Greetings, St. Andrew’s Community and Beyond:
Disciple Dog and I have made another video to share and he’s given me some guidance in what to say in my sermon, which is printed below. One member told me he’d waited until Sunday at 9:30 to watch the video so it would seem like church. So, watch and read whenever you wish.
I am in touch with Chris Davis about incorporating some music that he and Erin would record, including a hymn or two a week with lyrics so you could sing along. We’re not there yet, but I hope to be by next week.
Also, this Sunday is Harriet Azlein’s 98th birthday on Sunday. You could send her a card (811 Kentia Ave, SB, 93110) or call her to congratulate her.
Prayer request: I know someone who had to be taken to Cottage ER this week by ambulance. (Not because of suspected COVID-19 symptoms but another issue.) I discovered they are enforcing strict policy on limiting visitors – one person only to support a birthing mother or to be with a child. This certainly makes sense. As someone who has spent a night an Emergency Room some years ago, I know how isolated one feels when you are by yourself in a sterile room waiting for hours as you wait for tests that will determine how your life will go. As we pray for all the amazing medical personnel (and so many other people) dealing with this crisis, let’s also pray for those who may be alone in those rooms in the weeks to come.
Finally, Tom has been working to experiment with a Zoom Bible study Sunday morning at 9:30. You’ll see the information on how to join and participate at the end of this message.
Blessings to you all!
Disciple Dog Update: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=494ejnWH3fM
The Lord’s Prayer in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Last week I offered a reflection on fear, faith, friends, and courage, using the 23rd Psalm as the Scriptural foundation. This week, I’m going to follow that same pattern using the first four verses of the Lord’s Prayer. I’ll close with some thoughts about how we can draw strength from our ancestors and invite you to some personal reflection.
The Lord’s Prayer
At St Andrews, our preaching and education focus for this Lenten season has been the Lord’s Prayer. We’ve been using The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer by the New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan. The thoughts I am sharing in this piece will make some reference to Crossan’s perspective, but they are guided primarily by my own personal and professional experiences in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before we turn to the first verse, let me offer a word about how we pray this prayer.
So often when we recite it in worship, we go from verse to verse fairly quickly. There is a better way to pray it when we are alone. One writer said the difference between reading prose and poetry is that with prose, our attention gets drawn forward to where the story is going. With poetry, however, our attention slows down. We are rewarded when we take time to think of each word and phrase and what it means. Great prayers are great poems. When you pray the Lord’s prayer, consider taking each phrase slowly, letting your mind listen to it and what it might mean in light of what we are going through.
So, here we go.
The first phrase is “Our Father…” We’ll look at the word “Father” first.
Jesus had a mystical, direct relationship with the divine that was deeply personal. He knew all the evocative names for God in Israel’s tradition. But he chose the intimate Aramaic word for father, “Abba,” to express how closely he experienced God. He offers us that same word to use. Accept his invitation.
We know that “Father” is still a metaphor, not a literal reference. The God of Israel is ultimately beyond gender. You may think of “our divine parent” or “our divine mother” if that draws you closer to what Jesus intended.
Crossan has a very interesting perspective on “Father.” He is convinced that the key image of God which emerges from centuries of Jewish prophetic and ethical tradition is that of a caring “head of the household.” There were many great women householders, but unfortunately they did not have legal authority in that time. A good householder cares for every person in the household. A good householder is not satisfied if some are well-fed while others are not. A good householder takes action to care for everyone under his or her domain, regardless of social status.
My mother’s first husband died when she had two young children. She then met my father who had just returned from World War II and they were married. Later, my younger sister and I were born. From the first day he became “head of the household” at their wedding until he died at the age of 92, he treated each of us with equal love, respect and support.
In the phrase “Father,” Jesus is offering us a spiritual opening to share in his mystical, personal relationship with the divine. It’s not a word that was meant to exclude women. And with the term “Father,” Jesus expects us to see God as the “head of the household” of all people.
Now we can go back to the opening word, “Our.” As I say this word, it includes me but not just me. This is in contrast to the 23rd Psalm, in which God is spoken of as “my shepherd” who makes “me lie down in green pastures,” who’s at my side when “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” etc. As we say “Our,” know that you are grounding your identity within the entire human family.
During this global pandemic, as I pray this prayer, these opening two words anchor everything else in this spiritual truth: the God we are praying to is the caring “head of the household” of all people, from Wuhan to Milan to Santa Barbara. This God cares for me, but no more so than the “least of these” in any corner of the world.
“…who art in heaven…” We know that for thousands of years, people could imagine a spiritual world above and beyond the natural world we live in. It was beyond the stars and not a place we could go until after death. Since the advent of the telescope and advance of astronomy, it has become a challenge to know how to re-imagine it. For the sake of the prayer, I simply imagine that there is a realm of existence beyond ordinary knowing in which the divine reality is unimpeded by human complications. And it’s beautiful! And – a thought I’ve never had before our current situation – it’s a “place” that can’t be infected by a virus!
“Hallowed be thy name.” We use language carelessly. In whatever culture we are in, the word for the divine must be set aside, treated with care and reverence. As we’re letting the name form in our mind, we can commit ourselves to slowing down when we say the name and honor its special status.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If heaven is a place where spiritual reality is unbound, Jesus’ concept of the kingdom is a human household that is a place of justice, compassion, and respect. That’s what he demonstrated in his life as he sat with anyone at a table and healed anyone who came to him. That’s what he taught in the parables and in his ethics. In our current situation, it leads us again to having that same concern and advocacy for every human being. As we pray it, let’s open our minds to how we can enact God’s will.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” In one sense this phrase recognizes our dependence on the miracle of the earth producing food. And whatever your next meal is after reading this, be sure and give thanks for the miracle that makes all life possible – and for the farmers, farmworkers and distribution chain that brings it to us. But, as Luther and countless others have said, the secure production and distribution of food goes beyond the natural processes of the earth. To be responsible members of the household of God involves sharing what we have with our immediate fellowship community and creating political and economic systems that ensure all people are fed. As 5 million people lose their jobs, many are isolated and frail people are quarantined, we can be grateful for and support all the faith-based, government, and nonprofit groups that are being the instruments of God in fulfilling this verse.
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” There has been much debate and discussion over years about the meaning here – debts, like financial obligations? Or mistakes we make in our relationship with God and other people? Let’s claim both.
From the beginning of Israel’s life as a community up to Jesus’ time, there was a recognition that those who take on debt to survive but then cannot pay it back could be forced into situations in which life became miserable; this often meant entire families becoming literally enslaved. An ethical principle evolved: for the good of the human family, there are times in which it is critical to forgive debt. Our country is now at such a time.
In this light, I’ve been struck by elements of the new national legislation which has forgiveness of debt built into it. For instance, if an employer has to lay employees off, that employer can go into a bank, show recent payroll records and other normal expenses, and receive a federal loan to cover those costs. If that employer can come back at a set time (as I understand it, 90 days) and prove that those people were paid, the loan will be forgiven. There is a time to expect routine commercial practices. And there is time to forgive debts. As we pray this verse, we can pause to think about the economic burdens people are experiencing and support those ways in which those are being relieved.
Taking the other dimension of this verse – debts as personal mistakes we make in our relationship with God and each other – this verse also gives us clarity each time we pray it. We all can make mistakes in our interactions with each other, and we can all experience personal pain when we are mistreated by others. Forgiveness can be a complex topic, but for now we are going to keep it simple.
For the unprecedented social reality we are living in now, I think forgiveness can be even more valuable as most of us are isolated – while we are facing a deadly threat to our personal lives and the human family. People living at close quarters day after day can get “cabin fever,” a condition that arises not from a virus but from stress. People at markets fearful there won’t be what they need can become cold and calculating. With all this tension, it can be easier to make mistakes.
We are supposed to be washing our hands often and well during this crisis. Let’s also take advantage of the power of forgiveness to keep disinfecting our behavior.
We’ve made it through the first four verses. I’ll finish reflections on this prayer in the next two weeks. Let me know if new insights are coming to you as you pray it.
We Are Not Alone
This is a time when we are asked to physically isolate ourselves for own safety and the common good. But we are not alone. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are accepting Jesus’ invitation to reflect on what it means to be part of one global household, one human family. We are not alone.
Steve Jacobsen, Interim Pastor
Adult Education on Sunday at 9:30 on Zoom! We will be using Zoom for the class. You can use Zoom on your computer, laptop or smartphone. If you do not already have Zoom downloaded on your computer or phone, you will be prompted to do so when you click on the link in this email. Once Zoom has been installed, it will prompt you to "open zoom.us?" Click open and follow any further instructions it gives you. Once our class begins, you will be connected with me and all who choose to join. We will be showing a 15 minute video with time for discussion after the video.For video quality reasons your audio and video will be toggled off at the beginning of the class. After the video I’ll enable that both for the discussion.
From Marcus Borg’s Website:
"Marcus Borg provides a framework and ways to think and talk about what God is in a short opening for a small group of people to discuss the topic “What is God?”
WHAT DOES THE WORD “GOD” REFER TO?
Supernatural theism: God is a being, super being, separate and part of the universe. Someone who intervenes and sets rules and boundaries
Encompassing Reality: The spirit the world is infused with, we are in God as fish are in water. Marcus then recalls some mystical experiences in his 30s in which he experienced the world as slightly luminous and a softening of the boundary between himself and the world around him accompanied by a sense of wonder and amazement. Through these mystical experiences Marcus explains, God is an undeniable reality similar to the existence of elephants.
WHAT IS GOD LIKE?
What is God’s character and passion? Marcus sees two understandings.
God is punitive: God loves us, but God’s love cannot be taken for granted and he might punish us potentially eternally. This is fear based and goes best with a God that intervenes.
God is gracious: God loves everyone and everything. Marcus sees this as an understanding that fosters a deeper relationship with our world and our surroundings and is more compatible with a God that does not necessarily intervene.
Marcus explains that in his prayer he does ask God for protection for his loved ones not because he expects God to intervene but because it is an utterly natural way to show caring for his loved ones. He also explains that he addresses God as a person who is present because it is a natural personification, but it does not mean that God is necessarily a separate being."
The video is on YouTube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I4Pk0VSOog&app=desktop
Please preview if you have the chance
Here is the link for the ZOOM meeting:
Topic: St.Andrew's Presbyterian Church Adult Education March 29, 2020
Time: Mar 29, 2020 09:30 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 459 950 612
If you’re having difficulties please call me on my cell phone. Remember this is a trial and my apologies if it doesn’t work well.
We hope to see and hear you there!
Cell: 805 689-1289