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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Water into Wine (John 2.1-12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
June 26, 2011
Some Music Used 

 Prelude: "Morning Has Broken" (Gaelic/arr. Bock)
Song of Praise: "All Who Are Thirsty" (Yrjo Roovers)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Thou Almighty King" (ITALIAN HYMN)
Song of Response: "Take My Life/Here Am I" (Tomlin, Giglio)
Offering of Music (instr. piano): "Take My Life (Holiness)" (Underwood/arr. Howard)
Hymn of Sending: "All Hail the Power" (CORONATION)
Postlude: "Postlude on 'Coronation'" (Gordon Young)

Water into Wine
Text: June 26, 2011

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Written version not available.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Kingdom of God (Jason Hinton)

Kingdom of God in the Old Testament
Sermon by: Jason Hinton
June 12, 2011

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Written version not available.

Kingdom of God in the New Testament
Sermon by: Jason Hinton
June 19, 2011

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Written version not available.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When You Pray (Matthew 6.5-15)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
June 5, 2011
Some Music Used 

 Prelude: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" (Travis)
Hymn of Praise: "Holy, Holy, Holy" (NICAEA)
The Word in Music: "Our Father in Heaven" (Wyse)
Hymn of Response: "More Love to Thee" (MORE LOVE TO THEE)
Offering of Music (Maddie Shuler): "Twice as Good" (Groves)
Song of Sending: "Agnus Dei" (Smith)
Postlude: "Amen" (Handel)

When You Pray (The Lord's Prayer)
Text: Matthew 6:5-15

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today’s service is organized by the Lord’s Prayer and I’ve explained how each of the service components fits into that worship flow. So, like the prayer, we began our service with praise directed at our holy, Heavenly Father. The scripture and sermon are an example of God’s “kingdom come” as we hear God’s holy Word and receive it into our lives as “thy will be done on earth (our lives) as in Heaven.” We will celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Table as one way of understanding “give us this day our daily bread.” We will confess and hear the assurance of God’s grace as we pray for forgiveness” and we will pray for ourselves and others to turn from temptation and evil. And we will conclude again with praise for the Lord whose Kingdom, power, and glory are forever.

Whole books have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, but I simply want to make a few overall points. Also, I want to include the rest of this passage, which includes some introductory teaching and a follow-up comment by Jesus.

The prayer comes in a section of Jesus’ teaching where he is warning against “practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them.” (Matthew 6:1) In other words, Jesus is warning us not to use religion to show off or appear holy. True religion, true faith, true holiness, is anything but showy. Matthew 6 begins with Jesus applying this point to almsgiving or stewardship. Don’t give to the poor just to be seen, but “in secret.” And then Jesus makes the same application about praying. And that’s where I want to pick up, in verse 5. He says, “When you pray…” and then offers two counter-examples of what not to do before speaking the words that are so familiar to us as “The Lord’s Prayer.” 

Not Like the Hypocrites… (vv. 5-6)

Jesus begins his instruction on prayer by saying, “You are not to be like the hypocrites.” Why are they hypocrites? It’s because “they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.” It’s all about being seen. It’s self-focused and intended to bring attention and credit to themselves. We will see that this attitude runs exactly counter to the purpose and spirit of prayer that Jesus will describe. And Jesus adds, “they will have their reward in full.” That he doesn’t spell that out is more than a little ominous. At the very least, they will get exactly what they seek: the attention and perhaps judgment of those who see them. But what they will miss is communion and connection with God.

Jesus contrasts that kind of self-focused praying-to-be-seen with this: “But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” The point is not literal, you don’t have to have an actual “prayer closet” and pray no place but there; rather, the point is that prayer is not about self-attention, but just the opposite. The only one to whom you are speaking is God and it is the height of hypocrisy to speak words of prayer addressed to any and everyone but your Heavenly Father. The Lord will hear your quiet, silent, or secret prayers; and Jesus again follows up, “He will reward you.” The parallel implication is that God will hear you and respond positively, even as those observing the showy public prayer would have negatively.

This raises the interesting question about praying together in worship. Are we not supposed to do that? No; that’s not the right way to go with that because the Bible also has examples of corporate prayer in worship. Rather, Jesus is making a point about how to pray – the tone, texture, attitude, and intent of prayer. Whether we are praying one at a time or in a group, in public or in private, the point is that prayer is not about self and we should not use it as a means to draw attention to ourselves. I will note that when we pray in groups it is easy to forget who we are talking to. I’ve been in plenty of groups where prayers (especially from pastors!) turn into mini-speeches for those listening rather than addressing the Father in Heaven. Perhaps that is why Jesus offered such a clear example – it’s hard to show off or lecture or get off-focus if you are praying alone where no one can see. Certainly that should be our “school of prayer” to help train us how to talk to God. 

Not With Meaningless Repetition (vv. 7-8)

Jesus then offers a second instruction: “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words.” (v. 7) Especially when coupled with his correction, “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (v. 8), it becomes clear that the purpose of prayer is also not to impress God. Nor is it a work by which we get God’s attention. We don’t need to shout or pray a certain length of time or use fancy vocabulary (or even “thee’s” and “thine’s”) for God to hear us. It’s not magic or some kind of incantation; it is communication with the best listener in the universe. In fact, one of the most encouraging teachings about prayer that I know is that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we don’t have the words and that Jesus prays for and presents our prayers to the Father as he sits at the right hand of God.

That’s why you don’t need special training to pray. In fact, simply being quiet and still before the Lord is a wonderful way to pray. We don’t have to tell, teach, or inform God of anything; He already knows! And yet, He does invite us to pray!

There’s also an interesting question raised with this teaching. Have we turned the Lord’s Prayer into just the kind of meaningless repetition that Jesus warns about? Unfortunately, I have to say… maybe so. I think we run that risk, certainly if we just recite the words without meaning. And I need to do a better job of introducing or varying the usage in the service so that it remains present and alive to us. That’s part of the reason for today’s service and sermon.

So let’s look briefly at the prayer and how we might better understand what it is that we say each week. 

Focused Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer can be broken down phrase by phrase with great meaning, but I want to look at it today with a slightly broader brush. One sound that resounds through this model prayer is the focus away from self, particularly when read with the two ways not to pray in the preceding verses. The Lord’s Prayer has a God-focus, a Kingdom-focus, and an other-focus. 


The prayer first focuses on God, who is holy, Heavenly Father. Again, we are not praying for the ears of those around us, but addressing, petitioning, even worshiping, the holy, Heavenly Father – OUR holy, Heavenly Father. Doing so is a privilege and helps orient our hearts and minds that prayer is first of all TO God. 


Prayer is also Kingdom-focused. It seeks God’s will, God’s Kingdom, God’s Word to “come down” or intersect with our lives. It is not unlike our question, “What is God doing and how can we be a part?” Prayer looks for God’s purposes and presence and if there is a self-focus, it is the change that happens when we are molded and transformed by God’s presence, Word, and Spirit. 


Then follows what we may rightly call petitions, or asking for things. We ask for “daily bread” – but it is not storing up for tomorrow, but today’s needs, trusting God to provide day by day. We ask for forgiveness and help with temptation and evil. All this may seem self-focused, but it is in the most selfless way, for the answering of these prayers enables and requires us to live out our faith as a witness to those around us. So notice Jesus teaching after the prayer ends. He reminds the disciples that they are to live out this forgiveness – it is not something to win from God and horde, but something to share in witness to God’s grace and glory. So also with the bread and deliverance from evil. Each is a prayer for God’s help and presence today in order to live more faithfully, which means as a blessing to others.

And then the refrain we are used to, which only appears sometimes in the manuscripts of this Gospel. It is simply a reminder of where the prayer started, and echoes what we read in Revelation: God’s Kingdom, power, and glory are forever. Again, our prayer is not to call God down like a genie, but ask that our lives and wills would be united to His will and purpose. 

Living it Out

What does it look like to pray for and desire God’s Kingdom to come? Or for God’s will to be done? For one, it radically transforms our prayer lives; but it does even more.

It means, for example, that we stopped asking, “How can we get more people into our church?” and started asking, “How can we get more of our church into God’s world?”

We move from praying, “God, give me more for me” to “God, here is more of me.”

And I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray, “God please heal Aunt Rachel.” Do pray for help and healing. Just realize that prayer is so much more and Jesus has modeled and invited us to learn and experience that kind of prayer.

Try praying some in secret – just you and God. It kind of forces you in this direction. If you are used to praying for other ears, you’ll feel like you’re talking to yourself. Which is normal – I’ve felt that. But keep going. Talk to God. Try this prayer, except pray one phrase at a time. Not over and over like the 7th time is magical, but to try to understand why Jesus taught it in this way. Maybe you’ll realize that you need to gain a better understanding of what God as “Father” means… or “holy.” Maybe you’ll realize that you have no idea what “God’s will” is, so no idea what it being done in your life would look like. This is not only an actual prayer; it is also a teaching tool. Use it as one and see what God might teach you. If you are wondering, that’s a pretty good start on God’s will being done in our lives. Amen.