The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204
REWEAVING THE TORN TAPESTRY OF PRAYER
Gospel of Matthew 6:5-12
Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, February 9, 2020
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
THE GOSPEL OF GOD IS DESTRUCTIVE!
The word, ‘Gospel,’ means ‘Good News.’ We usually speak of Good News in constructive terms.
However, God’s good news is both constructive and DESTRUCTIVE. Let me explain.
Words to describe ‘Good News’ existed in every ancient language predating the life of Jesus.
Throughout the Roman Empire, when someone arrived with a message from the emperor, they
presented the announcement at the village center proclaiming it to be, ‘Good News.’
When we commit to follow Jesus as our Lord of life, we humble ourselves to be obedient learners constructed in the shape of God’s Gospel. Our individual lives and our life together as God’s people become Gospel-Shaped. If we are disciples (learners) of Jesus, our lives and our life together as a beloved community take on the shape of God’s salvation through grace, forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation, redemption, truth, love, peace, spiritual transformation, mission, integrity, impartiality, humility, vulnerability and hope. As we live Gospel-shaped lives, God is constructing the Gospel within us. Our influence on people and our impact on situations are Gospel-shaped ministry.
However, God’s Good News in Jesus Christ is also destructive.
God’s Good News of salvation through grace destroys sin.
God’s Gospel of forgiveness destroys guilt.
God’s Good News of compassion destroys shame.
God’s Gospel of reconciliation destroys estrangement.
God’s Good News of redemption destroys prejudice, erasing a devaluing or ridicule of others.
God’s Gospel of truth destroys the inclination to lie and hide the facts.
God’s Good News of love revealed in Jesus Christ destroys the desire to hate.
The Gospel of God’s peace destroys enmity and strife between foes.
God’s Good News of spiritual transformation destroys loneliness and despair.
God’s Gospel of mission destroys a lack of purpose and meaning.
God’s Good News of integrity destroys hypocrisy and self-preoccupation.
God’s Gospel of impartiality destroys injustice and apathy.
God’s Good News of humility destroys pride and haughtiness.
God’s Gospel of vulnerability destroys self-centeredness and greed.
God’s Good News of hope destroys fear and the need to be in control over others.
Do you realize how God’s Good News in Jesus Christ is giving shape to your life?
If you are following Jesus, your life and our life together is taking on the shape of God’s Gospel.
When a human life is primarily shaped by sin, guilt, shame, prejudice, devaluing and ridiculing of others, lying and hiding of facts, hate, enmity, strife, loneliness, despair, purposelessness, meaninglessness, hypocrisy, self-preoccupation, injustice, apathy, pride, haughtiness, self-centeredness, greed, fear or the need to be in control over others, then that person is refusing to be shaped by God’s Gospel. In such person, the spirit of Jesus Christ is NOT Lord and their initiatives work against God’s Gospel. Gospel-shaped lives cannot support the efforts of those working against God’s Good News.
To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Beloved, we are living in a time when many people have turned their backs on the Church. Can you blame them? It seems to me this is no surprise. The Church has turned its back on them and embraced, supported and applauded everything that is not God’s Gospel. By tossing aside the Church, many people have also thrown God’s Good News on the trash heap. People outside the Church have heard all kinds of human ideas and false concepts about God and God’s Gospel that do not bring about spiritual change. We need to reclaim God’s Good News from the trash heap. We need to renew our commitment as followers of Jesus. Let us say ‘yes’ to Paul’s challenge given to the Center City Church in Philippi: “… let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,…stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:27). People all around us need God’s Good News desperately and immediately.
After all, this is our role and responsibility in God’s world.
Our lives and our life together are to be Gospel-Shaped.
Our influence on people and our impact on situations around us are to be Gospel-Shaped.
If we are not committed to be Gospel-shaped, then what is our commitment?
If we do not minister in the world as God’s Gospel-shaped people, then who?
If we do not share God’s Gospel now, then when?
St. John’s, I affirm you for following God’s calling by sharing God’s Gospel revealed in Jesus.
It is in the life and ministry of Jesus that we see how God’s good news weaves us together.
In Jesus, we have our pattern for how our lives should be Gospel-shaped.
In the movie, The Two Popes, Pope Francis says, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
To assure our success in sharing God’s Gospel, God gives to us God’s Spirit Presence and prayer.
God uses prayer to make our living become more Gospel shaped.
As we pray, God shapes us to have something substantive and transformational to offer others.
God’s gift of prayer is like a valuable tapestry telling stories offering multiple colors and textures.
Every time you look at a grand tapestry, you can see something new.
Every time you approach God in prayer, you can see something new.
When I visit the Biltmore House in Asheville, I give attention to the intricacies of its tapestries.
In the Tapestry Gallery, you’ll find three huge woven wool and silk works.
Depicting three of the seven virtues, (Prudence, Faith and Charity),they display biblical stories.
A few years ago, a torn place was noticed as the 16th century threads unraveled.
Are there any torn places in your prayer life?
What do you do when your prayer life unravels?
How has your understanding of prayer changed over the years?
In 1987, twenty-seven tapestry conservators gathered in Brussels, Belgium.
Their purpose was to restore four priceless Renaissance tapestries.
Their work was labor-intensive and required painstaking detailed attentiveness.
They discovered earlier crude repairs as tears had been disguised beneath overstitching.
One artist said, “our first challenge was slowing down so we could see what we needed to see.”
As we pay attention to our practice of prayer, God forms us in the shape of the Gospel.
Beloved, the world needs us, as the Church, to reweave the torn places in our tapestry of prayer.
Prayer is so much more priceless than Renaissance tapestries.
In his teaching about prayer, Jesus asks us to ‘slow down so we can see what we need to see.’
It always seems important to point out that Jesus says, “Whenever you pray;” not ‘if you pray.’
First, Jesus says, PRAYER IS YOUR PRIVATE CONVERSATION WITH GOD.
During my 7 seminary years, I was blessed to be the only student in a circle of professors.
Every week, we would go to brunch and one of us would lead in a brief prayer.
One day, as I expected an extremely ardent academic professor to offer an esoteric prayer,
He opened his hands to those sitting on either side of him and said, “Lord, I am so blessed to be
with these trusted friends today. Thank You for gathering us and being at this table with us.
Thank You for loving us and giving us the opportunity to teach and learn with students. We love
You, Lord. Help us be blessings to those who serve us lunch and to those You place in our path.”
Every time my mind reminds me of that prayer, I hear Jesus’ teaching about prayer being private.
Every time I come across Jesus’ teaching us to make our prayers like a private conversation with
God, I hear that professor offering simple words holding hands around that table.
Second, Jesus says, GOD KNOWS WHAT YOU NEED BEFORE YOU ASK.
When you pray, you are not informing God of what you need. You are asking God to rearrange your living so that you are asking what God needs you to ask. When someone asks for something that is not in alignment with God’s will, it shows a torn place in the tapestry of their prayer life. Have you ever wanted to say to someone, “You really don’t need to pray about that; God’s will is clear: Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God; love God with all you are; love your neighbor as you need to be loved to become completely healthy and whole.”
Third, Jesus GIVES AN OUTLINE OF HOW TO PRAY TO TEND OUR TAPESTRIES.
Why did God give prayer to us? Jesus prayed often. If Jesus needed to pray, we need to pray.
But why did God give prayer to us and why was it so important in the life of Jesus?
Prayer is God’s gift to you to help you become more and more Gospel-shaped in your living.
Jesus teaches, ‘When you pray,
- ‘begin by recognizing the holy, living God desires a personal relationship with you.’
Your relationship with God is like the most loving relationship in your life.
- ‘seek for God’s will to be done automatically – naturally – in and through you.’
- ‘commit yourself to help God’s kingdom be done in this world.’
- ‘use the word, US; asking for the world’s hungry to be fed DAILY BREAD.’
- ‘ask for God’s help so the tempter does not lead you astray from the Gospel.’
- ‘remember God’s forgiveness is useless if you do not forgive one another.’
A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When you pray, what do you say to God?” Mother Teresa responded, “Oh, I don’t say anything; I listen.” So, the reporter reworded her question, “Okay, when you are listening to God in your prayers, what does God say to you?” Mother Teresa replied, “Oh, God doesn’t say anything; God listens.”
Beloved, all around us, people are seeing chaos, corruption and destruction.
We are part of God’s people in this world; we are disciples – learners of the way of Jesus.
We are being constructed in the shape of the Gospel which destroys everything that is destructive.
Let us reweave all the torn places in our prayer lives so we have transformational Good News to offer them.
Amen and AMEN!