Sermon for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Proper 12, Year C

July 24, 2022

Genesis 18:20-32                              Psalm 138                            Colossians 2:6-19                              Luke 11:1-13

Last week several of us from St. Paul’s shared in the ministry of Camp Mitchell.  Our theme for the week was Brave, Awkward, Kind – and it drew heavily from a book by Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  At the end of the week someone commented on how appropriate it was the age of our campers – Junior High.  She was right, Brené Brown’s work helps us address the question who am I – a question our youth are seeking to answer in their adolescence. 

“Who am I,” is also a question each of us seek to answer or to avoid. It is not just a developmental question that we answer once in our lives.  It is a question we should never stop asking ourselves.  Who I am today is not who I was in my teens, my twenties, my thirties, my forties – I’ll stop there, you get the point.  We are all constantly evolving, who we are changes hourly as we struggle through the challenges of this live. 

When I was a hospital social worker, I heard a speaker, Tom Bradshaw, say, “the greatest tragedy of all is coming to the end your life and realizing you have lived someone else’s life.”   Working with people then and now, I see the reality of this statement.  Like Bradshaw, Brené Brown addresses the challenge of living our lives as the person God created us to be – of being our authentic selves.

Far too often we act a certain way in order to fit in or be who we believe we should be.  As long as we acting a part, we cannot know what it feels like to belong.  Being who God created us to be, requires us to stop pretending and get in touch with ourselves.  It requires us to be kind to ourselves and accept our imperfections.  It requires us to be brave enough to be vulnerable and risk notfitting in. 

At camp I saw campers encouraging one another.  At the talent show a couple of kids started singing and lost their places.  At the point at which I thought they might give up, their peers started cheering for them to go on.  They timidly began again and finished to a loud, a very loud, applause – when I say loud, I mean at the level of noise that can only be achieved by a room full of adolescent campers.

The overall theme for this year’s Summer Camp is “Always We Begin Again,” and these campers, after two years without getting together at Camp Mitchell are beginning again.  I am pleased to say that although this was the largest camp of the year and we screened the campers daily, testing those with symptoms of COVID, not one person tested positive. 

“Always We Begin Again.”  In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he is writing about living our lives in Christ.  Living our lives in Christ is not about living the life we think we should, it is about beginning again.  It is about living our lives in love.  As I told the campers, living in love begins with loving ourselves.  For most of us, I believe loving ourselves requires a lot of forgiveness. 

In today’s gospel a disciple says to Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray.”  Keep in mind these are his disciples.  It seems odd that they felt they needed to be taught how to pray after having become his follower.  Perhaps it is because these are new disciples, perhaps it is because they have been distracted by all they have seen and done with Jesus, or perhaps it is because they have finally worked up the nerve to admit they don’t really know how to pray.  Many of us struggle with prayer. Our Book of Common Prayer can help – but the disciples of Jesus did not have the luxury of opening a prayer book.   

Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.  The first thing you might notice is that it is not the translation we use.  It speaks of “everyone indebted to us” in place of “those who have trespassed against us” and the “time of trail” in place of “temptation.”  The message; however, is the same.  Jesus teaches us to ask God for forgiveness, just as “we ourselves forgive.”  We are asking God for the same forgiveness we offer to people who have wronged us.  Forgiving others requires us to recognize that we all sin – we are all imperfect and we need to move on. 

Though the Lord’s Prayer does not directly say we need to forgive ourselves, many of us struggle to do so.  It is difficult to forgive others for doing what we cannot forgive in ourselves.  The temptation, or time of trial, is for us to judge ourselves over and over again for the missteps we have made.  When we ask God for forgiveness and repent, we need to leave our sins behind and begin again and walk a different path, the path that leads us to God’s kingdom where peace rests within us and forgiveness abounds.

In the second part of today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us to be persistent in our prayers.  He uses an example of a man going to his neighbor asking to borrow some bread in order to feed a friend who has come to his home late in the evening – long after all of the fast-food restaurants have closed. The neighbor tries to refuse, but the man won’t go away until his neighbor gives him what he needs. 

Jesus is teaching us to remain steadfast in prayer, praying over and over again until we get what we need.  Notice, though that the man goes with a specific request, for three loaves of bread, and Jesus does not say he gets the bread.  Instead, Jesus says that because of his persistence “he will get whatever he needs.”  What we need and what we want can be very different. 

I think it is good to pray for what we want.  Often, however, our prayer helps us realize that what we need is something else.  Likewise, as we seek to be the person we truly are, our authentic self, we may learn that we need to let go of being who we think we are supposed to be.  Christianity is not about acting a part; it is about living our lives in Christ.  The process of being true to ourselves may lead to changes in our lives, including how and with whom we spend our time.  Being authentic enables us to belong to God’s kingdom, not just fit-in with others.  

Let us pray.

          Loving God, we pray for your help finding our authentic self.  Help us we pray, to grow into the person you created us to be.  Fill us with your love and forgiveness that we might love and forgive others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.