Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lord's Prayer part 4

Hallowed is Your Name
Your Kingdom come
Your Will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven

This part of the Lord's prayer makes three claims about God: 
1. The holiness of God's name
2. The coming of God's realm
3. The hope God has for God's creation

The Jewish culture Jesus was immersed in thought of God's name as holy.  For some Jewish people you would not even speak God's name, Yahweh.  While we might see that as being superstitious, it also reminds us that when we talk about God the conversation should have a different feeling, tone, even words than when  we are discussing the weather or the Packer's playoff chances.
In fact, there is a word to describe such conversations about God called "theology".  That literally means, "God talk" or words about God.  Each time we talk about God, we are engaging in theology.  That does not need to be a stuffy as it sounds.  Theology can be joyous and filled with laughter.  We are after all talking about a God would could imagine, create and craft a platypus!  Yet, I think it is good to pause and to be thoughtful about God.  Too often today people (read "pastors") can get wrapped up in our own words about God that we forget this part of the prayer.  A sermon (or blog post) is a chance to speak a word about God.  In those moments, the question for those listening can be, "does this connect me to the holiness of God?"  Does this connect me to the living God?  If not, what words are distancing you from God?  If so, which words are ringing true?  That's one way of living this line of the Lord's prayer.

Second, we pray about the coming of God's realm.  I'd rather talk about God's realm than kingdom.  Partly because the word 'kingdom' has a lot of baggage.  It brings to mind images of Kings and violence and battles over land.  And even though in my heart I know that is not what God's kingdom is like, even though I think there is something subversive about using a word in a way that is completely counter-cultural and contradicts the norm, even though in Isaiah 11:1-10 describes exactly what God envisions what God's Kingdom will look like; the reality is most of us are much more familiar with King Arthur than Isaiah.  Most of us know more about the men of the Bible than the Women who throughout scripture are usually more faithful to what God's realm will look like.  And most of us just can't hear Kingdom without thinking of the final scene from Braveheart.  So, making this shift to the word 'realm' can help remind us that what we are praying for is something entirely different than what we know here and know in the kingdoms of this world.  What we are praying for is peace among the nations and unity amid creation.  

Third, we pray for hope and for God's presence to move in our lives.  Again, the word 'will' often is equated with force.  Like with the word "Kingdom", force also has a lot of baggage.  Rightfully so.  Yet, as John Capato suggest, there is a weakness to God.  Throughout Scripture, God does not smite nearly as many people as we think.  In fact, the way God acts is usually not very forcefully at all.  God works through blessed and broken people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah, and David.  God sends Jesus, not with a sword, but with parables and healing and love.  To work through words and people rather than to wave God's divine hand to make everything better magically is a different sort of will.  It is slower moving than we might think.  And it is more dependent upon us than we usually talk about or are comfortable with.  To pray for God's will or presence reminds us that we are on sacred ground. 

All three of these claim culminate when we pray for heaven and earth to be one.  To pray for God's presence recognizes that God is all around us and inside us.  To pray for God's realm is to be open to the way God's presence is making a difference here and now.  To pray for the words we say about God to reflect God's holiness is one way to live in God's realm and to sense God's presence.  Heaven and earth as one.  Even here and now. 

So, may the One who is holy, whose realm is found around us and within us, and whose presence makes us different surround you and sustain you.  May the traces of grace be with you.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lord's Prayer part 3

"Who art in Heaven"

The above picture captures pretty well our image of Heaven.  Some oasis in the clouds, perhaps with Pearly Gates, St. Pete with some kind of scroll or book in front of him, and maybe a line of people waiting to see where they end up.  What is heaven?

In Matthew, Jesus often talks about the realm of God as being the "Kingdom of Heaven" , while Luke envisions the Kingdom of God.  Matthew might have used the word "Heaven" because for some Jewish folks to write or even speak the name of God was too sacred.  Heaven became a safe way of referring to the sacred.  Is that what Jesus was getting at with this line?  Maybe, but I'd also say there is more too.

Wayne Muller in his book, Learning to Pray, writes, "When Jesus described heaven, he never spoke of a place; rather, he described a state of the heart, a way of being attentive to the sacred in ordinary things, thins we might easily overlook." Muller is building on an understanding from our Celtic Brothers and Sisters often thought of Heaven as all around us and that we could not usually see it. It is when we stumbled upon a "thin place" where the curtain separating the sacred and profane all of the sudden became translucent for a few fleeting seconds. So is heaven part of earth?

When the above four words fall from my lips on a Sunday morning, what I hear in my mind is "Whose realm is heaven".  This reminds me of Karl Barth's understand of God as "Wholly Other" (or "Holy Other").  God is not like us as human beings, no matter how much we want to try to craft God in our image.  God is Other.  Yet, for whatever reasons, God does make God-self accessible to us.  For Barth, God did that most profoundly in the incarnation (flesh/birth) of Jesus.  Jesus' life became a thin place in our world.  Jesus' teachings became wisdom for those of us who follow him to sense God in a new way, in the everydayness of our lives. Jesus opens us to this realm of God, which is different than the realm of this world and yet oddly the same.  Heaven becomes a way of describing God's way and God's vision for all of creation.

Part of the problem in our world today is because there can be moments when I sense God close, I start to accumulate these experiences of God.  Those experiences can boost my confidence and I start to go out on the shaky limb of thinking, "Oh, I've got this whole God thing figured out."  To speak of Heaven, reminds me of the Otherness of God and that I need to take care (as Matthew does) in what I say about God.

This part of the poetry of the Lord's prayer encourages us that even if God is as close as our next breath, even when we experience God in the collective "our" of our lives, there is also a "more than" quality to God, just out of our grasp, the Wholly Other Barth spoke of.  It's okay to life in that mystery, tension, and messy middle.  Because God is there and maybe even a bit of Heaven too.

May the traces of God's grace be scattered in your life today so that you are wrapped in the presence of the One who is Holy Other.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lord's Prayer Part Two

Before we rush on to the next line of the Lord's Prayer, I want to invite you to dwell with the very first word, "Our".  
Usually, we see and practice prayer as individuals.  And there is wisdom in that.  Connecting with God in our own unique ways is good.  Yet, if all we ever do is practice prayer as isolated individuals on an island of one, it can get pretty lonely.  It can also get pretty self-centered.  I need the voices of others to care for me, expand me, and challenge me.  

Care for me in ways that I realize that someone else in this world who I can see, receive a hug from, and respond to what I am saying can help me hear the still speaking voice of God in new and amazing way.  That is why Jesus came in the flesh...and we offer that Christ like present to each other in prayer.

Expand me in ways that I realize that I don't have God all figured out.  I see in a mirror dimly as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.  I need to realize my own limitations and that others offer me new insights that I would not be able to come to on my own.  That is why Jesus came in the push our faith in new directions while still tethered to something that felt familiar. 

Challenge me to hear ideas and images I don't agree with.  If I only listen to people like me either in prayer or in life, it gets pretty boring.  That is why Jesus came in the bring new understandings of God who was a close as our next breath with a love that could change the world and change us today.

I think it was intentional that Jesus began with "our"...not just "my".  To be sure, the disciples came to Jesus looking for wisdom in prayer.  He could have said to them, "Bow your heads and fold your hands."  He could have said, "Well one day you may become the prayer Jedi master I am...but you must start off slow."   He could have said...well he really would not have said any of that because it is not really Jesus.  

Jesus began "Our" in all of our God.  No one has an exclusive corner on truth about God.  We need each other, just as Jesus needed the disciples and the disciples needed Jesus.  They offered each other the care, expansion, and challenge faith needs to be vital...and our prayer life needs.  I invite you to ponder that word, "our".

Who are you presently praying with?  Your partner?  Your family?  Your church?  Does it feel like you are praying together or just in the general vicinity of each other?  

Keep me in your prayers...and I will do the same for you...and together we can live the "our" that begins this sacred prayer.

May the traces of God's grace be seen in your connections with others in prayerful moments.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Lord's Prayer

Over the next couple of posts about prayer, I want to look at the Lord's Prayer.  Many have already commented about, preached about, written books about, and every Sunday in almost every Christian Church this prayer is part of the worship service, so I am trudging into well-known territory.  In some ways stepping into such conversation is difficult.  Do I really have anything fresh to add to the dialogue?  Or I am heaping more words upon a prayer that is relatively short and straight-forward?  
My prayer is in these posts you might find something that feels like a breath of fresh air.  Maybe at the bare minimum, these posts might cause you to ponder the Lord's Prayer as you said it Sunday after Sunday to think about the words falling from your lips rather than reciting on autopilot.  I promise to join you in that and also be open as the church I serve this Sunday says this prayer in our worship service.

The Lord's Prayer is found in two of the four Gospels:

Neither Mark nor John include this prayer.  There are some similarities and differences between Matthew and Luke's versions.  Luke is very clear that the disciples prompt the prayer by requesting Jesus to 'teach them to pray.'  This comes as Jesus himself was in the midst of prayer.  You can almost picture the disciples hovering around, trying to eavesdrop as Jesus whispered words to God, and learn by osmosis.  I take heart that the disciples, Jesus' closest friends had to ask for wisdom about how to pray.  Maybe I can learn from that.  Prayer may not come as naturally as everyone likes to assume it should.  It can be difficult, even for those who were willing to give up their lives to follow Jesus.  Why in the world would we assume that we should know how to pray?  Maybe the disciples request could become ours and we might say, "Lord, teach me to pray!"

Matthew's version also is a teachable moment for Jesus.  Jesus clearly says, when you pray to God, pray like this... In Chapter 6, Jesus had just been to the temple and seen the way people were praying.  I have to admit it is always tempting to glance out of the corner of my eye when praying in public.  Is my wife's head bowed?  What about the person in front of me?  Once your eyes are open, you look at the person praying.  Are her eyes open or closed?  Is she reading from a printed prayer?  

So, let's start by affirming two things: 1).  We all need help with prayer and 2). We are curious about how other's pray too.

Both Matthew and Luke start off the Lord's Prayer with the same two words, "Our Father".  Perhaps you have already heard before that the word here in the original language is "Abba" and is really more appropriately translated, "Daddy", not that I think people are going to start saying, "Our Daddy".  Maybe one day.  Daddy is the more informal and initiate word for a relationship.  My kids never say, "Father, I would like some ice cream."  It is always, "Daaaaaaadddddy...could we please have ice cream," with each word, especially the first, coated in all the love they have.  Daddy is about a close connection.  
To be sure, not everyone reading this blog has had a great relationship with their biological father.  Maybe several reading this have had just God-awful relationships with males in their lives.  Assigning a gender to God will do that.  When you use intimate words, you awake intimate memories from our experiences.    

To say God was close and in a loving relationship with us, Jesus is drawing on the second creation narrative, Genesis 2, we God kneels in the dirt and crafts the first human out of the dust.  That is the kind of Creator Jesus points to in saying, "Our Father."

I know there is still tension around how we refer to God.  And so, I want you to think about that image.  Would it be better for you to say, "Our Father-Mother" so you can get beyond gender?  Would it be better for you to say, "Our God" to take gender out of it?  Would it be better for you if we took tradition another way?  For me, words matter and make a difference.  And it is good for me to ponder right now how is my relationship with God?  Do I feel the love of a parent intimate and close when I start the Lord's Prayer?  Or are the words tripping me up?

May the traces of God's grace be found in your life today as we open ourselves to the One whose love cares for us and sustains us.


God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...