. Daily bread means you will receive what you need—the necessary and the dependable. You will find if you really pray the prayer that out there when it’s hard and confusing that the Shepherd I talked about really will supply your every need. The Christian believes there really will be resources aplenty when they are needed. The manna still comes.

But God went on. “But not only for today—bread for tomorrow, too. You lay awake at night thinking, thinking about the future. Worrying about everything. Sometimes you get up at two o’clock in the morning and just there thinking. Can’t sleep—for so much crowds around you. And part of my list,” he says, “can you pray that in the not-yet—God will meet you and there will always be bread aplenty for whatever it is you face.” 

Number 4 

I thought maybe God was through, but he wasn’t. He kept his finger on his list. “Next, No.# Four,” he said, "You pray: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Do you really mean that?” He explained. “It takes the whole world in, you know. Have you noticed the pronouns? Us and we. Forgive us all—help us everyone to forgive. At the hart of my list,” he says, “is forgiveness. Have you been able to let it go—all the stuff you’ve been ashamed on? Have you been able to let it go? One version calls all these things debts. Somebody translated them trespasses. Another translation is sin. Pure and simple. You know about debts. Too much. Visa, Mastercharge, Parisians. Lowe’s and Sams. You know about debts. College loans. Braces. Groceries. New transmissions. There are debts on the inside too. “ He said. “Hurtful things we do to others and ourselves. Missing the mark of your intentions—this is not what you intended to do, was it? But don’t forget the pronouns I have sprinkled through this whole prayer. Our Father. Give us…forgive us…as we forgive…do not bring us to the time of trial…but deliver us from the evil one. I put those pronouns in there intentionally. The early church would have never added them in a million years. That was my doing. And do you know why I put them in there? When you realize that the whole human family is flawed to the core—and you are part of that family—that we-have-all-sinned business—it makes you more human and less judgmental and more understanding of the weaknesses and stupidities of others. And the weight of so much just falls off. 

Number 5 

God still was not through. He said, “When come to No.# Five we come to the hard part. Forgive us as we forgive others. That’s the rub. Forgive others. If it weren’t for all those others this wouldn’t be hard at all. You’ve got to let the others go. Mothers and fathers that bruised, wounded or crippled you. Somebody at work that tripped you up and changed your life. Something that happened ten years ago and it still brings tears to your eyes. Something on that list you brought in,” and he looked at my friend sitting there, “you have to let it go. Some face, some deed, some misdeed. It has too much power over you. Remember what Paul wrote in Ephesians? I know Paul was quite a character. But listen to what he said: ‘Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.’(Eph.4.32) 

Number 6

I wondered how long this list would go on. But I didn’t dare ask. But I did have other things to do. He kept reading from the list. “No.# Six”, he said, “Can you pray for your temptations and your deliverance—and for somebody else’s too? Remember the way Jesus taught them: Lead us not into temptation—to the time of testing. Matthew says Do not bring us to the time of trial. Every human being will be tested. Tested everyday. It’s part of life. You can’t escape it. For the evil one is very real. I’m no talking about a red suit and a forked tail. Remember Bathsheba bathing on that rooftop? She was the most beautiful woman King David had ever seen. And he had seen his share. Evil is sometimes like that, “ he said. “ Remember Adam and Eve in the garden? Why Genesis said once upon a time the snake was the most beautiful animal that ever was. I know you find that hard to believe. But he came and just charmed the daylights out of Adam and Eve. And often evil is like that. Who ever started out to be a monster? You keep praying this prayer that you might be spared when you are tested—for tested you will surely be. ‘Watch and pray,’ Jesus said, ‘lest you enter into temptation.’ 

Number 7 

God turned his paper over and still read. He noticed that we were getting just a little figidity. “I’m just about finished,” he said. “But we come to No.# Seven. Deliver us from evil, Jesus prayed. Do you believe that can happen to you? Break the power of evil for the things in life. All those addictions. All this hardness and leanness of soul. All this selfishness. Break its power. Deliverance for yourself and for all those others. Paul told the church one time about his thorn in the flesh which he could not control no matter how hard he tried. And he was disciplined. Dear Lord, was Paul disciplined. But he said that thorn would not go away. And so he found in his weakness, that’s how he put it, in his weakness he found God’s strength. And maybe what you have to do is to take all your imperfections—and you have them—and the rest of the world has them—and you lift them up to me in prayer. I  promise that I will listen and I will deliver you. It won’t be easy, and it will take some of you a long time. But I will break the back of evil and you will be set free.”

He looked up from the paper. Looked us both in the eyes. He told us he had another assignment. He excused himself and left. But just before he left he put his list down on my desk. It’s still there. I see it everyday. And on Sunday—when we meet here and pray the prayer I hear it over and over. Again and again. For, you see, God has a list too.

(The sculptured pieces which frame this sermon at the beginning and end are the work of Sculptor, Walter Hancock.
They are given to honor the memory of Jonathan M Daniels, Episcopalian Seminarian, who was martyred in Alabama, August 20, 1965. They portray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani  and The Sleeping Disciples. They can be seen at the Gethsemani Monastery, Bardstown, Kentucky.)


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