Proper 12 C: The New Physics of the Lord’s Prayer

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So, this sermon was written
sitting on the floor of our empty sunroom
as movers loaded up the van
to take the remaining contents of our home
to storage for six months.

I am telling you this, in part, for catharsis
because as a large person
I felt a terrible combination of guilt and sadness
for not being able to help.
Having worked road construction,
laying concrete, and other manual jobs in my youth,
and helping countless friends, colleagues,
and parishioners move,
strength has been part of my self-identity.
But bad knees and an angry back
from weeks of preparation for the move,
sent me to the bench that day.
And to be honest, I’m on the bench
most any day these days.

Many of you are ahead of me
on this journey into aging.
You have been there, done that,
know what it feels like.
It brought forward for me a memory of my dad.

We had a family cottage in Northern Michigan
and one of the last times
my dad and I were there together,
I was taking down the dock for winter
while he sat in a lawn chair watching.
My dad was a man of very few words
who rarely expressed his emotions directly.
But I could tell by the look on his face
he wasn’t happy.
When I asked,
he said it was awful
to sit and watch me do something
he had done for decades and decades.

I had little inkling then of what that felt like,
but I sure felt it on moving day this past week.
What I said to my dad at the time, was:
“Dad, for everything there is a season,
and this is my season to do this,
and your season is to be with me
and to make sure I’m doing it right.”

On moving day,
I tried to imagine how my words sounded to my dad
but even from my new perch on this aging reality,
I don’t know what it would have sounded like to him.
To me, it sounds about right:
No need to sugar-coat truth
because truth has its own poetry, and
when heard, makes for a more graceful entry.

That would be my advice to young preachers too.
For everything there is a season,
and you don’t need to address every doggone reading
appointed for every given Sunday.
They do not always fit together organically,
and sometimes, a particular passage is just a dog.

The Hosea passage today may be a dog.
There is probably some good stuff in there
if we wanted to take the time to dig into it,
but I didn’t, and so we won’t,
at least not this morning.

The passage from Luke is full enough
for hours of conversation,
and too much to deal with all at once.
So I chose to spotlight just one part of Luke,
the part we say every week if not many times a week:
the prayer Jesus taught.

In the new physics, Field Theory teaches
that any field of vision we are in,
at any given time,
is teeming with elements and activities
we simply do not perceive.

I know I have brought this up before
but it is an especially powerful idea.

For example, all around us here in our field of vision,
are an enormous number of things going on right under our noses:
elements, event, activities, actions and reactions
that we simple do not perceive.

In our field of vision, right now,
are intensely brilliant colors from microwaves
that are bouncing all around us –
and we do not see them
because we cannot see microwaves.

In our field of vision, right now,
are sound waves we do not hear or see.

There is electromagnetic energy
about which we have no inkling.

There are micro-organisms, atoms,
and sub-atomic particles
all in constant motion
and yet outside the purview of our awareness.

Even in our own private field of vision, right now,
there are memories of events
imprinted upon our brains
of which we carry no immediate awareness,
and yet, those memories
guide and direct our decisions
and reactions right here and now.

Heck, we are not even aware of how differently
each of us is perceiving this immediate moment
and how our differences in perception
influences how we are as a community.

In short, all around us,
just in this small field of vision,

there are monstrously large numbers of elements
and activities taking place
that have an impact on
what we are,
what we think,
and how we feel – even here, even now.

Field Theory seeks to increase the depth
of our perception of the field around us,
as well as our understanding of the relationship
between all those many parts of the whole.
It is even relevant to spirituality.

An attorney
who is incredibly perceptive in the courtroom
and who has a facility to intuit a whirlwind of activity
going on in that field,
may be nearly blind to the presence of holiness
constantly around him or her.

A physician
who can diagnose an invisible disease
simply by seeing what antibodies
the body has deployed as its defense,
my not be able to perceive the holy
in her or his own field of vision.

A mother or father who is so sensitive
to the indicators of hurt, fear, sorrow, and distress
in the lives of his or her children,
may be terribly insensitive
to the movement of the spirit
that is circling all around them.

We sharpen our senses
to recognize those elements in our field of vision
that we believe grant us the greatest advantage,
but we sharpen them for a purpose
and in a particular direction, which means
we also filter out an enormous amount
of other things taking place
in the same field of vision,
and most notably the presence of the holy.

I am going to apply this Field Theory idea
to the Lord’s Prayer
and see if we can increase our perception
of what is swirling around that Biblical field.
It begins, “Abba, who art in heaven…”

We translate Abba as a formal title
suitable for the King’s English.
In fact, God as sovereign – king or emperor –
was how the Aramaic and Greek
were translated in Christian history.
Our Liege,
Your Highness,
Your Majesty…

But Abba translated as “Our Father,”
and a formal liturgical expression,
is a contrast to how it may have been used by Jesus
as an informal, personal prayer.
It would be like the difference between
“Good morning, madam or sir. How are you today?”
verses, “How’s it go’n?”

Gender likewise, for what Jesus was modeling,
may also not be essential.
It could be mother, mom or mommy,
and father, dad or daddy.
Dealers choice.

The relationship infused in the word “Abba”
is intimate and personal,
rather than formal or transcendent.
But I also believe, it was not intended to lock God
into maleness.

I suspect that in the 21stcentury
many if not all of us
have come to understand that God
is not a bearded man on a cloudy carpet.
We understand that humans
have anthropomorphized God
by putting arms and legs,
and hands and eyes on the Big Bang.

Science has given us a new
and more complex perspective on God,
with an increased knowledge
of what is in the field with us in the cosmos.
But God as a faceless, amorphous energy
is impossible to pray to:
it has no voice,
there is no intimacy,
we are too small for that relationship.
And so Jesus invites us to pray, “Abba.”
He invites us to bring God closer,
smaller, even into a love more recognizable.

It does not change the reality of God,
but it does change OUR reality,
and that is okay.
That is what we need to do from time to time.
Just as my dad had to adjust to a new season,
and as I am learning to do as well,
the field around us changes all the time
and we need to change our lenses in order to see it.
With his prayer,
Jesus is pointing to a lot of holiness stuff
that is floating around us in our field of vision.

“Your Kingdom come”–
the reign of God,
the very presence of God
is in the field around us even here, even now.

“Your will be done”–
there is a currentmoving within the field,
and when we get in it,
instead of fighting against it,
or avoiding it,
incredible things begin to happen.

“Give us this day our daily bread”–
there is so much that is life-giving
and at hand in every moment,
even when we imagine that our hands are empty.

The pathway toward sustenance and nurture
is present in every moment, sometimes
even when bread is not.

“Forgive our trespasses” –
the presence of all that we have done
is in our field of vision at all times.
There should be no hiding from it
or abolishing it.
All that we have said
and all that we have done
is present with us in a collective whole
at every moment,
and it is either empowering us
or disabling us
or both.
If we have not fully acknowledged and accepted
what is in the field,
embraced the potential for forgiveness
for our failures, then we will not heal.

“As we forgive others”–
forgivingand the accepting of forgiveness
are Siamese twins in the soul –
they cannot be separated if we are to live.
Forgiving ourselves and one another
does not mean “forgetting” or “denying”
or “pretending” that things didn’t happen.
It means seeing and acknowledging
what is in the field around us
and learning how to live with it.

“Lead us NOT into temptation” –
which is a plea to strengthen us
in the midst of struggle.
In the field around us at any given time
are dangers        and conflicts
for which we need plain old strength
on top of any wisdom we might have gained.
“Don’t take us there, please,”
is an honest acknowledgement of our vulnerability
and on-going recovery.

And, “deliver us from evil” –
is another plea, this one for God
to be powerful on our behalf
when we are at the limits of our own power.
Sometimes, no amount of our strength,
wisdom, or courage
is enough to save us from disaster.
That is the moment when we are truly dependent
upon a power greater than ourselves;
a power always present in the field
yet seldom seen.

“For YOURS is the reign of power and wonder,
now and forever” –
In the end,
as marvelous as you and I are,
we are but the spaces between two waves –
momentsdefined by that which is around us.
Knowing, facing, living with and under our finitude,
our very smallness,
is the beginning of wisdom.
That is the prayer.
That is our prayer if we want it.

This ancient rabbinical prayer
is an invitation for us to see anew
what is in our field of vision at any given moment:
to seeall the stuff
we look past most of the time,
and to seethe sources of our health,
of our healing,
and of our strength
that is present all the time.
We often imagine it is absent
when it is all present,
all of the time.

This prayer is an invitation
to seemore of what actually occupies
the field of vision around us,
and in so doing,
to see holiness more clearly and present.