Monday, February 16, 2009

transformational prayer

Text of the sermon presented by Father Geoffrey Farrow at Hollywood United Methodist Church, Sunday, February 15, 2009

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In the Gospel of Luke 11:1 "one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. Here a disciple asks Jesus for practical instruction in how to pray. I've often heard people in the gay community make the statement: "I'm spiritual but, not religious."

There is a great truth in this statement. It is born of personal pain and loss. Many have been rejected outright by their religious communities of origin, some have been relegated to a sort of second class citizenship where they are tolerated, at best. Worst still, some parents have echoed what religious leaders have told them. Believing that they were doing what was best for their children, they have unwittingly become accomplices with religious leaders in driving their children away from God and the spiritual life. Even more tragically, some have believed that they are worthless and have taken their own life.

Yet, like the disciple who asked the Lord to teach him to pray, many in the LGBT community recognize a transcendent spiritual good for which they long. The Lord responds with tender and generous love and teaches this disciple who is hungry for spiritual life seven petitions which we know as the "Our Father" or "The Lord's Prayer."

"Our Father."

St. Brigit of Sweden said that you could spend the rest of your life meditating on the first two words of the Lord's Prayer. A scripture professor was in the museum which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like most large public spaces, there were crowds moving around and suddenly, a small girl started crying loudly. She was saying "Abba, Abba" the word for father which Jesus used in this prayer. The professor was taken aback, it was the first time he had heard the word used outside of academia and by a child no less. A large hand stretched out from the crowd, the little girl recognized it as her daddy's hand. She put her little hand in that large hand and her countenance changed from fear and tears to reassurance and a gentle smile. She was safe, she was with her "daddy." My professor told our class, for the first time I understood what the Lord meant when he taught us to address God as "father."

"Hallowed be your name"

Relationships are not a "right" but, a privilege. Who here today can pick up a telephone and call the President of the United States and have him answer the phone. Yet, the Lord granted us the privilege to be able to call the supreme being at any time. To be able to address God intimately.

This second petition is intended to remind us to cherish this privilege. In Hebrew, there are no vowels, just consonants. Vowel sounds are identified by points which are placed under the consonants so that the reader may pronounce the words. When the Name of God was written, the vowel points were excluded so that the name would not be abused. The Holy Name was invoked in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem. The High Priest would whisper the name, invoking mercy on Israel for her transgressions. While he was in the Temple, the representatives of the various tribes stood outside making as much noise as possible so that the Name of God would not be heard and misused. We have gone from that deep respect and reverence to blurting out the name of God when our cheeseburger order gets messed up.

"Thy Kingdom Come"

When we think of "kingdoms" or "countries" most of us think of a map. In antiquity however, a kingdom was thought of as "great" not by the extent of its lands but, by the number of its subjects. We could say that the Mayor of New York is probably more influential than the Governor of Alaska. Even though geographically, New York is much smaller, it have a much larger population than the State of Alaska. This petition, reminds me that the Kingdom of God will never be found "out there" until it is first manifest in my mind, heart and soul.

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"

The instant that the angels in heaven know the will of God, they execute it. Do I do that? In my major decisions in life, is what is most pleasing to God a first consideration? Is it a consideration at all? If God is love, as St. John asserts in his letter. Then, Love should be my guide in relationships, finances, career, social issues, politics, etc. This petition was placed on the lips of disciples by Jesus to have them measure their words and deeds by this standard. St. Augustine said: "Love and do as you will". If authentic love is your touchstone in decision making, you are not far from the kingdom.

"Give us this day our daily bread"

When sister taught us the Our Father in grammar school, she asked the class if this meant: "Wonder Bread, that builds bodies in 8 ways" I stretched up my hand and blurted out "YES". It was, of course, the wrong answer. The Lord taught that man does not live on bread alone. Here we are asking God for spiritual sustenance. Grant that I may think, speak and act as spiritually enlightened person. Grant me the sensitivity to look beyond my own needs and wants. Grant me the courage to speak and act for what is right and not merely do what is expedient. Give me grace, a share in true and abiding love.

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

Most of us learned this prayer as small children. Most of us machine gunned it out of our mouths as we did the alphabet. How many times have we actually paused and considered what it is we are petitioning the Creator when we speak these words? The Lord, deliberately placed this petition on the lips of every man, woman and child who would claim to be his disciple.

Please, take one moment. Close your eyes and imagine the person you most dislike in this life. The person who had most wronged or hurt you. Or, even worse, has hurt someone you dearly love. Now, speak this petition slowly. How you treat that person, how you speak of that person, that is how you want God to treat you. It can be a sweet heart deal or, merciless. Its up to you. And that is precisely why the Lord placed this petition on our lips. To require us to reflect. To help us to grow. To help us become channels of love and mercy in a world which is all too often obsessed with hatred and revenge.

Lord Byron wrote that "hatred is the abiding pleasure." Its like a cat that sits on our lap and we pet. You can really get into fantasizing about that evil so and so getting what they deserve and imagine all the scenarios. But, if someone seriously suggested that you invite that individual to move into your guest room and live in your house, you'd think them insane for suggesting the idea. When you chose to harbor a grudge, you're not inviting someone you dislike into your home, you're inviting them to take up residence in your mind and heart. You're inviting them to spend time with you to the exclusion of others. Hatred becomes a very insidious and corrosive cancer which consumes those who hold it in their heart. Let it go. Pray for that person, that he/she come to the same joy and peace you desire for yourself. Spend your thoughts and times on good things and people who extend you their love.

"And lead us not into temptation but, deliver us from evil."

Two years ago I was driving to the hospital and I saw a car with a bumper sticker which read: "And lead us not into temptation, I can find it for myself." That should make a Marriage and Family Therapist's Accountant very happy. Sin and temptation have been used for decades by advertisers to sell us everything from clothing and toiletries to automobiles. All of us have probably made an impulse purchase which we later came to regret. Sadly, this is sometimes not limited to commodities but, in unreflective moments of weakness, relationships have been seriously damaged, or destroyed.

Beyond this, we all have a breaking point. A point were "we lose it." Where we say and do hurtful or hateful things. Here we the Lord teaches us to know our limits. This petition teaches us to consider our limitations and ask for help to avoid those circumstances which could be too much for us. It also asks for Divine assistance at the end of life's journey.

Considering our end is not morbid, it helps put things in perspective. Where are my practical choices leading me? How do I treat others in my life? My co-workers, people I supervise, my family members, people I date, my partner/spouse? Would I want to be with me in any of those relationships?

The petitions in the prayer the Lord taught us are meant to make us reflect. They are formulated to help us grow spiritually. They are made to help establish a little piece of heaven in our mind, our heart and in our world.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Many sincere thanks for sharing this with us. It's nice to see how Father Jeffrey's goodness spreads to others.