Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Welcome Home

Welcome Home
Romans 11:1-5, 25-32[1]
In our highly mobile world, I’m afraid that “home” is a concept that has gotten complicated for many of us. Some of us have made major moves across the country—some more than one. Doing so leaves you feeling out of place, and away from “home.” Some think of home as the house where they grew up. There may still be family members living there. A few of us may even live in the house where we spent our childhood. But many of us don’t have that place to look to as “home” any more. I would say that the way our society operates these days leaves all too many of us with the feeling of not having a home.
Of course, in the absence of a place that is home, we turn to the people around us. For many in our world today, family, friends, and church provide the feeling of support and community that we association with “home.” I think that’s one of the best qualities about this particular family of faith. I would say most if not all of us have a sense of feeling “at home” here. For some of us this may be the only real “home” we have. That makes it all the more important that we gather together, that we share meals, that we build relationships, and that we care for one another. Many of us have no other place to turn to find that feeling of “home.”
I think that one of the main points of our lesson from Romans for this week is that God is the one who is our ultimate “home” in this world. God’s love and mercy extend to all without any “if’s, and’s or but’s.” That sets the tone of the inclusive welcome that our incredibly generous God offers us all. I find it interesting that Paul makes this point right in the middle of an extended discussion of the idea that all those who are now seemingly “excluded” God will ultimately include in the family of those who know God’s embrace.
St. Paul says it this way, “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Rom. 11:32). That language may offend us; what kind of a God “imprisons” people in disobedience? But it’s often easy to miss the point Paul is trying to make in his letters. Here he’s talking about the good news that although we’ve all imprisoned ourselves in our own disobedience, God works to include us all in mercy! Again, I like the way Gene Peterson puts it in The Message: “In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.” 
When you read Paul’s statement in that light, you can see that the emphasis is on all.  Now, some of us may wonder what the big deal is with disobedience. Everybody makes mistakes. But when Paul insists that we’ve all wandered into the prison of disobedience, we have to understand that he’s what he’s talking about is first and foremost dis-belief, un-faith, an unwillingness to respond to God’s gift and claim with trust. “Disobedience” means going our own way regardless of the consequences to ourselves or others.  “Disobedience” means satisfying of our own desires at the expense of others. “Disobedience” is not simply accidentally failing to follow the rules, it’s willfully doing what is destructive to oneself and/or others.  And Paul insists over and over again, that we have all fallen into that trap. As a result, we may very likely not feel “at home” with ourselves, with our world, or even with God.
But the “big deal” here is that God’s response to our disobedience is to extend mercy to us all, to include us all in the embrace of salvation.  And Paul says that this happens because of God’s grace (Rom. 11:6), or “undeserved kindness” (cf. Rom. 11:6, CEV).  As we mentioned last week, the fact that it’s undeserved means that God gives his love and mercy to us as a gift. We can never claim that we deserve it, but God gives it anyway because God chooses to embrace us!
The good news is that God welcomes everyone into his loving embrace. That’s the home that we can all turn to when we have nowhere else to look. God’s kindness may be undeserved—by us all—but it isn’t just some “random act.”  In fact, God’s kindness is very intentional: God has determined from all eternity to be the God who has mercy on us all! God has deliberately chosen to include everyone—especially those who seem to have been excluded.  That’s what Isaiah the prophet had said long before Paul: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, … these I will bring to my holy mountain …; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa. 56:6-7). God’s purpose has always been about inclusion, not exclusion. 
God welcomes us all home to the embrace of his love and mercy. For more and more of us these days, that may be the only real “home” we have. And that’s all the more reason for this fellowship of people who are “strangers and refugees in this world” (1 Pet. 2:11, TEV) to extend God’s love and mercy to one another, and to all whom we encounter. We don’t know what burdens a person may be carrying. We don’t know how far from “home” they may feel. But we do know that God’s plan is to welcome us all home, to a home that we can always count on. And that means that we are called show the love and kindness that essentially extends that welcome to those around us. Just as we have been embraced by God’s love and mercy, so we are called to embrace others in a way that says to them in God’s name, “welcome home.”

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/20/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Incredibly Generous

Incredibly Generous
Romans 10:5-15[1]
  There was a time when one of the defining characteristics of communities across this country was generosity. Because we believed that all our material possessions were gifts from God, we felt almost duty-bound to share with any and all who came our way. Whether it was a neighbor in need or a stranger passing through, sharing friendship, a meal, or even at times “the shirt off our back” was simply the way we believed we should treat one another. And in the most notable examples of our practice of generosity, we didn’t let anything get in the way of helping out a neighbor—not politics, nor race, nor creed. Especially in the hardest of times.
  Fast forward to a new century and a whole different standard of living, and things have changed dramatically. Yes, we still perform “random acts of kindness” for individuals. But we are not nearly as prone to share with a neighbor these days, let alone a stranger! Our society has grown many times more prosperous since the days when our parents and grandparents were practicing simple hospitality and generosity. And as we have done so, we have retreated to the “safety” of our homes and cars, which effectively insulate us from the people around us. When we do have to be around “strangers,” as when we are when flying anywhere on an airplane, we use headphones to protect us from having to actually interact with the person sitting next to us.
  I think that the tradition of sharing and hospitality in our culture originated in the Bible. There are many reminders throughout Scripture that all that we have and all that we are come as gifts from God. And we receive them not as a reward for doing good or being good; they come from God’s grace. Grace is a word we don’t use a lot these days to actually describe a person—at least not the way the Bible does for God. Grace means that we can never do enough good to deserve God’s love, but he gives it to us anyway because that’s who God is! We can never be good enough to deserve all the blessings we enjoy, but God gives them to us anyway because that’s who God is!
  I think that’s one of the points of our Scripture lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. I particularly like verses 11 and 12: “The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (Rom. 10:11-12). I like it even better in Gene Peterson’s The Message translation: “Scripture reassures us, ‘No one who trusts God like this - heart and soul - will ever regret it.’ It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s … background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help.”
  “Incredibly generous.”  I think that’s got to be one of the best phrases to describe God’s grace I’ve ever heard.  I think that’s the heart of Paul’s message in this passage.  God is incredibly generous to us all.   God loves us all unconditionally.  God offers new life to us all, without any exceptions or exclusions.  And all this is something that God does simply because it’s who God is. It’s not something we can ever do enough to deserve or earn, but that also means we don’t have to do anything to earn it!
  Now, that’s the good news.  What it requires of us might come to some of us as “bad news.” The incredibly generous gift that God has for all of us requires nothing less of us than to “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 30:10).  I think that’s what Paul’s getting at in this passage, much of which is quoted from Moses. Again, in The Message translation, Paul says that the incredibly generous gift God offers us all requires “no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah, no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah.”  Rather “The word that saves is right here, as near as the tongue in your mouth, as close as the heart in your chest” (Rom. 10:6-7, Message). 
  The point is that God doesn’t ask us to cross land and sea in order to deserve the incredible generosity God offers us all.  What God asks of us is that we open our hearts and trust that our incredibly generous God loves us and wants us to thrive.  But that kind of trust is not easy.  In fact, many of us would rather cross land and sea in some heroic venture than to open our hearts and trust anyone, even God!  But what our incredibly generous God asks of us is this—that we embrace God’s incredibly generous love completely, with open hearts, or as Paul puts it: “body and soul” (Rom. 10:9-10, The Message).
  I’ve mentioned my Grandfather, Harold Brehm, who was from Talmage. What I may not have mentioned is that he wound up in the grocery business. In fact, he ran his own grocery store during the Great Depression. When I was young, he liked to tell stories about his life. One of the stories he told was about how he extended credit to many of his friends and neighbors during the depression because they couldn’t make ends meet. He wasn’t really bragging. It was simply a matter of my Grandfather being a kind man and wanting to help his friends and neighbors when they were in need. That’s the spirit of generosity that used to thrive in our country. I think it could do so again. But for that to happen, we would have to rehabilitate our view of God. God isn’t in the business of blessing the righteous, or the deserving, no matter how much they may have achieved. God showers his blessings on all of us, simply because that’s who God is. He’s “the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help.”

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/13/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

New Mercies

New Mercies
Romans 9:1-5, 30-10:4[1]
  For generations, our culture has been one in which self-reliance constitutes one of the most basic virtues. Most of us would rather not have to admit that there are times when we really could use some help—in fact there are times when we actually need help! But it just isn’t in our DNA to admit that to anyone, even to ourselves. We’d much rather carry on, doing the best we can on our own, relying on our own strength, ingenuity, and stubborn will-power to get through whatever we may be dealing with in life. Anything to avoid even letting on that we need help! For us, admitting that can be seen as the worst kind of weakness.
And yet, the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ is based on the premise that when it comes down to it, all of us need help—desperately. When it comes to our faith and living it out in daily life, we cannot simply rely on our own strength. And when it comes to making us right in the sight of God, we most certainly cannot do anything to achieve this by ourselves. The Gospel message is that we are all in need of God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s love—for the faith to sustain us every day, for the love to serve Christ and the Church faithfully, and for the hope that our eternal destiny is safely in God’s hands.
  In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul goes to great lengths to elaborate on this Gospel of new life as a gift of God’s grace and mercy.  He makes it clear that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we all have new life, a life that truly is life. And yet, in the midst of this wonderful elaboration on the good news, Paul faces an inevitable question —what about God’s own “people”?  The fact of the matter is that God’s “chosen people” had for the most part rejected Jesus and the good news that Paul and others were preaching.  Paul says that it personally caused him “great grief and constant pain” (Rom. 9:2).  But it also constitutes an argument that could potentially refute the Gospel. 
  Think about it—if this is what God is up to in the world, why is it that God’s own “chosen people” have not embraced it?  Or perhaps we could ask it this way—if God is so “faithful” and “loving,” why has God’s project seemingly by-passed the people God promised to bless?  It would seem that either the “gospel” is a massive misrepresentation, or that God is after all unfaithful, untrustworthy, and “the promise of God has failed” (Rom. 9:6, TEV). For Paul, this raises a serious question about God’s intentions on our behalf.
  All of this relates to an issue that defines our understanding of God and salvation throughout the Bible.  It is the subject of “election.”  In the Bible, election is the idea that God chose to bless the descendants of Abraham.  The promises to the ancestors, the Exodus, and the covenant are all part of one great act of God in choosing the people of Israel to be God’s people.  This doesn’t come across very well with us, because “choosing” anyone sounds to us like rejecting someone else—or perhaps everyone else!  I think one of the great sources of confusion about the Gospel is the idea that God picks and chooses who will be saved and who will be rejected.  If that’s the case, then Paul’s “Gospel” really isn’t such good news after all!
  That’s why Paul takes great pains to address this question.  Unfortunately, in this section of the Book of Romans he seems to talk in circles, and it’s easy to get lost in the process!  Though Paul’s language is confusing, the main idea is that when it comes to our salvation—as well as anyone else’s—“everything depends on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16, CEV).  Or as another version puts it, “It is obviously not a question of human will or human effort, but of divine mercy” (Rom. 9:16, Phillips). 
  At first glance, the idea of “election,” or “predestination,” or whatever you want to call it, seems to imply that God is arbitrary about who gets to have eternal life and who perishes in the flames. But nothing could be further from the truth!   When the Bible addresses God’s “plan of salvation,” it presents a God who is always taking the first step toward us all. If we follow the Scriptures closely, we will see that what all of this is about is God’s decision from all eternity to be the God who justifies the godless (Rom. 4:5), who has mercy on us all (Rom. 11:32), who takes all notion of rejection away (Rom. 8:1; cf. Gal. 3:13).  At the end of the day what must be said about the Bible’s witness is that what God elects, what God chooses from all eternity, what God “predestines,” if you will, is our salvation—and the salvation of all humankind!   This is true even in the case of those who apparently reject God’s love now, of those who seemingly want to be destroyed, of those who have hardened themselves!  
  All of this may seem difficult to grasp for those of us who live by the creed that you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and you make your own way in this world. But the essence of Paul’s Gospel in the letter to the Romans is that “everything depends on God’s mercy” (Rom. 9:16, CEV). This is true even for God’s “chosen” people who have seemingly rejected Jesus. For them, God’s mercy will be renewed and they will be restored (Rom. 9:25-26). And for the rest of us, whether we have sought out God or ignored God, God’s mercy claims us all for his own. For all of us, the bottom line is that God is the one who has determined from all eternity to be the God whose mercies are “new every morning.” And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll have to come the conclusion that we too depend in the final analysis on God’s new mercies for all of our life and for all of our hope.

[1] © 2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/6/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

When We Least Expect It

When We Least Expect It
Matthew 13:31-33[1]
If you’ve spent any significant time in the Southeastern United States, you know that “Kudzu” is bad word.  A very bad word.  People in that part of the country hate Kudzu with a passion.  The reason is that it is one of the fastest growing invasive plants ever to make it to our shores. In fact, it’s called “the vine that ate the South”! Of course, in these parts we’re more concerned about various kinds of thistles, cedars, and weeds like poison hemlock that affect crops and livestock. But authorities in the worst-affected areas of the country spare no effort to eradicate Kudzu.  Or at least to try to stop it from spreading. 
I think one would be hard-pressed to make the case with people in these areas that Kudzu might have any beneficial uses.  In fact, however, in Southeast Asia Kudzu is considered a food crop!  According to Wikipedia, in its native China Kudzu is considered one of the “fifty fundamental herbs” and is used as an herbal remedy for the treatment of alcohol related problems, including liver disease!  There are even some hints that it may show promise for treating migraines, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer!  Wouldn’t that be a twist—if medical science discovered the ultimate cure for cancer in the plant that we’re spending millions of dollars to eradicate!
Something like this kind of twist is involved in Jesus’ parables from our gospel reading for today.  To use a mustard seed as a means of describing God’s kingdom would have been about as shocking in that day as telling a native of Florida that Kudzu might provide the next miracle cure.  It just doesn’t compute.  Mustard is just about as virulent as Kudzu.  Once it takes hold in a field, it will eventually take over the whole place.  It’s just about impossible to eradicate.  Modern farmers hate it because it gets in their crops.  Ranchers hate it because it not good for their livestock.   What possible good could come from mustard seed?
But that’s part of the point that Jesus is trying to make. God’s Kingdom doesn’t work the way we expect it to.  In fact, it works contrary to our expectations.  And the same was true for the people of his day. The eventual success of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed at transforming this world into a place of justice and peace and freedom would have been about as unexpected to the people who originally heard this parable as the idea of something as troublesome as Kudzu turning out to cure our most serious ailments.   It just didn’t make much sense.
The reason for this is that the Kingdom that Jesus envisioned was one of humble self-sacrifice and mercy. It would have been just as hard to understand how something like that could somehow transform the world of his day as it is for us. It just isn’t the way the world works.  In our world money talks.  Might makes right.  Nice guys finish last.  Those who lay down their lives for others become doormats.  Humility means weakness.  Mercy means being taken advantage.  Speaking the truth to those in power means losing your job—or going to jail! In a world that works like that, Jesus’ vision of a kingdom of sacrifice and mercy that would bring justice and peace and freedom to this world seems hard to swallow.
Unfortunately, we who claim to follow him tend to want to take matters into our own hands. Not content to trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about, we adopt the means of this world to “force” the issue.  It’s difficult for us to go on sowing Gospel seeds, waiting patiently for the harvest, leaving the outcome seemingly to circumstance and luck, with no guarantees but the promise of faith and hope. Many call themselves Christian and genuinely want to see the justice and peace and freedom of God’s Kingdom in our world take shortcuts to get results.  They try to guarantee the success of God’s Kingdom by their own efforts.  Some of them even try to ensure the success of the Gospel by any and every means, including manipulation and deceit. 
But what those who take these shortcuts miss is that you cannot promote the justice and peace and freedom of God’s Kingdom by methods that are inconsistent with God’s truth and God’s ways.  While it may be true that many achieve success by those means, I would have to say that in my opinion it is not God’s Kingdom they are promoting.  Rather they are promoting their own agenda, or their fame, or even worse their prosperity. And all at the expense of many who can least afford it!
In the midst of this, Jesus’ strange parables remain as an encouragement to those who are willing to wait in faith and hope for their Gospel seeds to bear fruit.  The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast in the dough both suggest that, despite all obstacles, and despite all indications to the contrary, God’s Kingdom of justice and peace and freedom is here; it is real among us now.  And these parables point to the promise that one day God’s Kingdom will define all of life in this world, just as surely as the mustard plant will take over a field.  
As unlikely as that may sound to us, Jesus was no fool.  I think he knew that his message about God’s Kingdom was unlikely at best, and at worst it came off as ludicrous.  It made about as much sense as talking about weeds taking over fields like it’s a good thing. The “kingdom” that Jesus brought is something different entirely from what most people expect.  But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that sometimes something unexpected can be more satisfying than anything we could have imagined.  God’s justice, God’s peace, and God’s freedom break out in this world when and where and how we least expect it.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/30/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

When the Time is Right

When The Time is Right
Matthew 13:1-9[1]
There are times in our lives when we need to make changes, and there are other times when we need to stay the course. That’s as true for churches as it is for anybody else. These days, everybody seems to be talking about the changes that need to be made for the church in this culture to thrive. And I would agree that we always need to be evaluating what we do, asking ourselves why we’re doing it, and looking for new ways of serving the Kingdom of God that might be more effective. But I don’t hear a lot these days about what the church needs to keep on doing. I think that’s at least as important as what we may need to change.
I think one reason why it’s more attractive to talk about change is because the Christian life can be incredibly discouraging. Most of us embrace the faith in some sense or another out of a feeling of “ought-ness” or a vision to make a difference in the way the world works.  And you identify with a congregation and a denomination and find your way onto the session, only to find out that the leaders may spend more time fighting about décor and money than attempting any kind of mission to save the world.  It can be incredibly discouraging.  But you find your niche in mission and you stay the course month after month and year after year, until you wake up one day so incredibly discouraged from a lack of results that you wonder if God has forgotten you!
To some extent, the parable of the sower addresses this aspect of the Christian faith.  When we seek to go out and make a difference in the world, we’re very much like the sower, planting seeds as we go.  Now, planting seeds these days is quite different from planting seeds in Jesus’ day.  These days we have it down to a science when and how and what kind of seeds to plant.  In Jesus’ day, planting seeds was much more like life.  You scatter seeds all over the place, hoping some of them will take root and grow and bear fruit.  In spite of that difference, most farmers still know what Jesus was talking about—the quality of the soil makes all the difference in the quantity of the harvest.  These days we can even get crops to grow on bad soil; In Jesus’ day, you had to just make do with what you got. 
Of course, Jesus wasn’t really talking about agriculture.  Among other things, he was trying to warn those who followed him out of a sense of personal commitment to the vision of a world of justice and peace and freedom that he inspired in them that not all the seeds they planted would bear fruit.  There are lots of times when sowing does not lead to reaping.[2]  Instead of rejoicing while “bringing in the sheaves,” we find ourselves just sowing and weeping and sowing some more.  Despite some of the lofty sounding promises in the Bible, you just can’t always count on results, no matter how hard you try.  Obedience doesn’t always mean rewards.  Faithfulness doesn’t guarantee results.  Sometimes we find ourselves sowing and not reaping.
We like to think that if we do what we’re supposed to, if we live like we’re supposed to, then we should see some results.  But this kind of thinking often leads to discouragement and even bitterness.  As Henri Nouwen put it, the very expectation that our faithful sowing of seeds ought to lead to reaping a harvest can lead to the resentment of bitterness when the results fail to appear.[3]  That’s why he said that we must sow our seeds in the hope that can enable us to look past our results or lack of results to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose.[4]  That means that, even though we find ourselves sowing without reaping, we keep right on sowing gospel seeds, seeds of mercy and kindness, seeds of love and justice, seeds of peace and freedom.  We do it because one day some of those seeds are going to bear fruit.
There is a time for change, and there is a time for staying the course. In a very real sense, I think the church is always in both at the same time. Our world is changing so fast around us that we always have to be thinking about how we can do things differently. But while we’re doing that, I think we’re called to stay the course when it comes to the fundamentals: prayer, scripture, worship, service, compassion. These facets of our life together as Christian brothers and sisters have always been essential to the vitality of the church. While we’re changing the way we do things, we must stay the course laid out for us by Jesus and the Apostles. As the Apostle Paul says it, when we do so, “At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up” (Gal. 6:9, The Message).

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/23/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” New Interpreter’s Bible VIII:306.
[3] Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, 76.  He says that laboring on the basis of “expectations of concrete results, however conceived, is like building a house on sand instead of solid rock.”
[4] Nouwen, Wounded Healer, 76: “Hope makes it possible to look beyond the fulfillment of urgent wishes and pressing desires and offers a vision beyond human suffering and even death.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Working the Fields

Working the Fields
Matthew 9:35-10:7[1]
I’ve never worked in a field of corn or beans. I grew up in sorghum  and cotton country. So I don’t know what it’s like to work at de-tasseling a corn field or weeding a bean field. I have, however, had my share of manual labor. I spent many a day with my Order of the Arrow chapter cutting weeds at the Scout camp with a swing blade. And I had the blisters on my hands to show for it. I worked at a variety of Summer jobs during my education—including moving potted plants at a wholesale plant nursery, pulling parts at an auto salvage yard, and building and installing wooden playground equipment. I think what they all had in common with working the fields was that it was hard, hot, dusty work.
I don’t know if Jesus’ disciples had experience with working in fields. We know that some of them made their living by fishing with nets. They apparently worked at night, and I would think that hauling their nets could be back-breaking work. But I doubt that all of them had that kind of background. Nevertheless, I’m not sure they saw following Jesus as a path that would lead them to hard work. If they saw him as the Messiah, they may have thought that by joining with him they would have the privilege of ruling with him when he revealed himself. That’s a very different prospect from working the fields.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus clearly calls his disciples to work that he compares to that of a harvest. If you think de-tasseling is work, imagine what it would be like to spend the day cutting wheat and bundling it for gathering. The kind of harvest that took place in Jesus’ day was hard, hot, dusty work. You spent the day swinging a scythe, covered chaff from the wheat mixed with sweat. And you would work from sunup to sundown that way. There was nothing glamorous about that kind of work.
And yet, it’s clear that the work Jesus called his disciples to carry out was urgent. One reason is because the “harvest” they were to work had to do with people. And the people of Jesus’ day were, as Matthew’s gospel says, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). The disciples’ calling to work the fields was urgent because the people needed someone to point the way for them. They needed someone to help them trust that God was there for them to comfort and deliver them. They needed someone to give them hope that they wouldn’t always be suffering under the oppression of the powerful. And so Jesus sent his disciples to work the fields.
Another reason why it was urgent for them to work the harvest was because no one else was doing the job. Jesus says it this way, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37). That might seem perfectly natural to our ears, but in Jesus’ day, it would have sounded strange. Jerusalem was a hive of religious activity with the priests and Levites who attended the worship at the temple. One estimate suggests there were as many as 18,000 priests in that day.[2] There may have been as many as another 30,000 Levites. Then there were the scribes and the Pharisees, who taught primarily in the synagogues scattered throughout Judea. It doesn’t sound much like “the laborers” were “few.”
But part of what was going on here was that Jesus was criticizing the religious professionals of his day. Remember that Matthew says that to Jesus the people were like “sheep without a shepherd.” This was very likely a not-so-veiled rebuke of the priests and Levites, as well as the scribes and the Pharisees. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlines the many ways in which the religious leaders of his day were leading the people astray, or were simply oppressing them. But Jesus wasn’t the first to make the observation that those who were supposed to be caring for the needs of the Jewish people had failed to do so. Prophets like Ezekiel had announced their failure centuries before. Despite the fact that there were many people working in the religious centers of Jesus’ day, he could still say that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
The solution to this problem was to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). While that might seem a rather safe thing to pray, I think Jesus must have known better. It may be easy to assume that we can pray this prayer without having it really affect us. But the truth of the matter is that if you pray this prayer from the heart, it’s not a “safe” prayer at all. It’s very likely that this prayer is one that will lead you to feel compelled to say, “Send me!” That’s exactly what happened with the disciples. In the very next verses Jesus sends them out to do the work of the Kingdom he had been doing.
We may be tempted to think, as Jesus’ disciples may have been, that the “harvest is small and the laborers are many.” After all, there are churches in just about every town and scattered throughout our cities. This part of the country seems to have more churches per capita than anywhere else. Just about everyone you run into around here seems to already have some affiliation with a church. And yet, just as Jesus intended for his disciples to be moved to work the fields by praying for the Lord to send laborers to the harvest, so we too are called to engage in the work of the Kingdom. We might wonder how we’re supposed to do that. The answer is in the Gospels—Jesus sets the example; he shows his own disciples how do work the field by giving them a role model to follow. And his example still stands as the best approach to serving and working for the Kingdom in our day. As we follow his example, we can join all the many laborers throughout the ages who have answered Jesus’ call to work the fields.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 6/18/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] See Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus.

Surrounded by Love

Surrounded by Love
Psalm 8; Matthew 28:20[1]
One of the blessings of information technology is that the world has become a much smaller place. We can learn about what is going on in around the country and even around the world almost as soon as it happens.  That can be a very good thing. It means that we get to see up close and personal how much of a resemblance we bear to our sisters and brothers in the human family.  One of the curses of information technology is that the world has become a much smaller place.  That means that we also get to see—up close and personal—all the cruelty and violence and hatred and injustice afflicting the human family.  In the face of overwhelming cruelty and violence and injustice, it can seem incredibly naïve to believe that God surrounds us continually with love!
On the surface of things, it would seem that the reality of our world contradicts the message of our Scripture lessons for today. In our reading from the Psalms, we find ourselves confronted with the majesty of the God who created all the heavens and the earth. And the more we understand about just how vast this cosmos really is, the more God’s majesty and power in creation is magnified. Even in the Psalmist’s day, a simple glance at the night sky led him to wonder, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4). And yet, despite the fact that the Psalmist frames his faith in the form of a question, we shouldn’t overlook the affirmation that lies behind it: God is mindful of us all; God does care for us, both deeply and continually.
The Psalmist had good reason to believe this. It was the heart of the essential affirmation of the Hebrew Bible: “I am the Lord God. I am merciful and very patient with my people. I show great love, and I can be trusted” (Exodus 34:6, CEV). It is the revelation God gave to Moses when he asked to see God’s glory. And it echoes like a refrain throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, because it is the truth that serves as the foundation for the faith that God loves us with a love that will never let us go. It may be difficult for us to grasp, but the truth of our Scripture lesson is that we are constantly surrounded by the love of the God who created all things.
In our lesson from Matthew’s Gospel, we see this truth reflected in a little different light. The risen Christ is giving his final instructions to his disciples.  And in the midst of it all, he gives them the promise “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20, Today’s NIV). Jesus promised his disciples that he would always be with them, no matter what. If you look at what happens to them in the course of their lives of service to Christ and his kingdom, we might wonder about that: imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, and even martyrdom. But Jesus didn’t promise them that his presence would spare them from opposition in this world. He promised them that he would always be with them.
I guess I would have to say that I would expect the world to look a lot different if we’re to believe that we are always surrounded by God’s love, and that Jesus is always with us. We might think that a world in which we are all constantly and continually surrounded by God’s loving presence should bear a whole lot more evidence of peace and compassion and love!  This question has vexed the minds and hearts of believers throughout the centuries.  If God is so good and loving, why is there so much evil in the world?  And some of the best minds through the ages have diligently sought answers.  
But I’m not so sure that the answer is all that complicated. It seems to me that God’s presence in this world is no more complicated than giving and receiving compassion.  I would think it stands to reason that the way we experience God’s loving presence is in the small acts by which we share kindness and love with our fellow human beings. And I would say that when we open ourselves to our sisters and brothers all around us, we find that there is actually a great deal of love in the world—even in the midst of suffering and injustice.  Precisely in the midst of suffering and injustice.
I heard an interview several years ago with Sarah Shourd, one of a group of American hikers who were arrested and imprisoned in Iran, accused of spying for the U. S.[2] At first, she was alone, and she didn’t have any contact with anyone outside her cell.  During that time she said that all she did was cry and beat at the walls. What sustained her through her ordeal was the compassion of Iranian women who were her fellow prisoners.  When they heard Sarah crying, they would sing songs to her in English to comfort her. In the depths of Sarah’s despair, they would cry out to her in English, “We love you Sarah!”  There she was, surrounded by some of the worst human injustice and cruelty, and in the midst of all that suffering, the voice of compassion came to her, “we love you Sarah!”
I think for most of us, the reality of our world makes us tend to isolate ourselves from those around us.  We stay safely detached from everything and everyone in our world, walking around with earbuds, comfortable in our cars, withdrawing to our homes to engage with virtual reality over one kind of screen or another.  And it’s no wonder we look at our world and wonder, “Where is God?” On the other hand, when we open ourselves to those who are around us and allow ourselves to experience their suffering and share compassion and kindness with them, then we experience God’s loving presence in our own lives.  That’s when we discover the truth of the promise that, no matter what may come, we are always surrounded by God’s love.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 6/11/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Sarah Montague,  Interview with Sarah Shourd, “Hardtalk,” June 10, 2011; accessed at

One and the Same Spirit

One and the Same Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:3-13[1]
When you take a good look at the many different ways in which Christians practice their faith, you may wonder what all of them have in common. There are so many different approaches to living out the Christian faith. You don’t have to go any farther than Lincoln to see that. Some are traditional, some are definitely not. Some are conservative, some are middle of the road, and some are very liberal. Some don’t even have the word “church” on their sign! And many have removed any identification with a denomination like “Presbyterian” or “Methodist” or “Baptist” altogether from their name.
When you go beyond the confines of our culture, it can be even more challenging. As we look at the diversity in the Body of Christ around the world, it can leave us wondering whether there is anything that unites them in any meaningful way. Of course, some churches don’t want to be united with those who do things differently. They think “difference” means “heresy.” However, I would say that while the way believers worship and their understanding of the faith differs from one culture to another, there is a common thread of faith in all of them. I’ve worshipped with churches in Germany, Romania, Switzerland, Nicaragua, The Philippines, and Cameroon. Wherever people are able to comprehend a larger body of Christ, I have felt right at home.
I think one of the most important reasons why this has been true is because the Spirit of God is working in their midst. That’s part of what St. Paul has to say in our New Testament lesson for today. He says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). I think Paul makes it clear that different approaches to the faith are to be expected. These are the “varieties” he speaks of. Not everyone in every church everywhere is going to do everything exactly the same way. That’s not a problem, it’s a sign of health and vitality in the church!
Throughout his letters, the Apostle attributes all life in the church to the Spirit of God. When the church thrives, it is because the Spirit of God is working among us. When the church comes together in a way that unites believers from across cultural, political, national, and ethnic boundary lines, it is the work of the Spirit of God. When the members of a congregation like this one share in the serving one another and the world around us, it is because the Spirit of God has enabled us to do so. For St. Paul, every aspect of the church’s life and ministry comes from the Spirit of God.
The surprising element in all of this is the fact that God has chosen to accomplish this work through people like you and me. And to do this, he gives us the “gifts of the Spirit,” which St. Paul says are given to each person “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). In other words, every single person has some “gift” from the Spirit that is to be used for the benefit of the whole church. What that means is that for the church to thrive all the members of the body have to share the gifts they have been given. We may have a variety of gifts, but all of them come from the same Spirit and are meant to build up the body of Christ.
I think one major mistake people make when they look at the “gifts of the Spirit” is that they try to see where they fit into the lists of gifts mentioned in the Bible. But I don’t believe St. Paul ever intended for the lists of gifts he mentioned to be taken as the only possibilities. They are examples of the ways that the Spirit of God was working through people in the churches of his day. To be sure, some of those gifts are timeless. There will always be a need for teaching. There will always be room for generosity. There will always be a place for leadership. But I would say that your “spiritual gift” may not even be in any of the biblical lists. That may make it a little harder to discern how you fit into the body of Christ, but it also gives you the freedom to be the person God made you to be.
When I look at the way we approach our life together, I’m afraid many may consider this “spiritual” model for the success of the enterprise we call “Church” too ambiguous.  We’re much more comfortable with clearly laid out plans, exhaustive manuals of operations, and sound policies and procedures. As valuable as policies and procedures can be, they are not what gives life to the church of Jesus Christ! What gives life to the church is when we all put our “gifts of the Spirit” to work for “the common good” and “with the strength that God supplies” (1 Pet 4:11).
I think this is one of the lessons that the church has had to learn and re-learn over and over throughout the ages.  We can accomplish nothing of lasting value if we try to do it in our own strength, by our own talent, through our own wisdom. It is only as we carry out our service through the empowering presence of the Spirit that we can hope to truly build up the body of Christ and offer our service to the world around us.  I think if every individual in every church across this county took seriously the call to serve the body of Christ in this way, we would be astonished at the transformation that would result. To be sure, I believe it would look very different from anything we might imagine. And I’m also quite sure there would be far more diversity that we might like. But as we recognize the work of the Spirit in people putting their gifts into practice for the benefit of the church in wondrously varied ways, we will see that it is all the work of one and the same Spirit.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 6/4/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

Telling Our Story

Telling our Story
Acts 1:6-14[1]
At Easter time, it’s common to see the phrase “It’s not about the Bunny.” As it turns out, that might not be entirely true. The image of a rabbit or a hare is an ancient one, and its original meaning is difficult to discern. But there is abundant evidence that the image of “three hares” was given Christian meaning as early as the 13th Century.[2] It was associated with the Trinity in many contexts. But the “Easter Bunny” originated in the German Lutheran churches as a counterpart to Nikolaus, who comes to bring gifts to children who have been good and lumps of coal to those who have not. The first reference to an Easter Bunny playing a similar role is found in the 17th century.
While the tradition of gift-giving at Easter as well as Christmas may have originated in the church, I think I would have to say that Easter is the celebration of our faith that death could not hold Jesus in the grave. Rather, God raised him up to new life as a demonstration that God is in the process of granting new life to us all. That is the true gift of Easter. And yet, as foundational as that is to our faith, I would have to say that the point of Easter is not just about the gift. It’s also about the astounding task that Jesus gave to all of those who follow him: to bear witness to the new life we have through his death and resurrection to the whole world.
The story that the book of Acts tells about the early church is a story of witness—the witness to the resurrection of Jesus and the new life that comes out of it. As soon as the church receives the power of the Spirit, they begin to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, from then on, they rarely mention the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection without adding, “We are witnesses of these things.” One of the amazing features of this story is that, despite all obstacles, against all odds, the early church’s witness to Jesus’ resurrection is a great success. It is natural to wonder what made the witness of the early church so successful. I think it was the fact that their message was demonstrated by their life.
The message of the early church was that Jesus had been raised from the dead by God, who vindicated Jesus’ claim to be our Savior.   They proclaimed to all who would listen that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a sign pointing us to God’s new creation that is already working to transform us all. They proclaimed that the resurrection validated Jesus’ claim to be the bearer of the kingdom of God, the realm of compassionate justice and joyful new life.  And they proclaimed the hope that, just as God has restored Jesus to life, so also God will restore all creation to life.  
But perhaps just as important a factor in the early church’s witness was that their message was backed up by their life.[3] They lived out the good news by their mutual acceptance of one another and by extending God’s gracious welcome to all. They sought God’s guidance in prayerful discernment by asking questions together and listening together for the answers. They lived out the joy of the resurrection in worship that opened their hearts and minds to a genuine experience of God. They shared their faith and their experience of God’s love with one another by sharing their testimony. They integrated the good news into every aspect of their lives through open and humble study. And they went out from their prayer and worship and study seeking to put into practice the compassion of God’s kingdom in every facet of life.
Some who study these matters would say that it was these practices that made the early church’s witness so powerful.  I think I might put it a little differently—what made them so successful was that their witness came out of the experience of being radically transformed in their own hearts and minds and lives.  They were bearing witness to that which they had experienced first hand!  One of the early Christian leaders put it this way: what they spoke about was “something which … we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands” (1 John 1:1, Phillips).
This new way of living is the true gift of Easter. And it is a gift that is for everyone, everywhere. I’ve used the analogy of an immunization before to illustrate the power of this gift. Like a vaccination spreads protection against disease throughout the body, so Jesus’ death and resurrection spreads new life throughout the whole creation. Where the analogy breaks down is that a shot usually takes effect fairly quickly to protect us from illness. On the other hand, the new life Jesus “injected” into this world through his death and resurrection has been working to transform all things and all people for over 2000 years.
In part, that transformation is something only God can accomplish. And yet, one of the means God has chosen to carry out this work is through people like you and me. As we live out the faith, hope, love, and joy of the new life in our lives, we contribute to the spread of this healing power in our world. But at the end of the day, we also have to speak. We cannot carry out the task of bearing witnesses to the new life of Easter silently. We are called and commissioned and empowered by the Spirit to share the message of Easter with those we encounter. If the new life is truly a reality that makes a difference for us, we are charged with the task of telling our story to others. It can be that simple: as we tell our story, we too are witnesses to the new life that Easter brings to us all.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/28/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[3] Cf. William H. Willimon, Acts, 52; cf. also Anthony B. Robinson and Robert W. Wall, Called to Be Church: The
Book of Acts for a New Day.

Abiding Presence

Abiding Presence
John 14:15-21, Acts17:22-31[1]
One of the questions that has occupied the attention of the human family, especially in the modern era, is one that haunts us: “Are we alone in the universe?” Some think that we are, or at least that there is a relatively small chance that other worlds capable of sustaining intelligent life exist. Others think that the probabilities based on the sheer number of galaxies in the universe demand that there are many planets out there with intelligent life. We may never know the answer to the question “Are we alone” viewed from this perspective
But I wonder if the fact that this question has been framed almost exclusively from a scientific point of view has kept us from finding an answer. The message of Scripture is that we have never been truly “alone.” It’s the point of our faith in creation: a God beyond our understanding created all of the worlds that are and us along with them as an act of love. This means that by definition, this creator God seeks a relationship with us. Beyond that, it’s also the point of our faith that Jesus is “God-with-us.” The incarnation teaches us that God does not choose to leave us on our own to try to grope in the darkness for some kind of meaning to life. And the ongoing work of the Spirit in each of our lives reminds us constantly of God’s promise of his abiding presence with us.  
Our Scripture lessons for today reinforce this promise of God’s abiding presence. In St. Paul’s sermon to the Greeks in Athens, he uses the fact that they had a shrine dedicated to “an unknown God” as an opportunity to proclaim to them the God who must have seemed very strange to them: a God who is both exalted and yet intimately involved in the lives of ordinary people. Paul begins by insisting that this “unknown” God whom he wants to make known to them is “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). This must have seemed to be a strange God indeed, for the Greek deities were thought to be powerful, but they were hardly concerned about humanity.
But the “unknown” God whom Paul seeks to introduce to the people of Athens is a God who cares very much about all creation, humanity included.  In fact, the whole reason why this God created humanity was to have a relationship with them. The Apostle puts it this way: “he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, ... so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27). The idea is that from the orderliness and beauty of nature, as well as from the mystery of their own experience, somehow people would be able to discern that behind it all stood a creator who loved them.
And to emphasize the point, he quoted one of their own poets: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  This was something that most people of his day and time very likely didn’t believe. They believed the “gods” lived on Mount Olympus, beyond their reach, but close enough to meddle in human affairs. But St. Paul presents the God of the Scriptures as one who is intimately involved in human life. As one contemporary observer puts it, we live in a “God-bathed world.”[2]  The God in whose presence we constantly live is the one who cares for and nurtures all creation.
Jesus offered the same message to his disciples in our Gospel lesson. In this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his followers for his imminent departure. Part of that preparation was a challenge, and part of it was assurance. The challenge was that those who follow him and who love him will “keep his commandments” (John 14:15). When we put his teachings into practice in our day-to-day living, then our love for God and for Jesus Christ truly define who we are. But this can seem to be an impossible challenge to those of us who realize that we are fallible mortals.
Fortunately, it’s not a do-it-yourself project. Jesus promised the disciples that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). The Spirit is with us always to help us fulfill our commitment to follow Jesus by putting his teachings into practice. Not only does Jesus promise to give them the “Spirit of Truth” who will live in them, he also promises that his presence will be with them as well. Then he makes what must have been an astonishing statement to a group of Jewish fishermen: when he comes to them they would know “that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:20). In other words, not only would they enjoy his continued presence in their lives. They would also share with him in the relationship he had with the Father. And that is a presence that abides with us constantly.
Jesus promised that through him we can enjoy the abiding presence of the Spirit. He is the one who makes it clear that our God is as close to us as the air we are breathing. The idea that we mortals could possibly have a relationship with the “Lord of heaven and earth” is one that is just as astonishing today as it was then. And yet it is entirely consistent with the witness of the Scriptures. The promise of the Spirit is that the breath of life fills us always. The promise of our Creator is that there is no place that is outside the realm of God’s loving care.  The promise of our resurrected Savior is that wherever we are, he is with us, drawing us into the joy of God’s life and love. We are never alone in the universe. Every moment of every day we enjoy the abiding presence of our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/21/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 61, 78, 90.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

In Jesus' Name

In Jesus’ Name
John 14:1-14[1]
Prayer is a puzzle to most of us, I think.  I’m not sure many of us even know why it is that we pray.  In this self-oriented culture of ours, some people pray as a form of sanctified wish-fulfillment.  They think they can put a prayer coin in the slot machine and have all their dreams come true—if they pray the right way. Then there are others who reject prayer altogether as a remnant from the days when people thought God was directly responsible for things like the weather.  They see it as just a mind game we’re playing with ourselves.  I think the solution to the problem of prayer lies somewhere in the middle between self-interest and cynicism.
Nowhere does the problem of prayer appear so acutely as in the promises that if we pray with enough faith, we will be granted “anything” we want. This is especially the case with praying “in Jesus’ name.” I think for most of us, “in Jesus’ name” has become just a way to end a prayer. But stories of the Apostles doing amazing things “in Jesus’ name” make us at least wonder if there’s something more to it than that. And the promises in John’s Gospel that if we ask anything “in Jesus’ name” it will be granted to us create the impression that praying “in Jesus’ name” is some kind of method for guaranteeing we’ll get the outcome we want. From that point of view, it sounds more like magic than prayer to me.
I think if we look at this promise in the light of its context, which is always a good idea when approaching the Bible, we’ll find a very different meaning to praying “in Jesus’ name.” Our lesson for today contains a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples concerning whether or not they truly believed that he was who he claimed to be and what he was doing was the Father’s will. Jesus provoked this discussion by saying, “If you know me, you will know my Father also” (John 14:7). That was a difficult thing for any Jewish person to comprehend in that day. I’m not sure it’s gotten any easier for us. I think Jesus recognized how difficult a challenge that is for faith, and he called his disciples to “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” on the basis of the works he had done (John 14:11).
It is this dialogue that leads up to the promise that the Father will grant them anything they ask in Jesus’ name. And yet, it’s important to note that the point of this passage is that if Jesus’ disciples believe in him they “will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these” (John 14:12). I’m not sure which one poses a greater challenge for faith: really believing that Jesus is one with the Father, or really believing that that our faith will enable us to do “greater works” than he did! I think it’s challenging enough to hope that we could do the works that Jesus did. But to do “greater works”? I’m not sure I have that much faith.
It’s in that context that Jesus promised “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). I think Jesus probably knew that his disciples were having a hard enough time believing all that he had done. Most of his work with them involved helping them understand what he was doing, because it was not at all what they had expected. In that light, I would think he also knew that they felt overwhelmed by the statement that they would do “greater things” than Jesus had done.
I think that is the basis for Jesus’ promise, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:14). He was reassuring them that they could ask for the insight, the faith, the courage, and the strength to do the “greater things” that he promised them they would do. Think of it: how else could “the Father be glorified in the Son” than for Jesus to empower his disciples to continue to do the work he had begun. In a very real sense, the story of disciples’ ministry in the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament shows us how they did just that. What they did “in Jesus’ name” was to continue his work of bringing the peace and justice and freedom of God’s kingdom to those who needed it most.
Unfortunately, many believers have separated this verse from its context and turned it into a means for getting whatever they want. People who call themselves “Christian” pray for all kinds of things in Jesus’ name: from healing, to help making ends meet, to the perfect mate, to a house on an acreage, even to things like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. That’s what happens when you pick and choose verses from the Bible. Some of this is legitimate, especially when it involves meeting basic life needs. But there’s a big difference between what we need and what we want.
The lesson the Gospel has for us this week is that praying in Jesus’ name primarily involves praying for his work to be fulfilled through us. I want to repeat what I said last week: in all of this, I don’t think the lesson is that we shouldn’t pray for our needs or even at times our desires. What is more natural than to turn to our creator and redeemer to express the deepest desires of our hearts?  But Jesus’ approach to prayer suggests that the desires of our hearts ought to be shaped not by the values of our culture, or our own selfish interests, but by the principles of the kingdom—compassion, peace, justice, freedom, and new life.  I think when our prayers “in Jesus’ name” are shaped in this way, we will be praying for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done. When we do that, we can pray with the confidence that God will hear and answer in a way that best promotes his purposes in our world. When we do that, then we’re praying in Jesus’ name.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 5/14/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.