Rev. Danielle K Bartz January 3, 2021
Matthew 2:1-12 “A Small Rebellion”
I can no longer say aloud, or even in my own head, the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety without making a mistake. I get caught somewhere – never the same place, but somewhere along the way and forget what comes next. I fumble the words, trying to remember a prayer that I have known inside and out since I was eleven years old. I have had to start reading it, literally following along with the words when I lead the prayer on Sunday mornings. And each and every time I think to myself that I don’t need to read the words – thinking, I know this prayer – I get caught somewhere along the way. And if I have been brash enough to not even have a script in front of me, I usually just have to give up and start again.
As I said, I know the Lord’s Prayer inside and out, up and down. When I started to attend church at the age of 10, I quickly noticed that the people around me in worship seemed to have that part of the service memorized, so I sat down in my bedroom one afternoon, an old worship bulletin in my lap, and didn’t open the door until I could say aloud the entire prayer from memory.
When I was in seminary, I studied the church’s history of using the Lord’s Prayer in worship over the millennia and debated with my classmates whether debts, trespasses, or sins was the right word to say. As a student pastor I sat down with a member of the congregation I was serving to discuss her discomfort with the prayer and helped her to work through and accept that sometimes prayers make us uncomfortable, but at least they help us to think. As a hospital chaplain I would lead patients and families in the Lord’s Prayer almost daily, always marveling that a person with severe dementia could usually say the entire prayer aloud, finding the words so familiar they could recite them even if they didn’t know their own name. During my first Lent here, in 2019, I did a 5-week sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, exploring with you the prayer line by line, and encountering it with you in different forms as each week we picked a different version, finding God in new ways through new cultural interpretations.
I know the Lord’s Prayer inside and out, but ever since we moved to online worship back in March, I just can’t seem to get myself through it. Now, I have a good sense of humor and I have no desire for you to see me as anything other than completely human, flaws and all. And you, thankfully, have a good sense of humor as well. Rather than seeing and hearing my inability to get through the Lord’s Prayer without a mistake or needing to read it as evidence of my inadequacy as a pastor, I was told you find it, and I quote “charming.” But why is it I can’t lead you in that prayer anymore without help?
That is a question I asked myself, along with so many others, as 2020 came to an end and 2021 began. 2020 is a year that will be remembered, studied, talked about, and analyzed. We will do that as a congregation, as well as a nation and a world. Whatever ideas or plans we had were quickly changed. And this thing we do together, this crazy thing called church that binds you and me to one another and to God, this has changed maybe most of all. And I worried, back in March, that we may not be able to do it. I worried that our building, and traditions, and comforting rituals were the only thing holding us together. I worried that you wouldn’t be able to worship in front of a computer screen, and would stare at each other on Zoom in awkward silence. I worried and worried and worried for a while, but I eventually stopped worrying. Because you showed me that church, this crazy thing that binds you and me to one another and to God, is so much more than any of us could imagine. And I think a lot of that has to do with this simple fact: in the 21st century to be a person of active and involved faith is to be a bit rebellious.
People of faith are by their very nature a bit rebellious. Which makes great sense, if we think about it, because Christianity is a religion of small rebellions. The birth of Jesus didn’t take place in a grand way as one might assume, but in the most humble of ways, and yet that Prince of Peace and Savior of humanity is still worshipped today. The wise men from the East were ordered to report back to Herod the location of Jesus, but they rebelled because they knew something extraordinary was happening and were going to protect it at all costs. Jesus’ teachings are one revolutionary cry for rebellion against oppression after another. And when the world killed Jesus for his message and acts of Good News, God rebelled and said ‘No’ to hate and fear, and said ‘Yes’ to love, justice, and peace. People of faith are by their very nature rebellious against a world that tries to say the only way to survive is to circle the wagons and look inward.
The world says we should be jaded by institutional religion and view it as nothing more than a power structure meant to demean many while elevating only a few. But we are a bit rebellious and say, no that is not the case. We say that institutional religion is flawed like any institution, but ultimately it is a group of imperfect people who genuinely believe that God is calling them to do good in this world, and even though we don’t have it right, we will keep trying.
The world says that church only cares about itself, and turns its noses up to others. But, we are bit rebellious and say in fact the church is only the church if it loves God and neighbor equally. You proved this point by helping me to eliminate over $2.2 million of medical debt across MN and WI – with no expectations of a thank you. You did simply because it needed to be done.
The world says that we must hoard what we have and giving money away too easily will leave us vulnerable. But we are a bit rebellious and say in fact the more we give the more we receive. So the Church Council, on your behalf has given away $1000 a month since March to local organizations helping people through the pandemic. And I lost track of how many of you turned your spring-time COVID stimulus checks into gift cards and gave them to me to give to someone in need. “Somebody else needs this more than I do,” is what so many of you said.
The world says that the church only cares about ancient and obscure things, but we are bit rebellious and instead focus our attention on the world around us today. Our Bible study, which has grown 5x as large as it was before the pandemic, studies the scriptures for what they can teach us for today’s world. On Sundays at noon a group of us get together to talk aloud the problems of this world and how we can respond as people of faith. And when George Floyd was killed, we collectively said that Black Lives Matter and we will never again gloss over our white privilege.
The world says church only happens in an old and dusty building between 10 and 11 on Sunday mornings. But, we are bit rebellious and are showing the world that church is a group of people, not a building, and that worship can happen at home, outdoors, on a cellphone or computer screen, or even just a packet of paper that arrives in the mail once a week. We may love our building, but you have not been here in almost a year, and yet our worship attendance, when all the numbers are added up, is greater now than it was before.
And that brings me back to my trouble with the Lord’s Prayer. Because while we, a rebellious people, have shown the world that we can continue to be a strong and vibrant church even when we cannot gather together to worship, it is something we are deeply missing. And while we have made the good and correct decision to remain physically apart until it is safe, we are all so eager to gather again. To sing together again. To pass the peace, hug an old friend, and sit at coffee hour eating and laughing together. And to pray aloud together again. I think that is why I cannot get through the Lord’s Prayer on my own – looking into a camera at the back of the sanctuary. Because as a preacher and teacher of the Christian church it is my role and privilege to lead you in that ancient prayer. To join my voice with yours and with the voices of Christians around the world. To say together that prayer as a community, our many voices becoming one, carrying one another along, giving glory to God as a people. I can’t say it on my own, not being able to hear you say it with me, even though I know so many of you pray it aloud with me on Sunday morning. I just can’t do it alone. But I have a hunch, during that first in person worship service that we will have again, and do I believe it will be this year, I have a hunch I will find those words once again flow easily from my lips – because we will be saying them together. But, for the meantime, I will read the words from a script, and during those inevitable moments when my ego gets the best of me, I thank you again for your good humor and love as I make mistakes.
And it is your humor and love I know that I can count on as we move into this New Year. Your good humor about our struggles and your extraordinary love for one another, for God, and for me. As I said, we are just a bit rebellious, and in today’s world love is an act of rebellion.
Holy God, we listen for your voice calling us to something new.
In the wake of Advent, Christmas, and the turn of the new year, some of us are still hopeful and full of expectation; some of us are weary and worn; some of us are overwhelmed and anxious. But as sure as the sun rises, a new year is upon us, full of possibilities, full of promise.
You are a God of newness and change, and you call us to be continually transformed. In this season of resolve, help us to be mindful and intentional about our priorities. Help us to look to Jesus as our way;
help us to rely on the Spirit to follow, in our faith and in our doubt. Inspire us with a vision of the world as it could be, a world closer to your intentions and desires, a world of abundance and plenty, a world of peace and security, a world of cooperation and prosperity, a world of health and well-being, a world of love and justice.
God, even as we hope and dream of a better world, even as we make plans to be better people, we are mindful of the realities that face us right now. So we ask for healing and wholeness for those who are sick; we seek comfort for those who are grieving; we pray for companionship for those who are lonely;
we long for peace in places of war; we desire justice for those who are oppressed; we want reconciliation for those who are estranged.
We are confident, God, that you will walk with us as we strive to meet these needs; we are confident that you will walk with us always. Your presence among us is abiding and real; your love fills our lives and guides our paths.
Help us, God, to not put Christmas away too quickly, to enjoy the fullness of this season and be transformed by the spirit of Christ in our midst. Even now, dear God, we join our voices to his, boldly praying for the transformation of the world in the ever-new words of this familiar prayer.