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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name (Acts 17.16-34)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 28, 2015
Text: Acts 17:16-34; John 17;11-12; Revelation 15:1-4; Psalm 115

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "God of Wonders" (Byrd, Hidalong)
Song of Praise: "I See the Lord" (Falson)
Offering of Music: "Thank You, Lord" (Baloche)
The Lord's Prayer: "Our Father in Heaven" (Wyse)
Hymn of Sending: "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" (MIT FREUDEN ZART)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
Q.190 – What do we pray for in the first petition, ‘Hallowed be thy name?’1

ALL: Acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honor God aright2, we pray, that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him3, his titles4, attributes5, ordinances, word6, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by7; and to glorify him in thought, word8, and deed9: that he would prevent and remove atheism10, ignorance11, idolatry12, profaneness13, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him14; and, by his over-ruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory.15

1Matt. 6:9; 22 Cor. 3:5, Ps. 51:15; 3Ps. 67:2–3; 4Ps. 83:18; 5Ps. 86:10–13,15; 62 Thess. 3:1, Ps. 147:19–20, Ps. 138:1–3, 2 Cor. 2:14–15; 7Ps. 145, Ps. 8; 8Ps. 103:1, Ps. 19:14; 9Phil. 1:9,11; 10Ps. 67:1–4; 11Eph. 1:17–18; 12Ps. 97:7; 13Ps. 74:18,22–23; 142 Kings 19:15–16; 152 Chron. 20:6,10–12, Ps. 83, Ps. 140:4,8

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we continue our summer study on the Lord’s Prayer and turn to two phrases: who art in Heaven and hallowed be thy name. We will look at each in turn, but see that they are related and move us from describing God’s infinite power and “God-ness” to engaging in worship of the infinite, holy, and yet relational God described in the opening section of the prayer.

God Made Us (not the other way around) (Acts 17)

Rather than look at the Lord’s Prayer text in Matthew each week, we are looking at scriptures that “unpack” each of the phrases that Jesus taught in that prayer. Today we are looking at Acts 17:22-34. There the Apostle Paul is in Athens, in the cultural and religious heart of the Greco-Roman world. The early verses set up the scene: Paul saw that Athens was a “city full of idols” and was engaging with monotheistic folks (Jews and God-fearing Gentiles) in the synagogue and the market. We read in v. 18 that he was sharing the message of Jesus and the resurrection with them. But he was also being overheard by some of the Greek philosophers, who took him to the Areopagus (aka “Mars’ Hill”; literally “rock of Ares,” the war god), which was a Greek forum for debating new philosophical and religious ideas.

So, Paul finds himself in the middle of the Areopagus with an opportunity to share Jesus with a group of cultural elites who were decidedly NOT Jews or God-fearers. What follows is some of the best cross-cultural evangelism recorded in scripture. Our focus this morning is not on his technique, but I do want to take a moment to note it for you before turning to the content of his message, which highlights our Lord’s Prayer focus this morning.

Paul didn’t just blast into his audience for holding a different view, though we know he was burdened by all the idolatry and pagan worship in Athens. Rather, he starts with something in THEIR experience… one of the many altars around the city. There was one inscribed, “to an unknown God.” Paul used this opening – the willingness of the Athenians to consider and even worship something they did not yet know or understand – to tell them about a different God.

Paul goes on to speak of “the God who made the world and all things in it.” (v. 24a) And since this God is “Lord of heaven and earth, [He] does not dwell in temples made with hands.” (v. 24b) Paul also quotes some of the popular philosophers of the day when he says “in Him we live and move and exist” and “we also are His children.” He uses ideas that his audience understands and embraces, but he connects it to God’s story and goes from there to testify to a Creator God who has drawn near in a miraculous way. Paul makes clear that God makes and comes to us, not the other way around. Some dismiss and make fun of him; but some are intrigued and say, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” (v. 32) And some even believed and joined up with him. (v. 34)

This difference between gods made by human hands and a God who made us is just what is in view in the phrase, “Who art in Heaven.” Jesus was teaching us to pray to God who exists apart from us, larger than us. Otherwise, we’d just be praying to ourselves or something we had made. The main idea of God being “in Heaven” is that He is the creator and God and bigger and beyond the stuff of this earth and our human lives. (Yet hold that together with the personal, relational gift of calling God ‘Father’ that we learned about last week!)

There are also some really significant implications and applications of God’s bigness and ‘otherness’ for our lives.

Implications of God-in-Heaven (John 17; Revelation 15)

GOD AS JUDGE: One of those implications Paul mentions is that God is judge. The ancient Greeks were generally afraid of their gods, but built the temples and idols in order to lay claim to and plead for the gods’ intervention. Paul turns that around though: If God made us, then God has a claim on us, not the other way around. God has the claim on us and, in Paul’s words, “is now declaring that all people everywhere should turn to Him (repent).” (v. 30) That’s because the God who created us will also judge us.

GOD AS GUARDIAN: Jesus also spoke of God’s heavenly authority over his creations. In his prayer in the Garden in John 17 Jesus spoke of ‘keeping’ or ‘guarding’ his followers in God’s holy name. When things are beyond our power and strength, when the stakes are life and death, it is significant that the God to whom we pray is not something we created out of our own limitations and weakness, but the very God of Heaven. So Jesus prays in John 17, “Holy Father, keep [my followers] in Your name.” (John 17:11)

GOD AS HOLY: That Paul’s teaching also points to God as Holy should be evident. That’s what we call the infinite, powerful, beyond-us God who created us with a word. So Jesus speaks of God’s holy name guarding his followers. Jesus teaches us to pray not only “who art in Heaven” but also “hallowed be (or ‘holy is’) your name.” That holiness – the infinite, powerful, otherness of God – is nowhere as on display as in some of the scenes described in Revelation. Listen to this:
1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. 2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:1–4)
The only appropriate response to God’s holiness is what is described there: WORSHIP. And that’s really what Paul is working toward in his exchange in Athens. Because nothing gets in the way of worship so much as idolatry. That’s why the Ten Commandments focuses so on that topic.

So Paul, convicted that the Athenians were plagued by idolatry spoke in terms they could understand to lead them to truth about a Holy Creator God whose existence explained human existence and called them to turn around in repentance and worship in reverence.

Application: Worship

Paul taught these truths, but Jesus did more. He put the words on our lips that would set the actions before our hearts. What does it mean to pray to God “who art in Heaven, holy be your name?”

Well, we can just speak the words unthinkingly and by rote. But if we take them to heart and mean them and follow after them as we speak them, we will be challenged in the same ways Paul challenged the Athenians.

JUDGE --> REPENTANCE: Are their idols in our lives? Of course not; I don’t have a single statue to Ares or Athena or Aphrodite in my house! But the application is much broader, right? Paul was speaking of people, things, ideas, and goals WE create and put in place of God. We need not have a statue to Ares to chase after power and control. We need not have a statue to Athena to hold up human knowledge as supreme. We don’t need a statue to Aphrodite to worship passion, gratification, or all that poses as ‘love.’ Praying to “God… who art in Heaven, holy be your name” calls us to repent, to turn from those false gods and turn to the true Holy God.

GUARDIAN --> PEACE: This spring we talked about needing Good News in a world full of bad news. We need no more present and tangible reminder of this than the tragic murders in Charleston a week and a half ago. And over and above the incomprehensible loss of life are the multitude of issues like systemic racism that leave so many feeling and experiencing everything from fear to hopelessness to anger. Is there ANY good or hopeful word to be spoken? Our prayer to “God… who art in Heaven, holy be your name” addresses the One – and the only One – who is bigger, stronger, and more enduring than the violence, hatred, evil, and sorrow of this world. And that same God guards and keeps you; is that the One to whom you pray?

HOLY --> WORSHIP: Finally, the Lord’s Prayer not only points us toward the holiness of God, but actually invites us to put those words of worship on our lips. We don’t say “hallowed or holy IS your name” but “holy BE your name.” We are declaring it as an act of worship, instructed and enabled by Christ himself, who taught us to pray in this way. To pray these words in truth is to yield ourselves to God in worship. It is no wonder that the phrases that come next ask for God’s Kingdom and will to be accomplished. Remember Paul’s words? We don’t make a claim on a god we made; instead God who has made us has an implicit claim on us. THAT is the God to whom we pray and worship.

I invite and challenge you: next time you pray to “God… who art in Heaven, holy be your name,” turn away from substitute gods; trust the God who can and does guard, keep, and save you; and yield yourself to Him in worship. That is Jesus’ invitation to you and to me. Amen.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Our Father (Romans 8.14-17, Galatians 4.3-7)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson
June 21, 2015
Text: Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:3-7

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used ::
Hymn of Praise: "God, Our Father, We Adore Thee" (BEECHER)
Song of Praise: "You Alone" (David Crowder)
Hymn of Sending: "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (Townend)

:: Video ::

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
There is no manuscript this week.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Keep My Eyes Above the Waves (Matthew 14.22-33)

Sermon by: Karla Katibah*
June 14, 2015 - High School Graduation Sunday
Text: Matthew 14:22-33

*Karla Katibah is a graduate of Providence High School in Charlotte and will be attending Appalachian State University in the fall.

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "I Will Worship" (Ruis)
Song of Praise: "I Need Thee Every Hour" (Indelible Grace)
The Word in Music: "Oceans" (Hillsong United)
Hymn of Sending: "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" ('TIS SO SWEET)

:: Senior Video ::

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::

Hi. Good morning. My name is Karla and I graduated from Providence High School on Friday. I will be attending Appalachian State University in the fall and I’m excited to share with you what Jesus has placed on my heart.

So to start off, here are some fun facts about the story of Jesus walking on the water. It only appears in 3 gospels-Matthew, Mark and John and the part with Peter walking on the water ONLY appears in Matthew, which is pretty interesting because Peter helped to write Mark, not Matthew. I’m really not sure what that means. Maybe Peter was too embarrassed about this experience to put it in Mark, but I’m really grateful that Matthew put it in because this sermon is basically sponsored by Matthew.

This story is really well known and a pretty stereotypical Jesus story; It is used on paintings and in children’s’ Vacation Bible School weeks as a really fun and cool story. Walking on water is NOT A NORMAL THING. It’s also very specific to Jesus. No one else could walk on water by themselves.
For people now and for the disciples then THIS story is PROOF that Jesus is NOT NORMAL.
Like, Jesus could’ve waited until the storm was over or even prevented the storm from happening and everything in the New Testament would have happened as usual. But no. He took out the big guns- the pyrotechnics and confetti and acrobats and performs a miracle. To make sure the disciples really get that this is a big deal. He is God.

So Peter. I can draw a lot of parallels between myself and Peter, and lots of us probably could. Peter was always the one that would do anything to prove to Jesus that he was a disciple. He was kind of like the teacher’s pet. He would be the one student who comes by after school and asks the if teacher needs anything. He just does all the things he thinks he’s supposed to do. So when Jesus is on the water he says “Yeah, yeah I’ll come out to you. ‘Cause I’m supposed to. I’m Peter, remember me? I’m Peter.” And then when he’s on the water he’s like “Okay. Yeah. I’m on the water. Okay.” But then of course he sees the ocean and the storm and he loses his nerve. Peter falls into the water and his true self is shown. And as it turns out, he is literally drowning without Jesus. Because he’s human. He was busy trying to be the perfect disciple even though Jesus totally knew he was just putting up a front of complete trust. And Jesus totally calls him out for it in verse 31 when he said “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” That kinda breaks through Peter’s whole fa├žade. Jesus knows everything. Even when Peter is faking it.

I think we all need to be called out every once in a while.

His fear of the storm got in the way of him getting to Jesus and kept him from being the disciple he wanted to be. I have experienced a similar situation in color guard. There is a toss that is called a 45 toss. It is my favorite toss to watch because it looks so cool, but I could never throw it. Most tosses spin in front of you and you can see it the whole time and catch it and it’s totally cool. But THIS toss, you throw it above your head and you have a moment where you can’t see it and it is just scary. So I never tried to throw it. Then during my Junior year, my third year in guard, I had to throw a 45 toss because it was choreographed into my show. I was still scared to throw it, but I pushed my fears aside and I just went for it. And it was such an easy toss! Now I can throw it no problem. But I didn’t know that because I let my fear of the toss control me. My fear kept me from being the best performer I could be.

Kind of the punchline, the kicker of the story is v. 31 which says “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him (Peter), saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” It reminds me of when I was younger and I was riding in the back seat of my mom’s car. It was a van, a really big van (at least in my perspective…). I always thought the car was so big that it took up both lanes. So I was so confused on how any cars could pass us on either side. Because WE took up the entire road. But that was wrong but I was too young and inexperienced in driving to realize that the car was of appropriate size. My mom was actually doing fine driving because she had a better viewpoint and experience in driving. So who was I to say that the car was too big and that other cars couldn’t pass us??

In Mark 6:48 it says that Jesus “saw that they (the disciples) were straining at the oars against an adverse wind” and so He “came towards them”. Let me say that again. He saw them struggling so He came out to help them. Jesus sees us in the boat of our lives. So picture this: We’re living life however we please and then A CRAZY STORM comes upon us- like a death in the family. Or getting laid off. Or starting a new crazy chapter of your life like college.

So we either don’t see him coming to the boat because we aren’t looking for Him. So we just freak out about the storm and just go “Oh dear. I hope this storm stops.” Or we see Jesus coming out to us and like the disciples in Matthew 14:50 (they all saw him and were terrified) and we actually see Jesus and we don’t recognize Him and then again just say “Oh dear. I hope this storm stops AND that scary thing on the water goes away.”

OR we can be like Peter and we can go bravely out into the water, greet Jesus and accept him into the boat WITH you. And then like it says in Matthew 14:32, the wind will cease and we will, like it says in John 6:21, get to where we are headed.

So here’s me right now. I’m about to go to college-COLLEGE- and I have a few fears, like being able to find good friends, living with a roommate for the first time, NOT living with my parents, trying to keep my faith in “the real world.” But if I let these fears control me, I won’t be the best college student I can be. I need to trust that God has it all under control.

Okay. So what I gather from this passage is that FEAR GETS IN THE WAY. Jesus CLEARLY knows more than I do because He is not in the boat. He is out of the boat watching this all happen from a better perspective. And also because He is GOD (for crying out loud…)  He is like my mom when I was in the car when I was little. He knows more than I do and I should trust Him more. We should all trust Him more. Amen!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Teach Us to Pray (Matthew 6.5-15)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 7, 2015
Text: Matthew 6:5-15

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Hymn of Praise: "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" (arr. Austell)
Song of Praise: "Speak, O Lord" (Getty/Townend)
Offering of Music: "Blessings" (Laura Story)
Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Sending: "Our Father in Heaven" (Wyse)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series Intro"

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we are starting a new series that will take us through the summer. We say it almost every Sunday; it’s one of the most familiar things to nearly every Christian on the planet. We are going to study the Lord’s Prayer! Today I’m going to introduce and give an overview. Next week we will take a break to celebrate and be led by our high school graduates in worship. Then, we will work through the Lord’s Prayer one phrase at a time throughout the summer, using other scripture to dig in and understand what each phrase means.

You may remember or know that the Lord’s Prayer appears in two different books of the Bible. It can be found in Matthew 6, which is the text we are using today and this summer. It also appears in Luke 11. I chose the Matthew text because it has a more complete version of the prayer as well as some explanatory material before and after it. Matthew’s account is also in the midst of a long stretch of Jesus’ teaching (the “Sermon on the Mount”); and Matthew doesn’t interrupt that with any commentary from the disciples. So Luke’s more bare-bones account does have one bit of information I want to mention as we start.

Luke tells us that the disciples saw Jesus praying and they went to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John (the Baptist) also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) That’s my goal for this series: that God would “teach us to pray” through Jesus’ own teaching and example prayer, and through the other scriptures we will explore. We do a lot of praying in church. But how often do we take time to study prayer and grow in that practice. My hope is that as we move through the summer, you will experience a deeper and richer prayer life and feel more connected to God through the practice of prayer.

Seek Attention (vv. 5-6)

Today I mainly want to focus on Jesus’ teaching in the verses leading up to prayer itself in Matthew 6. He has been talking about showy religion; he describes that in the beginning of chapter 6 as “practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed…” (v. 1) He warns against giving to be seen in vv. 2-4, then moves on to praying to be seen in vv. 5-6.

Both giving and prayer were core practices of Jewish faith. But here in the tail end of the “Sermon on the Mount,” in which Jesus has been pressing the point that keeping the spirit of the religious Law is as or more important than externally keeping the letter of the Law, he makes the same point about giving and prayer. Don’t do either to be seen; that’s not the point. Do them to obey and honor your Heavenly Father, who not only sees the thing done quietly, but also sees your inner motivation and intent.

So Jesus warns, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for the love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen…” (v. 5) Rather, he says, “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” (v. 6)

Does that mean we are to never pray in public, but only alone when no one but God knows? No; bottom line Jesus is teaching what he has been teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in the preceding chapter: what matters most is what’s going on in your heart. Don’t seek attention for yourself to demonstrate your religious awesomeness. Pray simply and honestly and for God’s sake, not the sake of what people might think.

Said even more simply: don’t make a big deal about it. Jesus (and Paul) encourage us to pray frequently – all the time – about matters big and small. But that doesn’t require an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Robert is about to pray; Robert is now praying.” Just do it; eyes open, eyes shut; talk to the Lord. He is your audience and no other.

It’s not unrelated to our worship music. It is not our desire to seek attention for the musicians either. But neither do we confine music to singing alone in the car. It is often a community activity, but we want the ATTENTION to be on God, not on us. So it is with prayer.

When we get to the Lord’s Prayer, we’ll see how God-focused it is: “Our Father… hallowed be YOUR name; YOUR kingdom come; YOUR will be done.” (vv. 9-10) Even when we get to the petitions, they are not self-serving, but God-focused: “help us live in obedience to you, forgiving as we’ve been forgiven.” (v. 12)

Vain gods vs. Father God (vv. 7-8)

In verse 7 offers a specific caution against “using meaningless repetition”; he adds, “they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” It may be that this is one more example of seeking attention. It’s a variation of the loud public pray-er; this one repeats the same words and phrases over and over and over. It may be an immature way of seeking attention.

It is also possible that Jesus is offering another kind of warning. In his day there was a kind of praying to the Greek or Roman gods that consisted of saying the same words and phrases over and over, in hopes that the god or gods would pay attention. It’s a kind of “magic formula” thinking. The gods are busy and not interested with your mortal life, but if you perform a certain kind of ritual with your words, you will summon the attention of the god or gods and be heard. I think that’s what Jesus is describing (and warning against) here. And it’s no good. God isn’t looking for magic words and phrases. God is already listening and looking; he wants YOUR attention. Jesus adds, “Do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (v. 8)

And what a radical concept in any time or place (but especially in the midst of ancient Greek and Roman culture and religion); God is personal? Like a loving Father? Prayer is talking with Him and not a mindless ritual? And just look at how Jesus then starts his example prayer: “Our Father who is in heaven.” Zeus was no personal god; the gods of Olympus were not listening and looking at human lives. They were a vain lot. But the God of Israel; He is personal. He is ‘Father.’ He doesn’t want meaningless words and phrases, but wants you to pour out your heart.

I remember a key shift in my own prayer life. Growing up we always said a prayer before we ate a meal. Early on it was the “God is Great” prayer, but later it became, “Thank you for this food; please bless it to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to your service. Amen.” Nothing wrong with that; it’s a lovely, simple prayer. But I noticed over time that we said it faster and faster, words blurring together faster than an auctioneer. And one particular time – who knows, maybe I had read this passage – I was struck at how meaningless and “magic formula” it was said in that way at that speed. And I said something to my parents.

About that same time, I heard or discovered the idea of telling God we love Him in our prayers. I think it might have been the influence of the song, “I Love You Lord,” but it was not a way of praying that I had heard anywhere growing up. It gave prayer a personal and connectional aspect, what you might expect if you were really talking to a good and loving heavenly Father. It’s just one example – and that, too, can become trite and formulaic. But it’s an example of prayer being REAL and PERSONAL and God-focused rather than done in a way that draws attention to ourselves.

An Example to Follow (vv. 9-15)

Finally, we get to the prayer itself. We aren’t going to dive into it today – we have all summer for that! But what I do want to note is that Jesus doesn’t say “pray these words”; he says “pray in this way.” This is an example, a pattern, to follow. And this summer we will want to not only learn what each word and phrase means, but how we can incorporate this pattern and prayer into our lives of faith.

So, we aren’t just to address God as ‘Father’ when we pray; we are to come to understand what it means to have a Creator who has revealed Himself to us as Heavenly Father. That may not only change the way you pray; it may change the way you worship and sing and give and serve. We don’t worship, sing, give, and serve a distant, unknowable God; we have a Heavenly Father God. And Jesus makes clear in his teaching leading up to the prayer and in the few verses after it that prayer is a reflection of how we live out our faith in our lives. So, I hope our summer focus will have that effect, too!

Finally, I’d also note that Jesus didn’t offer us a comprehensive pattern to follow. There are things to pray and ways to pray that he didn’t include that are taught elsewhere in scripture (just read through some of the Psalms!) So, for example, there is no lament (sorrow) expressed in the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus wasn’t being exhaustive; he was giving us a starting place to grow and deepen and learn. My hope is that this will be a launching pad for your own prayer and that we will grow together as we learn from Jesus this summer. Amen.