I (Dan) preached this sermon today at Cornerstone UMC in Saco, Maine. I post it here just to show some of my thoughts and reflections at this point in my journey.
I want to explore Micah 4:1-4 today and share with you how it has affected my Lenten Journey. Yet before I do, I want to make some comments about Lent and Prayer so that what I say about Micah might make sense.
Lent is a 40-day journey to the cross that prepares us for Easter. I always assumed that Lent was 40 days because Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. I also assumed that the period of Lent was actually 40 days. Then one year I took out the calendar to see how many more days until I could have coffee again, and I realized that there were actually 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. I talked to some friends and did some research and discovered that the early Church called Sundays little Easters because Christ rose on Sunday. So, I counted from Ash Wednesday to Easter – minus the Sundays – and viola, 40 days. (Only later did I learn that the United Methodist Book of Worship also states that Lent is a 40-day journey that does not include Sundays.)
Then I began to wonder why Jesus fasted for 40 days? And what is it about 40 in Scripture, because it appears in other ‘famous’ places in scripture, too.
As I studied I came to learn that 40 is a significant number in scripture when numbering days or years, and I believe it usually signifies a time when God is going to act in a significant way for the salvation of the world. I invent my own words at times by combining different words together. One of them is “God-mazing,” and it means an amazing thing that God has done. So for me, 40 usually means something God-mazing is about to happen.
Here are some examples:
Noah – 40 days: Re-starting Creation
Spying out Cana – 40 days: Israel becoming a people with Land
Goliath challenges Israel – 40 days: previews David who preludes a Messianic King
Ninevah’s destruction/restoration – 40 days: Grace available to all
Jesus fasts – 40 days: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as a fulfillment of restoration.
Jesus’ time with the disciples post-resurrection before the ascension – 40 days: the CHURCH!
Fasting at Lent does mean that we give up something for a time. However, Courtney likes to say that our focus in Lent should not rest solely in what we are fasting FROM, rather we should focus on what we are fasting FOR. What will we do to fill the absence of chocolate, coffee, t.v., or internet? I like Lent – it helps me to countdown to Easter, but I often wonder if I fail at Lent as I try to reinvent a Lenten discipline each year that will ‘work’ for me. Lent, at times for me, has looked like fasting from coffee with a general sense “to pray more,” yet without a real focus. Yet Jesus has modeled prayer for us in the Lord’s Prayer. Granted we may pray it by rote or on auto-pilot at times, but it can also be an amazing prayer of transformation for our lives.
What does it mean when we pray “Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven?” And what does it have to do with Lent and Plowshares and Pruning Hooks?
Thy Kingdom Come is not a prayer saying, “Get me out of here.” Rather it is a prayer that acknowledges the World is upside down and only the Kingdom of God can right-side-up everything. We acknowledge that God is big enough to do something, and we also acknowledge that a way in which God has chosen to bring the Kingdom is through the Church – through people like you and me. An aspect of God’s Kingdom is Peace – Shalom. Shalom is larger than a cessation of violence, because it encompasses restoring Creation to right relationship with God and with one another.
Praying “Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven” opens us up to the opportunity to be incorporated into God’s bigger story. I love people watching. Have you ever seen people in the supermarket who appear to be off in their own little worlds? Well, usually all of us are on individual missions at the store. But I mean someone who is oblivious to other people around as he blocks the aisle with his cart. Or the person who stands in front of the items you need talking to herself about which mustard to buy, and you can’t find a way to interrupt her or get around her to get your mustard. Sometimes I feel that is how I am in God’s plan. I can become so fixated on my projects or situations in my life that I can forget to place my story into God’s larger story. Praying “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” takes us out of control and allows us to be incorporated into something bigger – into God’s larger story. C.S. Lewis described prayer this way, “I don’t pray because I want to, but I pray because I have to. The need flows from me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
Lent is 40 days set aside for the reordering of our lives to God’s time and God’s way. A time in which our prayers could sound like, “God, work in me, transform me. Clear out and clean out the distractions. Prepare me for your move and to join in your work.”
Lent is also 40 days we set aside to pray specifically for something that is bigger than just our lives. My Lenten fast is from Coffee – not caffeine or warm breakfast beverages, but coffee. Yet my fast is for praying for peace – for “beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and neither shall they learn war anymore.” I love coffee. I like it in the morning, the afternoon, and even after dinner sometimes. I enjoy it, and I don’t think there is a problem with that. But as I heard the news this past week I realized that I craved a cup of coffee more than I craved peace – not the generic greeting card kind of peace, but a real, tangible specific peace in this world – that people in Libya would stop being killed; that children in Cambodia would not be sold as sex slaves; that car bombs would stop causing carnage in markets; that churches would stop being burned and that our Christian brothers and sisters would not seek out their own revenge; that the domestic violence I hear out my window every week would end. I know that I need transformation when I seem to care more about a cup of coffee than about human lives.
Let me read Micah 4:1-4 again.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
I am amazed by these verses. They point towards a return to farming – a return to tending the Garden, which is what God created us for in the first place. Swords and spears are not put away (for use on another day) or destroyed (as in thrown away). Instead, they are re-ordered and reincorporated into God’s redemption story. Those things which were intended for destructive purposes are given opportunities to take part in nurturing and cultivating life. AND if God can do that with an object, then how much more does God desire to do that with humans. Those whose lives destroy are not beyond God’s kingdom vision of grace and restoration. One of my colleagues in Afghanistan in 2002 had spent a significant amount of time in Congo (DRC and Brazaville) and Angola in the ‘90s. She said that when she asked people about peace they responded that peace meant harvesting what they planted – to live in the same place long enough for a complete growing season without having to flee because of violence or forced migration.
This may sounds dreamy – too good to be true, especially in our world today. It may seem like a hope for another time. The World tells us that war and violence, although evil, is a necessary evil in our world, because “that’s just how the world works.” Yes, that is how the world works. But that is not how God’s Kingdom works. And God’s kingdom is not just pie in the sky and ‘one day’… but God’s Kingdom is Now! And praying for peace helps transform us so that we can see how we might join in God’s holy work of healing the world.
Channel 6, 8, 13, the BBC, New York Times, Portland Herald, Boston Globe… They tell the world’s story. And at times it may seem like we are trying to fit the story of our lives into their worldview, rather than seeing that another story exists that can give meaning to our stories – here’s the God-mazing story briefly: God has been working for the restoration of Creation since Eden. God chose Israel to proclaim the hope and prepare the way for the restoration. God fulfilled Israel’s longing and made final provision for this restoration through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. God has commissioned the Church, the Body of Christ in this World, and empowered it by the Holy Spirit to proclaim to the World this message of God’s love, hope, healing, reconciliation, restoration and peace.
Joining in this story is something that we must do together – as the Church – by God’s power and with God’s help. Jesus taught the disciples to pray “Thy Kingdom Come,” and not “bring us up to thy kingdom.” We do not pray to be swirled away to a different place where peace exists. Rather, we pray that God’s peace will come to this world…now. We pray that families won’t be blown apart – literally – by violence. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” we are praying that our lives will be incorporated into the bigger storyline of the God-mazing story of restoration of Creation.
It is a lot to get our heads around.
It is a lot to get our hearts around.
It is a lot to get our lives around.
But maybe that is just the point. It is not our task to envelope completely with our understanding God, God’s Kingdom, and the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We pray in order to be enveloped by God and his love revealed in Jesus Christ: that God would shape our lives like the potter shapes the clay; that God would transform our imaginations enabling us to live as peacemakers in a world that thinks war is necessary; that God would work in us enabling us to pray that people would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; that God would transform our minds to see the possibilities of how swords can be plowshares and spears can be pruning hooks and how we could learn to garden – how to cultivate the love of God and neighbor instead of learning violence and war…
This year I hope Lent is different for me as I pray “swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.” I do not merely want to learn to survive without coffee. I want to be transformed to crave other people’s peace.
What about you? How are you preparing to step into a God-mazing story that can transform your life and change the world?