“He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ ” Luke 11:1
There are a lot of different lists floating around the Internet. There’s this website called 365 Reasons to be an Episcopalian. Anyone can contribute ideas. Although its goal was 365, they’re now up to 545 reasons on the list. Here are ten of my favorites:
1. Episcopalians find debating decisions on the rules a lot more fun and interesting than the rules themselves.I'm really good at making lists; it allows me to sleep at night, to let go of stuff since I know I won’t forget. Sometimes it also allows me to pretend I'm working on something: "Hey, it's on the list."
2. “Episcopal” is an anagram of “Pepsi Cola.”
3. We laugh a lot.
4. God is not a boy's name.
5. Episcopalians believe in moderation in all things, including moderation.
6. Preaching is a small part of an Episcopal worship service. Pulpit is to the side; the altar is at the center, and everyone is invited.
7. In the Episcopal Church, it's perfectly okay to kneel at the communion rail and marvel at the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist while wearing jeans and cowboy boots.
8. We don't expect clergy to have all the answers.
9. We don't claim an exclusive franchise on God.
10. From Garrison Keillor: You can "know you are an Episcopalian when you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, 'May then Force be with you,' and you respond, 'and also with you.'"
What works great for to-do's or chores or groceries, however, is terrible when it comes to churches, or godliness, or just plain living. People always seem to end up making lists so they can tell who is in the group and who isn't. It’s easier to divide ourselves up into visible groups, based on shared experiences or outward similarities. Sometimes that's good. Certain groups need special attention or have special interests, like a grief support group, or the youth group, or a group for folks who've lost their jobs.
A lot of times, though, it's not healthy. Sometimes those obvious, tangible dividing lines can be tempting as people try to discern which group deserves more respect or attention. Congregations often tend to divide into visible groups like male or female, young or old, married or not, Republican or Democrat, longtime member or newcomer, gay or straight, hipster or normie? (I just learned those last two words.)
Our identity, says Paul, comes from the One who created us. In Colossians 2:9, 10 – (Speaking of Jesus) “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him...”
Too often the wrong issues unite us. It is so easy to get caught up in defending traditions or align and divide over silly arguments. The greatest arguments I have ever seen in the church have not been over whether we can help the poor, or if Christians should seek peace and an end to violence in our neighborhoods, or whether we should rejoice together when a baby is born, or mourn together when one of our own passes. No, we don't argue over these momentous things. Instead the greatest arguments and hurt feelings I have ever seen have been over silly stuff like the decision between carpeting or tile in the sanctuary. Then, if carpeting is decided on, the choice of the color of carpeting becomes the new battleground. Heaven help your church if the carpet is dirty and worn out, and yet was a memorial given on behalf of someone's great grandmother.
In Colossians 2:11, 14, it says we have put off the flesh and the legal demands. The “legal demands” Paul speaks of is that way of thinking that if you keep a good enough laundry list it gets you into heaven. You know, like if you do the following things you're guaranteed heaven:
1. Never get angryWhy are we told not to make these kinds of lists? The simple answer is because they don’t work. Israel, as a nation, tried it over a period of a couple thousand years. It's why 92% of New Year's Resolutions Fail – 45% of them by the end of January.
2. Give all your money away.
3. Become a monk.
4. Read at least one entire book of the Bible every day.
5. Never have a lustful thought.
6. Always listen attentively to the priest's sermon (and compliment him afterwards!)
7. Never cuss.
8. Never have doubts.
9. Attend every service the church offers. (Even though for a lot of people, going to church makes them a Christian like going to a garage makes you a car.)
Jesus pointed to a different way. The disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. I doubt they had never prayed in their devout Jewish lives, but they could see something different about how Jesus prayed. They could see it was deeper, more intimate than they had ever seen or experienced. Jesus does not give them magic words or a list of things that are OK to say. Instead, Jesus teaches them about the nature of the One to whom they pray.
When we gather today, we still pray, "Our Father...," but even when you pray this prayer in the privacy of your own home the words remain the same: "Our Father..." So, Jesus tells us about God, but also by saying "Our Father," we acknowledge who we are. By admitting God is my Father, I am saying I am a son of God. I know priests aren't supposed to admit this, but sometimes that's hard for me to understand. You don't get to be fifty-three years old like me without a lot of broken parts clanking around inside you. I'm aware of things that are my good traits. I'm aware I have strengths and talents – I'm not being falsely modest. But, oh God, am I also aware of my broken bits; times I've failed, stupid things I say, opportunities missed. I don't know about you, but I'm my own worst critic. Yet God doesn't just put up with me, God loves me unconditionally. When I unclench my fist that's holding onto all my shortcomings and just rest in God, faith allows me to believe again that I am a child of God.
We don’t say "My Father," but "Our Father..." – everyone's father. He is the God of men and the God of women. He is the God of the old and the young. God is a Republican God and a Democratic God. He is the God of those who find life partners, and of those who live alone. He is the God of well-scrubbed Episcopalians, and the God of the homeless who often sleep on our doorstep. He is the God of straight people; He is the God of gay people. He is the God of people just like us, and also of people we don't like. They are equally children of God, equally destined to Christ's likeness.
But then comes the most dangerous part of the entire Lord's prayer. I'm convinced if people knew what it meant, most of us would not pray it: “Thy kingdom come.” We're praying that this kingdom break out not just in Reno, not just in Nevada, not just in the United States, not just in the Western Hemisphere – we're also praying that the kingdom break out in our hearts. We are actually praying for a kingdom that is both boundless and without boundaries to be established, not just on earth, but in my own backyard.
When we say, "Our Father..." we are asking that we will go beyond accepting that we are children of God and be translated into a world where we look up for once, and look outside ourselves and realize that others are equally children of God.
That bleeding heart liberal you can't stand is equally a child of God;
And so is that cranky conservative who you're convinced is still living in the 1950's;
And so is that homeless guy who is dirty and smells funny;
And so that person whose skin looks like mine;
And so is that person whose skin is different;
And so is that family that looks like mine;
And so is that family that is configured completely differently from mine.;
And so is that group that shares my religion;
And so is that group whose religion is nothing like mine.
Trying to live our lives by making long lists of all our shortcomings and the changes we're going to make just doesn't work. Trying to live our lives by making long lists of people who are in and people who are out doesn't work. Jesus teaches what works is to stop rushing around and beating ourselves and others up. What works is to recognize that I am a child of God. What works is to then recognize that others are equally children of God; equally destined to Christ's image.
And when we drop all the rushing around and should's and shouldn't's and lists and just sit quietly in the presence of God in prayer recognizing who we are and who others are with the words, "Our Father...," then and only then, deep, tectonic shifts begin in our hearts. Then, the world begins to change. Then, the kingdom comes.