Monday, March 23, 2015

"Pray in This Way" - A Lenten Exploration of the Lord's Prayer

For the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer.
Give us today our daily bread
In many ways this petition is the heart and center of the Lord’s Prayer.  This petition acts as a kind of railway switch that moves us in a different direction from the “thou” petitions (hallowed be THY name; THY kingdom come; THY will be done…) to the “we” or “us” petitions (give US today our daily bread; forgive US our sins; save US from the time of trial; deliver US from evil).  But while noting this, it is still important for us to recognize that this is only a slight change in focus.  This prayer continues to be a Kingdom prayer that is concerned with both affirming the values of the Kingdom come and recognizing that these Kingdom values have direct consequences for us, how we live our lives and how we relate to others.  As we ask God to help us keep God’s name holy, recognize the Kingdom come into our midst and allow God’s will be done in our lives now and always, we at the same time are also expressing the practical implications of these opening petitions in the prayers for bread, forgiveness, deliverance and protection.  In other words, the Kingdom is about God’s action here in our midst, because God loves people, is committed to the creation and cares passionately for you and me and all of God’s human children.
But exactly how then does this prayer accomplish all of this.  Quite frankly, how we understand this petition centers around how we translate and understand one particular word: the Greek word that stands behind the word that is rendered as “daily” in English.  I suspect that it will be surprising for many of you to learn that this particular word is not so easy to translate and in fact appears in the New Testament text only in this one place.  The phrase “daily bread” has become so familiar to us that I suspect we don’t give it much thought.  But this phrase is actually very complicated and can be translated in several different ways.  And so, I would like to explore briefly 3 different ways of translating and phrasing this petition.  This will allow these different understandings then to show us 3 different dimensions of meaning for this petition.
First, the traditional – “Give us today our daily bread.”  This tradition translation of the petition is valid and important.  In order to live we all need nourishment, we need food, we need clothing, home property, work, income, family, an orderly community, good government and the like, just as Luther expresses in his explanation of this petition in the Small Catechism.  And we need this each and every day.  What would it be like to go through one day without, say the love and presence of our family, or without food or good government?  It would be difficult, to say the least.
In the Gospels, Jesus himself is very concerned with “daily bread” for those who travel with him and also for those whom he encounters.  Sometimes it almost seems that the only thing Jesus did was to eat.  He is constantly sharing a meal with different folks, mostly outcasts and sinners.  And he becomes notorious for this, so much so that some of Jesus’ opponents begin to refer to him as a glutton and a drunkard.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds twice, and on the last night of his life he sits and dines with his disciples at the Last Supper.  And even after the resurrection Jesus dines with his disciples on the beach.  Jesus is very concerned with daily nourishment.  And, please note, there is no division between the spiritual and earthly, or sacred and secular in Jesus’ concern for the health and physical nourishment of his followers.  In fact, Jesus links his concern for the physical needs of those who he encounters with their spiritual needs.  Jesus’ concern is with wholeness, all dimensions of our lives together.  “Give us today our daily bread.”
The 2nd way of translating and understanding this petition is: “Give us today the bread that we need.” Not more – not less – but what we need for today.  Looking at this petition in this translation brings up all kinds of issues for us, especially as regards the question of needs verses wants.  We Americans in particular seem to struggle a lot with this and we have a hard time sometimes discerning what are needs and what are simply wants.  Consequently this raises issues of justice.  For in the midst of a society that uses more than its fair share of the earth’s resources and has a tendency to hoard, this petition calls us to account.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus as the people of Israel are wandering in the wilderness God is so concerned with their well-being that God sends Manna to provide nourishment. But it is not an unlimited supply.  The people of Israel can only take what they need for that one day, if they try to hoard the excess will rot.  This then requires them to trust that God will supply what they need each day.  The key to this story is trust and it raises the trust question for us. Do we truly trust God to give us what we need from day to day?  Or are we instead more like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable who works and works and works to fill his barns with grain, more grain than he will ever, ever need and is destroyed in the process?
“Give us today the bread we need.”  Give us today!  This petition brings with it a global consciousness as well.  The pronouns are US and WE – not ME or MINE – but rather US, all of us are one family of God’s children.  And as we take only what we need we are thus enabling others to receive what they need as well.  This petition is a prayer for justice. To quote one well-known theologian: In “asking for daily bread we are asking for a change in the modern social order, which rests on exploitation and profit.  We are asking for the overcoming of greed and fear, for fair pay for fair work, for the ending of unemployment, for the disappearance of alcoholism and prostitution, for adequate health care being available to all, for the saving of nature from destruction by a technology that works in the service of false gods.” (1)
In short, this petition is a prayer that God would give bread to those who hunger for bread; and that God would give to those who have bread and are full a hunger for justice.
The 3rd way of understanding this phrase is this: Our bread for tomorrow, give us today.”  Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” In the simple nourishment of the Kingdom meal of Holy Communion we receive none other than Jesus, himself.  In this ordinary taste of bread we receive a taste of the Kingdom come.  For “the bread which Jesus proffered when he sat at table with the publicans and sinners was everyday bread, and yet it was more: it was the bread of life… Every meal Jesus’ disciples had with him was a usual eating and drinking, and yet it was more: a meal of salvation, a messianic meal, an image and anticipation of the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom come.” (2)  Our bread for tomorrow – give us today!  Give us, today an experience of the Kingdom.  Let us see the light of Christ burning in the darkness of this world.  Grant to us, O Lord, a foretaste of the feast to come.
The bread and wine of the Sacrament of Holy Communion are the 1st answer to this petition.  For in the Eucharist, we today receive our bread for tomorrow.  We come as honored guests to the heavenly banquet.  In receiving ordinary bread in our hands we are also given the bread of life – none other than Jesus our Lord.  And in this way we are nurtured, nourished and empowered to bear the light of the Kingdom of God to others in our daily ministry.  This is why the Sacrament is not optional for Christians – we need it, or we will starve spiritually.  We need this taste of the Kingdom of God regularly.  For in the Sacrament we are embraced by Christ as he tells us he loves us and bids us to love others. 
“Our bread for tomorrow, give us today.” “Give us today the bread that we need.”  “Give us today our daily bread.”
Ultimately this petition is a prayer of thanksgiving for, in the words of the Psalmist, “the eyes of all look to you, O Lord, for you give them (us) their (our) food in due season.  You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”
Or in the words of the hymn: “O living bread from heaven, how well you feed your guest!  The gifts that you have given have filled my heart with rest.  O wondrous food of blessing, O cup that heals our woes!  My heart, this gift possessing, with praises overflows.”  Amen.
1. From "The Lord's Prayer" by Jan Milic Lochman, Errdman's 1988, page 98
2. From "The Lord's Prayer" by Joachim Jeremias, Fortress Press, 1964, page 26
An audio recording of the preached sermon can be found on the media page at

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Pray in This Way" - A Lenten Exploration of the Lord's Prayer

For the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer.
Your Will Be Done, On Earth as in Heaven
It should be clear by now that this prayer is no ordinary prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer is a Kingdom prayer – a prayer that affirms the presence of the Kingdom come NOW in Christ; a prayer that turns the expected on its head; a prayer that is downright radical.  When we pray this prayer this is what we are affirming: God, Our Father, Abba, is nearer to us that we are to ourselves; God, Abba, has named us and we belong to God who has given us the name of the Son, Christ Emmanuel – God with us – as a promise.  God has gone even further by going ahead and inaugurating the Kingdom of God in our midst now.  No need to wait for some kind of future event, God is so anxious to give us the Kingdom that he has brought it into being now in Christ and we live as citizens as a part of the, as yet incomplete, Kingdom which will be brought to its glorious fullness in the time to come.
Set in this context then this petition – your will be done – is not prudent resignation or pious capitulation, nor is it some kind of spiritual anesthetic, it is rather a joyous affirmation that God’s will is being established in spite of and in the midst of the darkness. 
Ok, so then what exactly is God’s will?
To answer this question we need to go back to the creation story in Genesis.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the creation was good, TOV, fantastic because it was perfectly balanced and all creation was one with itself and the creator.  And the crown of creation was the creation of humanity – men and women.  And again, all of the creation was in harmony, creation and creator coexisted in Shalom or wholeness and unity. But then we humans tried to stage a coup, we wanted to displace God and take over and become the masters of creation, to become like gods ourselves, and so creation was broken by human self-centeredness and the creation began its slow plunge towards its ultimate destruction. 
But then God does something unique, something unexpected, something incredible – God enters into human life and is born in Jesus in order to begin to bring the creation back to its created wholeness; God enters into human life and is born in Jesus in order to bring all of God’s children into perfect unity with God and with the creation.  THIS then is the will of God: God’s will is that we are restored to wholeness and unity with God and each other, and when we experience this in any way, even if it is a fleeting experience within a moment, we nonetheless have experienced a taste of the Kingdom Come.
So, what then is God’s will?  God’s will is joy, healing, wholeness, love and unity for all the creation – for you and for me.  All that is opposed to this is contrary to God’s will; evil, suffering, death, selfishness, hate – these are contrary to God’s will.  God does not will human suffering.  But yet, there is much suffering because we still live in a broken and fallen world where human self-centeredness and evil still are active and present.  This is contrary to God’s will, so then what is the response?  Does God ignore it?  No, God deals with the presence of evil and human suffering and death by entering into it; by staying right by our sides throughout everything no matter what and creating and bringing life from death, joy from suffering and good from evil.  This is the meaning of the cross.  When we look on that cross it should remind us that God has entered into the darkness of this world and turned on the light.  And this is the promise that we can hold on to: that no matter what, God’s Will that the creation be restored to its original state of Shalom or Wholeness will prevail, and in the meantime God is present with us in the midst of the ups and downs of our lives.
“Your will be done on earth as in heaven.”
This is a difficult petition for us.  It is even a dangerous petition.  For it is easier for us to simply see this petition as pious submission, for that demands nothing of us.  But this petition in the context of this prayer is in fact an affirmation that it is God’s will which will ultimately prevail.  And that it is God’s passionate desire that the creation be whole and that unity will be restored.  When we pray this petition we are also opening ourselves to God’s will and putting aside our own will, our own desire and need for control and asking God to continue the work of helping us all to be brought into conformity with God’s holy will and to help each of us to continue the work of the Kingdom of God – allowing us to experience and to be an open vessel of the Kingdom Come.  SBD+
The audio for the preached sermons is available at this site - sometimes they are very different from the text:

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Pray in This Way" - A Lenten Exploration of the Lord's Prayer

For the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer.

Today: Your Kingdom Come.  And the question that comes to me right away is this: Do we know what we are actually praying for?”  I’m not sure that any of us really completely understand the implications of this phrase – because if we did would we really mean it when we pray “Your Kingdom Come?” 

What exactly are we praying for when we pray this petition – Thy Kingdom Come?  First of all We are praying that our own kingdoms may perish… That is, the kingdoms of businessmen bending over their filing cabinets, of housewives lovingly looking after their crockery, of workers going to their lathes, of hospital patients opening their side-table drawers.  For we all have our own kingdoms, large and small.  We all have our spheres of life in which we reign.  There are many such kingdoms.  Hence many of us pray the words “Thy kingdom come” with our lips, but with our hearts we are actually praying, “No, no, MY kingdom come.”1.

For, if we are to pray the prayer sincerely then we need to consider the implications of what it is we are praying for and this will require us to reconsider our priorities, the way we live our lives and the way we are in relationship with God and with others.

So then – what exactly is this Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it – The Kingdom of Heaven)?  Is it a future only place, a “heaven” where we go when we die?  Or is the kingdom here on earth?  Something we experience now through Christ?  The answer, according to Scripture – is BOTH – The Kingdom of God is both NOT YET and the Kingdom of God is NOW. It is not one or the other alone – it is BOTH together, held in balance with each other.

The Bible talks about the Kingdom coming into its fullness at the end of times with the final coming of the Messiah.  The prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of these final days when the lion shall lie down the lamb, when men shall beat their swords into farming implements and a little child shall lead.  And in the book of Revelation,  St. John of Patmos adds to this image of the future kingdom of God as a place of complete wholeness and joy – reading from Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 

The Kingdom of God is NOT YET!

But at the same time, Jesus proclaims the Good News that the Kingdom of God is come into our midst – NOW – It is come in Jesus and we experience it NOW.  In Luke, chapter 4, Jesus enters into the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And in Matthew, Jesus receives a question from the imprisoned John the Baptist – “Are you the one we are waiting for” are you the Messiah or should we wait for someone else?  Jesus responds:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
The Kingdom of God is NOW – It has come into our midst NOW, in Jesus. 

So in this Lord’s Prayer, what is this Kingdom we pray will come to us?  It is an experience of the Shalom, the wholeness of God, that we pray God will allow us to experience in our lives now; and which we look forward to experiencing even more intensely in the future.  The kingdom is NOW and the kingdom is NOT YET.

For most of us the NOT YET part of this is obvious, right?  We are surrounded with signs of the NOT YET – sickness, hunger, violence, abuse, addiction, war, racism, death!  All of these are signs that the kingdom has not yet come in its fullness and that we continue to live in a world that is fallen and broken.  I am sure you can easily think of all kinds of examples.  The call of this prayer though is to see that God balances the NOT YET with the NOW and we can begin to look for and to see examples of the kingdom come NOW into our midst.

But sometimes it is hard to see.  In the one of the parables from Matthew 13, Jesus begins by saying – the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. What could this possibly mean?  Well, considering the size of the seed itself, one point that Jesus is making I think is that the kingdom of God is sometimes tiny and hard to see.  But that is not the only point, in the 1st century mustard plants were very invasive and were considered to be weeds!  And I am sure we all know what it is like to deal with weeds.  So Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is like a weed.  In other words, like a mustard plant you can count on the Kingdom of God to spring up where you least expect it and where we might not even want to see it.  And it will not be easy to ignore or get rid of and it will ultimately take over our own personal kingdoms. 

In the midst of our struggles, in the midst of our losses and in the darkness that we encounter in life, we experience the kingdom come to us.  We can find the Kingdom of God springing up all over the place offering care and comfort, love and grace and healing and presence; and also calling for justice, working to provide food to the hungry, visiting the lonely and so on. 
For ultimately this petition is about us – you and me - we that are called to be messengers and instruments of God’s kingdom come into the world.  Each time we pray those words – “your kingdom come” – we are asking God to take over our personal kingdoms and replace them with God’s Kingdom and to use us so that others would experience the Kingdom come NOW, where they might least expect it.  And we look forward to the day when the Kingdom of God will come to us in all its glorious fullness.  Amen.

1. Quotation from “The Lord’s Prayer” by Jan Milic Lockman, Eerdmans 1990, page 57.