Sermon 22nd May 2016 (Trinity Sunday) – Elizabeth Hall

Notes from the sermon given by Elizabeth Hall on Trinity Sunday

Matthew 6:9–13 (ESV) “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ ”
(ADDED LATER: For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen)

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to all Church of England priests in February, asking that around the time of Pentecost they should encourage their churches to spend some time focused on the Lord s prayer. I suspect that, like most of this kind of letter, some will have been acted upon with great enthusiasm and some will fall on stony ground. But Heston agreed that as part of our post-Easter series, we should give one Sunday to reflection on the Lords Prayer.

In their letter (Feb 2016) the Archbishops said: “At the heart of our prayers will be words that Jesus himself taught us – ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying and yet dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas. It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ. It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.”

No way of going into this in any detail, but let’s look at just a few points:

– Abba /Dad – this is in the Aramaic everyday language of Jesus, not the formal Hebrew of the synagogue prayers. So it isn’t really meant to be a very formal ‘Our Father’ – more of a ‘Hi Dad’. Here at AH, we usually say ‘Our Father and Our Mother’, and that’s great because for some people, the image of Father is not a helpful one. For some people whose experience of their earthly father has been awful, then the image of God as Father can only be negative. For others, coming from the same experiences, the image of a perfect Father in heaven is very welcome. But our God is bigger than any single image pr description, and so we say Our Father and Our Mother – hopefully not forgetting that in the original Aramaic, this would be more like Hi Dad, hi Mum.

– Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – the focus of the Archbishops prayers. Not pie in the sky when we die but something to be looked for, longed for, worked for, on earth as it is in heaven.
Already sung the hymn: The Kingdom of God is justice & joy

– Give us this day our daily bread …….prayer for today, on our notice sheet.

I ask for daily bread, but not for wealth, lest I forget the poor.
I ask for strength, but not for power, lest I despise the meek.
I ask for wisdom, but not for learning, lest I scorn the simple.
I ask for a clean name, but not for fame, lest I contemn the lowly.
I ask for peace of mind, but not for idle hours, lest I fail to hearken to the call of duty.
(Nitobe Inazo, Japanese theologian and diplomat before the second World War.)

– Next comes ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us’. The section of the Lords Prayer that I find most difficult! So I’ve really wrestled with it, in thinking about this sermon and the Archbishops challenge, – I’ve more to say, but will leave that for a bit.

– so the Lords Prayer continues. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. My commentary suggests that we need to read this as part of Matthew’s emphasis on the Last Days, the ‘eschatological teachings’ about needing to be ready for that time when everything gets worse, when evil gests more powerful, just before the time when Jesus will return. I don’t really spend much of my time thinking about that, but I do know that this prayer for support even when times are really tough, is one that has mattered to me down the years. It’s a good example of prayerful poetry that, once learned from saying it over and over again, becomes part of us and part of what sustains us as day follows day.

– and that’s where, in Matthew’s original account, the prayer stops. My commentary tells me that the early church had no less than10 different possible endings, none of which date back to this prayer in Matthew. But they have become an important way of ending the prayer, and carry centuries of weight and wisdom behind them even if they weren’t in at the very beginning. So I suspect we will carry on saying, in our worship, the sentences of acknowledgement and praise: For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever Amen.’ Amen

– SO – Back To: Forgive us our debts, or sins / trespasses, as we forgive those who sin against us.
My background as a social worker has been working in child and adult protection social work, last few years worked for C of E and Methodist Church. All through the period of the Jimmy Saville revelations, the growing recognition of abusive priests within the Catholic church, and the systemic cover up by the hierarchy – and then a recognition that exactly the same problems exist across all churches. Not here to give a lecture on this, but just today to say that the words of this prayer have caused such grief for so many Christian survivors of abuse. What do you do with your pain, your anger, the devastation and trauma which has become your daily reality? Then you venture to share some of this with a Christian leader, to be told that your pain is hanging around because you haven’t cleansed your soul by forgiving your abuser. The fault is in some way turned into your fault, the blame your blame, and not the person who abused you. Again, we’ve no time to explore this in any depth but I did want just to acknowledge the depth of this difficulty.

Andf course, the path to reconciliation and / or forgiveness isn’t always one just for the individual to follow alone. Sometimes, as for example after civil war, whole countries have to find a way forward. The South African Peace & Reconciliation process was one stunning example, but there are others, less well known. In March I went to the Oscar Romero annual lecture here in Leeds.
(For those of you – most of you! – younger than me, Romero was Archbishop in El Salvador at the height of military repression in the 1970s. He provided a voice for the voiceless, the poor, the disappeared and he in turn was shot dead at the altar of his church, in 1980. See short animation on front page of Romero Trust website 

Anyway, this year the lecture was given by a Jesuit priest Fr Francisco de Roux – although everyone seemed to call him just Pacho. Pacho is from Colombia and since the time of Romero he has been struggling to work for peace and justice in Colombia. Just to put this in context, Colombia in South America has the longest running civil war of modern times, now lasted 50 years. 222000 deaths, 177000 of these civilians – and 5 million people who have had to leave their homes, making Colombia the country with the second highest number of internally displaced people across the world. Pacho has spent his whole life as a priest, trying to maintain communication with both sides, struggling to gain support and justice for communities facing total devastation, and recently acting as one of the peace workers in the current talks which are inching their way, hopefully, towards resolution.

Some Colombian refugees were there at the event in March, and they were asking that impossible question ‘How can we possibly forgive the rape and murder of our whole family?’ Pacho shared with them, and with us, and now it’s on YouTube if you’re interested, almost at end – about 1hr 15 mins)
a five-fold path of forgiveness developed by a Colombian Bishop. This seems to him to carry the seeds of hope that we can at least start along the path even if only Jesus can reach the finishing line.

So, you have done me this terrible harm. That could be rape, murder, abuse, you name it – I am shattered by your actions. But I will say back to you:

1- I will not do violence back to you.
So terribly hard not to seek for, to long for, the person who has hurt you to suffer in return. An eye for every eye – and so on. I remember many years ago now, when our family suffered a terrible hurt, the worst sufferer was one of our young children. It took me months and months and still I wasn’t anywhere near recovering from the pain and anger. I remember driving on the M62, and Mike in the passenger seat asked me why my hands were clenched so that the knuckles were completely white! I confessed that I was envisaging strangling the life, slowly, out of the person who had hurt us so badly. After that, I realized that I was really hurting myself – especially my poor knuckles! I decided to try and hand justice, or vengeance, or retribution, whatever I wanted to call it day by day, I was going to hand it over to God. This was really hard as I suspected that God may be a bit less bloodthirsty than I wanted him / her to be! But I managed to do it, and found an amazing peace from the doing. So I can support this first step wholeheartedly, even whilst acknowledging how difficult it is when the wrong done amounts to a shattering of the soul.
2. I will do my best to protect you from other violence. I will not turn away from you.
3. I will try not to exclude you, but to include you back into our society, into my community. I will try to accept you.
And then said Pacho, the last two are very hard and you have to be a real Christian to cope – as if the first three weren’t hard enough!
4. I will seek to love you
and
5 I will die for you, as Jesus did for us.

I could go on and on about this, but will leave it there. I hope no-one will go away thinking I have trivialized the difficulty of this forgiveness challenge, but I also hope that the Colombian Bishop’s wisdom, in breaking it down to 5 steps, makes it all feel just that bit more manageable.

What an amazing prayer. At the Bradford Literature Festival yesterday, I heard the historian Tom Holland speak as one of a panel and was lucky enough to travel with him on the train back to Leeds. He spoke of just how much Christianity has to offer – and it’s all summed up in this prayer. Amazing! As the former Bishop of Durham said (with some tweaking!):
God is: he is as he was for Jesus, and he is now for us as he is in Jesus. Amen.

Elizabeth Hall
21.5.16

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