Sermon Seeds: Shaped by Prayer
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 12
Hosea 1:2-10 with Psalm 85 or
Genesis 18:20-32 with Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Worship resources for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time are at Worship Ways
Shaped by Prayer
Reflection and sample sermon:
by Kathryn M. Matthews
The disciples find Jesus at prayer. They’re on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus will face suffering and death, and he’s teaching them along the way. The lessons of discipleship have been coming, one after another, reflected in our readings in the past few weeks. We’ve learned about the importance of traveling light on our mission (don’t even carry bread, Jesus says, suggesting it will be provided along the way), the centrality of love for God and neighbor (including those folks we’d rather not call “our neighbor”) and, in the story of Mary and Martha, the importance of not just listening to, but doing, the Word of God.
What comes next could form the basis of many sermons, but the preacher may want to resist the temptation to examine each line of the Lord’s Prayer, or to unpack the unusual parable of the man knocking, knocking, knocking on his neighbor’s door at midnight, or to explore in depth the well-known verses on asking, seeking, and knocking. Instead, we might ask: what is this passage, as a whole, teaching the disciples – and that means us, too – about what it means to follow Jesus?
Show us how you do that
After all, that’s what disciples do: they follow, and model themselves on, their teacher. That’s why they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptist taught his disciples. In those days, you would be known by the prayer that was distinctive to your group, gathered around the teacher you followed. (“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” but also “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Prayer.”)
The disciples were, of course, men of faith who were raised in a setting in which they had certainly been taught to pray. But did you ever think you knew how to do something, until you saw someone do it so much better, or you saw the remarkable effects of how they did it, and you wanted to say, “Show me how you do that”? Throughout the centuries, in many different places and cultures and many different faiths, spiritual teachers mostly teach “how,” and many people come to them not so much for answers but for ways to practice their faith so that they can have the same peace, strength, and wisdom as their teacher.
Wanting what Jesus has
I think those disciples saw the power of the Spirit of God in Jesus. I think they saw the strength, the power, the wisdom of God in Jesus, and they wanted to be strong, and full of power, and wise. When they watched Jesus at prayer, and saw the coherence between his prayer life and everything else that he did and said, they longed to go deeper into the life of the Spirit that filled him. (Most of the time, by the way, the disciples didn’t seem to know or understand what they were asking for, which makes them once again pretty much like us.) And Jesus responded with a short prayer that has indeed become the prayer that marks us, identifies and unifies us as Christians.
We come to church from many different places, not just geographically different, and we’ve followed many different spiritual paths, especially in the United Church of Christ. Many of us were raised in one of the mainline Protestant denominations — Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal (some of us even in the United Church of Christ!) — and many others grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition.
The prayer we share
There are other faith backgrounds represented in just about every congregation, as well, including the Jewish faith, of course. And some of us were not raised in any religious tradition at all. To most if not all of us, however, the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples in this week’s reading is something familiar, something we share in common. It’s the one prayer we’re most likely able to recite by heart (along with Psalm 23): in fact, it’s amazing and very touching when pastors visit people who are suffering from strokes or memory loss but are able to join in, when the Lord’s Prayer is begun, however slowly, and recite each word.
Jesus models prayer as an intimate conversation with God. There are many references in the Gospel of Luke to Jesus at prayer, and I suspect that he listened just as much as he spoke. In any case, he tells the disciples — and that includes us, too — that we should talk with God as we would to a loving parent, a parent who listens to us, cares for us, forgives us, provides for us, protects us. Jesus doesn’t talk obscure, intellectual theology. He brings the reality of God’s love home to the people in terms they —we — can understand, the language of everyday relationships (at their best and not so best).
Faith is a matter of the heart
Could today’s story be a missing piece in the life of many faithful Christians? Isn’t it possible for a person to go along, trying the best they can to “do good” and avoid sin, to study the Scriptures and attend worship every week, and yet to miss out on that relationship of intimacy with God that can happen in prayer? I once heard a speaker describe the poignancy of those who live their entire (long) lives “serving God” but do so without a spirit of joy or love, and he asked us to consider the nature of true faithfulness if we have missed the mark of offering our gifts in such a spirit of love, a spirit that must surely be at the root of a life of prayer, or better, the fruit of such a life of persistent and consistent prayer.
Jesus gives us the words to say when we pray, and then he tells a story and gives an exhortation to persuade us that, if we who are limited, weak, even “evil,” have sense enough to answer the door and help a neighbor, or to give our children good things, not bad ones, well, then, of course, God, who is infinitely greater, more loving, more generous than we are, will give…”the Holy Spirit” to us.
What are we praying for?
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches in a similar passage that God will give “good things” to those who ask. But Luke says in our reading today that God will give “the Holy Spirit” to those who ask. At first, that may disappoint us. We want the good things, right? We want health, happiness, safety, and maybe, if we’re really honest, we want some success, some comfort, some prestige, and a little wealth wouldn’t be so bad, either…after all, we’re only human.
However, this promise of the Holy Spirit is the key to understanding the passage as a whole, because the Holy Spirit and a sense of call always seem to go together. This prayer Jesus gave us is not just a comforting, private little prayer to get us through our tough times and personal crises. This is the prayer of the community, a community that was promised the Holy Spirit, in fact, it didn’t become “the church” until Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit came upon them, just as Jesus promised.
Not “me,” but “us”
And this community, the church, is called. We are called to be the Body of Christ – to be light, to be salt, to be leaven for the world. We are called to be bread for the world. We are called to live and breathe in radical dependence on, utterly trusting in, the God who made us and knows us, who listens to our prayers and calls us by name, the God who forms us into a community that prays together, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not just me, but all of us. Not for the long-term, but day by day by day. This God gives us the Holy Spirit to depend on and draw strength from. We can trust the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this is easier said than done. We’re more likely to depend on our learning, our physical and mental capabilities, our own devices, our ability to figure things out for ourselves. Years ago, I heard a wonderful story about Mother Teresa and a famous ethicist who came to work at her house of the dying in Calcutta, at a time when he was seeking a clear answer to how best to spend the rest of his life. She asked him what she could do for him, and he asked her to pray for him. She said, “What do you want me to pray for?” And he said, “Pray that I have clarity.” She replied, “No, I will not do that — clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” The ethicist observed that Mother Teresa always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, but she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
From prayer to compassion
And so, it seems to me, that spending time with God in prayer, in regular, intimate conversation, and opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit, will lead us on the way of compassion, and it will lead us to transformation, not just as individuals but as a community. Because this prayer is the prayer of our community and not just a private one, it reminds us, challenges us, urges and inspires us as a community not only to form this prayer with our lips but to be formed ourselves by this prayer, formed and shaped into a community of compassion and justice that makes sure that all of God’s children have “their daily bread” — and all that that implies today, all that they need from the abundance with which God has blessed us. The prayer calls us to join in the building of God’s kingdom not up in heaven, but here, on earth, a reign of justice, healing, mercy, and love.
The church is not something abstract. It is something we experience as embodied creatures with a need for community and companionship on the journey, on the pilgrimage of faith. Even when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, alone in our room, there are other Christians in other places, praying the same prayer, forming the same prayer in their hearts and on their lips, in many different languages, and all of us being formed and transformed by it. In those moments, we are one.
Hearing the prayer from others
(There is a beautiful wall-hanging in the Amistad Chapel at the Church House, the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, with the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic lettering, made by a Muslim artisan in the Tentmaker’s District of Old Cairo — a powerful illustration of our multicultural church, and the many languages in which we address God. I once had the privilege of showing this beautiful work to a couple who stopped by as they were walking past the building – they were from Cairo themselves, and they read the prayer out loud, in Arabic, for me. What an amazing and sacred moment that was.)
It is so difficult sometimes to follow the way of Jesus. For example, it’s hard to forgive even though we stand in need of forgiveness ourselves, so we pray to God for one another and ask for God’s mercy on us, but even more, we pray that we might be transformed into people of mercy ourselves.
Formed by prayer
How often do we pray for what we want more than what we need? What kind of life would it be to live intentionally from day to day (having only our daily bread), as so much of the world’s population does, though not by choice? Indeed, Jesus teaches us to pray not for “my” daily bread but “our” daily bread, and if we really listened each Sunday as we prayed these words together, perhaps there would truly be bread shared for all the world to have what they need each day. In that event, our prayer will have shaped us more than our shaping the words we say, and our trust in God will transform the world.
My best friend from seminary told me a story about a worship conference she attended. The preacher invited those gathered to come forward and be anointed as they said what it was they were praying for. He told them that the children should come forward, too. My friend Mary told me about a little boy, not quite ten years old, who came up to her station. Mary asked him what he wanted her to pray for with him. He said, “I want you to pray that I will go to heaven.” And so she did.
The trust of a child
It seems that we could learn a lot from not-quite-ten-year-old boys. Isn’t a trusting, intimate relationship what Jesus is describing when he uses the word “Daddy” for God? Isn’t this close and loving relationship what he describes when he speaks of the love of a parent who would give only good things to their beloved child? And doesn’t this kind of prayer say something about “who God is” to us? God is the One we can trust, the One who loves us, the One who is present with us, day by day, providing what we need. Not clarity, but trust. Not our own efforts, but trust.
Our other lectionary reading, from Psalm 138, unlike the Lord’s Prayer, sounds very individual, using “I” language instead of “we” language. But the last verse is one of my favorites from the entire Bible, and I believe it goes perfectly with the theme of trust and call: “God will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your steadfast love, O God, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” If the Lord’s Prayer is a “corporate” prayer, not an individual one, and “we” pray to our loving Parent-God, asking for “our” – not “my” – daily bread, than we could also pray this psalm in the same way: “God will fulfill God’s purpose for us; your steadfast love, O God, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
We, as a community, are the work of God’s hands, and we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us become then, in our life as a community, daily bread for the rest of the world, for one another and for all of God’s precious, beloved children.
The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in July after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.
You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
For further reflection:
Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Martin Luther, 16th century
“Pray, and let God worry.”
George Bernard Shaw, 20th century
“Most people do not pray; they only beg.”
Mary Gordon, 21st century
“Prayer is having something to say and someone to say it to.”
Mother Teresa, 20th century
“May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, 20th century
“You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”
Søren Kierkegaard,, 19th century
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.”
Anne Lamott, 21st century
“There are really only two kinds of prayer: help me, help me, help me, and thank you, thank you, thank you.”
(Anne Lamott later added “Wow” – a prayer of praise and wonder.)
Meister Eckhart, 14th century
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
Sample sermon on Luke 11:1-13, drawing on this reflection:
Each summer during my childhood, my brothers and sisters and I attended a big family picnic given by our Aunt Emma. We always went to a park with a large pool (I’m sure it wasn’t as large as I remember it to be), and we always went swimming. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to swim. Now I’m sure my cousin Margie had only the best of intentions when she thought it would be helpful if she gave me her own private lessons. Margie was four years older than I, and infinitely more skilled, I thought, in just about everything in life.
Lesson One in Margie’s teaching method was to get me to put my head under water. This was a singularly unattractive idea to me, and I resisted. So – again, just trying to be helpful – she pushed me down, under the water. Since we were submerged up to our shoulders, I panicked every time, and struggled against the water that burned my eyes and nose and cut off my air. For many years after that, I had a love-hate relationship with the water. I thought it would feel wonderful to swim – and often dreamed that I could – and yet, every time I got into the water, I became tense and feared that burning and loss of air, and the panic they produced.
One day, when I was almost forty years old, I was in a pool with my young son, Doug. Doug was only about ten years old, but he could swim like the proverbial fish. (I made sure my kids got swimming lessons – and not from my cousin Margie!) Doug just couldn’t bear it that his mom couldn’t swim or even get her head wet. So – that day – he taught me how to swim. He hung on to the side of the pool – he was just a little fellow, and he shivered as he gave me my instructions: “Mom, the thing you need to do is relax – if you draw a deep breath, and totally relax in the water, it will hold you up – you’ll float. You just gotta trust me. Just do this” – and he gently went forward into the water, and floated there in front of me.
I don’t know if forty years of being afraid were finally just too much, or if I couldn’t resist that shivering little guy with the big blue eyes, but at that moment, I let go of the years of fear and tension and fighting against the water, and I scrunched up my eyes, took a big breath of air, and then eased myself forward into the water. It held me up! I didn’t struggle or tense up, and I could feel myself floating. It was an incredible experience . . .and it was the beginning of Doug’s teaching me how to swim across the pool, with my head down and the water no longer making me afraid.
This morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke is about prayer. Jesus, our model, teaches us how to pray by praying himself, and then tells us to be persistent and trusting in those prayers. In the first part of the reading, when the disciples ask Jesus to teach “us” how to pray, he gives them what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. The author of the Gospel of Luke preserves this shorter version that Matthew expands into the version more familiar to us, with phrases like “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” added to it.
Here in Luke, we find a simple prayer that is characteristic of the Christian community, that is, it expresses the identity and longings of the church from its earliest days in the ancient Mediterranean world right up to this very Sunday in July, almost two thousand years later, in a very different, post-modern world.
It’s not a prayer of private piety, although we can say it alone, in our room. It is a “we” and “us” prayer, and it gives voice to our human longings for bread, forgiveness, and escape from the time of trials we cannot bear. But first, at the beginning, it affirms the sovereignty and the holiness of God.
The simple words “Give us our daily bread” remind us to pray not for everything we want but for the things we truly need. “Daily” bread means enough food necessary to sustain life, and in Jesus’ time, this was no small matter, for food shortages – even famines – often followed bad weather, war and other disturbances. Today, hunger is still no small matter. We too, must consider what “our daily bread” means to millions of people starving in places like the Sudan and India and Pakistan. During this past week, as I reflected on this reading, I imagined what it might feel like to pray this prayer in a community in one of the countries that is struggling this morning with massive hunger. How might those words ring in our ears and haunt us long afterward?
Jesus’ words about forgiveness are echoed elsewhere in the gospels and are familiar to us. It seems so easy and so human to count on God’s endless mercy and forgiveness, even when we can’t find much of either one in our hearts for our brothers and our sisters who have hurt us. This eloquent line, then, asks for what we need most in the same breath as it challenges us to give the same to others.
The final thought, “do not bring us to the time of trial,” reminds us of Jesus’ time of temptation and struggle in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. It also reminds us of his time of trial before – and during – his suffering and death. In the days when this story was written down, a few years after Jesus’ death, there was already a time of trial for the early Christians, who experienced persecution and even death at the hands of the authorities. Please, God, we pray, deliver us from what we cannot bear.
But what of the first part of this prayer, the affirmations of God’s holiness and God’s sovereignty? Well, to begin with, let’s touch briefly on the address of God as “father.” The word Jesus used was actually “abba,” which means “daddy.” We know that even biblically God cannot be narrowed down to one gender or the other, so the point is not that God is male, but rather that God is like a loving parent, one that we can approach with trust and confidence. The last part of the reading confirms this, for Jesus speaks of us as limited, sinful parents who still have the sense and compassion to give our children good things – and contrasts our parental love with the goodness of God, a parent who will give us good things, including the Holy Spirit – the superlatively good thing (we might say “the totally excellent thing”) – the experience of God’s presence and blessing.
“Hallowed be your name.” In the ancient world, a person’s name expressed their nature – and God’s nature is holiness itself. God’s nature is to make the world holy, to make it whole. God’s nature is to transform the world. In this prayer, we are really asking that we might realize God’s nature, to recognize what God is about and to participate then in the transformation of the world, to participate in the coming reign of God. “Your kingdom come.” Much of the time, we reel these words off as we recite, rather than pray, this prayer. But what do they mean?
The Lord’s Prayer is full of “jubilee” images. Jubilee was a special time in the life of the Jewish people – in Maria Harris’ words, a “heightened holy time” – it was the near boundary of God’s reign – a time when debts were forgiven, captives and debtors freed, and the usual rules were suspended, so that the people might begin again (Proclaim Jubilee! A Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century). Just as fields need to lie fallow, unused, every few years, and we need a Sabbath rest, so our community, we as a people, need a time of jubilee. We need a time of forgiveness, a time of liberation, a time of justice. We need to begin again. In Jesus, we see the reign of God inaugurated, but right now we live in the in-between time, the time between that beginning and the coming fullness of God’s reign. But we know from the Gospel of Luke what Jesus – and the reign of God – are about: good news for the poor, bread for the hungry, release for the captives.
We human beings participate in jubilee as both forgivers and forgiven. We find a whole new basis for human interaction, as one writer, Sharon Ringe says, “the polar opposite of the systems of debt and obligation, patronage and merit, honor and shame, that characterize life under various human institutions and authorities. In the realm of God, those old rules are canceled, and all things are made new” (Luke, Westminster Bible Companion). In the realm of God, we no longer measure our value by our promotions or the size of our credit line or our titles or even our time of service on the job or in the church.
By now you might be wondering – what does all of this have to do with Kate being taught to swim by her son Doug? As you can see, our reading this morning gives us abundant opportunities for reflection on our human needs and on God’s holiness and sovereignty. And it is God’s sovereignty to which I return now.
It’s an unusual word, isn’t it, and I can’t think of another time when we use it (except maybe in politics when we speak of “sovereign states,” but I sure can’t remember the last time I used that phrase!). As unusual as it is, I couldn’t think of another word good enough to describe what “sovereignty” expresses. Whatever we speak of, including the ideas central to this gospel passage, it is most important that we remember at all times that God is sovereign over all that happens in our lives, in the lives of all people, in the life of all creation.
Just about a year ago, this understanding – and the comfort that it brings – came home to me in a most unexpected way, when the pastor at my home church was suddenly hospitalized and we were all very worried about her. On that Sunday, a substitute preacher was in our pulpit, and he preached on the lectionary text about faith and good works.
Now I have to tell you that I get carried away sometimes by thinking about everything we ought to be doing in order to make the world a better place, more like the reign of God. I fall into that trap of thinking that we can do it on our own, that we are the ones who can get this world turned around and made right. I forget who’s really in control. I forget that it is not our work, our task, but God’s work, God’s task, and we simply participate in that great work (or not!). I forget that it will not be our determination, our energy, our spirit that transforms this world, but God’s Spirit and God’s will that will bring about that transformation.
And so I listened that morning, worried and sad and maybe a little afraid of what life brings, as the preacher, knowing how worried the congregation was, told us a story about a friend of his, who had spent some time teaching children to swim. The friend told him that the hardest part of this work was getting the kids not to fight the water, but to relax and let the water hold them up. It’s the same way with the sovereignty of God, the preacher said. If only we could let go of our leaning forward, our tensing up, and our struggling…if only we could let ourselves fall gently into the sovereignty of God, and let it carry us and hold us up. It sounds a lot like the lesson from the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who tells us not to panic when we float on the immense and perhaps terrifying depth of the ocean, but to simply let ourselves be held up by the buoyancy of God.
The other day, my best friend from seminary called to tell me about a healing service she had helped with at a worship conference last week in Pennsylvania. The preacher prepared the people to come forward and be anointed as they said what it was they were praying for. He told them that the children should come forward, too. My friend Mary told me about a little boy, not quite ten years old, just like Doug, who came up to her station. Mary asked him what he wanted her to pray for with him. He said, “I want you to pray that I will go to heaven.” And so she did.
It seems that we have a lot to learn from nine-year-old boys. We can relax, we can trust, we can give ourselves to God’s holy will. And we can pray…in every hour, and every day, we can pray, just as Jesus taught us.
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
O God, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity
of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again,
O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation towards us.
Will you be angry with us
Will you prolong your anger
to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love,
and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear
what God the Sovereign will speak,
for God will speak peace
to the people,
God will speak to the faithful,
to those who turn to God in their hearts.
Surely God’s salvation is at hand
for those who fear God,
that God’s glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up
from the ground,
and righteousness will look down
from the sky.
God will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go
and will make a path
for God’s steps.
Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there, and went towards Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
I give you thanks, O God,
with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down towards your holy temple
and give thanks to your name
for your steadfast love
and your faithfulness;
for you have exalted your name
and your word above everything.
On the day I called,
you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.
All the kings of the earth shall praise you,
for they have heard the words
of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of God,
for great is the glory of God.
For though God is high,
God regards the lowly;
but the haughty,
God perceives from far away.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me
against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
God will fulfill God’s purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O God,
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
(Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.)
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.
The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday” — not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”