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[Sermon] Holiness in Everyday Life

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + June 9, 2024 + Unfolding the Prayer: Holiness



In his sermon for the second week of our Unfolding the Prayer worship series, Pastor Hector examines the structure and deeper meaning of the Lord's Prayer, focusing on the petition "Let your name be hallowed." By sharing personal stories and theological reflections, he illustrates how understanding and valuing God's holiness can transform our daily lives. He urges us to see ourselves as instruments of God's grace, capable of reflecting divine love and holiness in all our actions.



Sermon Transcript

Automatically generated captions from YouTube, lightly edited for readability by ChatGPT.


Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, Mother, and Creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our sibling, brother, and friend. And we said, Amen.


Well, here we go, the second week of unfolding the prayer. Let's do a little recap and see if you remember what we talked about last week. What did we talk about? Abba, Father, right? We talked about Abba and Father. We also talked about the Lord's Prayer—the version of the Lord's Prayer in the Gospel According to Luke is the shorter version that we have in the scripture between Matthew and Luke. Possibly, this prayer in the Gospel According to Luke is older than the version we read in the Gospel According to Matthew. We also talked about the important place where the Evangelist places the Lord's Prayer in the Gospel According to Luke, which is right after the stories of the Good Samaritan. This tells us and reminds us of our call to love our neighbor. Then we have the story of Mary and Martha. This is the story where the Lord Jesus and the Evangelist remind us of the relationship we are to look for with God and Jesus: to listen to the message, to hear it, and to allow that message to become part of us.


So that's what we were talking about last week and the importance of the word Abba in Aramaic. Let me ask you: Does the word Abba in Aramaic convey any gender? It is about a relationship; it is about the intimate relationship of God with all creation, with you, and with me. So let's remember that because it's important for us to understand the rest of the prayer.


But today, we are going to focus on what David was sharing here with our young worshippers—that specific line where we talk about holiness. During this series, you will hear me sharing stories about my own personal experience in learning about the meaning of this prayer, my own personal wrestling with these words, and how I believe the Spirit has led me. Not because I believe my story or my experience is better than yours, but I believe that if we had the time, we would hear hundreds of stories about how the Spirit is working in your lives and in your journeys to teach, lead, and embrace this prayer. I hope that by sharing my experience with you, it can help you and be a catalyst in your hearts to start thinking about how this prayer touches you in special ways.


Years ago, when I was in Sunday school, I remember that one of the ways I learned the Lord's Prayer, and that helped me to remember, was that the Lord's Prayer has basically three sections. Maybe some of you learned this: the first section is one introduction, six petitions, and one conclusion. Did any of you learn that? Well, I guess I was the only one then. As I have said to you, I grew up in a congregation that was more conservative in the theological interpretation of the scriptures, so it was very important that everything had structure and had to be memorized. So I memorized and learned by heart the Lord's Prayer, remembering this: one introduction, six petitions, and one conclusion. Today we are going to reflect on one of these first petitions.


Let me say that this structure helped me, but at the same time, it became rigid because it became almost mechanical. Sometimes, when you pray the Lord's Prayer, it comes out mechanically and instantly, and sometimes we do not have the time to reflect on the words. Last Wednesday, for example, in the Bible study, one of our sisters said that the Lord's Prayer is perhaps a prayer that we can pray for a day, a week, or a month. Why? Because if we are going to pray this story, maybe by saying "Abba, Father," we can spend an hour, a day, or a week reflecting on what that means in our lives. When we say, "Let your name be hallowed," we can reflect for a day or a week.


So I invite you to start thinking about how this prayer is, as we said last Sunday, not something that we just do because it's in our books or something that cannot be changed, but a guide on how you and I reflect in our daily lives on that intimate relationship that we experience. The first petition is "Let your name be hallowed." That is the direct translation from the Greek: "Let your name be hallowed." Now, as David was inviting us to think, what does the word "hallowed" mean in our lives, in our language today?


Anyone?


Sacred, reverent, holy, set aside, set apart, right? We need to remember, and we know this in our daily lives, that in order for us to set something aside, to set something apart, to set something as special in our lives, the truth is that you and I need to know a little bit of the value of that person or thing that belongs to us or is given to us. Knowing the value, knowing the worth, knowing what is behind it, may give special value in order for us to put it aside. The other aspect is that there needs to be a personal connection with that person or object. Don’t you do that? Don’t you put things on your shelves, on your walls, on your desks, or maybe on your bodies—things that have special value? You place them in a place that brings you comfort, guidance, joy, and fulfillment in your life.


Holiness can mean sanctified, honored, uncommon, made special, and being claimed by God. The whole liturgy that we read just a minute ago is really an explanation and expansion of this understanding of holiness in our lives. But at the same time, my sisters, my siblings in Christ, I want to be realistic that when we talk about holiness, there is an element of fear, isn’t there? If God is holy, are we holy? I think that the holiness of God brings both fear in our hearts because we cannot comprehend it, but at the same time, it brings a sense of being enfolded in the arms, in the heart, in the bosom of our God, our Abba. Holiness brings us and throws us to Godself, and that’s why you and I are part of the household of God.


This fear, I believe, is the fear that I lived with for many years in my life, and this reverence sometimes led me to fear. This response to God out of fear made me feel that God was so holy that I was unworthy and that others were unworthy, especially those who were not Christians. It was hard for me to see in others the holiness of God because I believed that God was so separated from us that it was not possible for us to ever experience that closeness and holiness with others.


Years ago, when I was doing my internship in Austin, Texas, I had just started my internship during the last year of my four years of seminary. A month after I started, my supervisor, the pastor, presented his resignation because he was taking another call. So here you have this international student in a Texan congregation, this international student learning English. Texas was not the best place because the accent was hard for me; it was different from my English in the classrooms. But I was in Austin, by myself, and all of a sudden, I was in charge of the congregation. It was hard for me because at that time, my daughter was born, my mother-in-law came from Taiwan with Jade and me to help us, and one day, when I was serving communion, people were coming to receive communion. You can imagine, again, this international student now serving a congregation by himself, learning English, trying to understand theology, and nervous. I started giving communion and going around giving communion to people. You know, when you are nervous, you start doing things really without paying attention to what comes next; you just focus on what you are doing right there and then.


I saw these hands, and when I lifted my eyes, it was the hands of my mother-in-law. By that time, my mother-in-law was planning to go to the monastery to continue her studies in Buddhism and possibly to become a nun. This pastor, who grew up in a congregation where the holiness of God was something that created more fear, felt unworthy. But it was too late; I had given communion—the holy body of the Lord Jesus Christ that nobody who is unworthy should take unless they confess and accept Jesus Christ. The bread was in her hands. I didn’t know what to do, and for days I struggled. Was the holiness of God and the fear of God going to punish her and me for doing that?


In the Gospel According to Luke, prayer and the Holy Spirit are fundamental. Prayer moves us from relationship to action. You and I already believe in the love of Abba, our mother, father, and Creator. Mary, this young woman who also thought perhaps that she was unworthy to be the channel and instrument of God to bring our savior, had the Spirit speak to her. When God, in God's holiness, came to her to remind her that even though she was young, unworthy, and maybe not qualified to reflect the holiness of God, God said, "You are going to bear a child, and his name will be Jesus." In that relationship, in that embrace of holiness and the love of Abba, Mary responded by saying, "My soul magnifies the Lord because even though I am a little person, here you have come to me." It is in that holiness, my sisters, my siblings, my brothers in Christ, that I invite you to abide.


I understood that after 10 years, my mother-in-law called us and told us—well, told Pastor Jade because I understand Chinese, of course—and Jade told me what my mother-in-law said. She said, "I found a church. I am going to be baptized." After struggling many years trying


to understand what that horrible mistake I made by giving communion, the holy body of the Lord Jesus Christ, to an unworthy person who was not even Christian, I asked Jade, "Can you ask your mom how she decided to be baptized and join a church?" My mother-in-law said, and this is the part where I understand the holiness to which you and I are called: "That day when I received the bread, I was touched. For these 10 years, I realized the holiness and love of God for me."


Our soul magnifies the Lord because even though we may think we are unworthy and unholy, you and I are called to be the instruments of that grace and intimate love of Abba, our Father, Mother, Creator. God doesn't need our assistance or support to be holy; rather, God gives us our existence to be holy every day by reflecting God's holiness. God, at the same time, chooses not to be God without you, without me, without all creation.


May this love of God, of Abba, be hallowed through our lives as a congregation. Let this prayer change us and lead us to become and tap into the presence of holy love in each one of us.


Amen.

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