Sunday, March 01, 2015

Thy Kingdom come ...

Genesis 17:1-7
Mark 8:31-38

“Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in the gospel: ‘Our Father in heaven, holy be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us enough bread day-by-day. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one’.  Pray this three times each day.”  Didache 8:2-3 (2nd century)

Question: when we pray, ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven’, are we really asking anything at all, or are we merely reciting the prayer because Jesus said to?  And only during worship (once per week) as opposed to the recommended three times daily as the early Church taught?

Of course this recommendation of the apostles was not simply for the sake of saying the Prayer.  They were encouraging the faithful to remember the essential components of the Prayer as well as to make the Prayer an essential part of discipleship, to help us to be mindful of the things of The Lord, to stay connected to Jesus, the Living Word.  This means we are not only required to recite the Prayer itself as Jesus commanded; we are to understand it and embrace it as our own desire.  To believe in its substance, however, is not coming to believe prayer solves our personal problems.  If we believe this, we miss the entire point of praying at all.

“In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.”  C.S. Lewis

Understanding that in the end Jesus fully understood and trusted that even that prayer in that moment would not yield personally pleasing results, means we can understand that a genuine yearning for The Lord’s will to be done – regardless of how we will be personally affected - will yield greater results than we can possible imagine.  That, dear friends, is the substance of real prayer.  It is the very heart of The Lord’s Prayer.

When we face death – and we always do – we will eventually succumb to the sorrow that accompanies death and the loss of a loved one even if we saw it coming.  Sometimes we are ok to attribute that death to Divine Will rather than to nature or to an accident or illness, but often doing so puts more blame than credit on the shoulders of the Most High.  Death seems so cruel; but following a long illness, death can seem merciful, welcome, the Final End of a long and tiring journey.

But where was The Lord in the ordeal?  Did He will the undue suffering and anguish?  Did He will the child to suffer leukemia before that child’s life even really began?  Did The Lord will that the drunk driver would cross that center line on that particular night on that particular stretch of road when someone was killed?  Was it The Lord’s will that the twenty-one Coptic Christians lose their lives so mercilessly and horrifically at the hands of cruel barbarians whose only intent is to terrorize others? 

Whatever the cause or timing of death, we are often left with such questions for which there are no human answers; only speculation.  And when we wait until the final hours to ask such questions, we discover we miss so much more in the interim and are thus unprepared for those final hours, unprepared to face those tragedies, unprepared to face the reality that people – young AND old - die every single day … even those we love. 

We forget Divine Will is not strictly an end-of-life issue.  We forget that Divine Will is the substance of our daily living, our daily work, our daily struggle.  And I will suggest to you that if there is no struggle with Divine Will in our daily living, we are not seeking Divine Will at all.

That may sound unfair, but the truth is we struggle against ourselves, our own flesh, our own hearts and being and desires because what we want has nothing to do with Divine Will.  What The Lord may want from us is ok … as long as we don’t have to go to much trouble to seek The Lord’s will – OR - it does not interfere with our own plans.   

But ultimately, what is the Will of The Lord?  What does The Lord want from us?  To love Him because He loves us?  To strictly obey Him?   To do unto others …?  To just be a “good person”?

Many would say The Lord’s will is not going to be the same for you or for me, that The Lord wants different things from different persons according to one’s spiritual gifts.  Still others might suggest Divine Will cannot be so arbitrary; that what The Lord wants from one of us, The Lord wants from us all, because we are “branches of the same Vine” (John 15:5); we are The One Indivisible Body of Christ.  We as The Church are The Word Made Flesh in the world today.  If this much is true, then, it cannot be said The Lord wants different things from different persons to different ends because this would defy the unity of the Holy Church’s mission, the unity of the Holy Trinity.

Essentially it boils down to this: we as One Body are to make disciples of Christ, as Jesus Himself directed in His final moments on this earth.  More than this, we are to make disciples who are then equipped to make disciples themselves.  That is, there must be more than to simply invite someone to church.  They must be encouraged – and shown by example - to engage in worship AND in Bible study AND in fellowship – all essential components of discipleship.  These “potential” disciples must be led, encouraged, taught, and held accountable.

It’s a tall order, of course, but this is why we cannot allow this burden to fall on only a few shoulders.  Not one baptized soul is excused from this Holy Commission.  We can walk away, we can grant ourselves all kinds of excuses, but we do so at great spiritual risk and we fool only ourselves – and other fools! 

It is the charge, it is the privilege and the very Life of The Church to make disciples who are then able to make disciples themselves.  The next generation of discipleship is entirely on our shoulders, and everything we do must be toward this solitary end!  If we are not making disciples, we are not living in Christ.

Contrary to what many may suggest or demand, Divine Will is not a moving target nor is The Lord’s Will so arbitrary as to be only individually defined.  The reason we find Divine Will so difficult to understand is that we do not earnestly seek Divine Will; not really.  We want our own will to be done, and we want – we expect - The Lord to bless our chosen endeavors.  

Or maybe it is we don’t truly seek The Lord’s Will in our lives because we are more in tune with that old saying, “Be careful what you ask for” … you may find yourself a kidnapped Methodist missionary in Nigeria (Phyllis Sorter).  I submit, however, that the truth is we do not seek Divine Will because we do not care about His Will more than we care about our own lives.

We have made faith and faithfulness completely one-dimensional, and in this we have rendered prayer as strictly self-serving.  If we pray at all, it is in order to feel better about ourselves, but it is doubtful we pray solely to seek The Lord’s will.  If we did, churches and Sunday school classes would not be half or completely empty.  Marriages would not be failing, children would not be left to fend for themselves spiritually, abortion would not be considered a “right” but would be known as the scourge and curse on this nation it truly is, and the elderly would not be left to wallow in their loneliness. 

The discipline of Lent – and the context of The Lord’s Prayer – compels us to look closer and to go deeper than we ever have before, far beyond merely giving up chocolate for Lent.  The early Church took the apostles’ teachings very seriously (Acts 2:42) as the early Church grew by the thousands.  One writer recently observed that the reason the modern Church has no real power to transform lives is because we don’t try; and we don’t try because we are entirely disconnected from the discipline and the power of the early Church, the Church that was not so far removed from the Life of Christ and seemed to take nothing for granted. 

Let this become our reality.   Let our blinded eyes and self-serving hearts not continue to be our curse.  Let this disconnect we allow not be our death.  For we are called to Life everlasting – and real meaning and purpose in the life we face and share today.

Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ; King of endless glory!  Reveal to us the Way and the Will of the Eternal Father as we are gathered, and as we pray, in Your Most Holy Name.  Amen.

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