Monday, February 29, 2016

The Lord's Prayer: the burden and the blessing

Isaiah 55:1-9
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 11:1-13

“It is because of you,” says The Lord, “that My kingdom cannot come.”   Helmut Thielicke

“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. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” Didache 8:2

Is it possible, as Thielicke had also observed, that we have already been set free from whatever it is that ails us but because we do not know what we truly need but are attuned primarily to our own desires, we continue to pray for comfort in our self-imposed prison cells?  The cells we refuse to leave because they have become our familiar “comfort zones”.  We are spiritually limited in these “cells”, but we don’t seem to notice.

Is Thielicke saying, then, the kingdom cannot come because we are not quite ready for it?

I have shared with you before that prayer is, for me and for many others, probably the most difficult of all the spiritual disciplines.  There are many reasons why this is so, but I wonder if it could be that as strong as our own personal desires may be, we have to admit we have no idea what we really need because we are completely attuned to what we desire

And this seems to be the point and the purpose of Jesus teaching us exactly how to pray and what to say.  We often forget that The Lord hearing a faithful prayer does not depend on our making a correct diagnosis of our needs and troubles and then offering The Lord a properly phrased and clearly outlined prayer/proposition.  We have, over time, been taught otherwise.  We have completely taken hostage for our own purposes Jesus’ words: “Ask whatever you wish in My Name, and it will be given you”.

Being faithful to pray The Lord’s Prayer instead of trying to find just the right words from our own experiences, our own desires, and our own fears may best be expressed in this way: “The praying which makes a powerful ministry … must be in the body, and form the blood and bones.  Prayer is no petty duty, put into a corner; no piecemeal performance made out of the fragments of time [we choose to make on our own terms].  Prayer requires the very best of our time.”  E.M. Bounds

This is to say we must first be willing to empty ourselves of our own desires, admit a profound need we cannot identify, and then be willing to abandon the self-imposed prison cells we often freely choose because there is so much we are accustomed to, so enculturated with that we are unwilling to let go.  We must admit that deep down inside we are afraid The Lord may overlook something if we don’t bring it to His attention.

And this, as Thielicke observes, is the importance of understanding it is Jesus Himself who teaches us to pray and tells us what to say.  Notice also that in this prayer Jesus retires into the background.  Theologians from the past have suggested from this that Jesus may have had no intention of being the ‘Son of God’ but wished only to reveal the Father more clearly while He remained unrecognized in the background – just as the Baptizer knew his time and his person must decrease so that Christ could increase.  John’s own faithful disciples may have desired John, but they needed Jesus.

The reason for this profound need, of course, is because the kingdom of God is where Jesus as the Eternal Word of God already is.  What this means is that the kingdom of God appears precisely at the place where there is blindness, lameness, sickness, and death.  The Kingdom does not shun any of these things because it is too good for the slums of human misery.  The Kingdom is not a distant realm of a golden city worthy only of the dignity of the Almighty God and the self-righteous.  

No, the kingdom of God is the light that is drawn to these places where we often sit blindly in our own darkness, in our own filth.  But the people who were gathered around Jesus cherished the delusion that the kingdom of God would be an earthly utopia where ease and comfort reigned.  But if this were so, then the Kingdom could not be in the midst of them  - or us

Someone once said (Joseph Wittig) said a person's biography should begin not with birth but with death because a person’s life is revealed only by its end, its goal, what was actually accomplished – not by its wishful thinking or good intentions.  The same can be said of the Church that is not defined by its birth but, rather, by its end and the means used to that end, that goal.  That the Church has certainly been called to a certain mission does not define what a particular church has actually chosen to be.

So our Father is always there first.  Our praying must always be an answer to that simple given fact.  If we take Bethlehem and Golgotha out of the world, the cry of The Lord will be silenced and praying will become meaningless.  Then every one of us and our children and our children's children are doomed to darkness, hearing only unknown footsteps, never finding out who it is, and therefore being condemned to cry out desperately "Who's there?" but never getting an answer.  In our own demands and desires we are condemned to sleep the rest of our lives the uneasy and comfortless sleep of the hopeless.

 Not for one second, however, will The Lord be diverted from the one theme of our life as His Church – the theme we keep running from.  Not for one moment does The Lord lose sight of the sore spot, the real need in our life, which we don't like to talk about because we would rather put others on the spot than to acknowledge the spot is really where we belong.  Being so honest with ourselves is not easy, our selfish demands not easy to face when we are honest; but this is also something our Father knows better than we ever will.

So we are often compelled to ask ourselves if we are permitted the intercessory prayers of Moses, or the prayers for the destruction of our enemies as expressed in many of the psalms, or the self-serving prayer of the so-called “prosperity gospel” in asking “whatever we wish in Jesus’ Name” – OR if we are comforted in and by The Word which became flesh who came not only to show us the fullness of life but to also teach us how we must pray until we are finally home.

The Lord’s Prayer has been memorized in a certain way for so long that it is often recited without soul, without feeling, and without any real thought; almost mechanically recited.  Memorizing it is not nearly as important as learning it again and fully embracing its components so we may become the disciples we are called to be; so we may be The Church we are commissioned to be.

Only when we are willing to admit The Lord knows much more about our genuine needs than we ever will is the first step in learning to trust a truly loving and benevolent Father whose desire is to lead us into the best life we can possibly know.  This is true faith, the faith which justifies, the very lifeblood of the Holy Church.  It is who we must become, for it is the only way we can be fully set free and learn to live as we are meant to live.  Amen. 

No comments: