Unity in Prayer

The last few weeks at New City I’ve been preaching through The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.  One of the things which struck me was the communal nature of this prayer from Jesus.  It’s “our Father”, “our daily bread” and “our debts”. This is not a personal prayer.  It’s designed to be prayed in community.

Since August, I’ve also been preaching at the St. Michael’s Church of England congregation on the White City Estate in Shepherd’s Bush about once a month as they are without a permanent vicar.  One of my IMG_1300favorite parts of their service is the reciting of The Lord’s Prayer which they do each week while holding hands.  The touch of the elderly Jamaican lady or the young Nigerian child next to me is a physical reminder that we praying to OUR Father.

He’s ours together as one family of God. And because there is one Father, we are united by faith across our theological, cultural, national and racial identities.  As we come to our God together, he slowly, but surely binds people together by his Spirit into the church for his purposes.

black-white-handsAt New City IPC, we are seeing this as we pray together, serve together and live life together.  We’re not there yet (and we’ll never be this side of heaven) but we are seeing little displays of the unity God brings.  Two weeks ago, we even copied the pattern of prayer from our brothers and sisters at St. Michael’s and joined hands together to call upon our Father.

Unity in prayer.  Unity in life.  This is the normal pattern Jesus sets for us.

May it be as true in our lives as it is in our prayers.

 

Quick Book Review: “The Pastor” by Eugene Peterson

I never wanted to be a pastor.  I always said I didn’t want to be one because I grew up with one (my Dad) and therefore knew personally the underbelly of pastoring.  Maybe in reality, I didn’t think I could live up to the standard my Dad set.  Instead of pastoring, I chose to work with the church in other ways.  That changed in my mid-40’s as I accepted the call to be a pastor.  A little personal maturity, an expanded understanding of being a pastor and the opportunity to church plant led to the change.

With this background, I picked up Eugene Peterson’s memoir appropriately titled “The Pastor” and read it in eager anticipation of the secret to my new calling.  I never found the secret.  Instead, Peterson has written an honest, wonderfully written reflection on his life – IMG_210730 years of which were spent pastoring a church outside of Baltimore, MD, USA.

He says in the afterward:  “As I look back on a lifetime in the pastoral vocation what I remember most is a kind of messiness: a lot of stumbling around, fumbling the ball, losing my way, and then finding it again.  It is amazing now that anything came of it.”

I can relate.

Peterson, author of “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language”, is a Presbyterian so I have a natural affinity for him.  As he tells his story of growing up in the wilds of Montana, to moving East for university, to growing into his identity as a pastor, Peterson communicates as a wise old grandfather with wonderful gift of storytelling.  While reading, I had the image of sitting next to him, drinking coffee together and listening to story after story of his life in ministry.

This is not a theological textbook.  There were times while reading that I had questions which went unanswered. But answering all my theological questions was not the intention of “The Pastor”.  It is one man’s story. His story of love for God, his wife and family and his people.  The people he was called to pastor.

I could also relate to his calling to be a pastor:  “It had taken a long time to come to realize that I was a pastor… It was a good feeling, this vocational clarity, a way of work that fit who I was.  Not just a job so that I could make a living but a way of living that was congruent with what I had spent all my life becoming.  It had taken a long time.  It felt like an arrival at an appointed destination.”

There are no pastoring secrets here but there are good stories.  Stories which give hope for this pastor and others who claim the name.

The story of forgiveness

I sometimes think a modern version of Jesus’ story of the unmerciful servant should go like this:

Once upon a time, there was a good man who was owed £10,000 by his friend.  Seeing pile of cashhis friend on the high street and feeling very generous, this good man decided to forgive the debt instead of pursuing legal action. Now others from the neighborhood witnessed this act of kindness and told the local banker, the richest man in town.

The banker looked at his accounts and realized that this good man owed him a million pounds. Being a generous man himself, he called a press conference with the local media to announce to the city that he was going to forgive the million pound debt of the good man.

But that’s not the story Jesus told us.  Here’s the story Jesus gave:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  

And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 

When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:23-35)

forgiveness-21The king was the first to forgive. Forgiveness didn’t start with the servant – it started with the king. The king started the chain reaction of forgiveness which should have led the servant forgiving his fellow servant. But because of the servant’s failure, Jesus finishes with a negative in verse 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

At times, we all like to think we’re “the good man” who does such amazing acts of kindness that the king  (or rich banker) will forgive our debts in front of the watching world.  But that’s not what the Bible teaches.  That’s not the way God works.  He offers forgives to those who don’t deserve it. He offers forgiveness to those who least deserve it.

And in the freedom of forgiveness, God empowers us, by his Spirit, to actually forgive others.

That’s a the way the story goes.  And that’s a really good story.

The Flood of Grace

100yearflood-basic-120 years ago this summer I witnessed one of the largest and most damaging floods ever to hit the US as the Mississippi River caused over $15 billion in damage.  Living in St. Louis at the time, I remember being in shock on a visit to “The Arch”.  I have never seen so much muddy water and probably will never see a river that big again in my lifetime.
Flood
In Revelation, John writes about another flood; though this is a good flood from the throne of grace:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Rev 22:1-2a)

I love the image John gives us in the first few verses of chapter 22 of the living water flowing from God’s throne. God’s grace is unstoppable like a flooding river over the tears, the heart ache and all the effects of evil we see over the world.

Like the water from a flood, God’s grace will touch everything in it’s path.

John goes on to say that there will be trees growing on the banks of this great river of life.  And “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 2:2b)

We look around and we see pain in the nations of the world.

We look around and we see pain in our community.

We look around and we see pain in our families.

But God’s grace is like a mighty flood and there is no stopping it. He will bring healing to the nations, to the communities, to the families of the world.

This is the vision John had of the coming new city of God.  We’re not there yet, but God is at work extending his grace across the world.

Have hope! There is a flood of grace on the way.

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