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Many Names for God

Speaker: The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

January 24, 2021

Sermon, Sunday, January 24, 2021
Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham
Matthew 6: 9 - 13

“When the day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” 

These words sung out from Amanda Gorman in her poem The Hill We Climb. Her proclamations, her balm of hope, from our nation’s Capitol filled the hearts of many. This phrase—"Somehow, we have weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken just simply unfinished”— captured my heart and sat in my spirit. I am grateful that her phrase lifts up the theology that has fueled pastoral care through the years: the hope that there is more to come, that we make meaning out of tragedy, and that in God there is redemption.

I woke thinking about Amanda’s wording in relation to the Lord’s Prayer. This concept of possibility gives us opportunity, as we hear in the prayer, to ask God to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We can recognize that which is unfinished.

On several occasions, I have sat with couples who discerned that divorce was necessary. They felt like their relationship was broken when in fact their healing was unfinished. They needed to end what had been in order to develop what could be—a kind and polite existence of caring for their family without harsh words or actions.   

What if we, too, were to shift from the idea of broken to being unfinished?   In the wider arena of inequity, we might borrow a quote from a poster I saw in my days as a hospital chaplain: The truth will set you free, but at first it will hurt like hell. In order to be set free, to not live in brokenness, we must discover the unfinished. We need to name the injustice we witness and address it.  Obviously, we have a great deal to confront in our structures and systems of practiced inequality. We will continue to repent and work for change. Our work is unfinished. Like a couple who divorces because of harmful patterns, we will need to do the same with patterns of prejudice. On a global front, we have more to discuss than we have time today.

On a personal level, I offer a small example of moving from broken to unfinished: fourteen weeks of the aftermath of a fractured ankle, going from a boot to a brace, has meant broken schedules, routines, and ways of being. Like my white privilege, I am well aware of my able bodied-privilege and yet have to pause to remind myself of it.  However, I can use this situation as a rediscovered practice I learned during my sabbatical eight years ago.  Milton and I walked seventy-five miles of the Camino de Santiago. There I focused on slowing down, … intentional breathing, …and prayerful mediation.  

I wonder, how can we individually and collectively can shift from broken to unfinished?  With a community view, how can we learn and reclaim how to speak slower, … pause to breathe,    and prayerfully reflect with citizens who hold views we do not comprehend?

In more personal ways, perhaps as we continue in these pandemic days, we name that the fast pace of life with multiple meetings or gatherings were not a broken way of being, but rather an unfinished understanding of how to manage our time differently. Maybe in this incomprehensible era, we can learn that a familiar routine is not the same thing as a finished routine. For the past ten months, our coping mechanisms have shifted with seasons and with time changes. It was necessary to find a new way of being to manage early anxiety, then isolation, frustration, irritation, uncertainty, and now vaccine scheduling.   As Milton is fond of saying, we are not broken; we are broken-hearted. True! We are not broken, we are unfinished.

I knew a lovely elder southern woman, now deceased, who would have resonated with the gifted poet’s phrase that nation that isn’t broken, just simply unfinished. I imagine if she were still around, she might say something like, “Yes, that is what I meant every time I uttered God isn’t finished with me yet. If think I am broken; I rest in the truth that God has more for me; I am just unfinished.”

The Lord’s Prayer that Judi will be exploring with our Sunday school classes this month offers us a place to find a prayer voice, if you will, yet it too is an unfinished prayer because leaves out our personal reflections.   

Back when Massachusetts was a colony, Anne Hutchison was a mid-wife for the birth of babies and faith. She was banished because she was a woman (not a clergyman) who taught theology to those around her. And she told them that everyone could pray directly to God. Egos, arrogance and a sense of right-ness caused them to banish her.  In the spirit of Anne, you can write, think, or voice your own prayers. Please take a moment and look at the model prayer from Matthew 6—a salutation to God, petitions, and affirmation of the Holy. May we remember: familiar is not the same as finished.

When I was twenty-one, I was confronted about my exclusive use of male language. As I was interviewing for Clinical Pastoral Education, I had to explain why I called God Father and answer if I thought God was male. Of course, I knew God was without gender and I stuttered about trying to formulate an answer. Basically, “Father” was the language I knew.  Rather than seeing this part of the prayer model as broken, the supervisors encouraged me to explore aspect and names for God.  Brian Wren in his hymn Bring Many Names reminds us that the list of who God is to us is not exhaustive, certainly not finished. The lyrics—Strong Mother God, Warm Father God, Old Aching God, Young Growing God, and Great living God—remind us that the God of the universe is expansive. Our language isn’t broken, just unfinished.

A couple more specific words to study as we engage this cherished, familiar, and unfinished prayer. The word Kingdom is not part our daily lived experience, however, kin-dom is. Some opt to say kin-dom as a way to reshape kingdom to our practice of community, awareness of equity for all and loving neighbor as self.

Three other words to ponder as we reflect on the model prayer are: debt - which make us think about bills; trespassing - which brings property to mind; and sin - which causes us to pause and wonder how we have missed the mark of love. 

In future sermons, we will come back to the Lord’s Prayer for there is much more to discuss. Like this prayer, there are many prayers and poems that can speak directly to our hearts. I encourage you to spend time finding those that speak to you and then write some of your own.

As we began with Amanda Gorman’s poem, we end with a prayer from Rev. Joanna Harader:

St. Patrick’s Breastplate, Adapted: A Prayer for Protection in a Time of Violence

We arise today
Through a mighty strength
Calling on the Creator of creation.  

We arise today
Through the strength of Jesus:
Born and baptized,
Crucified and buried,
Resurrected and ascended
in defeat of violence and death forever.

We arise today
Through the strength of love,
In the hope of resurrection,
In the prayers of our ancestors,
In the preachings of prophets,
In the resistance of the righteous.

We arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Shining of sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock. 

We arise today
Through God’s strength to lead us;
God’s might to uphold us,
God’s wisdom to guide us,
God’s hand to guard us. 

We summon today all these powers
and place them between ourselves and evil;
We place these Holy powers
Against every cruel power that opposes the bodies and souls of God’s beloveds,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against those who are lawless,
And against those who shield their evil with the law,
Against worship of nation or race or leader,
Against all lies that the unrighteous speak and live.

Christ in your strength
Shield us today
From violence of word,
From violence of deed,
From violence of policy,
From violence of spirit.

We arise today
Through a mighty strength,
Calling on the Creator of creation.

Yes. And we arise today and call on the Creator of creation to help us work with the unfinished before us. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham

Lead Minister

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