First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon ~ July 28, 2019

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. “Teach us how to pray”
    3. Movie Bruce Almighty – answering prayers tells everyone yes
      1. Lottery winners only get $17 bucks.
      2. Challenge of self centered wishes
    4. The Good Place, the Lord’s Prayer, and God’s Kingdom
      1. Categorical Imperative – Immanuel Kant –
        1. Act as you would want all other people to act towards all other people.
        2. Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law.
      2. The Categorical Imperative provides a way for us to evaluate moral actions and to make moral judgments.
        1. It is not a command to perform specific actions — it does not say, “follow the 10 commandments”, or “respect your elders”.
        2. It is essentially “empty” — it is simply formal procedure by which to evaluate any action about which might be morally relevant.
      3. Didn’t hear about this in seminary, or philosophy classes. Or if I did, it didn’t stick.  I heard about it on the TV show “The Good Place”
        1. A very funny show where they wrestle with weighty, spiritual questions, such as this
      4. How do our prayers measure up to God’s wishes?
        1. The “Bruce Almighty” test
        2. “thy kingdom come” or ”Bring in your kingdom”
      5. From this week’s Bible study – “How often do we pray for what we want more than what we need?”
    5. Today’s Gospel – Jesus’ categorical imperative
      1. Disciples knew how to pray, but were perhaps looking for Jesus’ unique perspective
        1. spiritual teachers used prayers to differentiate themselves from one another
      2. It’s a simple prayer, by contemporary standards. Intimate. God is simply father, no other loftier titles
        1. Practical, grounded in everyday life
      3. Give US this day OUR daily bread, not individual
    6. The Categorical Imperatives (or the Bruce Almighty test) of the Lord’s Prayer
      1. Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
      2. Bring in your kingdom. – make the world in line with your wishes
      3. Give us the bread we need for today – addresses our and collective needs without leading to excess
      4. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. – acknowledges our imperfection, gives grace, and reminds us that we are to share the same with others “bring in God’s Kingdom”
      5. And don’t lead us into temptation.
    7. How do your prayers measure up?
      1. Do they have the same focus on God’s Kingdom? Or just for your needs?
      2. Reinforcing our covenantal bond with one another, and all creation
      3. Many current preachers and teachers moving away from kingdom towards kin-dom
        1. Reinforce our relationships, and remove conquering connotation
      4. Abraham, and justice\mercy
        1. Today’s story from Genesis emphasizes another part of our relationship with God –
        2. Part of covenant, holding one another accountable – even God
          1. Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?”
          2. Talks God down to 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10.
  • Why ten? Some Jewish scholars suggest ten is the minimum number of people to form a prayer group or synagogue – thus testifying to the power of a few good people doing the right thing can transform a city
  1. His grandson, Jacob, is renamed Israel, one who wrestles with God
  1. Abraham and Jesus
    1. Persistence in our relationship with God
    2. Abraham – obedient, but questioning – holding God accountable
    3. Jesus – Lord’s prayer – prayer as intimate conversation with God
      1. Loving like a parent
      2. If we are weak (evil) and still know how to give, how much more will God do?
  • Not just getting more of the same material Goods, but something categorically superior, the Holy Spirit
  1. And keep at it. Keep evaluating and asking if this brings about God’s kin-dom
  1. Balance of justice and mercy in faith
    1. “I am but soil and ash” Abraham is humble, but persistent – holds God accountable
    2. Lord’s prayer – forgive our sins, as we forgive others – moves focus from our individual needs
  2. Covenant accountability with God (and our uncomfortableness with it)
    1. Story of Sodom this week –
    2. Ezekiel’s commentary
      1. They had good gifts from God, but kept them to themselves
      2. Didn’t help poor
  • Became haughty and detestable in God’s eyes
  1. Prayed for what they wanted, not what they (and others) needed.
  2. So often, that’s what I hear now, when people talk about praying for our country – missing the blessings that we’ve had and kept to ourselves
  3. Jesus calls his disciples (and humanity) evil in today’s reading
    1. More like self-centered, or weak
    2. Even in this state, we can still care for our own
  4. Psalm 52 last week

 Hey, powerful person!    Why do you brag about evil?

 God’s faithful love lasts all day long.

Your tongue devises destruction: it’s like a sharpened razor, causing deception.

You love evil more than good; you love lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

You love all destructive words; you love the deceiving tongue.

But God will take you down permanently;

God will snatch you up, tear you out of your tent, and uproot you from the land of the living! Selah

  • God is not a magic wish dispenser
    1. Dangerous to think of God that way –
    2. Book of Job is the prime example against that way of thinking
    3. “When we read the account of Creation in Genesis we risk imagining that God was a magician, complete with an all powerful magic wand. But that was not so. He created beings and he let them develop according to the internal laws with which He endowed each one, that they might develop, and reach their fullness. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time in which He assured them of his continual presence, giving life to every reality.” – Pope Francis, 27 October 2014, address of PLENARY SESSION OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
  1. The Widening Welcome of God’s Kin-dom. Not just “our people”
    1. 11 “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? 12 If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? 13 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
    2. Ezekiel passage
    3. What if our prayers have been answered, but we were praying for the self-serving things?
  • Conclusion – hearing the categorical imperative in the Lord’s prayer
    1. Experience it anew, like Disciples
      1. We will Sing it in a moment
      2. New version during our prayers – just one week
        1. To get us to pause and reflect on it again
      3. Pray not what we want, but for what an expansive we needs
        1. Including justice and mercy for all
      4. Rediscover the radical and transformative power of the Lord’s Prayer.
      5. Have our faith practices include reflecting on what we are asking for.
        1. Even if we find it in unexpected places, like comedies.
      6. And speak up, even if it means challenging God


Genesis 18:17-32 Common English Bible (CEB)

In today’s reading from Genesis, Abraham and God discuss the plans that God has for the city of Sodom. Just prior to this reading, Abraham and Sarah had just received word that Sarah would bear a son, despite of her advanced age. You can read along starting on page __________ or just listen.  

17 [T]he Lord said, “Will I keep from Abraham what I’m about to do? 18 Abraham will certainly become a great populous nation, and all the earth’s nations will be blessed because of him. 19 I have formed a relationship with him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him. And they will keep to the Lord’s path, being moral and just so that the Lord can do for Abraham everything he said he would.” 20 Then the Lord said, “The cries of injustice from Sodom and Gomorrah are countless, and their sin is very serious! 21 I will go down now to examine the cries of injustice that have reached me. Have they really done all this? If not, I want to know.”

22 The men turned away and walked toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing in front of the Lord. 23 Abraham approached and said, “Will you really sweep away the innocent with the guilty? 24 What if there are fifty innocent people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not save the place for the sake of the fifty innocent people in it? 25 It’s not like you to do this, killing the innocent with the guilty as if there were no difference. It’s not like you! Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?”

26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will save it because of them.”

27 Abraham responded, “Since I’ve already decided to speak with my Lord, even though I’m just soil and ash, 28 what if there are five fewer innocent people than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city over just five?”

The Lord said, “If I find forty-five there, I won’t destroy it.”

29 Once again Abraham spoke, “What if forty are there?”

The Lord said, “For the sake of forty, I will do nothing.”

30 He said, “Don’t be angry with me, my Lord, but let me speak. What if thirty are there?”

The Lord said, “I won’t do it if I find thirty there.”

31 Abraham said, “Since I’ve already decided to speak with my Lord, what if twenty are there?”

The Lord said, “I won’t do it, for the sake of twenty.”

32 Abraham said, “Don’t be angry with me, my Lord, but let me speak just once more. What if there are ten?”

And the Lord said, “I will not destroy it because of those ten.”

Ezekiel 16:49-50 Common English Bible (CEB)

This brief excerpt from Ezekiel frames the classic Jewish understanding of the injustice and sin of Sodom.  You can find it on page __________.

49 This is the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were proud, had plenty to eat, and enjoyed peace and prosperity; but she didn’t help the poor and the needy. 50 They became haughty and did detestable things in front of me, and I turned away from them as soon as I saw it.

Luke 11:1-13 Common English Bible (CEB)

Our gospel reading from Luke continues directly after our readings from the previous Sundays of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and visiting the home of Martha and Mary. You can read along on page ___________.

11 Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”

He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.

11 “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? 12 If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? 13 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

The Word of God, for the People of God.

Thanks be to God.