The Lord’s Prayer, Part 6: Temptation and Evil

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Church
November 20, 2022
The Lord’s Prayer, Part 6

Sermon taped at Mayberry Church on Friday afternoon, November 18, 2022. Notice the late afternoon sun that at times blinds me!

At the beginning of worship: 

Two weeks ago, at Mayberry Church, we held a training event titled “Centered and Soaring.” This event was sponsored with partnership funds from the Presbytery of the Peaks. Those there were provided several “take-away ideas” to strengthen our discipleship as a follower of Jesus. One take-away was a Prayer Covenant. The idea is that we join with another individual to pray for each other for a specific time. Sometimes the prayers may be general, other times they may be more specific, as when we need help in a particular area. 

Jesus wants us to pray for each other

When Christians pray for one another, we’re doing what Jesus teaches in the Lord’s prayer. This is not a prayer about us as individuals. It’s about us in community. Consider the words: “Our Father, Give us, Forgive us, Lead us not, Save us…” There is no “Me” in the prayer. It’s all about community and for that reason, we need to be praying for one another.


This will be our six and final Sunday focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. I have never preached a series on Jesus’ prayer and in a way am sad that it’s coming to an end. There is so much more that I would like to say. This prayer is steeped in our tradition. As Matthew’s version of the prayer reminds us, we’re to use this prayer as a model or template for our own prayers. 

Lord’s prayer as a template

At the Presbytery meeting this past Thursday at Second Presbyterian in Roanoke, our moderator modelled this. She didn’t say she had written a prayer based on the Lord’s prayer, but as I listened, I could pick out the various petitions of the Jesus’ prayer. When you need to pray and are lost for words, you might consider the parts of the Lord’s prayer. And, to reiterate, if we find a lot of “Me’s” or “mine’s” in our prayers, we should compare how we pray to how Jesus teaches us to pray. 

Before the reading of Scripture:

While I didn’t watch Jeopardy this week (which is nothing new), I heard about it. One of the questions in a championship round had to do with which epistle of Paul’s had the most Old Testament references. According to Jeopardy, the right answer was Hebrews. I didn’t realize so many familiar with the Bible watched Jeopardy, for immediately Facebook and Twitter blew up with people pointing out Jeopardy’s mistakes. For nowhere does Hebrews tell us that Paul was the author and there are some who question labelling it an epistle as it’s more of a sermon than a letter. And finally, Romans appears to have more links to the Old Testament than Hebrews. They got it wrong on many levels.[1]Hold that thought, I’ll come back to it in a moment. 

Petitions in the Lord’s Prayer: A Bit of Jeopardy-like trivia

Today we’re looking at our last petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I noted in one of my earlier sermons that while we tend to consider the prayer to have six petitions,[2] there are some who divide it into seven. To do this, they split the last petition into two separate parts, one on temptation and one on the evil one. You can find this in Luther’s Catechism[3] as well as the catechisms of the Catholic Church.[4]One of the reasons for making this prayer into seven petitions instead of six is that it seven is consider a perfect number.[5]

This kind of trivia might do you well if you find yourself on Jeopardy. Of course, you’ll have to guess which source their experts consulted as to if there are six or seven petitions in this prayer.

Read Matthew 6:9-13

I recently spent a lot of time with John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress.[6] I had read parts of it before, but never spent much time studying the book until a theology group of which I am a member decided to study it. In preparation, not only did I read the book, I also read a commentary on it and also reviewed books on Puritanism which I had read decades ago. 

Popularity of Pilgrim’s Progress in 19th Century America

I had looked forward to delving into this work of Bunyan. I had known for some time that Pilgrim’s Progress was the second most popular book in the 19th Century for those moving into the American West. On wagon trains and clipper ships, the Bible was the number one book people had in their possessions. If they had a second book, unless you were Samuel Clemens, the book was most often Pilgrim’s Progress. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, wrote a humorous piece about hauling a dictionary across the continent.[7]

Christian’s journey

Pilgrim’s Progress begins with the story of Christian, who becomes convicted the city in which he lives (aptly named “Destruction”) is about to be destroyed. No one wants to listen to him talk about what’s to happen. He’s mocked by friends and family. So, he decides to flee. He leaves on a pilgrimage to the Celestial City, to God’s kingdom. While he abandons his family, he begins his trip with two friends. But they quickly leave him. His travels are often solo or with just one companion, such as Faithful, who is martyred along the way… 

Obstacles to overcome

Christian must overcome many obstacles to reach God’s kingdom. In the second half of the book, Christian’s wife Christina and his children make their way to the city, following Christian’s example. Unlike Christian, who is often alone, they travel in a group and while they have their own trials, they make the journey with less trouble than their father, who has become an encouragement to other pilgrims. 

The reader of Pilgrim’s Progress comes away with the impression the Christian life is one of constant challenges and temptations. Nothing is easy about the pilgrim’s journey, but the hope of the eternal city keeps the pilgrim moving forward and making the right decisions. 

Pilgrim’s Progress and the ending petition

The ending of the Lord’s Prayer captures Pilgrim’s plight. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The language here is stark. Deliver us could also be “snatch us”[8] as if we’re about to walk off a cliff. Metaphorically that’s what we’re about to do when evil confronts us. 

Early in his pilgrimage, Christian is caught in the Slough of Despond. In this prayer, temptation is the pit or slough where we find ourselves stuck when caught in sin. And the evil one is the power that draws us into the pit.[9]

Evil forces in the world

This prayer reminds us that there are forces in the world who challenge us and seek to keep us from faithfully following Jesus. And prayer challenges those powers. As Karl Barth, the great 20th Century theologian, said, “To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”[10]

Prayer is where we start. Before we do anything else, we need to be sure we are on God’s side. This prayer helps us do because it refocuses us, away from our petty concerns, and toward God. Before we set out to save the world, which isn’t our job by the way, we should pray. We pray because we see dimly in this world,[11] and we need God to light or direct our way.

Subtle temptations

Temptations can be so subtle. Often temptations are good gifts but are not used in the manner intended. When anything moves between us and God, the good is tainted. And the evil one knows this, which is why he makes temptations seductive. So, we ask God to help us as we navigate this life. We only have glimpses of the holy, of God’s plan and glory. But we move forward, through the fog, in faith, praying and holding out to the hope we have in Jesus.

Lack of community

One of the things that struck me in my recent study of Pilgrim’s Progress was the lack of community.[12] Christian is often on his own. I’m afraid this aspect of Bunyan’s book has been detrimental on American Christianity. The book’s popularity in our early history tempted the church to deemphasize community over the individual. 

A theologian friend of mine has suggested the Achilles tendon of the Reformed Tradition is our lack of understanding of ecclesiology.[13] That is, by focusing on the individual, we don’t have a good understanding of the church and how it is to help us grow disciples. This over-emphasis on the individual may stretch back to the Puritans, of which John Bunyan was one. But in Scripture, as we see in this prayer, the focus is most often on the community. We need to regain a sense of how the Christian community works to draw us closer to Christ. 

Lord’s Prayer is based on community

The Lord’s prayer is not about the individual. It always pulls us from our individual concerns to the concerns of others. We don’t pray, “Save me,” but “Save us.” The community, the church, is to be there to help us when we falter along the way. While we look for God’s guidance as we are tempted or challenged by evil, we are also to be supported by other godly people. We have two hands and should hold God in one and God’s people in the other. 

It is interesting that Jesus’ begins his prayers with a focus on God as Father, and ends this prayer on a downer, talking about the evil or the “evil one.” We can give him a name, “Satan.” Perhaps this why a doxology is added onto the prayer. However, as we see, most Bibles don’t have this doxology. If you’ve worshipped in a Catholic Church you’ll know they don’t say it. I found this out the hard way when I was a student pastor and participating at a Thanksgiving service at St. Mary’s of the Mountain Catholic Church in Virginia City. I continued to pray, along with a handful of Presbyterians, while the rest of the congregation ended their prayer early.

Ending doxology

The doxology was found in texts dated to around the 10thCentury.[14] It’s found in the King James Version, but even then, it was known that this passage may not have been original. John Calvin admits such in his writings.[15] Today, as it is not found in any of the older manuscripts, translations leave out the doxology. However, thanks to the King James Version, the phrase has been adopted by us liturgically. After all, who wants to end a prayer with the focus on Satan?

Why might this doxology have been added? One suggestion is that the prayer ends so ruggedly so we might continue with our own prayers. This is kind of like how I write my pastoral prayers. Generally, on Sunday mornings, as I watch a new day emerge out of the darkness, I write a paragraph or two. Then, we when we come to the prayer, based on shared joys and concerns and how I’m feeling, I finish praying “off the cuff.” 

In favor of the doxology

Personally, I don’t think we should get rid of the doxology even though it’s not in scripture. Instead, it concludes this prayer in a “shout out” to Almighty God: thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.[16] But if you want to pray the prayer as it is found in the gospels, do so and tack your own prayers of praise at the end.

Conclusion

I hope you have learned something about prayer over the past six weeks. If I was to quickly summarize the highlights of this prayer of Jesus, I’d say it focuses us on God, on our necessities and the necessities of others, and to our need for God’s protection and the fellowship with other believers. Amen. 


[1] This is the example of one such article to come out of Jeopardy-gate: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jeopardy-paul-hebrews/

[2] Both the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms have six petitions. These are found in the Presbyterian Church USA, The Book of Confessions (Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly, 2018). The same is true for John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559, Ford Lewis Battles translation), III xx.

[3] Martin Luther, “Large Catechism,” Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 433-435

[4] See https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/686/

[5] The Greek early Church fathers mostly divided the prayer into six (two sets of three, and Matthew often uses sets of three in his gospel). However, Augustine along with Lutherans and Catholics use the “perfect” seven sets. Fredrick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2004), 293.

[6] In addition to reading Pilgrim’s Progress and listening to it on Audible, I also read Robert Maguire, D.D., Commentary on John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (1863, Minneapolis, MN: Curiosmith, 2009).

[7] Mark Twain, Roughing It (1871: Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993), 18-19.

[8] Bruner, 314

[9] Bruner, 314.

[10] As quoted by William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach US: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 109.

[11] 1 Corinthians 13:12.

[12] My other concern is the apparent lack of grace that is seen in Pilgrim’s Progress.

[13] Ecclesiology is the study of the church. Dr. Jack Stewart, formerly a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and I have discussed this several times.  As a scholar of Charles Hodge, Stewart points out that Hodge had planned but never completed a fourth volume of his systematic theology that would have been on ecclesiology. 

[14] Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Anchor Books, 2001), 242, 244.

[15] Calvin, Institutes, III xx 47. 

[16] Willimon and Hauerwas, 98.

Early evenings, bare trees, and steely skies. Winter comes.

“Forgive our debts” The Lord’s Prayer, Part 5

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 13, 2022
The Lord’s Prayer, Part 5
Matthew 6:9-15, 18: 23-35

Sermon recorded on Friday, November 11, 2022, at Bluemont Presbyterian Church

At the beginning of worship:

I came across a quote this week that struck me. “The worst thing is not being wrong but being sure one is not wrong.”[1] Let that sink in. “Being sure we are not wrong.” Why is that so bad? Because we often fail to see or understand our sinfulness. It’s easy to see sin in others, but harder to see it in ourselves. But one day, we’ll all stand before God’s throne. And we will all stand in need of forgiveness. But we don’t like to forgive, do we? We’re going to talk about this today. 

Before reading today’s scripture

Today we’re looking at the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. 

Debts or Trespasses

Historically, those of us in the Reformed Tradition, including Presbyterians, have always said debts and debtors. When I say the Lord’s Prayer at a funeral or an ecumenical gathering, I just quietly say debts knowing I’ll be drowned out by those who say trespasses. I am not sure why others—from Roman Catholics to most Protestants—say trespasses. 

In preparation for this sermon series, one of the books I read was by two Methodists, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas. I thought they might enlighten me, as the Methodists say trespasses. Instead, they admitted that while there is a long history of saying trespasses in the prayer, it’s not what’s in the Bible.[2] Maybe this is the one thing we get right.

If you look at almost all English translations of the Lord’s Prayer from the King James Version on, the Greek is translated as debts. Now, right after the prayer, as we’ll see, Jesus speaks of trespasses. But not in the prayer. In the prayer as recorded in Luke’s gospel, Jesus uses the words for sin and for debts.[3] I think there is a reason for the use of debts, for we are all in debt to God. 

Read Matthew 6:9-15 & 18:23-35

The Swamp Fox

I have been listening to John Oller’s, The Swamp Fox, an audible book this week.[4] The Swamp Fox was Francis Marion. A Revolutionary War hero from South Carolina, Marion did his best to be a thorn in the side of the British and Loyalists. This was especially true as Britain began its Southern Strategy in 1780, with the hopes of gathering loyalists and moving north to trap George Washington and his army. During this period, Marion destroyed British supply routes between the coast and the upland. As Cornwallis’ army moved north, it was ill prepared for what they would face and eventually they became trapped. Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, and the war ended. 

South Carolina during the Revolutionary Way

During the war, South Carolina had more engagements than any other colony and was the bloodiest theater. But in many ways, the Revolutionary War in South Carolina wasn’t so much a war against Britain, but a Civil War. While there were a few British regulars in South Carolina, much of the combat occurred between loyalists and patriots. At the time, these two groups were also known as the Torys and the Whigs. They were merciless toward the other. And sometimes, spats between neighbors determined which side one was on. 

When a patriot did something to his neighbor, his neighbor became a loyalist and fought for Britain. This also went the other way, too. The armies burned homes of their enemies, and often killed their prisoners. Marion supposedly detested such behavior and was willing to court-martial his own soldiers when they behaved in such a manner. But he had his hands full. Because of the animosity between groups, after the war, most loyalists migrated to Canada or back across the sea. 

South Carolina was not a good place in the Revolution

South Carolina would not have been a good place to live in the late 1770s and early 1780s. (I’m not sure it’s any better today, but I’ll leave it at that and not include more of my North Carolina bias). But I hope you can you see how the lack of forgiveness leads to chaos. The home of one side was burned, someone else burns a home of someone on the other side of the conflict. I think it was Gandhi (at least in the movie) who said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” 

What’s So Amazing About Grace?

In his book What’s So Amazing about Grace, Philip Yancey says grace is the best gift the church has given the world. But two pages later, he also acknowledges that the church often communicates ungrace to the world.[5] When we in the church fail to grant forgiveness, we don’t appear graceful!

Physical needs before forgiveness

As we saw last week, Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer, first takes care of our physical needs. “Give us our daily bread,” is the first petition that concerns us directly. Then, on its heels, Jesus addresses the human condition.[6] We are a sinful people. Not only do we need to eat, but we also need forgiveness. And we need to forgive others. It’s the only way we can break the cycle of vengeance that is too prevalent in our world today. 

Forgiveness is difficult

But face it, forgiveness is hard.[7] And it’s not very popular. Many churches forego prayers of confession, which I think is one of the most important prayers we have. After all, where else can we find forgiveness. It’s the one unique thing the church has to the offer the world. Lots of what the church does can be done by other groups, and in many cases, they can do it better. But Jesus gave the church the keys to the kingdom.[8] We have the right to proclaim the forgiveness of sin that can only come through Jesus Christ. No other group has that kind of gift that is so desperately needed in our world today.

We are debtors!

This prayer assumes we have debts. This may have come from an old concept where, when we sin, a notation is made into a ledger indicating the debt we now owe. And debts need to be repaid. It’s the only way the books can balance. Yet, we are all guilty. In other words, we are all debtors. As Paul writes, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”[9] Our debt may be from that which we have done which is against God or against neighbor. And it may be that which we left undone but should have done. There’s a ledger book for us all and it’s filled with sins of commission and omission.

Forgiveness is not cheap

Sin is serious and forgiveness is not cheap. Jesus paid the price for our sin, enabling us to be forgiven. The only way we can be forgiven is for God to wipe out our debt.

Forgiveness with a caveat

But this forgiveness comes with a caveat. While we are forgiven by God through Christ, in our striving to be more “Christ-like,” we are to be forgiving others who have done wrong to us. We don’t do this to obtain forgiveness. Instead, we forgive graciously, knowing what God has done for us. When we act in this manner, we break that cycle of revenge that threatens to tear our world apart. First God forgives us, then we are to go and do likewise and forgive others. 

When we forgive someone who’s wronged us, it’s like throwing “a monkey wrench into the eternal wheel of retribution and revenge.”[10] But it’s the only way forward. As C. S. Lewis once said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”[11]

Matthew 1

As we heard in our reading from Matthew 18, Jesus told a frightening parable about this. A man owed and obscene amount of money to his king. 10,000 talents. Each talent was worth 15 years of wages, so this man would never be able to pay unless he lived 150,000 years. We’re talking about a debt as great as what Elon Musk borrowed to buy Twitter. Now the king wants to clear his accounts. Unable to do so, the man and his family are to be sold into slavery. He begs his creditor, the king, for forgiveness. Surprisingly, the king relents and forgives. 

But the man who was forgiven such a great sum, was unwilling to forgive another who owed him 100 denarii, or the equivalent of 100 days of work. The one forgiven the obscene amount wasn’t willing to forgive the one who owed a fraction of what he owed. And the king in the story, who represents God, is furious when he learns about this ingratitude. We don’t want God furious at us, do we?

All of us need forgiveness and to be forgivin

We stand in need of forgiveness, but we must also be willing to forgive. Failing to forgive, the cycle of revenge will only grow and eventually lead to our destruction. The good news is that God forgives us. Accept this incredible gift and strive to let others also experience this gift. For when we forgive, we are displaying a central characteristic of a loving and gracious God. And may we do it all so that God will have the glory. Amen. 

c2022


[1] The quote is attributed to Paul Tournier, The Whole Person in a Broken World. It was posted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Brian_Scoles/status/1590754738794270720

[2] William H. Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 79. 

[3] Luke 10:4. 

[4] John Oller, The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, Joe Barrett, narrator (2016).

[5] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 30, 32. 

[6] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 309. 

[7] While I didn’t want to go down this path in this sermon, one of the problems I have with dispensationalism is that some theologians who hold such beliefs see the difficult teachings of Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount applying not to the present but to a future dispensation. This concept makes the commands in Jesus’ sermon easier for us to “ignore” in the present age because they are too hard, instead of seeing them as a goal which we may not successfully reach, but should still attempt.  See John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (1991) or Bruner, 310.

[8] Matthew 16:19. 

[9] Romans 3:23.

[10] Willimon and Hauerwas, 84. 

[11] This quote was quoted in What’s So Amazing about Grace?  See Yancey, 64. 

Saturday evening, looking toward the Buffalo at sunset

“Give us this day our daily bread.” The Lord’s Prayer, Part 4

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
November 6, 2022
The Lord’s Prayer, Part 4
Matthew 6:7-13 and 4:3-4

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, November 4, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

We don’t like to be dependent on anyone other than ourselves or perhaps our spouses. It’s the American way. Pull yourselves up by our bootstraps, be independent. But there’s a problem with such thinking. It runs counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In all things, we are dependent on the providence of a loving God. And we live in an economy that demands we depend on others. Could you make your own car or build your own road? But today, I want us to consider God’s providence.

We owe where we are in life to God. Think about it, we could have just as easily been born in Ethiopia or Ukraine. We could have been born with a birth defect or learning disability, contracted a terrible disease at an early age, had horrific parents, or been run over by a truck. Some of you may have experienced such, but even then, God sticks with us. If God was not present, where would we be? When we consider the blessings received in this life, most of us should be humbled. Look for the blessings you have and be grateful.

Before the reading of scripture:

As we continue to look at Lord’s Prayer, let me say a little more about this prayer as it appears in Matthew’s gospel. First, the prayer is almost exactly in the center of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. If you look at this sermon in the Greek, which runs three chapters in the gospel, there are 116 lines before the prayer and 114 after it.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus said a lot about prayer. Prayer is central to Jesus’ teachings. 

Jesus begins this prayer saying, “So you should pray like this.” For some reason, the New Revised Standard Version (along with some others), leave out the “You,” but in the Greek, Matthew emphasizes it. Jesus says his followers are to pray like this (this is the You in this sentence). We’re not to pray like those in other faith traditions. Nor is prayer just about putting in an order for stuff. We are to pray like Jesus.

A second point is that this prayer is given as a model. It’s not the law. We don’t have to pray these words, exactly. Instead, this prayer becomes a template for our prayers. “You should pray likethis.”[1]

The fourth petition

Today, we’re looking at the fourth petition of this prayer. Remember, the Lord’s prayer can be divided into two equal parts. The first three petitions praise God and reorients us toward God. The second three petitions are about our needs. The first is for our daily bread. Jesus is interested in our well-being. We ask for bread even before forgiveness, which indicates the importance of our physical health. The word bread, in how it is used here, implies more than something made with wheat (which should be good news for any of you who may be gluten intolerant). 

While the word translated as bread literally means food, here it probably also refers to all we need to survive. And note, we ask for bread, not cake. We can be thankful when we’re given cake but should be satisfied with bread. We ask God to provide the basics, day in and day out.[2]

 I am again reading the prayer from Matthew’s gospel along with a short passage from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4. 

Read Matthew 6:9-13 and 4:3-4.

My work in a baker

I’ve shared with you before that I spent five years working in a wholesale bakery. I started there as a summer job, between my freshman and sophomore years of college. And I stayed on for a while. You know, there are plenty of jokes about working in the bakery. People say such things as “you must be rolling in the dough,” which isn’t the case literally or figuratively. 

The bakery industry involves tough work in a difficult business climate. Because bread goes bad fast, it must arrive fresh in the stores almost every day.[3] Once I became a supervisor, I was on call always unless I was on vacation.

Daily bread and the wholesale bakery

Give us our daily bread, we pray. This took on a whole new meaning when daily bread was being shipped out in a dozen tractor trailers each evening. Or, as happened once, when we ran out of flour, we kept looking down the railroad tracks for the train bringing the hopper car full of flour, that was a day late. Even in modern times, there is no guarantee of daily bread.

The bakery was never idle more than one day at a time. Starting around midnight on Saturday night and going through late afternoon Sunday, we’d bake what was shipped out late Sunday afternoon and evening. Smaller trucks took the bread to stores where it was fresh on the shelves early Monday morning. The plant was shut down on Tuesday and Saturday, which was when our deep cleaning occurred. And if you had a breakdown, you worked until you got the product out because if it wasn’t on the shelves, the customer would buy another brand. 

Short shelf life for things on earth

This prayer, “give us our daily bread,” reminds us that things on earth have a short shelf-life. There is some debate over this petition as to if we’re asking for heavenly bread (as in the banquet in God’s kingdom) or bread to sustain our bodies on earth. Both are important, but I go with the later. If we don’t have food, we die. Surely, we are to store up our treasures in heaven, as Jesus recommends. Jesus acknowledges that there is a danger of accumulating even solid things on earth, which over time will rust away, or be consumed by moths, or stolen.[4]

But Jesus also realizes that we need to eat. That’s why he fed the multitudes, a miracle found in all four of the gospels.[5] And it’s also why the church’s mission from the beginning has been to feed people.  

Jesus, the “Bread from Heaven” also fed peopl

Yes, Jesus says he’s the “bread of life,” which we find in John’s gospel.[6] But Jesus never says that we don’t need anything else. He fed the 5,000 because they were hungry. But Jesus didn’t want people to depend on him for just physical bread when he could give so much more. 

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to turn a stone into bread, as we heard in our readings, he said one doesn’t not live by bread alone. Notice, he didn’t say, one does not live by bread! It goes without saying that we need food and the necessities of life. 

Such gifts we ask daily from God; otherwise, by hoarding, we may begin to think that we’re in charge of our abundance and see no need for God. We’d be like the guy in the parable who wanted to build larger barns, only to die before he could enjoy their benefits.[7]

Communal aspects of bread

Yet, no one wants stale bread. And moldy bread isn’t good for us. Of course, today there are options such as freezing bread and pulling it out when needed, but that wasn’t the case in Jesus’ day.[8] Bread was baked daily. Bread is also an example of a communal dependance on one another.[9] Also notice, we pray for “OUR bread,” not “MY bread.” 

The baker depends on the farmer to grow the grain. Grain is hauled a great distance, even in Biblical times. Think of Joseph’s brothers taking grain from Egypt back to Canaan to feed their families.[10] Before the baker can use the grain, a miller grounds it into flour. And the flour needs to be used soon or bugs begin to grow in it. If the baker in Jesus’ day was in a city, he’d have to have hire someone to bring him firewood for the oven. 

Bread, something we take for granted, requires a whole village. Few people can do all it takes to prepare bread, and if we could do all it takes, from growing grain to grinding, to kneading and preparing fires for baking, we’d have no time to do anything else.

Luther’s interpretation of this petition

In his catechism, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said that when we pray for our ‘daily bread,’ we are asking for everything necessary to have and enjoy our bread. Luther has a good point here. At the same time, Luther continues, we ask for protection from everything which would interfere with us enjoying our bread.[11]

In his little book, A Simple Way to Pray, which Luther wrote for his barber, he includes a prayer based on this petition which thanks God for blessing our temporal and physical lives. Then Luther strangely continues, “Graciously grant us blessed peace. Protect us against war and disorder. Grant our dear emperor fortune and success against his enemies…”[12]

War and bread prices

It may seem strange to pray for peace when praying for our daily bread, but perhaps, if you’ve been following world news, you’ll understand. Bread, even in ancient days, wasn’t something people took for granted. In Jesus’ day, much of the grain that fed Rome came from North Africa. War has a way of disturbing transportation arteries, making wheat and other food stuff more and more expensive. 

We’re seeing this now with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine is one of the world’s breadbaskets. A large percentage of the world’s grain and vegetable oil, especially in the poorer regions of African and the populated cities of Asia, come from Ukraine. If all a sudden the world lost 42% of its sunflower oil, 16% of its maize, 10% of its barley, and 9% of its wheat, which is the share of these products supplied by Ukraine in 2019, people will suffer.[13]Grain is a commodity. Producers sell commodities where they can get the highest price. Therefore, a war thousands of miles away affects prices in our grocery stores. 

Conclusion

So, after reorienting our lives toward God, we ask God to care for us. We don’t pray to be indulged with goods or supplied with rich foods. Instead, we ask, day by day, for what we need to get by so we might enjoy this good world in which God allows us to live. And, as this prayer reminds us, we don’t pray, “give me” but “give us.” We want everyone to have enough that their stomachs might be satisfied. This prayer not only orients us on God; it also focuses us on the needs of our neighbors.

I hope you see this petition in a new way. First, we’re not just asking for our own needs, but for everyone’s need. Second, we ask this prayer daily, for we continue to need to be reoriented toward a gracious God from whom all good things flow.  Amen. 


[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 292-293.

[2] Bruner, 306-308. For a detailed discussion of the word used for bread, see James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 334-335. 

[3] When I worked in the bakery (1976-81) bread only stayed on the shelves three days. After a week, it would often mold. Today, it appears that bakers are using better preservatives than were available then, as a loaf of bread often last two weeks in our house.

[4] Matthew 6:19-21.

[5] Matthew 14:12-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-15.

[6] John 6:35. John 6:35-59 discusses the crowd’s desire for more bread, but Jesus had already fed them when they were hungry and now wants them to seek not just temporal benefits but spiritual benefits of believing in him. 

[7] Luke 12:16-21.

[8] When I was working in the bakery in the late 1970s and early 80s, flash freezing was just coming into use. Unlike slow freezing, flash freezing keeps the dream from losing taste while frozen and when it thaws it is still fresh. I’m sure this is used even more today in the industry. 

[9] William H. Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 76.

[10] Genesis 42.

[11] Martin Luther, “Larger Catechism,” The Book of Concord (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 430.

[12] Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray (Louisville, KY: W/JKP, 2000), 25. 

[13] Figures from the BBC, “How Much Grain Has Been Shipped from Ukraine?”, November 3, 2022.

Photo taken on Wednesday, November 2, at Rocky Knob. Our leaves are going fast!

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 3: Thy Will Be Done

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 30, 2022
The Lord’s Prayer, Part 3, “Thy will be done”
Matthew 6:9-13, 26:36-46

The sermon was recorded in worship at Bluemont today (Sunday, October 30, 2022)

Before reading the scripture:

We continue to explore the Lord’s Prayer today, as we look at the third petition. As I suggested over the past two weeks, this prayer begins by reorienting us toward God. The first three petitions all focus on God, not us. 

The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments

These petitions parallel the first table of the law. The first four commandments—which deal with not making or worshipping idols, not misusing God’s name, and keeping the Sabbath—all focus on our relationship with God.[1] Likewise, the second half of the prayer focus on our needs roughly parallel the second half of the Ten Commandments. 

Calvin on the Lord’s Prayer

John Calvin, in writing about this prayer, notes that the beginning reminds us to keep God’s glory before our eyes. We’re not to look for advantages for ourselves. Instead, we want God’s Spirit to govern our hearts and teach us to love the things that please God.[2]

Again, I will read the prayer from Matthew’s gospel, followed by the passage of Jesus praying in Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal.

Read Matthew 6:9-13 and Matthew 23:36-46

Friendly bantering and contempt

I have friends who are college football fans. Those in the SEC can be a little fanatical. Yesterday, the University of Georgia and the University of Florida met on the gridiron. All this week my Twitter feed has been clogged with their back-and-forth banter about the big game. Now it’s all over and I can get back to looking at pictures of nature and dogs. And congratulations to the Georgia Bulldogs. 

But now I’m starting to see similar bantering between Astros and Phillies fans as the World Series kicks off. It never ends. We are so sure of our side, which can be fun when it’s just a game… but when we take things too seriously and start demonizing others in real life, seeing our opinions as Gods and theirs as Satanic, we’ve crossed a line. In such cases, we develop an unhealthy case of contempt for others, which can be even more harmful to us than to those we perceive as enemies.[3]

Lincoln’s Second Inauguration 

Dawn broke on March 4, 1865 with rain and storms. Early in the afternoon, dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit (a company which until a few days ago I didn’t realize existed back then), Abraham Lincoln stepped out of the porch of the unfinished capitol to deliver his second inaugural address.[4] It was a short speech, especially for inaugural addresses, but one peppered with theological and Biblical references. 

This brief speech by a President who never joined a church is considered the most theological of all presidential inaugural addresses. In roughly 700 words, Lincoln tries to frame an understanding to what the country had endured in the Civil War while offering a vision for a better future.

A little over half-way through, he said: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” Sound familiar? We gotta be careful in claiming God to be on our side.

Lincoln continues, hinting at his own convictions: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” 

God’s will may be different

The Almighty has His own purposes… Ponder these words… Then Lincoln continues: 

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away… Yet, if God wills that it continues until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Lincoln then offered a vision for a hopeful future as he closed and as the sun broke through the clouds: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”[5]

Humble Abe

Honest Abe. He may have been the last of the honest politicians. While he felt he was on the right side, he was not going to second guess God. He always allowed for the possibility that in some things he would be wrong. When he first entered politics, his moniker was “Humble Abe,” and he lived up to it. 

“Your will be done” is not a natural prayer

“Your will be done on earth as in heaven…” we’re taught to pray. Like Lincoln admitting that he may not be completely right, I don’t think praying for God’s will be done is a natural prayer. We seem to think we know what is right and what should be done. But do we? Are we willing to so surrender to God that we give up our own beliefs and desires? We must be taught to pray this prayer. Otherwise, our prayers will only focus on our wants and needs. 

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we witness the humanity of Jesus as he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” The cup is a metaphor for death. Think of the agony facing our Savior. He’s leaving behind his disciples who are unable to support him in his time of need. He knows that as the sun rises in the morning he’ll face the worse sort of torture, punishment, and eventually death. 

Matthew doesn’t show us a Jesus heroically marching to his death. Jesus in the garden depicts a normal man. He’s full of fear and anxiety.[6] No one would want to endure what Jesus faced. But Jesus ends his prayer with a humble acknowledgement, “yet, not what I want but what you want.” “Thy will be done.”

A bold prayer

Praying as Jesus taught, as one of my professors said in a commentary on this passage, “can be costly when a serious decision is being contemplated.”[7] Are we so bold? Are we willing to accept God’s will and to seek it in our lives? If we believe God is with us, we can endure anything, but that requires faith. 

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, understood us to pray in the first petition for pure teaching. In the second petition, we seek trust in this teaching. And in the third petition, we ask for perseverance to carry out God’s will.[8]

The “postscript” to the first half of the prayer

The first “table” of the prayer, focuses on God, ends with a postscript. This can grammatically be applied to all the first three petitions. “As on earth as in heaven” goes for the hallowing of God’s name, the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, and God’s will being done. Think of it this way: all three petitions are already done in heaven. We don’t ask to be snatched up from earth, but for what’s happening in heaven to come to earth.

Nor in praying this prayer, do we ask God to help us do these things. While implied, we leave it up to God to determine how. We ask God, by whatever means God determines, to fulfill these three requests.[9]

I’ve already alluded to in this series,[10] heaven and earth are to be brought together. This happens at the end of Revelation.[11] We pray for it to be fulfilled.

Conclusion

In this prayer, we trust that God is good and will give us what we need. In praying this petition, the focus is on God and not us. Instead of demanding what we want from God, we position or reorient ourselves to accept and to do God’s will in our lives. Amen.


[1] Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:1-22

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559, Ford Lewis Battles’ translation), III.xx.43.

[3] For a study on the impact of contempt, see Arthur C. Brooks, Love your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (HarperRow, 2019). For my review on this book, see https://fromarockyhillside.com/2019/04/love-your-enemies/.   

[4] For the weather and the “Brooks Brother’s coat, see the prologue in John Meachan, And There was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle (New York: Random House, 2022), xxiv.

[5] For a detailed exegesis of this speech, see Ronald C. White, Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002).

[6] Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew: Interpretation, a Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 300-301.

[7] Hare, 302. 

[8] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 304. 

[9] Ibid, 304-5.

[10] See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/10/the-lords-prayer-thy-will-be-done/

[11] Revelation 20 & 21.

Mayberry Church Road at the intersection of Maple Swamp Road, October 25, 2022

The Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come”

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 23, 2022,
The Lord’s Prayer, Part 2
Matthew 6:9-13, 22:1-10

At the beginning of worship:

In his book on the church, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that we are called by God into the church. This call extends to us before we ever enter the community’s common life. Therefore, we enter “not as demanders, but as thankful recipients.”[1]

Gratitude is a quality all Christians should have, but we live in a fallen state which causes us to create our own idols and to follow the wrong path. Therefore, we need to foster gratitude and one way we do this is to pray like Jesus. The opening of the Lord’s Prayer, as we saw last week and will continue to explore today, begins by reorienting our lives toward God. Prayer is not about us demanding from God what we want; it begins with us responding to God’s gracefulness with gratitude and thanksgiving.

Before reading the Scriptures:

Last week we began our look at the Lord’s Prayer with the Lukan version. This week, we’re going to look at the prayer from Matthew’s gospel, which is a little different. Both prayers are short, but Matthew adds a few more words and petitions to his prayer. Both gospels have the second petition, “your kingdom come.” If you remember from last week, I’m working through each of the petitions of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray. 

Kingdom is a political term

Kingdom is a political term. The “United Kingdom” came about with the merger of England and Wales with Scotland. A kingdom is an area under the control of a king or a government. This is true for God’s kingdom, too. Except that God’s kingdom encompasses all earthly kingdoms and the cosmos itself. For God is sovereign over all, including those in rebellion. 

But God’s kingdom is different

You know, we got this war going on in Ukraine, where Russia tries to impose its rule. Russia wants to assume power over another nation, bring it under its control. That’s how kingdoms work here on earth. While God already has such power, our God doesn’t work within human constraints. God has this crazy way of making the weak strong, the last being the first, death resurrecting into life. God’s kingdom will be fulfilled, but God’s ways are not our ways. God’s time doesn’t equate to our time. And God’s politics are not our politics. Instead, the old life and the old ways must give way to God’s method.  

Leaning into God’s future

Our prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” is our way of leaning into God’s future, of longing for God to fulfill history so that we’re all under the lordship of Jesus Christ. There is an eschatological element in this prayer. While we can prepare ourselves, we can’t bring about God’s kingdom on our own. And if we assume we can do so, we are mistaking our desires for God’s will. This is the problem with Christian nationalism (which in my opinion isn’t Christian). Only God can bring about God’s kingdom.[2]

Today, I am going to read the Lord’s Prayer from the 6th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. In addition, I’ll also read a parable of the kingdom found in Matthew 22. 

Read Matthew 6:9-13 and Matthew 22:1-10

Martin Luther addresses the second petition of the prayer with a story about a poor beggar. A rich and mighty emperor invites this beggar to ask for whatever he desires, promising that he was willing to give the beggar great and princely gifts. The beggar being hungry yet foolish, only asks for a bowl of broth. Luther suggests the beggar is rightly considered a rogue and a scoundrel who mocks his imperial majesty’s command and is unworthy to come into his presence. Imagine how we dishonor God when we are invited to ask for such wonderous gifts and only seek something for our stomach.[3] And what more of a blessing can we ask for than experiencing God’s peaceful kingdom?

This prayer is not about us

“Thy kingdom come” reminds us early in the prayer that this is not all about us. Our lives are first about God, who gives us every breath. And we focus our prayer first, not on what we desire or think we need, but on God’s promises. 

This morning, we opened with a call to worship taken from Isaiah 65. At the end of Isaiah, God has the prophet proclaim a new peaceful kingdom. Jesus, himself, speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth, interprets Isaiah’s envision kingdom in his own life.[4]But how does this kingdom come about?  As N. T. Wright asks in a commentary on this prayer, “How can the Prince of Peace defeat evil if he has to abandon Peace itself in order to do so?”[5]

The coming of God’s kingdom

This request for God’s kingdom to come was answered at Easter. God triumphed over evil. God’s love for the world shined through the wickedness of an empire that put to death an innocent man. As Wright goes on to say, “in the unique life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the whole cosmos has turned the corner from darkness to light.”[6]

How Jesus fulfills prayer

Wright offers two metaphors as ways of thinking of how Jesus fulfils this prayer. He’s a medical genius who invents a wonder drug like penicillin. We are the doctors, who are both healed by this drug and then use it to heal others. The second is that Jesus is a musical genius who writes the greatest musical score of all times. And we are the musicians who perform this work before the world. 

Wright concludes his thoughts on these metaphors writing: “The kingdom did indeed come with Jesus; but it will fully come when the world is healed, when the whole creation finally joins in the song. But it must be Jesus’ medicine; it must be Jesus’ music. And the only way to be sure is to pray his prayer.”[7]

So, when we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we not only want God’s kingdom to be fully realized, but we also imply we’ll do our part. 

Parable of the Kingdom: The Wedding Banquet

The parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22, which I read, speaks of God’s coming kingdom. The banquet is for the wedding of the son, whom we can identify as Jesus. In fact, the wedding imagery plays out through scripture, with Christ being the bridegroom, as earth and heaven are brought together in a marriage union.[8] In this parable, the king’s friends offend him by refusing to honor his son. In response, the king opens this banquet up to those normally not invited to such functions. Come, and enjoy the party, he says to us.  Or, if we’re already in, God sends us out to invite others. 

The Kingdom of God is a party in which unlikely people, those like us who don’t belong, are invited out of divine generosity. Jesus makes it possible for us to attend. As one commentor noted, this is why the church can be a real pain. Jesus invites all kinds of reprobates to the party.[9] The church consists of those called by Jesus, not chosen by us. Instead of looking around and complaining, we should be honored and thankful we’re included.

We don’t wait idly for the kingdom

While only God can bring about his kingdom, and we’re to wait and have patience, we don’t idly wait on the sidelines. God’s kingdom is not just something in our hearts. It involves a reversal of the way things work in the world. Yet, we still have our own internal work we can be doing. John Calvin writes that “God sets up his Kingdom by humbling the world, but in different ways.” Some of us he tames, others he breaks our pride.[10]

While God’s kingdom for which we long is communal, it also involves our internal work. We should invite God to help us examine ourselves so that we make daily progress in becoming more Christ-like and worthy of the Kingdom. We must draw back from worldly corruption and visions of kingdoms that reflect our values and not God’s. 

Conclusion

So, we pray for God’s kingdom, and we strive to be worthy of it. We do this knowing we’re like the bystanders invited into the wedding party. We are not worthy of inclusion on our own, but only because of the graciousness of our Savior Jesus Christ. May his name be forever praised and may we truly long for God’s kingdom to come upon a healed earth. Amen. 


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship, John W. Doberstein, translator (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954), 28.

[2] For an understanding of Christian Nationalism and its dangers check out “The Resilient Pastor” podcast with Russell Moore on Christian Nationalism and Public Theology: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/11-russell-moore-on-christian-nationalism-public-theology/id1607415483?i=1000579340759  The discussion on Christian Nationalism begins around 23 minutes. 

[3] Martin Luther, “Larger Catechism,” The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 426.  

[4] Luke 4:16-21. 

[5] N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 15.

[6] Wright, 17.

[7] Wright, 18. 

[8] See Revelation 19:7-9, 21:1-2.

[9] William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville; Abingdon, 1996), 59.

[10] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Battle’s translation, 1559 edition), III.xx.42.

the leaves of a hickory tree shows their brilliance yesterday afternoon

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
October 16, 2022
“Lord, teach us to pray: The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1”
Luke 11:1-4

Thoughts at the beginning of worship

It’s good to be back with you this morning. While gone I did a lot of reading including Winn Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson. Starting back in seminary, I began reading Peterson’s writings and have found them insightful. Peterson, who died a few years ago, is best known as the translator of The Messageversion of the Bible. Before that, he primarily wrote for pastors and his writings display a pastor’s heart. 

My preaching plan between now and Advent is to focus on the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer is one of our primary responsibilities as disciples and we’ve been talking about discipleship a lot. Through prayer, we develop a relationship with the Almighty. The Lord’s Prayer is a logical place to start teaching prayer. In Collier’s biography of Peterson, I found myself encouraged in this task as Peterson envisioned two essentials for a pastor’s job description: teaching people to pray and to have a good death.[1] As you can image, I have more personal experience with the first. I do try to pray and haven’t yet died. But if any of you need to talk about a good death, I’ll be here for you. We can learn together. 

John Calvin on Prayer

Today and for the next six weeks, I’ll discuss what it means to pray? Some might ask if God knows all, who are we to pray and to tell God what we need? John Calvin dealt with this question. 

Calvin begins his discussion on prayer, which he calls the chief exercise of faith, with an acknowledgment that we don’t have all we need. In other words, we’re not self-sufficient. So, we are instructed by faith to realize that “whatever we need and lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in who the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide, so that we might draw from it as an overflowing spring.” “God “the master and bestower of all good things” invites us into prayer.[2]

Before the Reading of Scripture:

The prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer can be found two places in Scripture, in the gospels of Matthew and in Luke.[3]Both are short prayers, especially when compared to other known prayers of the time and from the Old Testament. In the Greek, Matthew’s prayer contains only 58 words. Luke, as we’re going to hear today, is even shorter at 38 words.[4] As a comparison, my pastoral prayers tend to run 300 to 400 words. Maybe I should be a bit more concise. After all, Jesus does condemn the long rambling prayers of the Scribes.[5]

However, we know Jesus’ prayers were often longer than the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus spent the night in prayer up on the mountain before he appointed the disciples.[6] He prayed long enough that the waiting disciples fell asleep.[7]

Prayer involves a relationship

So, it’s not about the length of prayer that’s important, it’s about us acknowledging our own insufficiency and trusting in God. Prayer draws us into that kind of relation, but it’s a relationship in which God has already spoken. While I won’t get into this today, prayer is not just us talking, it’s also involves listening.

Eugene Peterson says this about prayer: “At regular intervals we all need to quit our work and contemplate his, quit talking to each other and listen to him.[8] That’s what happens in prayer.

The traditional way of saying the Lord’s Prayer

While I am going to read the Lord’s Prayer today from Luke’s gospel, I will speak of the prayer as we say it. Traditionally, the Lord’s prayer has been divided into six petitions, three that deal with the praise of God and three that deal with our need. You only get all six in Matthew’s version of the prayer. In Luke’s gospel, we only find five of the petitions. However, since today I am going to stick to the first petition, which both versions share, we’ll be okay. 

Read Luke 11:1-4

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…. 

This rolls off our tongues so naturally, but do we ever stop to think what we are saying? 

Our Father


Consider how this prayer begins. Luke’s shorten version has “Father, hallowed be your name.” From Matthew’s gospel, we get “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” 

It’s important to know that we don’t say, “My Father,” but Out Father. Think of it this way. God is not a personal god, as if I could stash god in pocket as some good luck charm to pull out when I am in trouble. As the Apostles’ Creed proclaims, God is the creator of all: heaven and earth. God doesn’t belong to any of us. Instead, all of us belong to God, for he has created us in his image. To claim God as mine borders on idolatry. To say, “my God,” risks taking God’s name in vain. It’s as if we claim God to be on our side instead of us being on God’s side. So, we acknowledge from the beginning God as the Father of all who believe. 


Second, we can call God our Father not just because we’ve been created by God. God is our Father because through God’s son, Jesus Christ, we are cleaned up—justified and sanctified—so that we can be adopted into God’s family. By praying to God as Father, as Jesus’ teaches, we are invited into an intimate relationship with the divine…. So yes, we have a personal God, but only because God acts first to invite us into a relationship. 

But we also begin our prayer acknowledging our position in the pecking order of creation. Just as a child stands under his or her parents’ authority, we stand under God’s authority. 

In heaven

In Matthew’s gospel, God is given a place: “in heaven.” This doesn’t mean that God is out there and not here. After all, John foretold Jesus’ ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven has come near.[9] Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God coming near, which means essentially the same thing.[10] Jesus also promises the coming of God’s Spirit, which was poured out upon the disciples and believers at Pentecost.[11] Yes, God is near, but God also has a place to observe all that happens until heaven and earth are wedded together.[12] As the Psalmist reminds us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all humankind.
From where he sits enthroned he watches
    all the inhabitants of the earth.[13]

Praise and our role in creation

In this prayer, we acknowledge God and our relationship to the divine. But our role in creation is also important. We have been created to praise God. That’s what we do with the ascriptions of praise at the beginning of this prayer along with the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s now consider the first one: “hallowed be your name.” 

We’re to honor God alone

We could also say, “God alone is to be honored.” This petition relates to the Ten Commandments, especially the third one which says, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.”[14] When we pray the way in which Jesus taught, we keep our priorities in line. We worship an awesome God whose glory we need to reflect in our lives.

One commentator on the Lord’s Prayer says: “this pray teaches us, in all that we do, to hallow the name of God and, in doing so, we discover our true being.”[15] In other words, when we pray the way Jesus taught, we don’t just go to God with a shopping list. Instead, we acknowledge God’s rightful place in the universe and in our lives.  

Through this prayer, Jesus teaches us that we are blessed. Yes, we have a God who already knows everything, but God wants to draw us into a relationship. So, we address God as Father, in a personal manner. We acknowledge God’s role over our lives, and we seek to praise God’s name. 

In writing about prayer in Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson, whom I spoke of earlier, equates prayer with intimacy. “Intimacy is no easy achievement. There is pain—longing, disappointment, and hurt. But if the costs are considerable, the rewards are magnificent.”[16]

Concluding suggestions

This week take time to pray. Prayer is not just for when you have a need. Begin your prayers in praise. Prayer helps nurture our relationship with God and forms our minds so that we live as God intended. And that’s a good thing. Amen. 


[1] Winn Collier, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2021), 268.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), III, xx, 1. 

[3] In addition to Scriptures, the prayer can also be found in the Apostolic Father’s Didache. However, this is essentially the same as in Matthew’s gospel.  James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 330.

[4] Edwards, 330. 

[5] Mark 12;38-40, Luke 12;38-40.

[6] Luke 6:12-13.

[7] Luke 22:39-46.

[8] Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angels: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 57.

[9] Matthew 3:2. 

[10] Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9.

[11] John 16:5-15, Acts 2.

[12] Revelation 21.

[13] Psalms 33:13-14. 

[14] Exodus 20:7.

[15] William H. Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: Th Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 44. 

[16] Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), 49.

Chestnut Creek (Behind the Blue Ridge Music Center)

God’s Call and Church Unity

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Church
September 18, 2022
Galatians 1:11-2:10

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, September 16, 2022.

At the beginning of worship

Why do we tell our stories? What purpose do they serve?

Well, they can be entertaining, which is important. I like to laugh. It’s good for the soul.

But there are more important purposes to our stories. I have heard about the early days of Mayberry Church, when one of the jobs of the handful of boys in the community was to get up early on Sunday mornings and head down to the church to light the fire in the old potbelly stove. I’m sure at the time, the boys didn’t think much of their assignments. But it made enough of an impression that it’s still told long after their deaths and the church converted to central heat and air. 

The late William Zinsser, a dean of creative writing, says this about writing on places and institutions, be it a school, church, business, or so forth. 

Institutions and places have no life of their own. You must bring them to life with men and women and children… Look for the human connection as you make your journey. Connect us to the people who connected with you.[1]

Stories help us understand and to connect with one another. It is through our stories, especially if we approach them truthfully and with eyes of faith, that we see God working in our lives. Stories help us come to faith. They can also help us share our faith. 

Before reading the scriptures

Early this year I preached through Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but I left out a part.[2] You’ve probably forgotten, but as we began working through the letter, I told you I wanted to come back and catch up on the part I skipped. This section straddles the end of the first and beginning of the second chapters of the letter.

If you remember back to those sermons on this letter, Paul was concerned about what was going on within the church there in Asia Minor, a part of the world now a part of the country of Turkey.  In Galatia, Paul has become aware that some are leaving the church for a different gospel. This troubles Paul for he doesn’t know of any other gospel, at least not one that leads to eternal life. So, he writes this letter to encourage the Galatians to remain truth to the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

After stating the problem in the Galatian church,[3] Paul sets out to establish his credentials. After all, what makes Paul so special? Why is he any more reliable than other preachers who suggest another way? Paul’s story, as we will see in this text, help him establish credibility.  

Read Galatians 1:11-2:10

What does it take to become a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, the official title of ordained clergy, within the Presbyterian Church? 

First, there must be a calling from God. An individual may sense such a calling and be drawn toward ministry. For some of us, this process occurred over years. For others, it was a surprise. I know one minister who started out on a scientific track in college. His family didn’t attend church. He was unaware of Jesus. But after taking a required class in college, he became interested in the faith and ended up a Presbyterian minister.[4] This calling from God is quite personal and unique for every person.

My story

For some unknown reason, even for me, I told Grandma I was going to be a Presbyterian minister when I was ten years old. I can still remember having that conversation on the deck of a beach house on Topsoil Island. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I wondered where that idea came from. 

Almost two decades later, I found myself wrestling with the possibility of seminary. On a winter backpacking trip in the Smoky Mountains, I told God I’d go. It felt as if someone lifted my pack off my back. Later, as I questioned my plans for seminary, I heard a voice in dream saying I should go. Don’t ask me how, but I knew that voice to be God.

But it wasn’t just God who affirmed this call. There were others. Ministers with whom I’d known through my work with the Boy Scouts of America who encouraged me. Some were Presbyterian, but at least two other significant ones were Lutherans. Then there was the late Bob Ratchford, one of my pastors who, when I called him after that backpacking trip, asked why it had taken me so long to come to this decision. I was shocked as we had never discussed ministry before. 

Several weeks ago, when I was at Montreat Presbyterian Conference Center, I ran into David McKee. He and Bob served as co-pastors of the church I was a member of at the time.  We spent an hour discussing my decision to go to seminary. What an affirming talk as I learned that he and Bob had discussed me going to seminary even before I made that call. 

The Presbyterian Call System

In the Presbyterian system, feeling that one has a call from God to become in a minister isn’t enough. One must have the support of the Session of a church and of the Presbytery. One must prepare through study. And finally, before ordination, one must have been confirmed to a call by a congregation that’ll have you as a minister. 

There are a lot of checks and balances in the system. For you see, the call which comes from God needs to be confirmed by others. Even Paul mentions doing this in chapter 2, verse 2. Otherwise, we may deceive ourselves. As we know too well, people can have some crazy ideas about what God wants them to do. On the extreme, we end up with mass murder and suicide in places like Jonestown and the World Trade Center. If you think God wants you to do something, especially something outrageous, always check God’s Word and with others. 

What we learn from today’s text

In today’s passage Paul attempts to do three thing things: He wants to convince the Galatians that he is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He is concerned for church unity. Third, he illustrates the division of labor the Jerusalem Church has set up. Paul will reach out to the gentiles while others are assigned to carry on the church’s Jewish mission.

Paul’s Apostleship

Let’s look at the three of these points. As for Paul’s Apostleship, Paul insists his call is from God, but he also goes into detail to show how his call has been confirmed by the “mother church” in Jerusalem. Paul has made two trips there. His details vary some with the story we have of Paul’s calling in Acts, which probably has more to do with what Paul is trying to do by telling his story.[5]

Paul wants the Galatians to know that he’s the real thing. Yes, his call comes from God, and no one can take that away from him. Yet, it’s still important for Paul to point out he has the support of the Jerusalem Church. They confirm his call to take the message to the Gentile world. 

Instead of talking about the Damascus Road experience here, Paul just says that his call came directly from a revelation of Jesus Christ. This call changed Paul from a persecutor of the church to its biggest missionary. On the other hand, in Acts, we hear nothing of Paul’s journey into Arabia. This, I suggest, is a difference of perspective. 

In Acts, Luke is more interested in telling Paul’s story in relationship to tell the story of the expanding missionary activity in Europe. Paul, on the other hand, attempts to establish with the Galatians a legitimacy for his teachings. 

Church unity

Second, Paul has a concern for church unity. While he sees his call from God and not Jerusalem, he still understands the importance of the church in Jerusalem. When they ask him for help with the poor, Paul goes all out. You see this especially in his second letter to the Corinthians.[6] He wants the gentile church to help the Jewish church in Jerusalem, a church 100s of miles away. 

Division of labor

And finally, Paul sees the importance of a division of labor. Last week, if you remember, we heard Jesus talk about the harvest being reading and the workers being few. Paul is content to let Peter, James, and John reach out to the Jews while he and others such as Barnabas and Titus, reach out into the Gentile world. If the church is to be worldwide, it means different people will have different tasks. We all work for the same Lord, but each with a different focus. Together, our combined efforts make up the church.

Today’s applications

How can we apply Paul’s letter to our lives? First, think about Paul who was so convinced that his persecution of the church was right and noble. But when he meets Christ, he’s changed. He still serves the same God, but now better understands God’s mission. God reaches beyond Paul’s myopic vision. Might we also have our eyes opened and see that what God is doing in the world. And might we want to answer God’s call to be a part of such a vision. Changing our mind when it comes to God work in the world is noble, as we see with Paul. 

Second, we see the importance of unity despite the different focus when it comes to our ministry. One ministry is not superior to the other. All are important in helping to fulfill God’s plan. While we may be called to a different task within the kingdom, our calling is no better or worse than someone else’s call. 

Third, despite our different focus, we’re to be concern for the poor. That was a uniting task in the first century and should remain a uniting task for the church today. 

So, what story do you have to tell and how does it show God’s activity in your life?  Amen. 


[1] William Zinsser, Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past (New York: Marlowe and Company, 2004), 22-23. 

[2] These sermons were between April 24 and May 29.   Here is the link to the first sermon: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/04/5673/ and here is the link to the last: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/05/5759/

[3] See Galatians 1:6-9.

[4] Joseph Small told this story in a talk at a Theology Matters Conference in Hilton Head, SC in October 2021.

[5] See Acts 9:1-30. At first, Paul went by his Hebrew name, Saul. 

[6] 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. 

Commentary consulted: Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988).

This morning’s view at 6:40 AM

Subsistence Discipleship

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
September 11, 2022
Luke 10:1-20

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, September 9, 2022

At the beginning of worship

Do you ever want to do something big for God? 

You know, when we try to impress someone, we often try to do something that’s over the top. We buy our sweetheart the largest and best decorated heart filled with chocolate for Valentine’s Day. We buy gifts for our kids. 

For some people, this idea of doing something big goes for God. After all, we’re called to love and glorify God and we, the church, are to be the “bride of Christ.”[1] But what if I tell you, that’s not the way God works? 

Pleasing God 

God doesn’t need us to do something big for him. God can do everything for himself. What pleases God isn’t the size of our effort, but our hearts. Do we love God? Do we trust God?  Are we faithful?

You know, when you’re a kid, you do things for your parents that doesn’t really make their lives better. But they’re pleased with whatever craft item we create for Mother’s or Father’s Day. It’s like that with God. The size of our efforts isn’t what pleases God; it’s what’s in our hearts. Are we faithful to the calling of Jesus? Do we trust in God? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves. 

Before the reading of scripture:

Last week we saw that Jesus expects humility and cooperation from his disciples. Today’s text will build on those concepts. 

Remember, too, that for Luke, the disciples were more than just the 12. The 12 created kind of an intergroup. This week, we see that Jesus sends out a larger group of disciples for a chance to put into action their humility and cooperation. Jesus sends out this group to tell and show that the kingdom of God has come near. 

70 or 72?

Most of our Bibles will tell us that Jesus sent out 70 

disciples, two-by-two. But if you have any kind of study Bible, you’ll see there’s a footnote indicating some ancient texts says it was 72 disciples. While it really doesn’t make much difference, the discrepancy provides insight into its meaning. 

70 probably points to us to the number of nations descended from Noah and listed in Genesis 10. In the Hebrew text, it’s 70 nations, but in the Greek Old Testament, translated a couple of centuries before Jesus, it was 72. The actual number isn’t that important. 70 or 72 just indicates a large number. And with this link to the list of nations, there may be a subtle hint of where Luke is going with his story. As we know, Luke continues with Acts which tells of the church moving out into the nations of the world.[2]

Today, I’m going to read this text from The Message translation. It’s a fresh way of hearing the gospel and you might compare it to the translation in your Bible or the one in the bulletin. 

70 or 72?

Read Luke 10:1-20

A few weeks ago, in my e-news, I mentioned the death of Fredrick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and popular author. One of the early books I read by him on the Appalachian Trail was Treasure Hunt. This book is part of his fictional series about a character named Bebb. While I don’t remember a lot about the book, and I lost it before finishing it, I do remember Bebb’s desire to do something big for God. Longing and struggle fill his life. His struggles are often of his own making. Looking back with a tinge of disappointment, he wonders if the best work he did for God was when he was a student and sold Bible’s door-to-door.[3]

Does God want us to do something big?

While there is nobility in wanting to do something big for God, I suggest it puts too much focus on us and not enough on God. After all, what can we really do for God by ourselves? Our God, who can call on the stones to praise him, is self-sufficient.[4] God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything, instead God desires our hearts, our trust, and for us to do our part.

“The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.” Jesus must have looked at my tomato garden, where I’m having a hard time getting them all canned and frozen for the winter. However, this saying implies that the job ahead requires a lot of people. It’s not up to just one or two disciples. The disciples are encouraged to humbly do their parts while praying for more laborers.  

Subsistence spirituality

In a newsletter I read this week, the author tells of hearing Barbara Brown Taylor speak of subsistence spirituality.[5] I like that term. She links it to the idea of being lean enough to survive a trek in the metaphorical wildernesses in which we live. We are empty, but we survive on the goodness of others and the gracefulness of our Savior. And that’s what the 70 or so disciples are called to do in today’s story. 

Comparison to Jesus sending out the 12

If you remember back about almost two months ago, when I began our exploration of Luke 9, we looked at Jesus sending out the twelve disciples.[6] Like this group, Jesus sent out his core group of disciples without much, for the purpose of building relationships. In Luke, when Jesus refers to disciples, he’s often talking about a lot more than the 12 that we often think of. Luke points out that there are many, including women, who are following Jesus around.[7] And now he’s putting them into action by sending them out, like he did the 12, to spread his message. 

Expectations Jesus places on the disciples

Interesting, however, Jesus sends out this large group even more unprepared than he sent the 12. While the 12 were not to carry a purchase or staff or bag or bread, at least it appears they could wear shoes or sandals. But the 70 are sent out barefooted. They get to feel every rock along the road and must be extremely careful they do not step on a cactus. So, they are sent out without anything but the clothes on their backs and the blessings and instructions of our Savior. 

Furthermore, they are to avoid conversations along the road. This sounds harsh, although maybe the pairs were allowed to talk to entertain themselves while on the highways. But why wouldn’t Jesus want them to share his message along the way? It appears, Jesus wants his message to be brought into homes, on a one-on-one encounter.[8]

Focus on in-home ministry

Jesus doesn’t send out his disciples to create large rallies, crusades, or revivals. Instead, the focus is on the individual and the family in the most intimate place for a 1st Century Jew, around their kitchen table. There, they are to accept the food that is placed before them. Again, bringing out this point, Luke may be foreshadowing the work of Jesus’ followers as they took the message out into a gentile world, which was far different than the kosher world of 1st Century Galilee.[9]

Handling rejection

Furthermore, when the evangelists are not welcomed, they are to leave. Yes, by shaking off their feet, they make a statement about the community in which they’ve visited, but they don’t leave without reminding the people that the kingdom of God has come near. 

Curse upon the Galilean town

While those Jesus sent out were traveling, Luke shifts his focus to Jesus who prophecies against several towns in Galilee. This region, which he’ll soon leave for Jerusalem, plays a prominent role in his ministry. Bethsaida is home for three of the disciples: Peter, Andrew, and Philip. These cities are warned. Even though they have seen and heard from Jesus firsthand and have produced disciples, they have rejected Jesus’ message. 

We know that not long after Jesus’ ascension, there was little church activity in Galilee. The early church began to focus on Jerusalem and later into Gentile lands. One of the interesting dynamics of the early history of the church is the shift from the agrarian Galilean hills to the urban centers of the world at that time.[10] The warning here can apply to us, too. If we have had a chance to witness Jesus’ grace and power and then deny him, judgment will be more severe than those who never heard of Jesus.

The result of the disciples’ missionary activity 

We’re not given any details of individual encounters, of which they must have been many as there were 35 or so pairs of disciples spreading the message. Their accomplishments are great for Jesus recalls seeing Satan cast from the heavens. The returning disciples are joyous. Jesus then ends this section with a warning to those returning. They are not to rejoice in their newfound power from Jesus. Again, as we saw last week, Jesus is ready to nip pride in the bud. Instead of rejoicing over their accomplishments, they are to be content that they have a reservation in heaven.

Wars won by many small actions

Jesus’ witness of Satan’s fall comes, not after any big battle that the disciples won, but by a lot of small actions that together make a real difference for God’s kingdom. It’s like a war. Winning a big battle may not result in ultimate victory. Again, our role as followers of Jesus is to carry out these small actions—showing the world that God’s kingdom is near and that it makes a difference in our lives. Furthermore, we should show the world that we trust in God. The disciples went out with nothing, but because God was with them, they accomplished much. 

Conclusion

Earlier, I used the term subsistence spirituality.” Such a spirituality is built on trust, on knowing that God is enough. The disciples experience this, going out barehanded to do the work of the Master. When it comes to building the kingdom, it’s not going to happen because we work hard. It’s going to happen because God works through us. So, keep following Jesus, and trust in God. Amen. 


[1] Revelation 21:1-2.

[2] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 302-305; I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 414-415; and Norval Geldenhuys, The International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984 reprint), 303-304. 

[3] Fredrick Buechner, Treasure Hunt (1977).

[4] Luke 19:40

[5] MaryAnn McKibben Dana quoting Barbara Brown Taylor. See https://mailchi.mp/49fd14c9f901/sabbatical-was-not-restorative?e=c107924306  Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and college lecturer has been considered one of the most effective preachers in America. 

[6] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/building-relationships/

[7] Luke 8:1-3. 

[8] Edwards, 307.

[9] Ibid. Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 145. 

[10] See James R. Edwards, From Christ to Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the Church in Less than a Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2021)

Yesterday morning, before the rain

Called to Service, Not to Privilege

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
September 4, 2022
Luke 9:46-50

Sermon recorded at Bluemont on Friday, September 2, 2022

At the beginning of worship:

Supposedly, the great 19th Century “Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, was met at the doors of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle one Sunday by an older woman. Greeting the preacher, she bragged that she had been very careful all week and hadn’t sinned at all. Taking this in, Spurgeon responded, “Well Madam, that must make you very proud.” “Yes, it does,” she responded, not realizing she’d stepped into a trap. 

Our salvation isn’t based upon what we do, but upon the mercy and grace of God as shown through Jesus Christ. While we are to avoid sin, our hope is not in avoiding it, but from trusting in God. When we think too highly about ourselves (or any groups to which we belong), we skate on thin ice. We risk becoming arrogant, and we trust ourselves instead of depending upon God’s grace.

Problems with pride

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” according to the book of Proverbs.[1] As followers of Jesus, we are called to be humble. Paul instructs the Corinthians, “if we boast, it should only be in the Lord.”[2]

Today, we’re going to consider two requirements of discipleship. Jesus expects us to be humble and willing to cooperate. These Christ-like values counter our pride, our yearning to be the best, and our willingness to exclude others. 

Before reading the scripture passage:

This is my sixth sermon on the 9th Chapter of Luke’s gospel. This section of the gospel focuses on discipleship as we see the disciples taking over the hands-on work from Jesus. We’re learned that discipleship is about building relationships, trusting God to multiple our effortsprofessing Jesus as the Messiahlistening to Jesus, and trusting that God knows best. Today, we’re going to see that discipleship also involves humility and cooperation. There is no place for pride and jealously. Next week, I’m skipping over the last section in Luke 9, which I preached onearlier in the year. Seven sermons on one chapter seems enough for one year! Then, next week, I will have one last sermon from the tenth chapter, before I move away from Luke’s gospel. When I return from vacation and study leave in mid-October, I plan to spend the period before Advent exploring Jesus’ prayer. But let’s now look at this last lesson to the disciples:  

Read Luke 9:46-50

Failure of the prideful

At the beginning of the 8th Grade, our church’s Jr. High Youth Group resumed meeting after taking the summer off. The first order of business was to elect officers. There were many of us in the 8th grade. We were ready to take over. One of classmates, Brian, wanted to be the president of the group. He’d talked about this to everyone in Sunday School. We all liked Brian and most of us assumed he’d make a good president. 

But then, as we gathered that Sunday evening, something happened. Our leaders asked for a volunteer to pray. Normally, getting a volunteer among Jr. High students to pray was like finding a volunteer for a root canal. Generally, either a leader would end up praying, or they would twist one of our arms half off, until we volunteer. But not this evening. When they asked for a volunteer, Brian’s hand shot up. We bowed our heads in reverence. 

In my 13 years, I’d never heard such blasphemy. Brian prayed for God to see to it that he was elected president. We must have all been offended. There are those prayers God doesn’t answer in the way we’d like, and this was one of them. As the ballots were collected, Brian failed to win. 

Pride is dangerous

Pride is dangerous. Jesus wants to nip pride in the bud when it rears its ugly head amongst the disciples. He knows pride can create division. It divides people into a “us and them” mentality that runs counter to the gospel of our Lord.  

Our text follows one of Jesus’ reminders that he was going to be betrayed. Think about that. Jesus just said he was going to endure a most humbling act—betrayal. But the disciples, as we saw two weeks ago, don’t understand. Jesus heads to the cross and the disciples’ debate who will be king of the hill. 

Of course, this wasn’t done openly, in front of Jesus. Perhaps the disciples knew better than that. Jesus, however, Jesus understands what they’re thinking. Jesus also knows that such competition among the disciples will destroy the unity he desires to build amongst them.[3] Instead of coming right out and reprimanding them, he calls over a child.

Children in the ancient world

This is one of those passages that is easy to read our values into the text. We see children as precious, and they are. That’s why we dote on them and spoil them. But in more ancient societies, where infant and childhood death was frequently a reality and families were much larger, people didn’t spoil their kids. They didn’t have the time or resources to spoil them. Instead, a child was just another mouth to feed until they were old enough to help in the fields or in the family trade. 

Ancient societies didn’t have the ability to be sentimental about children. Kids were seen, to use Jesus’ words, as one of the “least of these.”[4] Now, I’m not saying that parents didn’t love their kids back then, they did. But in a subsistent society, the child’s value grew once they could contribute to the family economy.[5]  

Jesus doesn’t respond with words here. Instead, he teaches with an example.[6] By pulling a child over to him, Jesus enacts the truth. This child represents the type of people the disciples must embrace and bring into the fellowship. Jesus isn’t saying here that we must be like a child.[7] Instead, he wants the disciples to be like him and to welcome the child (and to welcome the child-like).[8]

The church is not to be a place just for able body individuals, those who can help further the kingdom. Instead, the true church opens to everyone and must show hospitality even to those shunned elsewhere. 

Jesus: gentle and lowly in heart

In Matthew, Jesus says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”[9]  Jesus, whom we learn in Philippians 2, left heaven, and humble himself to come to us.[10] He does so to make himself accessible to everyone. 

We don’t (and can’t) do anything to make ourselves more open to Jesus other than opening our own hearts to him. We bring our burdens to Jesus; he invites us to do this in. Think of it this way. Our burdens qualify us to come to Jesus.[11] The verse in Matthew before the one I just quoted reads, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”[12]

The heart of Jesus

The heart of Jesus invites all to come to him. As a disciple of Jesus, we are also to be open and welcoming to everyone, including the “least of these.” Jesus displays humility through the practice of hospitality. Often, we are eager to show hospitality to those equal or even above us in status, but if we want to be Christ-like, we must be willing to show hospitality even to those, like a child in the ancient world, who have no status.[13]

Need for cooperation

Luke follows up Jesus’ teaching on humility with another story that illustrates the need for cooperation and not competition. John, who was a part of Jesus’ inner core, one of the three who witnessed the Transfiguration, tells his Master about how he and some of the other disciples helped protect Jesus’ reputation by rebuking someone who wasn’t a part of their team, but who cast out demons using Jesus’ name. 

I’m sure John thought Jesus would praise him for his diligence. “Way to go, John. Keep up the good work.” But that’s not what happens. It appears John thinks his position as a disciple comes with entitlements and privileges. He’s still having dreams of greatness. John must have forgotten what Jesus has said about service.[14]  

Conclusion

Jesus warns us against pride, exclusion, and competition. Instead, he wants us to be humble and to cooperate with others to help build a better society and to promote the kingdom, a kingdom in which all people are valued. Think about Jesus’ teaching here. What one thing can you do this week to humbly show God’s grace that would not bring attention to yourself, but to our Savior? It doesn’t have to be big. It just needs to be done privately, not for your glory but out of a desire to become more like Jesus. May we all have such a desire. Amen. 


[1] Proverbs 16:18

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:31, slightly paraphrased. 

[3] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, a Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 137.

[4] Jesus uses this term in the parable of the judgment of the nations. See Matthew 25:40. 

[5] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 290-291. 

[6] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983 reprint), 287.

[7] In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does say that the disciples must become like a child, although Jesus encourages the disciples to welcome those like the child in both passages as well as in Mark’s gospel. See Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 9:33-37. 

[8] Edwards, ibid. 

[9] Matthew 11:29.

[10] Philippians 2:6-8.

[11] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 20.

[12] Matthew 11:28. 

[13] Craddock, 137.

[14] Edwards, 291-292. 

Good morning (view from my window at 6:30 AM)

God Knows Best

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
August 21, 2022
Luke 9:37-45

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, September 19, 2022. This Sunday is the “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans” service at Mayberry which is why I’m wearing a kilt. Click here to learn more about a Kirkin’ service.

At the Beginning of Worship:

What is the most faithful way to pray? Do we tell God what we want and need? Or do we turn to God with open arms and allow God to do what is best?

I supposed most people tell God what they want or need. I’m guilty. But when you think about it, it’s a bit arrogant to think we know better than the almighty. I’ve used this quote attributed to C. S. Lewis many times. “We’ll spend the first half of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered.” God knows best. Perhaps our best prayers are those we turn ourselves over to God saying, “Thy will be done.” 

Before reading the scripture:

Last week we looked at the Transfiguration in Luke’s gospel. Interestingly, Luke gives us more insight into the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah than the other gospels. But even here, we are provided only a glimpse of what was said. They talked about what was going to happen in Jerusalem. Afterwards, Jesus and the disciples come down the mountain and are immediately surrounded by crowds including a desperate father. Here, unlike Matthew and Mark, we’re given a brief account of the story. Having just witnessed Jesus’ glory, we now learn of the disciples’ limitations. But we also learn that despite their inability to help this man, Jesus still comes through.

In preparation for hearing the scriptures, I will pray a prayer the great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, used before worship:    

O God of all power, Who hast called from death the great Pastor of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, comfort and defend the flock which He hath redeemed by the blood of the eternal testament; increase the number of true preachers; mitigate and lighten the hearts of the lost; relieve the pains of the afflicted, especially those that suffer for the testimony of the Truth, by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.[1]  

Read Luke 9:37-45

Raphael’s Transfiguration
Raphael, “Transfiguration” 1516-1520,
The Vatican, image in public domain

The last artwork by the great renaissance painter, Raphael, was of the Transfiguration. We explored that story last week. But the artist includes in his depiction not only the wonderous and glorious events on the mountain, but also the inability of the nine disciples left behind to help the man whose boy was demonically possessed. The contrast with the glory above and the struggle and defeat below are striking. Jesus dazzles in the center of the canvas, while all is dark and foreboding below.[2] On our own, our abilities are limited, something Raphael captures on canvas. 

Similarity to the Gerasene Demonic story

Our story today has some resemblance to the story we examined a month of so ago, just after Jesus calmed the storm on the lake. If you remember, a demonic man met Jesus on the other side.[3]The man was a terror to everyone. Filled with demons, they tried to kill him. Jesus casts the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs who ran off a cliff into the water and drown. Evil does that. Destruction is its goal. But once the man was freed from the demons, he became a disciple. He went on to tell everyone what Jesus did for him.  

Setting for Today’s Story

In today’s story, Jesus has just come down from the mountain. He’s met by a crowd, including a man who only one child, a boy, who had issues. Luke appears to have a special heart for parents with only one child, as this is the third such encounter in his gospel.[4]

It sounds like this boy may have some form epilepsy. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone with such seizures. They lose control. 

Ken, a friend from Japan who was in my seminary class, had epilepsy. He once had a seizure in chapel. Thankfully, several of us knew what was happening. There was not much to do but try to keep him safe and to put a wallet in his mouth to keep him from biting himself or swallowing his tongue as we waited for paramedics. 

But back in the first century, epilepsy was blamed on demonic possession.[5] So, instead of making speculations or a medical guess as to the boy’s problems, we’ll stick to how the story is told. The boy goes off into fits. His father can’t control him. You can imagine the chaos in their home. As it is with evil, whenever it takes over this boy, it tries to harm him. The disciples, whom Jesus had given power to heal,[6] can’t help the boy.  

When Jesus hears the boy hasn’t been helped, he goes off on a triad about this perverse generation. He sounds like an Old Testament prophet. However, in Luke, Jesus doesn’t blame the disciples for their inability to help.[7] “Human doubts and disbelief are not the last word,” one commentator writes. “Nor do they determine Jesus’ willingness or ability to act.”[8]

Jesus takes pity on the boy and his father. He calls for the boy to be brought to him. Just as the man by the lake went berserk upon seeing Jesus, the boy immediately goes into convulsions.

The demon’s reaction to Jesus (and the good)

Imagine my dog going to the veterinarian. It’s for her good, but she’ll throw a fit before I can drag her out of the car. I suppose I’m like that with dentists. It may be for my own good, but that doesn’t mean I like it (although I don’t generally throw a fit). In a similar way, the demon fears encountering good and tries to harm the boy one last time. So, the boy convulsions before Jesus. 

But Jesus’ power is greater. He heals the boy, and then hands the boy back to his father. This amazes the crowds. They praise God’s greatness and what Jesus has been doing. 

Jesus’ changes subjects

Then Jesus changes subject. Luke tells us that Jesus prepared his remarks by telling people to “let these words sink in.” Their excitement over his healing the boy focuses their attention on Jesus’ acts and not his words. 

Luke gives us three possible reasons for this. They don’t comprehend what Jesus means when he speaks of being betrayed. Or, as the next verse implies, the meaning was concealed from them (kind of like pharaoh’s heart being hardened[9]).  Or they didn’t want to hear such negative news at such a joyous time, so no one asked any questions.[10] In other words, why ruin a good party with bad news. Why rain on a parade.

Today’s truths:

What does our text say to us today? There are at least two truths we should understand. First, we should trust God to do what is right. The boy’s father didn’t tell Jesus to cast out the demon. He just begged for Jesus to look at his son. The man trusted Jesus’ goodness. He knew Jesus would see the boy needed help and so respond. 

When we are sick, do we go to the hospital and then direct the physicians on how to treat us? In most cases, that’s not a good idea. Instead, we trust they have our best interest in heart. In addition, we trust their knowledge. Likewise, we trust God wants what is best for us. It’s like the father character played by Robert Young in the 1950s classic sitcom, “Father Knows Best.” We trust God the Father. Faith is having trust!

Second, which builds on the first, we are reminded that we can’t see or understand everything. We’re not God. Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement that we are unable to see what’s around the corner. Or we don’t want to see, especially when we know its bad. Again, it comes down to trust in God. 

Conclusion

Jesus knew his mission. As we saw last week with the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus talks about his Jerusalem mission with Elijah and Moses. Jesus was preparing himself for what’s ahead. And it was going to be hard to accept and understand, but in the long run, what Jesus did was for us. And because of his atoning death, our future is much brighter. We are loved. We can find forgiveness and be adopted into God’s family. And that’s good news! 

Don’t make demands upon God in your prayers. Instead, trust God, know that you are loved, and have faith. Amen. 

 ã2022


[1] Howard L. Rice & Lamar Williamson, Jr., A Book of Reformed Prayers (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 21. 

[2] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1983), 284. For more information on the painting along with a reproduction of it, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfiguration_(Raphael) v

[3] Luke 26-39. See my sermon at https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/07/from-demon-possessed-to-gentile-evangelist/

[4] James r. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 286.  See Luke 7:12 & 8:41-2.

[5] Edwards, 286. See also Matthew 17:15, 18-19 for insight into the linking of epilepsy and demon possession.

[6] Luke 9:1-2.

[7] In the other gospel accounts, the disciples ask Jesus why they failed, and he uses it as a lesson for faith and prayer. See Matthew 17:14-21 and Mark 9:14-29.

[8] Edwards, 286.

[9] Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 7:13-14, etc. 

[10] Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), 136. Craddock suggests that the voices of praise of the crowd over Jesus’ power makes it hard for the disciples to see Jesus both in power and, in Jerusalem, in powerlessness. 

Early morning