Digging Deeper in to the Familiar
During a recent home communion visit, a woman asked me, “Why do I have a problem praying when my husband is in the hospital?” She wanted some passages from scripture. I suggested the Psalms for guidance and inspiration. That’s still a good suggestion for when we are at home and have access to the Bible. However, I realized that we need something portable as well. When I saw that my assigned text for today, (Luke 11:1-13), includes the Lord’s Prayer, I thought, of course, that is something portable.
We Christians are so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer that we can get lost in the recitation, forgetting its power, thinking that with familiarity of recitation comes familiarity with context and content. It even happens to pastors… The way to get beyond superficial familiarity is not to reserve the Lord’s Prayer for special occasions, but to deepen our interaction with it to the point that it can become a template for all of our asking, seeking and knocking. Following last week’s presentation of the listening lesson of Martha and Mary, blessed as they were by the physical presence of Jesus, it strikes me that the Lord’s Prayer maps out a space for us to listen, as well, even when God does not seem available or present. It satisfies the three basics of information theory: Did you hear me? Did you understand me? and What will you do? It also sets us up for the asking, knocking, and seeking that show up as Jesus’ challenge to us once we learn his prayer.
Jesus’ disciples had noticed that his way of prayer made a difference. They sensed power in his conversations with God. Jesus responds by re-framing their request away from “How do we get what we want.” to “Here is the space where you can recognize you have all you need, and then some.” As with so much of the New Testament, this prayer has an Old Testament reference. It can be found in Second Chronicles 6:12 and following. King Solomon is dedicating the newly completed Temple in Jerusalem. In his prayer, reference is made to every subject of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Solomon is inviting/directing the people of Israel to direct their prayer toward this new throne of God. (He actually includes non Israelites in the invitation.) He calls on God to hear their petitions from his realm in heaven. Jesus’ disciples would have heard and understood the links with the dedication of the Temple, because that is where they are going. Jesus will process to Jerusalem like Solomon, the Son of David, and head directly to the Temple to dedicate it as a “house of prayer.” (Overturning a few tables on the way…)
I think a case can be made that Luke places the story of the Lord’s prayer right in the middle of his gospel because he wants to indicate that the focal point of prayer is about to shift for the disciples (and in fact has already shifted for his post resurrection readers), from the temple in Jerusalem to the Cross of Jesus outside the walls, because that is where redemption and forgiveness will be centered for all of the future. So, in our conversation today, I am going to use the full prayer that we recite together, not simply the version from Luke. Matthew has a slightly different version, and our Sunday worship version includes the doxology that is not in either one.
The Lord’s Prayer Part-by-Part
I like to slow down, break each important part out for separate reflection. Each time I do this I hear new things, and come to different nuances of understanding, that call for action. Here are some of my recent reflections. Try it for yourself, when you pray this prayer daily. I would love to hear what you discover. So, let’s get started:
Jesus identifies with us in his prayer! This reflects the genealogy at the beginning of Luke, where Jesus’ lineage is traced back all the way to Adam…Adam, surprisingly identified as the “son of God.” What a way to start…All humanity brought into the prayer. The Lord Jesus plants the roots of his prayer in the Gospel of inclusion. All are invited. All are welcome. All participate whenever the prayer is spoken, each and all speaking in and with Jesus’ voice. (This is a leap beyond radical, past the unthinkable, right into the unbelievable and we in the church have wrestled with this ever since. Lord…I can’t see… How?? Shouldn’t there be some kind of boundary…?)
Luther reminds us that this is saying “DADDY” (in the original language, ABBA). This is not a statement of patriarchal gender privilege. This is a faith statement of committed relationship. Mom is always pretty obvious at the moment of birth. Dad is not. This is answers the uncertainty of Joseph, betrothed to pregnant Mary, and of the community Jesus grew up in. Jesus was, as they all supposed, the son of Joseph, but there were whispers. Is he a “mamser,” an illegitimate,who has no place, who does not belong, cannot be counted toward the minyan (the ten adult males required to have a synagogue), has no inheritance or standing among us. Whispers will become shouts of Crucify him, when Jesus, convicted as blasphemous by the rules of the day, claims to be Son of God. That is, until the Father steps forward to acknowledge, “This one is mine. I take responsibility/ownership of this one,” by raising him from the dead.
This Father who “owns” up to us as children, through Jesus Christ, is the one to whom we speak with Jesus’ words. We can trust that we will not only be heard, but also understood, even when we can’t put what we need into our own words, because, while we are indeed mamser, illegitimate in our own lost being and behaviors, in a word SINNERS. OUR “Father” establishes the lineage of the name. Baptized…. in the name of… Embracing the illegitimate, unlovable. This one is mine…
Who art in Heaven
The viewpoint is the Father’s, not ours. Jesus affirms God’s perspective is governed by the self giving love that caused everything that is not God to come into being. Father God sees and knows the whole picture, not just the frame we find comfortable. As the Father has created, so the Father will chasten and redeem at great cost to self and to the Father’s son, so that we may be set on the path toward life. Ruth, a dear sister in Christ, whom I recently met, in her nursing home room, puts it this way “Heavenly Father directs traffic…” We and our loved ones are in God’s constant view and therefore in God’s loving embrace, even when we cannot see what is going on from where we stand and look. And wonder of wonders, even when we don’t want to be…
Hallowed be thy name
Speaking the name, “Father” is an act of faith that brings who the Father is and what the Father does right into the present moment, making this moment sacred. As with Moses at the burning bush, it makes this place holy ground. Jewish religious practice forbids the speaking of the name of God, printed out as the four Hebrew letters Yod He Waw He. Jesus follows this practice by addressing God in his Father relationship, not by a formal name. The Old Testament notion of “Haram,” “dedicated to God” is expressed here. What is touched by the Father’s name is dedicated to the Father’s use and thereby Holy. We are made holy, useful to God, by the name.
Thy Kingdom come
This Kingdom is the “holy ground.” Jesus reminds us, “The Kingdom of God is right in front of you, step in.” Luther reminds us that God’s Kingdom comes without our praying for it, but we pray this way so we can see what is really spread out in front of us. It is the promised land, it is Eden. Our entry is no longer blocked by the angel with the flaming sword. The Father, who acknowledges us as his own, will not allow us to go unloved, or to remain distant, even in the most trying situation… those times of rebellion, stress, change, fear, and uncertainty that accompany daily human existence… painful relationships, illness, hospitalization… even death itself.
Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Luther says the will of God is acted out when everything is blocked that is contrary to the holiness of the name of God and the coming of God’s kingdom for us. Stated in positive terms, God’s will is that we “be” (as in “Let there be…”), and that TOV (the Hebrew word for “good” pronounced by the Father at the end of every day of creation in the Genesis account) is the final word, on all God has done, not our deficiencies or participation in the brokenness of the world. God’s will is for our TOV. The Father wants us close with him in Eden and will do what is necessary to see that happen, up to and through the cross of his only begotten son. (As a side note, the will of God, expressed as “God’s Law” is always addressed directly to us. The 10 Commandments all start with “You shall” not “They should.” ) The will of God is that only God gets to judge. God’s judgment is God’s embrace of us, Sinners… because we need it, from the God’s eye view, whether we know it or not. God’s will opens us to relationship with the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit for all of eternity, starting now. The resurrection of Jesus is the new TOV declared on the new creation.
Give us this day our daily bread
This is what God’s TOV looks like. God works this out in creation itself and through other people. The Father provides daily bread, even to the wicked! Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus refers to us as like the birds of the air or the Lilies of the field. We are gifted in every time or place with what is necessary for our being blessed. This is the promise of MANNA to sustain us in our desert travels (or hospital waiting rooms, or changes in life’s circumstances) just as God sustained Israel. This is the daily eucharist, the thanksgiving with which we receive.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said it this way: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime, therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Enabled to recognize the creative presence of God, through God’s holy name, God’s present kingdom, God’s gracious intent toward us, and God’s regular follow through in granting what is needed for daily living, we can undertake the work God appoints for us, namely, “paying forward” the grace of God in every circumstance. God wishes to establish a “feedback loop” of forgiveness so that we are moved from only “willingly forgiving the lovable” and, maybe, “unwillingly forgiving the unlovable” toward the position the Father has taken toward all of us from all eternity according to the Son on the Cross, “Father, forgive them they are clueless,” the costly, painful, bearing of one another’s burdens, “willing love of the unlovable.” (always a work in process…for us, not for the Father)
And lead us not into temptation, (Save us in the time of trial) but deliver us from evil
Life is undoubtedly difficult… at times, overwhelmingly so. Scripture reminds us that the cosmic battle is still underway between God and the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Our grievances with each other, in church and society, are real and huge. The times test our trust, particularly when we run up against the opportunity to “willingly forgive the unlovable.” (There really are a bunch of us unlovables…) These petitions come toward the end of the prayer as a reminder that it is God who deals with our personal weakness and with the end results of our relationships. God’s trustworthiness, expressed in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross of the world’s brokenness, overcomes all that stands between God and our trust, in spite of our daily temptation to mistake the created image of God we carry as the right to play God by judging self and other.
for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever
Again, we are reminded where the center of trust rests, and why it rests there. The reference to the beloved community of the Holy Trinity in these words of praise lets us know again the who, where, what, and how of God’s infinite love for us as outlined in the petitions we just reviewed. Knowing “whose” we are enables us to ask, knock, seek, no matter our circumstance because it doesn’t depend on us. So we may do it everywhere and often, because we do so in the Father’s name, in the Father’s Kingdom, and by the Father’s expressed desire for us to do so. This is unthinkable freedom…
Luther says this “Amen” is to be understood as, “May it be so for me, always and everywhere.” We have been freed from the task of judgement of self and other. We may let God be God for us and let go of trying to predetermine how God will enable our TOV, or that of anyone else. We can love as we have been loved. Welcome as we have been welcomed. Serve as we have been served, Forgive, as we have been forgiven. We will receive, the kingdom will be opened, and we have been found. Take and eat… This is my Body Take and drink… this is my blood. Given and shed for you for your forgiveness.
Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia!