Monday, August 27, 2018

The Peace of Christ Be with You

The Peace of Christ Be with You  
Psalm 40: 1 - 5; Luke 11:1 10

The LORD put a new song in my mouth. “But I like the OLD SONGS,” I told the LORD. “Ah yes, the OLD SONGS suit you,” God said.  “And I did not throw out the Old Songs. But, I have put a NEW SONG in your mouth.”  

Why does God need a new song? You see, when we think we have heard it all before, and have made ourselves content with the good, old, days; then the sun rises. The baby cries. The teens are ready to spread their wings and fashion their own way to be faithful in this very complicated and difficult world. They NEED a New Song to inspire their own kind of faithfulness in this hi tech, spin-cycle news, and increasingly violent world. They need words and tunes that represent the authentic connection - they feel - with a God who is alive today, and ready for tomorrow. 

Where can the people of today look for the key to faithfulness? Look to the God who ‘is.’ God can never be a ‘was.’ God is not somewhere out there in the future. God ‘is.’ God told Moses, “Tell them ‘I AM’ or in another translation, ‘I Will Be Whatever is Needed,’ sent you.” God, the Great I AM, God the ever present and ever in the present, is ready to put a New Song in your mouth. It is a song that suits today, and leads you to tomorrow. 

It is such a temptation to fix our minds on the God who touched our hearts when we lived through the hard times that came before. And God also loves the memory of those times that you shared. Still. God is doing whatever is needed, to lead this people into a new time, and provide you with a NEW SONG, to celebrate the continuing march of faithfulness. 

There is more than one gospel lesson. Matthew was the favorite of the early church. It is the closest to the Jewish roots. Matthew goes to great lengths to picture Jesus as the new Moses, leading faithful people to an entirely new and different way of seeing God. 

Matthew is also very interested in authority, who has it, and how is it expressed. That coupled with the fact that Matthew is the only gospel writer to even use the word “church,” well, it is easy to see why Matthew was the early favorite. 

Mark’s gospel is the shortest, and the most raw. It is very uncommon for Mark to be used in a class on biblical Greek. His Greek is limited, and often ungrammatical. Mark paints the disciples as never understanding what Jesus is saying or doing. My shorthand for this is that Mark sees all of us as “duh-ciples.” Mark does not tie a nice bow around the end of the story. There is a very artificial ending added to the gospel, but it is completely unsatisfying. 

The gospel of John bounces to the beat of another drummer. John’s gospel does not try to create heavy tension leading up to the betrayal of Jesus. Instead, John writes long passages with descriptions and interpretations folded in, like a baker folds in egg whites to create airiness and suspension. 

When we say Our Savior’s prayer, we very much follow the way it is recorded in Matthew. I often lean towards Luke. I think of Luke as the “Potluck Gospel.” Every time you turn the page reading the gospel of Luke, Jesus is eating with another group. He always seems to be having a meal with someone, often those who are not well respected at all. 

At the top of the Mount of Olives, across from the Temple Mount on the west, sits the Church of the Pater Noster, which is Latin for Our Father. There are large tiles throughout the building and garden grounds that display the prayer in different languages and dialects. 

The church itself is built over an ancient cave, that tradition claims was a favorite place for Jesus to sit and teach his disciples when in the area. While the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell their story in such a way that Jesus only goes to Jerusalem one time in his public ministry, it is a literary device to add to the tension and a sense of drama. The gospel of John appears to show the disciples attending the Passover three times with Jesus, and this is the source of the tradition of Jesus having a three year public ministry. 

The Mount of Olives is a hill that separates Jerusalem from the small town of Bethany, the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. We might expect that Jesus and the disciples would have known all of the foot paths over, around, and through the Mount of Olives. The Palm Sunday processional is recreated over the Mount of Olives, and winds down the western side of the hill, in full view of the Temple Mount across the Kidron Valley. 

You see, our faith has practical roots, in the story of an ancient child of God and his friends, who sought to build an authentic relationship with the one true God. This relationship shares the roots of the experience of God with the Jewish people, but draws different conclusions, and sings a new song, about who that God is, and how welcoming God is to the creation. 

In the Lukan version of Our Savior’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive us our sins, to the extent to which we forgive those who OWE us. Ouch. The words of Matthew say about the same thing, but as we reduce it to formula, we use authority type words like debts or trespasses, we can keep our own stuff at a distance. It is hard to give up power over others, even if it is long held resentments. The culture has made power into a golden idol. 

In Luke, who is always thinking about eating, Jesus explains that we are expected to get out of our comfort zone, to put others at ease. Get out of the warm, comfy bed and share your bread. Recognize that the God who loves you, is way, way more generous than we are. Recognize that the God we seek to please, is worthy of love and adoration. 

But the clincher is; trust in God. If we would trust in God, we would recognize it is ok to ask God for what we need, and it is ok for us to supply our neighbor with what they need. We are in this together, seeking the love of a good and generous God. 

So we look around the sanctuary, and see the face of God in each person. We see God in those who have faithfully held down their favorite pew for decades. We see the face of God in these new people, who we do not know very well yet, but have been here in worship with us this summer. We see God in the face of the visitors here, to help us mark the passing of this interlude in the song of this congregation. We see in the face of the Associate Conference Ministers, that we belong to a larger church, with whom we are in covenant. When this congregation has pain or need, the larger church reaches out with the best of the bread that is in the cupboard at the time.  

And we continue to sing. We sing Party Clothes, knowing that in the end - our angelic tones will be sung in the presence of God. We sing, It Is All About the Relationship, because our being together is more important than the task, or doing it the way we have always done it. We try to resist the temptation to always have our own way. 

And we are ready to learn that NEW SONG that is the way forward from here. That new song about the stress of this time of high anxiety. That New SONG, that reminds us that God is here, in this time and place with us. Those memories of meeting God on the mountaintop, are valuable memories. Those memories of being touched by God in surgery and the 
Recovery Room, have helped to shape the faith we have today. 

We are able to accept a new song, as long as it puts the person we are today, in touch with the God who is here to lead us into faithfulness tomorrow. I would never want to face tomorrow, without the Peace of Christ in my heart, and in my song. 

And so we welcome this transition. We accept the memory of laughter. We are glad to have had this time to see ourselves through new eyes. We rejoice because we know: God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. And because God is good, we live today with a song in our hearts, and trust that God will provide a New Song, suitable for tomorrow, Amen. 

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