A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Why teach an ancient prayer to preschoolers? July 28, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 8:19 pm
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As many of you know, I was the founder and director of St. Matthew Lutheran Preschool in Beaverton, OR before going to seminary. When the school started in 2003, the impetus was outreach to the community and neighborhood around St. Matthew and to preach the gospel to those who might not otherwise hear it. We also wanted to provide excellent early childhood education that was affordable as preschool in Portland could cost as much as college! But proclaiming the gospel was my main reason for pushing through much red tape, obstacles, money resources (or lack there of) and all of the other surprises that arise when starting a new ministry of any kind. Some times I wondered why I was doing this, other times it became crystal clear. Let me tell you about one of those times.
By the time St. Matthew preschool had been going a couple of years and we had established some traditions. One of those was teaching the children the Lord’s Prayer throughout the year (we said it daily with our snack time prayer) and then on Palm Sunday we invited the preschool children and families to worship, where the children would lead the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer. Afterward, we held a potluck brunch in the fellowship hall. Yes, these were only three and four year olds and yes we began teaching them in the prayer in September and yes we relied on parents to work on it at home too.
Now, I don’t know how much any of you know about the Pacific Northwest, but at the time Washington and Oregon volleyed back and forth each as being the least churched state in the US. A statistic that we as staff always had in front of us was that on any given Sunday if all the pews of every church in OR were full it would still be less than 9% of the population. This is also now the same statistic here in Denver Metro. We were in a mission field and we knew that we were missionaries. So that meant that most of my families in the school had little to no experience with church or God. And I wanted them to learn this ancient prayer? Yes. I began teaching it with the children, but in October every year I held a “Family Faith Night.” I planned active and fun activities that related to the Bible stories we were learning, had a station where the families engaged the Lord’s Prayer by making beaded bracelets (like the ones at the Reflection Station today) and gave them a copy of the Lord’s Prayer to go home. Believe it or not, I always had wonderful turn out-even among my families that were Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and completely unchurched. Many families of all faith backgrounds embraced learning this prayer. And on Palm Sunday, I usually had 75-80% turn out for worship. Yes, again the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim families came to a Lutheran worship service and loved it!
One year, I had this little girl named Ella. She was three and mom had signed her up for the preschool. Dad was not keen on a Christian school as he grew up nothing and thought his life was just fine without God, thank you very much. But mom had grown up Lutheran, had been away from the church and wanted her children to know something of God. So when the Lord’s Prayer went home, mom said it with Ella but Dad would leave the room. One night, Ella asked her Dad, why don’t you say it with me? Dad admitted that he didn’t know it. Ella said, “that’s ok dad, I will teach it to you.” Now this daddy could not say no to his little girl so he learned it with her. As they learned it together, they spent more time together in the evening after dinner, Ella told him more about her day at school and mom and dad had some conversations about God. Palm Sunday arrived and the family showed up to worship for the first time. When it was time for the preschool children to go up front to lead the Lord’s Prayer, Ella loudly called to her dad and said, “daddy come up with me you know it too!” At first, dad hesitated, but Ella persisted. Dad, all 6 foot something of him, came and sat next to his 3 year old daughter with her classmates, the Muslims, the Buddhist, the Hindus, the churched and unchurched and everyone gathered in the pews, and recited the Lord’s Prayer with her while holding her hand. My memory of this part is through teary eyes. It was beautiful and unforgettable. The whole people of God lifting their voices together in a prayer that is 2000 years old and was being made new that day in that place by those people.
And Jesus disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We often think that prayer is about the correct words, praying enough or hard enough, or getting the answer that we want. We tend to think of God and prayer, as Donald Miller writes in his book Blue Like Jazz, as a cosmic slot machine where we put our quarter in and hope for a jackpot. And we even take passages such as the one from this morning’s reading of “ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you” and immediately assume that prayer is something about what we do, how we do it and what we get from God.
Jesus is not saying at all that prayer is about us in that verse, actually the opposite. Prayer is about God; more specifically our relationship with God. God wants us to go to God with ALL things in our life-which the Lord’s Prayer highlights. The majestic, mystery of a hidden God and the reality of God as flesh and blood as the bread of life in Jesus. God wants to hear our sins, our words of comfort to a neighbor, our words of fear about an uncertain and broken world, our questions of why, our anger, our sorrow, our joys, our thank you’s, and whatever else is happening in our lives. God wants to be an integral, intertwined part of our lives. God wants to be the one that we call on in the middle of the night, the one that we can’t wait to share the exciting news with, the one who will walk with us in the valley and enjoy the view from the mountain top.
Prayer is not just about us. As Jesus also states in the Lord’s Prayer, prayer is about the community, your neighbor. The pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer are plural-not singular. May all people have bread, be forgiven, and not suffer. When Jesus addresses the disciples about prayer he does not address them individually but says when you pray-as a group-pray this. Prayer also connects us to the community of God and the people of God. God is the center of our lives and the center of the community.
It’s not that Jesus cares what specific words we use to pray to God-eloquent prose and pious posture aren’t the point of prayer. But when we have common words that we can share, how powerful is it to know that we are connected to something outside of ourselves, to the people gathered around us and to people who know these words all over the world. It’s not that learning the correct words are what is important, but it’s the relationships that deepen and are enriched through the experience of these words.
But prayer isn’t even necessarily about words. Prayer is about who we are in the life of God. The very God that blew breath into the first human being also blows breath into us. Our very breathing is relationship-or prayer-with God. There are times when words won’t come and we are confident as Paul writes in Romans 8, that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs and groaning too deep for words. In this relationship with God, Jesus points out in the parables that follow the Lord’s Prayer that God’s answer to our prayers is always yes. Not always a yes we can recognize but a deeper yes to the unconditional promises of God for eternal life, no more sorrow and pain, the return of Shalom and reconciliation of the whole world and the promise to never leave us. It’s hard for us to sometimes understand that what we perceive as a no-as when someone we love is not healed, when we see violence, when we see suffering, when we suffer, when we are not healed, when we experience violence and we pray and think that God has left the building, could be a yes. God, who loves us unconditionally, does not the cause or allow these bad things for any reason, not to teach us something or not for some greater purpose. God’s response to us is always yes to life, yes to forgiveness, yes to mercy, yes to love but we live in a world where the Kingdom of God has not fully come.
There is evil, there is chaos and there is still brokenness. Jesus never denies this reality and experiences himself the violence of the world. This is why Jesus, himself prays at all times and in all places even on the cross-to connect fully into the life giving “yes’s” of God over the death dealing “no’s” of the world. Jesus’ death on the cross appeared to be the ultimate “no” of the world but to God it was the ultimate “yes” to and for the world.
Just like Ella’s dad, we learn these words and we pray into the “yes” of a loving and gracious God connected to one another, the people of God past, present and future, for the sake of the world longing for relationship, love and a deep yes in their life. Amen!

 

Distractions, thank you notes and the one thing we actually need July 21, 2013

Filed under: sermon — bweier001 @ 6:33 pm
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Let me paint a picture for all of you of my last week. As you know I was away to Portland to run a half marathon and then on to Seattle to see my parents. I flew in late Monday night and needed to be early on Tuesday as I needed to connect with Pastor Rob before he left on vacation. So I had my head full of many details of church and home and on top of that I had scheduled for Tuesday a meeting with someone from the synod office for 11:30 which seemed like a good idea weeks ago but on Tuesday- not so much. I was on my way out to this meeting and I was running late, feeling like I didn’t really have enough time for this meeting and mentally going through all the things that I had to do for the week-including writing this sermon! I was busy, harried and focused on my own stuff. Then this caught my eye sitting on the table by the front door. Now being a former teacher anything with paint and glue immediately captures my attention. So I stopped for a closer look. I put down my purse and keys-even though I was running late- and really looked at these hand print flowers, the rainbow, the sun and the beautiful words of gratitude from the children of Brighter Future Learning Center. Then I took it to show Pastor Rob.
Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed but we have had some wonderfully meaningful, deep, thought provoking and Holy Spirit filled conversations here at LCM this summer about unity, worship, God’s mission and our participation in that mission. Many of those conversations have been fruitful, Christ centered and mission centered but some of them have been a bit distracted and busy with details. I am the first to admit that I easily get distracted by details and can lose the big picture. On Tuesday morning, Pastor Rob and I had just had a long staff meeting about many details here at LCM and my head was full from this conversation. Then I saw this poster. Just like that I was jolted into the central thing that we do here at LCM-love and serve God and the world. Our focus on this is crucial and while we don’t always get a tangible sign of that fact, on Tuesday we did.
Two weeks ago we opened our doors to this daycare not knowing if we had all the space or equipment that they would need. We didn’t have time for any real preparation and just had to go with the flow…… as did they. But we talked with them regularly, checking in and communicating with them, the Mad Science camp people who also use our space and the Green Mountain preschool director. We most certainly had some actions to take but we also had a lot of listening to do in order to be hospitable to all the people using the LCM building. We didn’t get hung up on the details but just moved forward knowing that the most important thing is that we provided care for these children and families in our community and communicated clearly that we are here for them.
The daycare didn’t care if we were the perfect space or not but were just glad that we were here and willing to help. LCM’s value to Brighter Future Learning Center families was not just in what we did, but simply in who we are in the Green Mountain community. And they are grateful for our presence and we are grateful for theirs. It’s been wonderful hearing children on the playground, getting to know the staff and parents and having the building not just full but full of life.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing,” says Jesus in verses 41-42. Popular to contrary belief about this story of the two sisters, Jesus is not scolding Martha for her tasks, her focus on gracious hospitality or her attention to detail-this is all part and parcel of how God created Martha and is good. Jesus is not elevating Mary over Martha-no in the Good Samaritan story last week we hear Jesus say, “Go and do likewise.” Jesus is clear that perpetual belly button gazing isn’t ok either. But Jesus is concerned that in all of Martha’s busyness and frustration with what Mary is doing or not doing that Martha is losing sight of the big picture-her relationship with God and others.
It’s very easy to lose sight of our relationship with God in our lives. We are told by our culture that working hard at our jobs, having a nice house for entertaining, or money for good food, that these things give us value to others. What can we offer someone else that is good enough? We work so hard to keep up the house, for instance, for visitors-cleaning it, pulling weeds or mowing the yard that when we do see our neighbor we often only have time for a head nod and a quick hi! What if we stopped and really asked our neighbors how they are? One of the lessons we all learned in Chicago was the importance of stopping and talking to someone instead of rushing by them. To hear someone else’s story, to share your own experiences and to pray with them and declare that God is present is powerful, connects us to one another through Jesus Christ and pulls us out of our own lives to walk alongside another child of God. Many of these people we talked to in Chicago did not have a job or a place of their own to live-yet they have deep value as a human created by God.
Or how often do we even as a community of God ( and I am talking about all churches) get distracted by the details of keeping up a building, making sure that we have certain policies in place, what kind of worship to hold and when, what color the carpets should be, what snacks should be offered and by whom, and a myriad of other details that we think gives us value to others when they walk in the door and we begin to focus on that as the most important thing. Is everything just right so that people will think we are worth getting to know? Now please hear that thinking of all of these details is not a bad thing-for it most certainly is not!!! But all have the potential of distracting and pulling us away from the need of one thing-to love The Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself-to offer real and authentic relationship to whomever God sends to us and whomever God has us encounter in the community. To welcome each other and all people regardless of what they say and do.
Reminders to get past the tasks-even good, missional tasks such as all the ways we serve our community here at LCM—- and move to forming relationships can feel risky, insecure and vulnerable in comparison to just doing an activity with familiar people in a familiar way. Jesus calls us time and time again to move out of our comfort zone to walk with those we know and those we don’t.
Jesus understands that it is easy for us to get stuck in the details of life and forget the one thing we need-God who loves us for who we are and not for what we do. I can get caught up in the doing and I need to be reminded every day that I have value not for the things that I do or say but for being a child of God. God wants you to be reminded of this fact as well-you are valued and loved simply by being who God created you to be. Jesus died on the cross and was raised again not for what we might do or say but for who we already are—-God’s beloved children. I need to be reminded of this over and over again and to hear Jesus voice saying, “Brigette, Brigette, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Amen

Reflection stations-written prayers, font, card stock cross to write the things that distract you from God in your life to take home.