Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Lord's Prayer - the heart of the Christian faith

Welcome and Call to Worship
160 Praise my soul the king of heaven

1          Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
            to his feet thy tribute bring;
            ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven
            who like thee his praise should sing?
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Praise the everlasting King!

2          Praise him for his grace and favour
            to his people in distress;
            praise him still the same for ever,
            slow to chide, and swift to bless:
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Glorious in his faithfulness!

3          Father-like he tends and spares us;
            well our feeble frame he knows;
            in his hands he gently bears us,
            rescues us from all our foes:
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Widely as his mercy flows!

4          Frail as summer's flower we flourish,
            blows the wind and it is gone;
            but while mortals rise and perish
            God endures unchanging on.
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Praise the high eternal One!

5          Angels, help us to adore him,
            ye behold him face to face;
            sun and moon, bow down before him,
            dwellers all in time and space:
            Praise him! Praise him!
            Praise with us the God of grace!

Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16
Psalm 23 – OBG
Luke 11:1-13
Hymn: We limit not the truth of God

We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined;
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:
The Lord has yet more light and truth
To break forth from His word.

Who dares to bind to his dull sense
The oracles of heaven,
For all the nations, tongues, and climes,
And all the ages given?
That universe, how much unknown!
That ocean unexplored!

Darkling those great fore-runners went
The first steps of the way;
'Twas but the dawning, yet to grow
Into the perfect day.
And grow it shall; our glorious Sun
More fervid rays afford:

O Father, Son and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all Christian souls
To comprehend your love:
And make us all go on to know,
With nobler powers conferred,

George Rawson (1807–1889)
Based on the parting words of Pastor John Robinson
to the Pilgrims who were to sail on the Mayflower, 1620
Tune: Ellacombe 247, 367, 413

The Lord’s Prayer

And so we come to the end … and discover it’s the start of something new both for us and for the church family here at Highbury. There are so many thank you’s to say, I am not going to try to begin – suffice it to say it has been good to share here over all these years and we have to say a big thank you to everyone in the church family for all that we have shared.

Felicity and I gave 10 months notice and now we have come to the end of our time in ministry here at Highbury. In the run up to Easter I decided to preach a series of sermons that went to the heart of the Christian faith.

Starting on Easter Sunday and the Road to Emmaus I have in a series of sermons on Sunday mornings explored the way Luke as he tells the story of the early church in Acts from that evening onwards and as he tells the story of Jesus coming to a climax on that day of resurrection, helps us to address one of the biggest questions facing people of all faith communities in the 21st century – how we read our sacred texts.

This evening I want to return to the heart of the Christian Faith.

On my first evening in Bethlehem at a conference on the theme of reconciliation ten years ago, the Rector of the Tantur Institute who was hosting our conference took us up on to a flat roof where we could see the hills around Bethlehem. The tops of the hills were covered with what looked like new towns, new housing estates – one or two of our number had been before and were shocked – they had been bare hill tops before rather like the hill above Cheltenham overlooks Cheltenham – but much more rugged and considerably more mountainous. And now those hill tops were being built on. Ten years on … those housing estates have been joined up – they are all in what is known as the West Bank, the Palestinian Territories – they are the Settlements much condemned by so many.
The conference was set up to help us to see through the eyes of the other. It was moving, it was powerful.

He gave us a leaflet and introduced it too. You will hear the call of the Muezzin at the hour of prayer. That beautiful musical chant that calls the faithful to prayer. In the early hours of the morning, and then through the day and last thing at night.

How do you react, he asked?

Some react with fear.

Don’t do that, he suggested. Instead hear it as an invitation to prayer. And in those moments pray. Why not say that short prayer our Lord taught us to pray. The call to prayer of the Muezzin goes to the heart of Islam. The call to prayer of Jesus goes to the heart of Christianity.

I brought to mind a day I had been to at the University. It was shortly after 9/11. It seemed to me in the wake of that horror there was a responsibility laid upon us to respond to that evil with love – that after all is the way mapped out by Jesus. And love means just being friendly with Muslim neighbours. It also means seeking understanding.

The University had a number of day conferences on Islam – and I went along. All but one of the speakers read their paper, had no visual aids, and what they said has disappeared into the mists of time. One speaker stood out. He did not read a thing as he was in his 90’s and could no longer read from a script. Instead he spoke from the heart and he was the only one to use the simplest of visual aids. I could recount the substance of his lecture to this day … but I won’t. It was interestingly all about how to read the Qu’ran.

His name was Kenneth Cragge, he was a personal friend of Vaughan Harries who at the time was a regular in our evening congregation. Kenneth Cragge, a Christian, had spent a lifetime in the Middle East and was a scholar of the Qu’ran highly regarded by Muslim and Christian alike.

His introduction to Islam is the finest I have come across. He explores Islam through the Call of the Minaret – that indeed is the title of the book. He takes each line of the call of the Muezzin and unpacks Islam. It’s a brilliant account.

He then goes on to explore how Christians should respond. He suggests that the prayer Jesus taught us can in the same way not only be a prayer but it can also go to the very heart of the Christian faith.

I recalled that on one occasion when I had a conversation with one of the dads from St John’s – his daughter had been part of the nativity here in Highbury and we got talking at the Christmas fair. He came round. He was passionate as he described to me Islam . He wanted to say in the wake of on eof those horrific terror attacks – not in my name. That’s an aberration of Islam – he wanted to share with me true Islam.

He got to the end – and he had taken a long time. Then he asked me, so what is Christianity about. That’s when it came to my mind. And I found myself using the Lord’s Prayer as pegs to hang an account of my Christian faith on. So this for me goes to the heart of the Christian faith.

I know there are different versions in the Gospels. I know the one we say isn’t in the oldest of the manuscripts. I love the old words. Three thoughts on those words

Spoken English naturally has the rhythm of the heart beat. De Dum, De Dum.  William Tyndale captured that rhythm as did Shakespeare. The traditional words have something of that rhythm – it’s is as if praying these words is the stuff of life.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, they will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

The oldest words in English are single syllable words and come from the Anglo Saxon. Longer words have come in from Latin or from French. Often you can weigh words – longer words as it were weigh more. They are more weighty.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, they will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.

Wait for it now, we are about to encounter a three syllable word. It weighs more, it weighs heavily.

Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.

Trespassing is breaking the law – I think that’s a good way of describing what we need forgiveness from

The modern forgive us our sins – also needs explaining – but the word sins is too short, it doesn’t weigh heavy, it’s a thruway word.

And deliver us from evil. Notice that deliver is the first three syllable word that carries weight – to counter temptation to be delivered from evil is weighty stuff – it needs a counterweight.

And then we come to the climax

The modern version goes

The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours … the last word is a thruway word that yours that’s lightweight.

Contrast that with

For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory.

There’s a mounting crescendo until you reach the climax in a glorious word – thine is the kingdom the power, and the glory.

Forever – another three syllable word! And ever. Amen.

But it’s the content and meaning of those words that goes to the heart of the faith.

Many see the Christian faith as all about getting people into heaven. It’s all about what happens when you die. I don’t accept that. When Jesus meets people he does not begin by leading them through a step by step process which will get them into heaven. He comes alongside people, meets them where they are and draws them into a friendship that in his presence enables them to have life and have it to the full.

The Christian faith is not about getting people into heaven. It’s about getting heaven into people’s hearts, into people’s lives, into people’s homes, into the world.

So what is heaven. It’s not the place we go to  when we die – though it can be a lovely picture of that. Heaven is where God rules OK – heaven is where God’s way prevails. It’s where God’s will is done. It’s here and now and it doesn’t come to an end at death. It’s for all eternity.

Heaven is where God’s will is done – where God rules – earth is where we are living out our lives. We can live out our lives in a way that we want to – each one for themselves. Or we can live out our lives according to God’s way – Love God, love your neighbour, with the transforming love of God real in the presence of Jesus empowering us but the strength that is from beyond ourselves in the Holy Spirit.

That’s the start of the prayer.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name – heaven is where God is

Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven – heaven is where  God is, where God’s rule prevails – that’s what we pray for on earth as well. What is that kingdom like – the clue is in the next phrase – thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

God’s rule is where God’s will prevails.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So that’s the start.

Getting heaven into people’s hearts.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Each day is to be treasured. Not wished away. That’s something for me to remember – treasure each day – and live it to the full. Take no thought for the morrow. The sacrament of the present moment.

And this day give us just what we need. Not more, the things we need. The basics.

There’s a whole life style thing there – not wanting to excess, but accepting each day.

And it is to God we turn each day for our needs for that day.

That plaque Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.

Forgive us our trespasses.

The thing is you can’t do it. You cannot live up to the ideal of love for God, love for neighbour, even before Jesus extends it to love for enemy too.

Trespassing is breaking the law – and we do break God’s law too often.

Forgive us our trespasses.

I also like that English word – you trespass when you go into someone else’s space – forgive us those times when we have gone into someone else’s space – those times when we haven’t stayed in God’s space but gone elsewhere.

Forgive us our trespasses. The forgiving love of God in Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith for me. Think of all those people Jesus befriended and they had failed in some way or other.  And yet forgiveness was theirs – right through to the cross – Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

But then comes the kick in the teeth – the bit that’s difficult to say.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

I remember one occasion when I interrupted the saying of the Lord’s prayer at that point. And got people to think – so who has trespassed into our space. Who don’t we get on with. Who do we bear a grudge against.

it’s reciprocal this forgiving love

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation.

There’s another of those three syllable words. Some complain at that line – even the Pope recently said that’s a line he wants to re-write. It’s not that God would lead us into temptation. Rather it is a definite thing. Lead us not into temptation. And there are temptations galore. Don’t let us succumb to those temptations that nag at us.

But deliver us from evil. That three syllable word again – God can counter the awfulness of temptation and gets the better of evil.

Deliver us from evil.

It’s not just deliver us from the evil that may befall – but deliver us from complicity in the evil that can so easily prevail in our culture, in our hearts.

For thine is the kingdom – that’s what Jesus message was about. God’s rule breaking in here on earth.  We end in this prayer as we began. It’s not human authority – we are citizens of God’s kingdom under God’s rule.

Thine is the kingdom, the power.

In our faith is a source of strength for living our lives. We host a number of twelve step programs – Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous – someone I know who belongs to one of those groups helped me to understand. I wanted to do something with them, for them. No, they said. You mustn’t. The very fact they have a safe space to meet that means the world to them. The very fact of a warm welcome – that means the world. Not all churches would host those meetings. There are very few secular meeting places in Cheltenham. It’s important.

1.      We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. ...
2.      Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. ...
3.      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

God’s way for us to follow involves love for God, love for neighbour
We know the transformative power of the forgiving love of God in Christ, a forgiveness we can reflect and share
But we also have a strength from beyond ourselves, a power to live by in the unseen, yet real presence of the enabling, empowering, Holy Spirit.

Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.

I love the way the prayer builds up to that climax in glory.

The Christian faith is not about getting people into heaven.

The Christian faith is about getting heaven into people.

That’s not to deny the glory – it is to affirm it.

For the life that we live to the full begins here and now but does not end with death. Death is not the end beyond which there is nothing but in Christ Jesus the beginning of life in the eternal glory of the love of the God who is love.

Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever …

That’s the ultimate victory – nothing can prevail against it.

And to that you can only say Amen.

546 Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

1          Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
            Uttered or unexpressed,
            The motion of a hidden fire
            That trembles in the breast.

2          Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
            The falling of a tear,
            The upward glancing of an eye
            When none but God is near.

3          Prayer is the simplest form of speech
            That infant lips can try;
            Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
            The majesty on high.

4          Prayer is the contrite sinner's voice
            Returning from his ways,
            While angels in their songs rejoice,
            And cry: 'Behold, he prays!'

5          Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,
            The Christian's native air,
            Our watchword at the gates of death;
            We enter heaven with prayer.

6          Prayer is not made by us alone:
            the Holy Spirit pleads,
            and Jesus, on the eternal throne,
            for sinners intercedes.

7          O thou by whom we come to God,
            The Life, the Truth, the Way!
            The path of prayer thyself hast trod:
            Lord, teach us how to pray!

James Montgomery (1771-1854)

Looking back and Looking forward
Prayers of Concern
Offering and Dedication
159 Lord, for the years

1          Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
                        urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
            sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided,
                        Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

2          Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
                        speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
            teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us,
                        Lord of the word, receive your people's praise.

3          Lord, for our land, in this our generation,
                        spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care;
            for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
                        Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

4          Lord, for our world; when we disown and doubt him,
                        loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain;
            hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him,
                        Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

5          Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us, 
                        self on the cross and Christ upon the throne;
            past put behind us, for the future take us,
                        Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

Timothy Dudley-Smith (born 1926) 

Words of Blessing
Music: Richard Sharpe & Frank Guppy

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