Monday, September 26, 2011

September 25, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - The Lord's Prayer - Our Daily Bread: Enough

Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)

Tanya and I completed our annual cleaning of the garage last week. Not matter how much stuff we clean out, it seems to multiply throughout the year. We make piles of stuff – what we want to keep, what we want to get rid of, and looking at it, we wonder, why we have so much stuff? Where does it all come from?

As we continue through the Sermon On the Mount, and the Lord’s Prayer, we consider this morning the short phrase, give us this day our daily bread. We live with such an abundance of stuff that, on the surface at least, we hear the words of Jesus to give us this day our daily bread in a far different way than those who were in his audience the day he spoke them. How often do we worry about our daily bread? In our pantry we have today’s bread, tomorrow’s bread, and in the freezer, bread for more days. It’s not having daily bread that concerns us as much as it is having too much daily bread!

Even though we have our daily bread, it does not mean we are free from the anxiety of what we need in the days ahead. We live in very, very anxious days and that anxiety can drive us to a crippling sense of worry and it can drive us into an obsession with accumulating money and belongings in an effort to find a sense of security.

So let’s consider what it means to pray for our daily bread.

The call to pray for our daily bread is an invitation to simplicity.

Jesus was talking to people whose lives were the very model of simplicity. They led simple lives because there really was no other choice. While we can stockpile food in freezers and other storage methods, the people in the time of Jesus were unable to do so. They were people who lived on a day-to-day basis and struggled to have enough for each day. For most people in that time, getting one’s daily bread was a literal truth. They led lives of simplicity because of circumstance. They lived barely subsistence lives, working each day to earn enough money to feed their families. The far majority of people lived in a grinding poverty that left them wondering if there would be enough bread for that day, let alone the next day.

For the most part, we have so much more than the average person in the day of Jesus, but I’m not sure were any freer of worry. Perhaps it’s because we search for security in the things we own, and our sense of security has been greatly shaken in recent years.

Jesus invites us to a life of simplicity by asking us to pray simply for our daily bread. It is his invitation to ask for what we need rather than all the extras we either think we need or that we desire to have. It doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned with our needs, or that God isn’t concerned with our needs; it means we have learned to be content with simpler lives.

You remember, I’m sure, how God provided for the Hebrew people as they wandered through the wilderness after being freed from captivity in Egypt. God provided them with manna, a bread-like substance they collected every morning. It was, quite literally, their daily bread. They were only to collect what they needed for the day, and no more. It was a very dramatic lesson about learning to trust God.

Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-12 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or in want.

But there is another reason why simplicity becomes important. As the population of our world will cross the 7 billion mark at any time, and the estimates of growth for the next generation are staggering, simplicity with either be voluntarily adopted or enforced by a scarcity of resources.

To ask for our daily bread reminds us we are not as self-sufficient as we think.

I remember on Christmas Eve, when I was in the fifth grade, our neighbor’s house burned to the ground. One of the kids was my age, in my class at school, and my friend. The flames lit up the night sky and the glow from the fire could be seen from quite a distance. It was hard for me to imagine the experience of losing everything you own in a matter of minutes.

We work hard to bring a measure of security to our lives. We work to save money, we invest money, we purchase insurance, and search for other ways to prepare us in the event of disaster or to bring a sense of security in life.

But the economic downturn has brought home to us the reality that financial security is more precarious than we want to imagine. Stock value can evaporate very quickly. A 401K can be wiped out in a single trading session. A job loss or emergency can eat away at our savings. A medical crisis, even with insurance, can stretch us to the limits financially and remind us in very vivid terms of our own mortality. I don’t say this as a way of generating fear or pessimism, but as a reminder that we often search for a measure of security in places and things that are not as secure as we think.

I listened to an interview recently with one of the wealthiest individuals in the world who had recently experienced a life-threatening situation. It was very interesting when the discussion turned to faith. When asked if he believed in God he said no, but added how he wished he did have belief and faith because of the comfort and sense of security it would bring in life. Here was someone who had the resources to buy anything he wanted, to travel when and where he wanted, and yet was still looking for a sense of security in life.

Jesus reminded his audience that our hearts long for security, that we expend a great amount of energy searching for security, and that means we should look for security where it can truly be found. It is a sense of security that gives us a peace and confidence in the face of life’s greatest challenges and will see us through the most precarious of moments.

To pray for our daily bread is a reminder that we need to remember those who struggle to find their daily bread.

Have you noticed what Jesus did not say in this line of the prayer? Jesus did not say give me my daily bread. We should listen to our prayers to see how often they are filled with the personal pronouns of I, me, and mine.

Jesus says us; our. It is a reminder that we are part of the human community. It is a reminder that the question asked by Cain am I my brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9) is not just a rhetorical question, but has a very specific answer, and the answer is an affirmation that we do have a responsibility to those who struggle to secure daily bread.

Almost a third of the world’s population fails to find enough daily bread for their families. That’s more than 2 billion people. That number will only increase as the population of the world escalates and as environmental stress and degradation becomes more acute.

In the 6th chapter of Mark’s gospel we read the story of Jesus and his disciples arriving in a remote area and a large crowd had gathered in anticipation of their arrival. The disciples told Jesus he ought to send the crowd away and into the surrounding villages to buy food. Jesus told his disciples you give them something to eat (Mark 6:35-37). Perhaps the disciples were simply concerned and believed sending the crowd away was the best solution, or, perhaps they didn’t want to be bothered by the needs of the crowd. Jesus forced them to confront the need of the crowd.

I’ll confess that I often don’t know what to do with the needs that confront us. They can be so overwhelming and so deeply entrenched that I want to throw up my hands and say there’s nothing we can do. But maybe that’s my own way of doing what the disciples sought to do – send the people away. I don’t always have an answer, but I know we are called to never forget those who struggle to have their daily bread.

Even when we eat alone, we never really eat alone. Every bite of food we take is a communal act. Someone raised the food I eat. Someone brought the food to market. Someone delivered it to the store. Someone sold it to me. Food is one of the few things in life that bind us together, and even when I think I am buying and preparing my own food, it is not a solitary act. It that bond of community is broken, we do not eat. If a farmer cannot raise food, we do not eat, and on down the line. It will matter not how much money I have to buy food, if the community of food production is broken down, I will find very quickly I cannot eat my money.

To pray for our daily bread is to be called to a life of gratitude.

I often find myself thinking of what I don’t have rather than thinking of what I do have. And when I look at my life, there really is very little that I don’t have. It’s not that I have too little, but too much.

And yet our culture will continue to present me with message after message that I need more, when there is nothing else I need in life. And those messages slowly and unknowingly soak into my mind and heart and gradually turn my gaze away from what I can do for others and cause me to think about myself.

It’s a very simple phrase – give us this day our daily bread. At least it seems simple at first glance. In reality, it is a huge acknowledgement we make to God of our dependency upon him and upon one another. It certainly asks us to be grateful for what we have been given. It could very easily be us who are struggling to find daily bread. May our gratitude bring us to be sure others have their daily bread.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

September 18, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - The Lord's Prayer - Bringing Heaven to Earth

September 18, 2011

Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)

I am always amazed when I hear someone say that because the Bible is an old book it doesn’t merit our attention. I was listening to a morning show on the radio a couple of years ago and one of the hosts started into some Bible-bashing by asking what relevance would such an old book have on today’s world. Amazing. The Bible is certainly an old book, but it remains as contemporary as this morning’s newspaper. In fact, the Bible has much to say about what we read in today’s newspaper. The Bible has much to say about today’s world because, in many ways, the world hasn’t changed all that much. From the earliest pages of Genesis to the final pages or Revelation we see themes that are still playing out every day in world. We have made tremendous strides in technology – we have cars, computers, amazing medical technology – but the basics themes of humanity – love, hate, conflict, redemption, temptation, forgiveness, jealousy – all those types of themes – are the same today as they have been since the beginning of time.

As we return to the Lord’s Prayer this morning, we come to the phrase, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That short phrase encompasses so much as we consider the two kingdoms in which we live – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. There is a lot of tension between those two kingdoms, and this morning, we will consider Bringing Heaven to Earth – the establishment of the kingdom of God in this life.

Jesus spent a lot of time teaching about the kingdom of God, and in short, what Jesus was trying to get us to picture when he talks about the kingdom of God is this – to whom does the world belong, depending on the answer, how should it be run?

(God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, John Dominic Crossan, page 117).

I think it’s safe to say much of the way our world is run is not the design that God had in mind. The level of conflict between nations and individuals; the destruction of the physical world; the millions in desperate need of even the most basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing are surely evidence of the need for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness to our world.

The prayer of Jesus reflects God’s desire for a different kind of world. It reflects God’s desire for peace among people and nations; it reflects God’s desire that we care for creation; it reflects his desire that people not suffer from want, and they do not suffer from want because there is justice and not just charity. Charity is a wonderful thing, but it would be wonderful if people had enough that it were not needed.

I believe that in the Lord’s Prayer, and particularly in this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus calls us to the politics of the kingdom of God. The politics of the kingdom of God are very different from what comes to mind when we use the word politics. Most of us become weary of the political battles we see waged in our society and the gridlock and all that comes with the politics of the earthly kingdom. But the politics of the kingdom of God are very different from earthly politics, as Jesus demonstrated.

Jesus was extremely political. His message and his ministry had tremendously important implications. The religious and political leadership of Jesus’ day opposed him because they understood that much of what Jesus said was directed at them and the way they were running the world. The multitudes loved to listen to Jesus, in part, because he spoke against those who were leading the earthly kingdom that was making their lives so difficult.

The example of Jesus, I believe, teaches us –

We are called to move our faith beyond being purely personal.

In our nation we have the separation of church and state, and I believe that is an important concept. We don’t need a state church, we don’t need the state interfering with church, and we don’t need the church seeking to govern.

But separation of faith and politics is something entirely different. Separation of church and state does not mean that faith should not have something to say about the policies of government and the effect of those policies upon the lives of people. Jesus taught by word and deed that we are called to make our faith public in the sense of challenging the world when the world oppresses people and treats people unfairly. Jesus dared to challenge the way things were. He dared to speak against the oppression of people. He dared to challenge both the religious and spiritual authorities because of what they were doing to people.

It is absolutely necessary, I believe, that from a perspective of faith we remind our elected officials they should never forget the least of these as they fashion political policies. We live in a time when the poor are getting poorer, and it’s not as simple as saying it’s because people are lazy and don’t try. The structures of society – the kingdom of the world – are often designed in a way that makes it difficult for some people to get ahead in life. The Old Testament prophets make it very clear that God’s desire is that the poor are never forgotten. The prophets never hesitated to challenge the rulers of Israel when it came to treating people fairly and justly.

When Jesus turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple, he was making a very pointed accusation – the system that was oppressing so many people – the political system of the day – was finding support of the religious system. Instead of seeking justice for people, the religious leaders and the religious system of the day was complicit in oppressing people. There was a religious sanctioning of oppression. Instead of standing up for the least of these, the religious leaders were a part of the oppression of the least of these. It was a huge indictment against the religious leaders of the day.

We often see our faith as a very personal matter, and it is, but it is not just personal. Our faith has a public component because we are called to speak to the injustice and unfairness of the world that so greatly affects the lives of millions of people.

Faith is deeply political, but it is not partisan.

I was talking with someone about Billy Graham one day, and we talked about how he remained very nonpartisan despite being close to so many political figures. The other person said they had often wondered how Billy Graham was registered, but assumed he was a Republican. I replied that I had watched an interview when Graham had revealed he was a life-long Democrat. The other person seemed very disappointed when I told him of Graham’s political affiliation. I reminded him it would be expected that someone of Graham’s generation who grew up in his part of the country would be registered as a Democrat. It bothered the other person a great deal that Billy Graham was a Democrat. Their parting words, as we ended the conversation, were he may be a Democrat, but I’m certain he votes Republican!

I have heard people say it is impossible to be a Democrat and a Christian, or a Republican and a Christian, or a member of the Green Party and a Christian, or an Independent and a Christian, or Libertarian and a Christian. The truth is, Christianity is not exclusive to any political party. As the bumper sticker says, Jesus is not a Republican, or a Democrat.

I find political movements that try to co-opt Jesus to be rather puzzling. What would Jesus drive? Where would Jesus shop? I think those kinds of movements mean well, but I don’t know what Jesus would drive. I don’t know where he would shop. But I think he would have something to say about a lifestyle that is in constant motion and fails to park the car and sit and be quiet. I think he would have something to say about compulsive shopping to try and fill some kind of need within us. Jesus said quite a bit about material possessions but he never told anyone where to shop.

If we align our faith with a partisan point of view we are doing exactly what Jesus condemns in the gospels, which is to give a religious sanctioning to an earthly political system. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a political point of view; it does mean that it is a point of view reflecting a heavenly rather than earthly kingdom.

But faith has political implications. Faith ought to have something to say about a system that would put you or me in jail if we rob a bank but when those at the highest echelon of the banking industry bring our nation’s economy to the edge of collapse they are rewarded with millions of dollars.

Being God’s kingdom.

Political success and spiritual success are not the same things. Some believe the advancement of the kingdom of God is best done through the political process. But the early church didn’t organize voter drives, organize protests, or lobby in Rome. They just did their work, living out the love of Christ.

What would God’s kingdom look like? Perhaps the best way to visualize God’s kingdom on earth is found in Acts 2:42-47 –

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 11, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - The Lord's Prayer - Hallowed Be Thy Name: Honoring God's Name

Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)

For the past several weeks I have debated about whether or not to bring the events of 9/11 into today’s message. Honestly, I felt that so much has been said in the weeks leading up to this 10th anniversary of that terrible day that I didn’t think there was much I could add. But as we have worked our way through the Sermon On the Mount, and now the Lord’s Prayer, we come to a verse that I believe speaks to the events of that day. It is a verse that speaks not only to the events of 9/11, but to many of the acts of violence that have plagued human history.

We come this morning to the phrase hallowed be thy name. When Jesus says hallowed by thy name he is saying we should honor the name of God. To honor the name of God means we set aside the name of God and treat it as special, with honor, and as unique, and in the process we then honor and correctly communicate who God is. One of the tragedies of 9/11 is the demonstration of what some people are willing to do in God’s name and how in the process they distort the name of God for their purposes. People who do terrible things in God’s name do so for various reasons, but at the root we find they do not understand God’s nature. It is necessary, I believe, to offer a religious response to this tragedy, because it has raised so many religious questions.

In this day and age we cannot assume people understand the nature of God, so we must consistently speak out for who God is. Nothing I will say this morning, then, is at all new. What I have to say follows some of the themes that are common to many of my messages, but affirms what I believe is the essential nature of God.

God is a God of love.

Five years ago I preached a sermon series called Confronting the Skeptics. The series dealt with belief and unbelief and some of the accompanying issues. I am thinking about revisiting that series in the coming months, and would be interested in knowing of your interest in that topic.

As I was doing research for the series I read a lot of material by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, three of the most famous skeptics of faith in Western society. Looking at Richard Dawkins’ web site I discovered one could buy books, t-shirts, posters, and other items expressing the perspective of unbelief. One of the items for sale is a poster of the skyline of New York City. It is a picture obviously taken before September 11, 2011, as the twin towers of the World Trade Center are plainly visible. Emblazoned across the top of the poster are words taken from the song Imagine by John Lennon – imagine no religion.

One of the false assumptions of unbelief is that religion is to blame for all the ills of humanity, and if religion could be removed from the world, humanity would then live in love, peace, and harmony. Religion is superstition, skeptics claim, and if humanity would follow science and logic and believe in only what is material – what we can see and what we can touch – the world would be a better place. If we can just rid ourselves of the superstition of religion, they claim, the world will then become an oasis of reason, cooperation, goodness, and love. Violence will disappear, because violence is rooted in religion.

That is simply not true.

To be a people who believe only in the material will not automatically lead to a just and moral society. The claim that the world would be a better place if we jettisoned our believe in God is simply an illusion perpetuated by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and their fellow skeptics.

It is not logic and materialism that moves us toward justice, goodness, peace, and mercy – it is love, and the great Biblical affirmation of God is that he is love. This is the great affirmation of God that towers over all other claims about God made by the Scriptures. What Scripture tells us is that God does not appeal to logic, he does not appeal to our minds, he does not appeal to the cerebral part of our nature. No, Scripture tells us that God appeals to our hearts, because that is where love resides. Jesus does not ask us to think our way to God, but that we open our hearts to him.

There is no doubt that some people do, and have done, terrible things in the name of God, but that does not at all mean their actions reflect either the will or the nature of God. The nature of God is love, and the Bible affirms this truth time and time again.

It is absolutely necessary that we counter the claim that belief in God leads to violence and hatred. It is essential that we proclaim that hatred and violence do not express God’s nature and are not expressions of authentic faith.

There is a song on Christian radio that begins with an interesting line – he’s not mad at you. (Come As You Are by Pocketful of Rocks). What an interesting way to start a song – God’s not mad at you. There are ministers who like to take the angry God approach. I don’t do the angry God thing. Jesus certainly demonstrated anger, but it was aimed at hypocrisy and the crushing religious institutionalism of his day that gave people an entirely wrong view of God. My belief is that God isn’t mad as much as he is brokenhearted. He is brokenhearted at what he sees going on in creation, brokenhearted as he sees his children inflicting pain upon one another, brokenhearted as he sees his beautiful vision for creation destroyed by the hatred and violence of humanity.

God is a God of love.

God is a God of peace.

I have told you about the class I teach one class period a week in Louisville. I ask my students to write three papers throughout the school year and I provide them with a list of topics. The subject of our class leads us to consideration of whether or not it is ever justifiable to take the life of another person, so that is one of the topics. Every year I remark to my students about how comfortable they seem to be with the idea of the taking of human life. I tell them to write their opinion, but then I remind them to carefully consider the implications of their beliefs.

There is a lot of violence in the Bible, and a lot of skeptics like to point out that violence and then lay it at the feet of God and say he is responsible for it. Time doesn’t allow us to examine that question today, but I believe there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the violence in the Bible and whether or not God sanctions it.

Violence is so ever present in our world that at times I feel we simply accept that it is the way of the world. But it is not the way of God. Scripture affirms that God is a God of peace. Isaiah 2:4 is a beautiful verse that expresses the hope of God’s peace for the world, as Isaiah proclaims that He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

The beauty of the cross of Jesus – which really sounds like an oxymoron to say the beauty of the cross – is that violence was defeated at the cross. The violence inflicted upon Jesus was broken by his response of love. The taunts and the insults of those who crucified Jesus could not draw retribution from Jesus; only love. In the face of hatred, Jesus loved, and in response to the violence inflicted upon him, he loved even more.

There is a story of a young man who served under Alexander the Great. Having failed at a task he was brought before Alexander. Alexander the Great asked the young man what his name was. The young man barely mumbled his reply, Alexander, sir. Alexander the Great asked the question again and again the young man replied in a barely audible voice, Alexander, sir. Alexander the Great asked one more time, Young man, what is your name? The young man finally answered with a louder voice, Alexander, sir! Alexander the Great looked at him and said, young man, change you ways, or change your name.

When I was growing up, everywhere I went in my home county people seemed to know me. They might not have met me, but they knew my father. Aren’t you Ed Charlton’s son? was on oft-heard question. How many of you heard were asked such a question? I knew I had a responsibility to live up to the name of my father.

Hallowed be thy name, Jesus asks us to pray. What happened on 9/11 does not reflect the character or the will of God, and it is our calling to rightly proclaim that God is a God of love, and a God of peace.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

September 3, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - The Lord's Prayer: Reminding Us Who God Is

Matthew 6:9-13

Back in the 80s I used to water ski on the Kentucky River. One day we were trying to use a knee board, but found it very difficult. We finally realized it was much easier if a second person would get in the water and hold the board for the person who was going to ride on it. I was the first to hold the board and watched as they took off up the river. They were gone a long time and I began to wonder if they were going to leave me floating in the middle of the river. The water was so calm I assumed there was no current in it. I was surprised when I looked over at the bank and realized how far downstream I had drifted.

The Sermon On the Mount is about drift – theological drift. Theological drift is just like the drift I experienced in the Kentucky River – it is very subtle and rarely seen. Over the centuries people – especially the religious leaders – forgot the true intent of the law and in many cases, the nature of God himself. Interpretation upon interpretation had taken the law far from its original intent. If you remember the pre-digital days, it was like a copy of a copy of a copy. Each one is progressively more blurred and further from the original. The centuries of interpretation based upon interpretation had caused people to drift far from the intent of the law and a healthy view of God. The drift was so pronounced that in chapter 5 of Matthew Jesus says six times you have heard that it was said, but I say to you. It was his way of bringing people back to the true intent of the law and to a more accurate understanding of God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus continues to bring us call people back from the drift that sets in. This morning, as we turn our attention to the Lord’s Prayer, we find Jesus Reminding Us Who God Is. This morning we will look at just the first two words of the prayer – our father.

Father was a surprising image for Jesus to use. We are very accustomed to the image of God as father, but when Jesus used the image it was a revolutionary change in how to view God. At that point in history people thought of gods in the manner of the Greeks and Romans – hostile, jealous, and petty – or as the Israelites, who saw God as being far too holy to be portrayed with a word such as father. The Israelites would not even pronounce or write the name of God, they believed it to be so holy. Jesus would go so far as using the word abba for God (Mark 14:36), which is the Aramaic word for daddy. Referring to God as daddy scandalized many people, because that word signified a relationship that was far too intimate to imagine. So when Jesus uses the word father to begin this prayer, it certainly an attention-getter.

I wonder, though, what goes through the mind of someone whose earthly father who is not a positive figure. One of my best friends growing up had a lot going for him. He had a great personality and made friends effortlessly. He was smart and a very good athlete. He had so many things going for him I have to admit there were times I was very envious of him. He had one really big liability in his life, though, and it was a liability that weighed very heavily on him – he had a terrible father. I don’t know any other way to describe his father except to say he was a mean and cold man, and I don’t like saying that about anyone. For years, I watched my friend, who had so much going for him in life, become terribly weighed down because of terrible treatment he received from his father. His father constantly belittled him, verbally abused him, and I have not a single memory of hearing his father saying a kind word to him. Not once.

Some people see God in the way my friend saw his father – they see God as vindictive and mean and petulant. God has a PR problem with some people. Some people see nothing whatsoever loving or merciful about God. And this is partially the fault of some of his children who present him in such a negative way, even to the point that they seem to enjoy bringing God’s condemnation upon the heads of others. Even though we are far removed from the perspective and theology of a church such as Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, people on the outside of the church don’t always make distinctions between churches. They see the unbelievably harsh and hurtful words and actions of Westboro and paint us all with the same brush.

There were versions of Westboro in the time of Jesus. There were people who were so anxious to call down God’s wrath upon others and people who were condemning and judgmental and Jesus sought to wash all of that away by describing God with two simple words – our father. Although there are those exceptions, we recognize that no father would ever seek to bring harm to his children. A father loves his children and cares and provides for them.

I would aim this affirmation squarely at the skeptics of the world as well, who claim that so much hatred and harm has been perpetuated in the name of God. There is a vast difference between what people may do in the name of God and what God actually desires that people do. I don’t care how loudly Westboro Baptist Church proclaims they are acting on behalf of God, they are neither acting on behalf of God nor are they representing his true nature. Neither are those who have committed violence and atrocities in the name of God throughout history.

Jesus does something else very interesting when he says our father. It is not mere happenstance that he says our. It is not my father, not your father, but our father. Ours is a word of inclusiveness. It is a recognition that we don’t have a claim of ownership upon God, but God is father and creator to all.

If God is our father, all others are related to us. Some people today very skillfully divide people along the lines of us and them. They exploit the divide between people for their own benefit. But when Jesus says our father he is teaching there is no us and them; it is only us, collectively. That’s why he teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for them, because it’s not us versus them, only us – everyone – as the children of God. It’s a very radical way of looking at the world, isn’t it? We live in a world that draws so many boundaries and distinctions and finds so many ways to categorize and separate people. Even churches, sometimes, like to draw very narrow boundaries and define who is in and out, and then begin to think in terms of us versus them. There was no us and them in the eyes of Jesus.

I want to close by showing you a video clip. It comes from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Derek Redmond, representing Great Britain, is injured in a race. As he agonizes in pain on the track he gets up and tries to hobble across the finish line. His father comes out of the stands and help his son finish. (You can watch the video at the following link)

I doubt there are many people who can tell you who won that race, but millions of people remember who lost, and they remember because of the powerful example of the love of a father. There are far too many people who cannot believe God is a God of love. May we live and proclaim that God is, indeed, love.