Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Neighborhood of Make Believe and the Kingdom of God

Luke 11.1-13


“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, it’s a beautiful day for a neighbor…” How many of you sitting out there today know where that song is from? I certainly do. It’s the song that began every episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. I grew up that show. It fascinating and safe place to use my imagination, to see how so many of the things we use from day to day are made, and to learn a little bit of how kindness can and should be spread throughout the world. In some ways, it’s something of miracle that his show lasted for so long on public television, especially for the way it has been mocked throughout the years. I guess some people just couldn’t get past the idea that image he portrayed on screen could actually be his real personality and the way he really dealt with people on a regular basis.

Now, how many of you knew that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister? You wouldn’t know that by only watching his television show, but yes he was an ordained minister who was specially charged with serving children and families through his television show. So when I think back to “the Neighborhood,” I can recognize how he sought to imagine a world where God’s kingdom had indeed come and how people loved, laughed, cried, got angry, and even forgave one another in the rule of that kingdom. Mr. Roger’s “Neighborhood of Make Believe” sought to be an example of what it is like to live your life by faith, trusting in God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. He didn’t use specific Christian Language, but he still preached the gospel of a life lived by faith.

The prayer we pray every time we come together in worship and for many of our meetings is the Lord’s Prayer, is it not? That is prayer that doesn’t change from week to week. (Sure the words may be a little different from time to time, but is the meaning of that prayer ever truly changed by saying “sins” instead of “trespasses?”) This is the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples when they ask him to pray. This is the prayer that holds on so very dearly in people’s minds even when the ravages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease work upon our loved ones. And what is at the heart of this prayer? It is nothing other than beseeching, asking, even begging God for God’s kingdom to come right here, right now. In this place, in this time.

In praying for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying for that kingdom that rule of love to rule our hearts as we deal the people all around us in our lives – those who have sinned against us and those we have sinned against. In praying for God’s kingdom we are praying for that kingdom to come where we receive our daily bread – not just the food and water we need to eat and drink every day, but all of those things that we need to live and flourish. But we ask for our daily bread, not for what we want or what we think we might need in the future. In praying for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying that, in God’s kingdom coming into the earth and into our lives, we are delivered from the evil that plagues us brought into the promise that will always hold us dearly and lovingly even though we die. It is a bold prayer that we pray mostly from memory every week or more often depending on our practice. Do we have the courage to pray this prayer? Do we have the persistence to pray this prayer? Do we even have the absolute shamelessness to ask our God something so astounding?

I had another pastor point out to me this past week that the persistence that Jesus talks of in the short parable in our reading is actually much better translated as “shamelessness.” There are times in our lives where we don’t always know what to pray and how to pray to pray it. And again scripture shows us just how much the disciples can be like us when they ask Jesus to teach them to pray. And Jesus teaches us how to pray. That may be one of the more important things to remember when you think about how we may even begin to be shameless enough to ask God of these astounding things. Jesus teaches us. In faith, we find that God enters into our lives and gives us the strength to pray our prayers especially in those when it may be hard to pray. And I tell you, it has been hard to pray this week. It gets to be that way in our lives from time to time, but those are the times in which Jesus holds us up and is as relentless and shameless as he asks us to be in our lives.

We had vacation bible school led by a team of counselors from Luther Park Bible Camp this past week, and they closed every day of bible camp with a shout prayer. Fred Rogers may not have gone for a prayer that was so loud and boisterous, but I suspect he would have agreed whole heartedly with the Spirit behind those prayers. Because, as Mr. Rogers himself said once to a young girl, “the thing God wants most of all is a relationship with you, yeah, even as a child – especially as a child.” The Kingdom of God that Fred Rogers imagined maybe have been a land of make believe, but when we make believe that God’s rule is how we are going to live our lives, it becomes real in our relationships with each other and with God. Be bold. Be persistent. Be shameless. And my God’s indeed come upon the earth.

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