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“a wind and a prayer” 

The Sanctuary Sermon for 1/31/21

The Sermon at The Sanctuary for 1/31/21

“A Wing and a Prayer”  Matthew 6:9-13

We’re in Matthew this morning where our Lord instructs the disciples how to pray. What is your prayer this morning?

We all say ‘em. We all pray ‘em. To the man upstairs, to our Father, who art in heaven. Climbing up hill, riding downhill. On a hamster’s wheel and behind the wheel of a car. In hospital rooms, or on the sidelines. While in lifeboats or pleasure cruises. In a boxing ring or the batter’s box. For prodigals and protégées. While kneeling at a bedside or on a padded pew. In a foxhole, or in an office cubicle. In the check-in line or the check-out line. For newborns and for widows. Before a test and after a test. For the dearly departed and newlyweds.  While on the phone and on the run. For loved ones near and for loved ones far away. While watching the sweep of a second-hand or the sands through an hour glass—so are the days of our lives. Prayers for you, prayers for me.

John the Baptist saw a dove and believed. James Whittaker saw a seagull and believed. Who’s to say the one who sent the first didn’t send the second?

James Whittaker was a member of the handpicked crew that flew the B-17 Flying Fortress captained by Eddie Rickenbacker. Anybody who knows about October of 1942 knows the day that Rickenbacker and his crew were reported lost at sea.

Somewhere over the Pacific, out of radio range, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean. The nine men spent nearly the next month floating in three rafts. They battled the heat, the storms and the water. Sharks, some ten feet long, would ram their nine-foot boats. After only eight days their rations were eaten or lost to saltwater. It would take a miracle to survive. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

One morning, after their daily devotions, Rickenbacker leaned his head back against the raft and pulled his hat over his eyes. A bird landed on his head and he peered out from under his hat. Every eye was on him. He instinctively knew it was a seagull.

Long story short, Rickenbacker caught it and the crew ate it. The bird’s intestines were used for bait to catch fish… and the crew survived to tell the story. A story about a stranded crew with no hope or help in sight. You might say just a wing and a prayer.

A story about prayers offered and prayers answered. A story about a visitor from an unknown land traveling a great distance to give his life as a sacrifice.

A story of salvation.

A story much like our own. Weren’t we, like the crew, stranded? Weren’t we, like the crew, praying? And weren’t we, like the crew, rescued by a visitor we’d never seen through a sacrifice we’ll never forget? Prayers were answered.

Let’s look at our text. 

One of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray” Jesus said to them,

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

Amen.

So here we go.

Let us pray,

Our Father. Our Holy Parent. Source of All Being from whom we came and to whom we return, God whose goodness and love goes beyond the complexity and perhaps even the pain of our relationship with our own parents, God who even heals the failings we ourselves have as parents. You, who knit us together in our own mother’s wombs. God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus called you Abba and so shall we, be to us our Holy Parent, the one who loves without condition. Our Father who art in heaven… Our Father who brings a small measure of heaven to every place your people are. Our Father who art in everything. Our Father who art in orphanages and neonatal units, who art in jail cells and luxury high-rises, who art in law offices and adult book stores, who art in nursing homes with Covid patients and who art in the midst of wedding reception dance floors.

Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Holy is your name. Ever since Adam blamed you for giving him the woman who made him sin, ever since Jacob claimed it was your goodness and not his deceit that allowed him to steal his brother’s blessing. Ever since the beginning we have attributed our own sin and ego and wishful thinking and manipulations of others and ambition to you and your name – and yet your name remains holy. Your holiness has withstood generations of humans using your name as some sort of ‘get out of responsibility free card’ like if we say you are blessing it or you are willing it or you are co-signing on it then it is anything other than sin and yet your name remains holy.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. May thy undoing of our ways and the in-breaking of your ways, the way things really are—appear before our eyes. Remind us that your kingdom comes with or without our asking for it and in this prayer we ask that your dominion, your kingdom come among us. Like right now. Right now, God, right now we think we might just skip over the asking for it and move right to the begging for it if that’s ok with you. We beg you to bring more than just a small measure of heaven to earth because this place is a mess. Lord, your people are killing each other and the vulnerable are even more vulnerable. The fabric of this nation is being torn and rent, the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s are at it again, there’s a fence around our common sense. There is restlessness and hostility. It’s hard to see a way out, Lord. So, we need you to set your kingdom here. And if that’s not possible then open our eyes to where your kingdom already is taking root and growing among us, turn our eyes from our despair to any amount of light your kingdom is spreading, however small.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Show us that your thoughts are not our thoughts and that our thoughts are not your thoughts. God, I’m so guilty of trying to align your will with mine rather than praying to align my will with yours that it’s almost ridiculous. Remind me that you are God and I am not. Yet have mercy on us Lord when it starts to feel to us like you aren’t paying attention. Forgive us when we use prayer as a self-help technique by which we can get all the cash and prizes we want out of your divine vending machine if we just kind of bug you to death through ceaseless prayer, because when it comes down to it, we know better. You are our Father whose name is holy and whose love is boundless and who wants as our holy Parent to hear our prayers – to hear what troubles us, you want to know the longing in our hearts and the hurt in our lives and the thankfulness in our being.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Give us this day our daily touch, our daily laughter, our daily kindness our daily humility, our daily freedom.

Give your children their daily bread, their daily Raman noodles, their daily tortillas, their daily rice. Lord, give us real bread, even when we keep reaching for those literal and metaphorical Twinkies, cannoli and Krispy Kremes.

As you did with your people who you freed from slavery, grant us that which we need for just this day. Help us to be in this day Lord and to know that all we have comes from you. Give us the gift of enough-ness. When we long for more than what is enough, soften our hearts and teach us to give more. May our response to perceived scarcity always be increased generosity for we are your children and from you we receive everything. It all belongs to you and yet, you let us have so much.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins. As we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgive us when we hate what you love.

Forgive us when we would rather anesthetize ourselves than feel anything.

Forgive us when we squander the grace and freedom you have given us.

Forgive us for our self-centered lives.

Forgive us for the pride we exhibit in our politics.

Forgive us for how much we resent in others the same things we hate in ourselves.

Forgive us for the terrible things we think about our own bodies, bodies you have made in your image.

God we praise you that your grace and mercy and forgiveness toward us is our one true source of our forgiveness toward others. Forgiven people forgive people and God we thank you for guiding the way toward this kind of freedom. You who perfected ‘enemy love’ have given us your own heart. May we more and more become what we receive.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins. As we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Deliver us from the inclination that we too do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup and Splenda. Deliver us from fear. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from knee high tourist socks and Hawaiian shirts. Deliver us from Complicity. Deliver us from the Dolan family.

As Jesus taught us, we are throwing this big bag of prayers at your door. We are not asking nicely, Lord. We are your children and we are claiming your promises as our own today. Some of us are holding your feet to the fire, some of us don’t know if we believe you, some of us are distracted and just going through the motions, some are desperately in love with you…but all of us are your children.

Use these prayers to hammer us all into vessels that can accept your answer when it comes. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.

And the children of God say,

Amen.

You may have heard the Rickenbacker story before. Coreen Schweenk did. She was engaged to the only crew member who didn’t survive, young Sgt. Alex Kacymrcyck. As a result of the 1985 reunion of the crew, Mrs. Schweenk learned that the widow of James Whittaker lived only eighty miles from her house. The two women met and shared their stories. 

The real miracle they discovered was not a bird on the head of Eddie Rickenbacker but a change in the heart of James Whittaker. The greatest event of that day was not the rescue of a crew, but the rescue of a soul.

James Whittaker was an unbeliever. The plane crash didn’t change his unbelief. The days facing death didn’t cause him to reconsider his destiny. In fact, Mrs. Whittaker said her husband grew irritated with a crew member who continually read his Bible privately and aloud.

But his protests didn’t stop the man from reading. Nor did Whittaker’s resistance stop the Word from penetrating his soul. Unknown to Whittaker, the soil of his heart was being plowed. For it was one morning after a Bible reading that the seagull landed on Captain Rickenbacker’s head.

And at that moment, Jim became a believer.

Isn’t that like God go to extremes to save a soul, to answer a prayer? Such an effort to get a guy’s attention. The rest of the world is occupied with Germany and Hitler. Every headline is reporting the actions of Roosevelt and Churchill. The globe is locked in a battle for freedom… Wait… And the Father is in the Pacific sending a missionary pigeon to save a soul. Oh, the lengths to which God will go to get our attention and win our affection. 

God hears our prayers. 

Our first should be that he will give us eyes to see how he answers them.

This is the Word of the Lord for today. 

Amen.