LIVE YOUR LIVES IN HIM
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
To some, it happens by simple grace- serendipity.
To some it happens by thoughtfulness and discipline.
To some, it happens by lessons learned painfully, and hard.
But in each they get from here, to there.
That’s what we said last week, about living our lives in love for Jesus
But we need to say more.
We need to point the way, from here to there,
And we need to give some directions.
But let me tell you about directions.
There is more than one way to get just about anywhere. and even knowing the way, you can’t know HOW the way will be.
So knowing that the way will be an adventure, however we get there, let’s pick a place to start.
As Calvinist, as Presbyterians, we know of course that the way starts with God, seeking us out wherever we are-
Just as the father searched the horizon every evening, hoping against hope to see his prodigal son somehow coming home.
Just as the shepherd left the 99 sheep that were all safe and sound, and went looking for the one that was left.
We remember, of course, that there was a time when the prodigal “came to his senses, and remembered the care that his father gave even the servants.
But now we’re talking about taking that first step, and we’re picking prayer, because that seems to be the place that the disciples noticed Jesus began each day, on his adventure.
So he taught them to pray, and he gave them the words to pray, and they were simple.
One phrase of adoration.
And four petitions.
If this were a prescription, it might end with “and say it often.”
Some people do it daily. Most Christians say them at least once weekly, if they attend worship regularly.
But I’m going to say one important thing about them: they are good words to say often, until you know them by heart, until you take them to heart, because they affirm our relationship with God:
God is in charge
God is a superior being that we are in a covenant relationship with,
We are dependent upon God for both sustenance AND forgiveness
Our receipt of whatever God gives us ought to evoke similar gifts from us to our neighbors
And hard times will come, which we will need something from God in order to endure and prevail.
So say those few words. And say them often.
But let me tell you a story abut the power of a few words, and the things that they pointed to. They were not the Lord’s prayer, but a few more words that spoke about one important word: Mercy.
It’s a true story, about how a story of what Jesus taught changed the life of a man named Angelo.
Angelo was born in 1954- he is one year older than me.
But he was born in Naples, Italy. He was born into poverty.
His mother, he says, stayed out of jail by staying pregnant. When Angelo was an infant, he was skinny and pale and sickly looking, and his mother took him onto the bus every day.
Nobody ever looked at him and said, “Oh, what a fine bambino!”
No, they looked at him and gave money to his mother.
His parents were poor, but they had standards.
Naples is a town ripe with poverty and crime- it is controlled by organized crime, and the government is corrupt.
But when Angelo’s father saw he and his brother drifting into the lure of the crime families, he had them locked up in reform school.
Angelo was ten, and his father’s action may have saved his life.
He ran away one day, about 6 or 7 years later, when there were riots in the street.
He promised his father he would work, and he did.
He scrambled. He crawled. He moved to Florence.
Then he came home, and fell in love with a girl who worked with him at a shoe factory.
After many months he persuaded her to marry him.
They had three daughters, and raised them well.
Angelo got a city job, in the sewers. He worked there for 15 years.
And then one day, a new mayor was elected. The city was full of old, boarded up Catholic churches, nearly every one of them containing some priceless piece of art.
The city needed to promote tourism, so the mayor ordered the churches un-boarded. And he transferred city employees out of the sewers to guard the paintings.
Angelo got assigned to Pio Monte della Misericordia Church, where a painting named The Seven Acts of Mercy hangs. Only three times has it been removed, only once has it left Naples, in 400 years.
Four-hundred years ago, it was painted by an artist named Caravaggio, while he was fleeing the Pope, the Roman police, and seekers of vengeance.
Caravaggio, you see, had murdered a man.
It may have been self-defense, it may have been manslaughter, but without a tria, Caravaggio was sentenced to death.
And Naples was not under the rule of the Pope. A benefactor invited Caravaggio there, for safety. And it was there that Caravaggio was commissioned to do a painting of the parable of the sheep and the goats.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
And Caravaggio painted what he saw happening around him in Naples- a city of extreme poverty and suffering, but a place where mercy happened none-the-less.
So Angelo was hired to guard the painting. But he says, “I didn’t really care where I was. None of us did. It was just a job. I didn’t give adman about what was on the walls. Culture is a luxury for the poor. I spent all my time playing cards with my colleagues and chatting, sneaking out for coffee. We were just killing time between one occasional visitor and the other. The authorities tried to make us learn what to say…and I just repeated it word for word, without any idea what I was saying.”
But then he started to like the place. And one day, he opened the door, walked in, and sat down in a pew.
He can still point to the pew where he was sitting.
And as he sat, he looked up, and he saw the painting for the first time.
“There on the canvas,” he says, “I recognized my brothers and sisters.”
Angelo had not read in years, but he suddenly took the words the authorities wanted him to learn, and he began to read. And he added more to the story.
He learned Caravaggio’s story.
He learned Jesus’ story.
He learned the story of Matthew 25.
He learned about the charity that owns the painting and the church, and about the work they do. He began to notice the small and large mercies that the people of Naples practice every day. He began to be merciful himself.
And then he was transferred to another church, another painting. It just happens, there is no reason for it.
But about the same time, he discovered that his wife was having an affair.
He invited her family to his house, and they waited for her to come home-
And then he announced that he knew, and he kicked her out.
And then, he disappeared.
Because you see, in Naples, when a woman has an affair, the husband only has three options.
Kill her lover.
Or go to America.
And Angelo could not go to America.
But there were two friends- Idanna and Terrance- visitors to the painting who had been taught about the painting by Angelo.
And they were looking for him, and they found him. And they feared for what he might do. So one day they took him to the painting, and reminded him what it said about mercy.
About Caravaggio, running for his life.
Angelo knew that, of course. He was on that same journey when he first came to the painting. And he was in a tight spot now, trying to get from here, to there.
But he could not make that next step. He just couldn’t.
Until one day he came again, and thought about everything he knew about mercy.
Then, he did the unthinkable. Not in Naples. He forgave his wife- and much to his surprise, he learned that she still loved him.
All because he learned the words, and discovered what they met, and was able to see the story of God’s mercy- and human mercy- right before his very eyes.
I pray that it will be the same with me, and for us, as we continue to journey from here to there, living our lives in him.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.