Jan 23rd, Our Father – Community, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
Jan 23rd: Our Father – Community, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
I met Rupert in my previous Church. Rupert was an extremely successful lawyer in Chicago. When Rupert retired, he could have spent his time traveling the world and relaxing in comfort. He cheated chose to spend three days a week volunteering at the Y on the South Side of Chicago as a mentor for youth in one of the most underserved and, frankly, most dangerous neighborhoods in the whole city. Rupert would hang out at the playground where the youth played basketball, just simply hoping to make connections.
People would say, Rupert, it’s dangerous. Why are you risking your life? Don’t you know those kids are laughing at you? And Rupert would say, I can’t measure my own success separate from these kids, having an opportunity to succeed and flourish. No echoing the words of Dr.
King, I cannot be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. In other words, no one really wins until everyone wins. Just imagine if we played by those rules, Rupert would say. If I wasn’t here, God would have one less option to let these kids know their lives matter. Rupert mentored many of those kids, helping them graduate from high school, get jobs.
He supported several through College.
I was blessed with the sacred privilege to sit with Rupert’s family as they said their farewells before he died. We were holding hands, praying. Rupert hadn’t been awake or communicative for three days. We gave thanks for the goodness of his life, for the seeds of goodness he planted in so many other people’s lives. We reminded Rupert he was held with a love from which he can never be separated and that he had nothing to fear.
There was no obvious sign that he heard us. And when we finished, I invited Rupert’s family to say the Lord’s Prayer with me. And as we begun, I couldn’t believe it opened his eyes wide. He hadn’t opened his eyes or talked in three days, and he proceeded to say every word of the Lord’s Prayer with us, as if those words were coming from a place deep within, as if that prayer dwelled somewhere in his heart. Everyone was stunned, including me.
And we finished. For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen. Rupert smiled, closed his eyes. There was this indescribable piece in that room, and Rupert transitioned from this life to more life.
Only a few minutes later, at the service celebrating Rupert’s life, several youth he had mentored spoke about how this old white guy treated them as if their lives mattered, as if they were his sons. And in that service, we prayed. We prayed the prayer Jesus taught what is known as the Lord’s Prayer. And the prayer begins in a revolutionary way. Two simple words.
Our Father, not my, not your, not there, but our you know in God’s heart, there is no other. There’s only us. There’s no them. There’s only we. There are no walls.
There is one table where everyone belongs.
We belong to God and in belonging to God, we belong to each other. I mean, Mother Teresa said the violence in the world stems from the fact that we have forgotten this truth. Our a very small word that holds the key to the healing of the world. Rupert seemed to understand this at a really deep level. He didn’t simply pray the Lord’s Prayer week after week.
The prayer shaped his heart. It shaped his heart in such a way that he lived the prayer.
And I suspect that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said to his disciples, pray this way. He wasn’t teaching a prayer to recite as he was teaching an orientation of the heart, a way of being in the world. So over the next six weeks, we’re going to take a close look at this prayer that Jesus taught us, that it might not just be a prayer we pray every week, but it might be a prayer that lives in us and a prayer we live. There are six spiritual practices that can be found in this prayer, spiritual practices that can ground us in these ancious times and emboldened us to love still and to love more. We’ll take a phrase of the Lord’s Prayer each week and introduce a simple spiritual practice.
But before we look at the first spiritual practice, I want to read the Lord’s Prayer as it is found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter six.
Jesus said, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them, for you can trust your Father knows what you need before you even ask. This then is how you pray.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
So Jesus says, when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrite standing on the street corner, praying as a performance for the sake of others. Don’t keep babbling, filling the air with words.
In other words, don’t pray in a way that’s centered in your ego, disconnected from your heart.
Instead, Jesus says, Go into your room and close the door. What’s interesting is that in the first century Palestine, houses were one big room. There were no separate rooms. There were no separate bedrooms with doors you could close. So Jesus is not speaking literally here, but metaphorically.
When you pray, go to that inner space, that inner room, connect to your heart, connect to your deepest self, your truest self, connect with the divine presence that resides deep within you. And then he says, Pray this way and teaches us what has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. But what he’s teaching is much more than a prayer we memorize and recite each week. In worship, Jesus is actually teaching a different way of living, a different way of being in the world, a way of being in the world where our lives become a living prayer reflecting the values, purposes and love of God. Like Rupert, it’s a prayer intended to live in us, that we might live.
The prayer and Jesus begins in a revolutionary way. Two simple words. Our Father, not my, not your, not there, but our. You know, we live in a world of me and mine, us versus them.
The first spiritual practice is just simply holding and contemplating that word, our and allowing it to be our lens, our, our, you know, a very small word that holds the key, I think, to healing the world.
A six year old I watched this report recently. A six year old was watching TV with his mother, and there was a news story about a mother and her sixyearold son who walked a thousand miles, one 0 mile, fleeing violence, hoping for a safe place, a refuge to call home. And they were living in a refugee camp. And the little boy, not having learned fear and hate and prejudice, yet turned to his mother and said, mom, can they live with us? They can be part of our family.
They can be part of our family. Intuitively, this little boy’s circle of love had no boundaries. He said, they can be part of our family.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said, Unless you become like a child, you cannot see the ways of God.
Jesus is teaching us to envision and to inspire, to a beloved community, a community in which the wellbeing of all is the concern of each and the wellbeing and flourishing of each is the goal of all. So Jesus teaches us to pray, our Father, not my Father. Give us today our bread. Not give me my bread. Deliver us.
Not deliver me. You know, the Apostle Paul uses the phrase Our Lord 53 times. Never once does he say, My Lord. The phrase Jesus is my personal Savior is not found anywhere in the Bible. When asked, what is the greatest commandment, Jesus told a story about a Samaritan, someone who would have been considered the enemy, a despised other who stopped, risked his own life to care for and banish the wounds of a stranger.
The most passionate prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John was may they be one the book of Psalm. Psalm 133 says, how beautiful it is, how beautiful it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity, in Corinthians, it says, when one suffers.
We just made the difficult and quite frankly disappointing decision to temporarily suspend in person worship because of surging culvert cases. I mean, record culvert cases. The hospital system stretched to its limits. Health care workers that are just hanging on by a thread, schools and other places in complete chaos because of staff shortages caused by people contracting the virus. It was suggested to be that this decision was fear based.
I responded, no, no. This decision came from love, a sacrificial love, the kind of love shown to us by Jesus. The kind of love that recognizes we share the burdens of those in our hospital systems and schools, and we need to do our part, doing whatever we can to limit the spread of the omacron variant. It’s the kind of love also that recognizes, I mean, not meeting in person for worship keep some people isolated where gathering together as a lifeline for them. And we need to find ways to reach out, to stay connected.
It’s the kind of love that recognizes this isn’t my problem or their problem or your problem.
It’s our problem. We share it, and it’s only through our collective efforts and sacrifices and love that we will find our way through this wilderness.
I love the story of the poet Naomi Shahab. Nai tells about Gate four A, and she writes, wandering around Albuquerque airport terminal after learning my flight had been delayed, I heard an announcement, if anyone in the vicinity of Gate four A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately. Well, one pauses these days, but Gate four A was my own gate, so I went there. An older woman in a full, traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor. She was wailing loudly, and the flight service person said, Peace, help.
Can you talk to her? We told her that her flight was delayed and she did this, and she’s been wailing for minutes and she won’t stop.
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and I spoke to her haltingly, Shu Dawa shubidak habati stanashue.
But the minute she heard any word, she knew, however poorly I was using them, she stopped crying. Now she thought her flight had been canceled entirely. I mean, she needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. So I said, you’re fine. You’ll get there.
I asked her, who’s picking you up? Let’s call him. So we called her son, and I spoke to him in English, and it was Southwest Airline. So I said, I’ll stay with your mother until we get on the plane. And I’ll sit next to her the whole way.
She talked to her son, and then we called her other son just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for an hour in Arabic and found out, of course, they had ten shared friends. She was laughing a lot. By this time, we were holding hands. She was telling me about her life, answering questions that I was asking her.
And she pulled a sack of homemade mamoule cookies little powdered sugar mounds stuffed with dates and nuts out of her bag and she was offering them to all the people at the gate. To my amazement, not a single person declined her cookie. It was like a Sacrament. The business traveler from Argentina the single mom from California the lovely woman from Laredo we were all covered with the same powdered sugar and smiling, there is no better cookie. And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all Apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I looked around the gate gate a four of late and weary travelers and I thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate. Once the crying of confusion stopped, not a single person seemed apprehensive or resentful of any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug them all and this can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost. I love that story.
Friends, the phrase we’re in this together. It’s not just a slogan.
It’s a divine truth. A truth we need to embody and live now more than ever. Jesus taught us to pray our father reminding us that we belong to God and in belonging to God, we belong to each other. Inviting us not just to pray those words, but like Rupert, to live them so. Your spiritual practice this week is to contemplate that simple word our and just let that simple word be your lens this week.
Our and just observe what happens our father our a small word that holds the key to the healing of the world.
May it be so.