The Greatest Prayer - Week 9 - "Amen"

This week I will be preaching the last installment of the nine-part sermon series, "The Greatest Prayer"--a line by line study of the Lord's Prayer.  And yes, this sermon is on "Amen."

I debated on whether to preach an entire sermon on one word---after all, common sense would suggest that such an idea would not be wise.  But in the end my common sense didn't win (like it ever does), which in this case I think is a pretty good thing. 

First, I must address something that has bothered me for some time.  On the worship bulletins at my church we put this heading above everything else inside the bulletin: ORDER OF WORSHIP. 

This suggests something that is fairly true for most Presbyterian worship services:  worship is orderly.  Presbyterians do things "decently and in order," which includes their worship services, too, as I've come to understand in my 20-odd years or so as a Presbyterian.  

But should we order worship?  Should we dare to presume that the Holy Spirit will follow our orderly outline of how things should go?  I think from now on I'm going to insist that we change the word "order" to "celebration."  I'll probably get letters, or dirty looks, or both.  It's the common sense thing again, though.  Who needs it? 

Orderly worship services don't allow for inappropriate "Amens."

In some churches (not Presbyterian) there used to be a corner of the sanctuary where a group of people would sit who would respond to the pastor's sermon when he made a valid and/or dramatic point.  This group of people would shout "Amens" or other assorted affirmative exclamations as a way to keep the pastor fired up, and to make sure that everyone else knew when they should be listening.  This section was called the "Amen Corner."

When I was a kid, the "Amen Corner" was wherever Mr. Case sat.  Mr. Case said "Amen" a lot.  Sometimes he would say "Amen" when the pastor announced the passage of Scripture that he was going to be reading next.  Seriously.  The pastor would say, "We'll be reading from Romans 8:28," and Mr. Case would bark out "Amen!" Some might say that he was just approving of the text that the pastor was using to make his point.  I thought he was just an idiot, who liked to say "Amen."   

I'm fairly sure I was right on that one.  No one seemed to mind that much when Mr. Case amen'd things up, though.  It was that kind of church. 

On the other hand, formal-type Christians get nervous when people say "Amen" in church.  I read a story about a woman who came into 4th Presbyterian Church in DOWNTOWN Chicago.  4th Presbyterian is a formal-type church.  She began to call out "Amen!" and "Praise the Lord!" during the service.  Finally the head usher walked down the aisle after a few glances from the annoyed pastor, and asked the woman what she was doing.  "Praising the Lord!" she responded.  "Ma'am," he said, "this is no place to praise."

Gotta love it.

Robert Palmer tells the story of a worship service he was part of that included several African-American preachers.  The congregation was filled with African-American worshippers, who cheered, praised and amen'd throughout the rousing sermons that were part of the service.  One preacher got up to speak, and began struggling through his sermon.  Things were not going well.  No one was saying "Amen."  Finally an elderly African-American woman spoke up clearly, "Help him, Jesus!  Help him!"

I wonder if some of the members of my congregation ever want to say the same thing while I'm preaching.

The first usage of the word "Amen" in the ancient Hebrew was to solemnize a curse against someone who had defied God's law.  The literal meaning of the word was "strength."  The derived meaning--the meaning that it morphed into over time--was "certainty."  By the time Jesus famously used it in the New Testament, it was basically translated as "So be it."  The King James Version of the Bible translated it, "verily," and other translations interpreted it as "truly."    We might very well say that "Amen" could also mean, "Let it be."  (cue Beatles music)

That's quite a journey... from curse to Beatles song.

Jesus built on this understanding of speaking "Let it be," when he taught his disciples to say what they mean and mean what they say in Matthew 5:37.  "Let your yes be yes," he told them, "and your no be no.  Anything else is of the evil one."

So, do we learn from this that "let it be" is a much more emphatic way to say "yes?"  Maybe.

I discovered something that made me happy this week.  Presbyterians have a long history of saying "Amen!" even though they sort of avoid it now.  In the 17th century the Westminster Divines (a group of scholars, ministers and lawyers) wrote the Westminster Catechism that included this little gem: "In testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard we say, 'Amen."

Here's a new way of thinking about it:  Christ is the AMEN, the one causing the prayer to come to pass, to let it be, to add an emphatic "YES!" to the end of what you are affirming.

Revelation 3:14 says, 14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
   These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

But if Christ is going to be the Amen, the one who speaks "let it be," the one who says "yes" for us when we need to affirm something that requires a little more emphasis than just a simple, feeble "yes" from us... then we need to let go of our desire to control our "yes" a bit, wouldn't you think?

The moment of Amen then is the "glad surrender of your soul."  Awesome, isn't it?  In order for Christ to speak for us, to say yes for us... we need to say yes to Christ first. 

So what happens when we say "Amen" at the end of the Lord's Prayer?  Well, for starters we add our voices to the voices of countless Christians who have already said "Yes!" to Christ.  We join in the great cloud of witnesses who have realized that living a "yes life" in Christ opens the door to some amazing blessings both in this life and the life to come.  I read this week that Amen is a "little word, but it takes a dedicated life to exhaust it's meaning."  

So how important is it for Christians to live a "yes life?"  Have you ever hung out with church people for any length of time?  If you have, then you know that the answer to the previous question is: PRETTY DANG IMPORTANT.  The effects of negativism and negative thinking are far too evident in the Christian church.  If you don't believe me, try introducing some new thought or idea in the Church.  Try to urge a group of Christians to step outside their comfort zone and share their faith with their neighbor. Attempt to change the wording on the bulletins (common sense, man!).  Christians will give you 100 reasons why something won't work, why it's wrong, why they are against it, why it is unBiblical, why it's not what they've always done... before they give you one reason why it  

We need some Amen People in the Church ready to live their "yes life" now.  

When we say "Amen" we are saying what the world needs to hear.  We are saying that our "Amen" is backed up by Jesus, that we've said "Yes!" to him, and now he's saying "Yes!" or us.  That our "yes life" is one that is lived in hope, joy, peace, boldness, grace, fearlessness and holiness.  When we say it together we take it up a notch.  The Amen is what the Church stands for.  When we say it together, we drop all of the pretense, the divides, the dissension, the junk that separates us from God and one another.  It unites us. 

We need your Amen.  We need you here to say it.  Part of saying "Yes!" to Christ is saying "Yes!" to the community that bears his name, that proclaims his presence and embodies the kingdom he inaugurated.  But so many church members decide that their presence isn't really that important in church. My church regularly has far less than half of its members in attendance when we worship.  Their Amen is missed.  

A son was wakened by his mother, who told him, "You need to get up and go to school."  "I'm not going," he told her. "The kids hate me, the teachers hate me, the food is terrible, the day lasts way too long, and I can't stand it!"  She shook him roughly, "I'm giving you two reasons why you need to get up and go to school.  One, the kids and the teachers don't really hate you.  Two, they're expecting you and you can't let them down... you're the principal."  

We need your Amen.  You need to bring it.  

But you have to do something first.  You need to start saying "Yes!" to somethings.  You need to say "Yes!" to Jesus to begin with, but what else will you say "Yes!" to?  Will you say "Yes!" to being an engaged part of your faith community?  Will you say it to trusting God with your life?  Will you say it to serving others rather than yourself?  

What will your "yes life" look like?  I can't answer that for you, but what I can do is tell you this:  

Saying Amen is the first step toward living your "yes life" now.  



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