September 2, 2012

The Sermon for the Fouteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Karin I. Liebster, Associate Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Houston, Texas

 

 Readings (NRSV) and Psalm (ELW)
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“… and deliver us from evil.”
This line from the Lord’s Prayer comes to my mind when I hear Jesus say in the Gospel reading that evil intentions come out of our hearts, meaning in our language today out of our rationality and will. Out of our rationality and will come fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride and folly.  – “Deliver us from evil.”

Jesus shows not much interest in the distinctions of ritual purity or impurity, for reasons which are not clear from the passage itself, and with a vehemence and even coarse language which is somewhat surprising.

“And deliver us from evil” is the last of the seven petitions in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (which we find not in Mark but Matthew and Luke). As the last petition it is the most comprehensive and the boldest of them all. After three petitions to God with variations on the plea for God’s kingdom to come we pray those petitions which order the fundamentals in life: sustenance in the bread petition, renewal of relationship in the forgiveness petition, a sure faith in times of crisis to keep confusion at bay in the temptation/time of trial petition.

We plod along and then comes the last one: Deliver us from evil. Deliver us from our human condition, our very own nature – sin, evil intentions, evil itself.

When you think of it, what it could really mean, deliver us from evil, it takes your breath away. Because it would be all we ever prayed for: salvation and peace. But – deliverance from evil would also change everything so entirely that we might not recognize our world or each other anymore. Are we ready for that? Do we need evil to stay? Do we need to stay in our human condition?

Jesus shows no interest in sorting out questions of proper preparation for the eating of meals and keeping holy and common things apart so that the holy remain pure. Instead, he introduces a whole different level of purity and impurity: the evil that comes out of the rationality and will of the human being. Jesus seems to be in a different frame of mind than those around him, more than that, he turns on a different time table. His time is not our time. Deliver us from evil, he teaches us to pray, and with it draws us in to his frame of mind and time and space.

Let’s jump for a moment in history, to Martin Luther and the Reformation, to illustrate how Jesus and his contemporaries play on different planes of time, and how we are drawn into this as well through Jesus.

Martin Luther prayed the Lord’s Prayer with fervor which one can tell from the way he explains it in his Small Catechism. The Lord’s Prayer, by the act of praying it, not only invokes the kingdom of God as something important but far away in the future, but makes it real, makes it present time, now. And how must Luther have been keenly aware of the drive, the fervor of God’s time in this prayer pushing into our time, our history each time we pray it, knocking at our doors, even clashing with our senses of the pursuit of life and time.

Martin Luther was given the rare gift (and burden) that in his person and life crystallized changes that had been coming for decades and decades, being birthed under great difficulties and sacrifices, that changed religion, faith, theology, church, society, education, gender roles, political geography forever. He still is 500 years later considered one of the greatest persons in human history.

Luther while he could not know what all his life’s work would change forever in history, could very well see how in our linear sense of time history met up with the other kind of time that is God’s time which operates on this other time table and is so hard to explain. For lack of better terms we use words such as presence, breaking in, kingdom of God, which Jesus brings closest to us in the elusive language of parables, and in the end he becomes a parable himself. For Luther his portion on the human time line became at least sometimes one with God’s counting of time which is not linear but present, momentary, whooshing in, sweeping up, in the simple act of praying the Lord’s Prayer, Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, and, … deliver us from evil.

Dear sisters and brothers, what for Luther in his exceptional life was maybe easier to discern than it may be for us, holds nevertheless true for us as well. When we pray, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come … and deliver us from evil, does our chronological time line touch God’s time; God’s kairos touches our chronos. We become the loopholes, the doors, the gates through which God’s time, God’s salvation and peace enter/spill into the world. In our individual life histories and in communities like this one our time and God’s time meld together to form our unique witness to the God of life.

With this in mind we return to Jesus’ take on the questions of purity and impurity.

As Christians in a liturgical Lutheran tradition our chronological time line or better the circle of time in the cycle of the church year is ordered by holy times and common times, festivals and ordinary time. We carefully prepare and treat holy space and time. We enjoy the rituals of the holidays and then gladly return to the normal days. Rituals order our life.

Looking to our Gulf coast neighbors after this week, once the worship spaces and homes that were flooded, dirtied and damaged by Hurricane Isaac are cleaned up and repaired, they will be returned to the uses for which they have been set aside with rituals of renewal and prayers of relief and thanksgiving.

In the practice of our religion we observe certain rituals of marking time and setting the holy apart from the common, like all religions universally do. Yet we also take great care not to make worship our worship but keep our focus on the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

We keep this focus shaped and formed through Christ who is such a different kind of king and superimposes his kingdom on us and our time. Therefore we can freely and openly look at and acknowledge our human condition which is ours as much as anyone’s in the evil intentions and actions from which this world suffers and under which it groans. We can name it inside ourselves and outside of ourselves. We continue to pray for deliverance from evil and all it does. And when we name evil or confront any of its expressions it is not because we are better people, but because we have to as people forgiven, loved and sent to bring the good news of Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God! Amen.