Series

On the Lord’s Prayer…Your will be done/on earth as it is in heaven

Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. In this series, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, I do not claim to greatly advance the discussion, merely to share thoughts. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?

We have now reached the critical turn. The religion of Jesus is always double-edged: our demands upon God put demands upon us. I reject the supposition however that the religion of Jesus is quid pro quo, as many believe and others suggest without thinking. If we use the trope of movement it helps us understand the religion of Jesus – somewhere in space and time a meeting place toward which God ever moves; for our part, we are either approaching that place or retreating from it. There is no static position in Jesus’ religion. This is key to understanding the deeper layers of “Your will be done/on earth as it is in heaven”. (more…)

On the Lord’s Prayer… “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…”

Volumes more insightful than my own have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, by vaunted academics to ancient saints. In this series, “On The Lord’s Prayer”, I do not claim to greatly advance the discussion, merely to share thoughts. Dive into the discussion — what does the Lord’s Prayer say to you?

The exultant hope of “You are in heaven” continues on in the next words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…” We do not yet know what this kingdom is like, but we know the character of the one we call on, this is why we call him blessed. In the words that come later, we imagine that kingdom, but for now what issues from our lips is an urgent request and proclamation.

URGENT REQUEST

Prayer speaks both to God and to the powers. We urgently request of God, maker of all things and the one we call ruler of the heavens, to have his title honored and to bring his kingdom.  Only the Father can do this. The Apostles asked Jesus if it would be now, soon after his resurrection, that the kingdom would come. The Lord replied that only the Father knew, and he would bring all things to fruition in time.

The Apostles forgot, in their excitement and absent the Spirit, that Jesus said the kingdom wouldn’t come by our seeing or by man’s actions. Rather, it comes without anyone knowing, quietly, just as Jesus came, and just as he came by the will of the Father, so has and so will the kingdom. But man can bend the will of the Father. If it weren’t so, Abraham interceded for Sodom in error and all your prayers are foolishness.

We know prayer isn’t foolish but vicarious. Prayer is vicarious because God wants us to know what he is doing, as our friend and Father, just as he did for Abraham. He makes known his will so that we can partner with him in it, whether by prayer to dissuade, persuade or simply agree with him. As a good parent bends their will and actions to their child’s plaintive cries, so God to our prayers.  Tweet: As a good parent bends their will and actions to their child's plaintive cries, so God to our prayers. http://ctt.ec/RzccM+

PROCLAMATION

Prayer also speaks to the powers: the stoicheions, as Paul called them, those invisible structures over creation, intended to mediate God’s sovereignty over mankind, but corrupted by sin and now serving as our oppressive overseers. The powers are also the object of our prayers and evangelism; to them we make not requests but proclamations in word and deed. In prayer, evangelism and prophecy we command them to honor God’s title and subject themselves to the kingdom of God already at work in the world.

By our prophetic acts and works of mercy and justice, we undo the tangles of sin and set straight lines out of crooked, making reality out of a kingdom unseen but at work in the world, until it works through the dough and the birds nest in its branches.

A DECISIVE BREAK

The words, “Blessed is your name/Your kingdom come…” of the Lord’s Prayer evoke these hopes and actions. But more is required. As the Psalm of Ascents begin, it shows a man sickened now by living among sinful men, as Lot’s righteous heart was sickened by his time in Sodom. But we must not be like Lot and only leave by God’s compulsion.

We are already pilgrims, if we trust ourselves to the name of Jesus. We are already sojourners in this world, seeking a new and better world quite apart from the one we know. Let us make a decisive break from the world and seek and make, in word and deed, a better one. Thus we urgently cry and proclaim, your kingdom come…

This, I believe but too briefly said, is what Jesus meant in this part of the prayer, and what generations of Christians have sought and prayed for all this time. Let us add our voices to theirs.

On the Lord’s Prayer…”You are in heaven”

‘Dynamic’ is the word I would use for this phrase, so easily glossed over. On it’s face, Jesus is simply locating God in heaven, but that simple positioning packs a rich theological punch. Let’s explore what the myriad conclusions we can draw from, “You are in heaven.”

DISTANCING, REVERENCE & CLOSING THE GAP

The sacred is always marked by space, certain thresholds must be crossed, places made more holy than others, it is part and parcel of reverencing something or someone. In our case, God is made holy (to us, in part) by the distance between him and us. God is our father, as Jesus points out in the first two words of the prayer, but he is also in heaven, and we are not. We are not where he is, and he is not where we are. This distance marks off the sacred from the profane.

The first six words of the Lord’s Prayer sum up the tension of the gospel: that we are, yet we are not. We are God’s children, yet we are also distant from him. But, we are also journeying to God. The Way has given us Life and Truth, that we can set off out of the world and towards heaven. Jesus has closed the gap, and in our experience as a Christian, the gap is closing.

So when we pray, “You are in heaven” it is a cry of exultant hope that soon, and very soon, where we are, is where he will be, and where he is, there we will also be.

THE SEAT OF POWER

Locating God in heaven locates him in the seat of power. God is not powerful because he is in heaven, however. It is a signifier to us, to our minds and how we think of things, to understand that God’s location in heaven is a sign to us of his power over all things. His location in heaven puts him as all rule and authority over everything under the heavens: the powers, governments, people, animals, things, nature… he rules it all.

In this respect, “You are in heaven” also exults that God is the ruler of all things, and hopes also that the kingdom of heaven will descend to infuse all things, making them not as they are, and reconciling that creation to God.

POWERING DOWN

At the same time as God is located in the seat of power, we can’t help but notice God is also on earth, in the flesh, as Jesus. It is the mystery of the Trinity that God could be in two different places at once, as two distinct persons at once, fully God, and fully human, filled with the third person, the Holy Spirit. Likely, the Apostles did not understand it at the time, but looking back, I am sure they marveled. So we come to my last point of exploration:

God, though holy and powerful, discarded all this, emptying himself, to become like a Son of Man, all so we could become a son of God.

Jesus inverted the world’s logic by discarding power to gain it. He powered down, coming to be like us, struggle and hurt like us, and his rising tide has lifted all our boats. He redistributed his powerful wealth to us by the Holy Spirit, just as he desired, and was no respecter of persons. It is a powerful theological, social, cultural and political sign to us of how the kingdom of God ought to work.

Jesus called them together and said, You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45

Chapter 2 of “Jesus & the Disinherited”: “Fear”

The resources of the environment are made into instruments to enforce the artificial position. Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume [injustice] to be normal–if normal, then correct; if correct, then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions. Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 43

The Beloved Disciple John said that there is no fear in love, rather, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear then, is the antithesis of love; and if God is love, fear is inimical to the very nature of God. In the 2nd chapter of Disinherited, Thurman takes up the issue of fear. (more…)

Chapter 1 of “Jesus & the Disinherited”: “Jesus: an Interpretation”

“It is necessary to examine the religion of Jesus against the background of his own age and people, and to inquire into the content of his teaching with reference to the disinherited and the underprivileged.”

The first chapter of Jesus and the Disinherited has many rich ideas, such as how Paul’s Roman citizenship affected his views on political authority, or how the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots stand for different ways to resist an oppressive power. I want to highlight, however, the social and political implications of Jesus’ Incarnation and teachings as expressed by Howard Thurman. (more…)

Intro: “Jesus & the Disinherited” by Howard Thurman

It’s been far too long since my last post, and before February is too far gone, I want to celebrate, in a way, Black History Month. Over a series of posts, I will share key points from Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited. It’s an ingenious little book containing ideas realized in the Civil Rights Movement. I also hope to bring his insights to bear on some of the socio-cultural issues we face as a people today, Christian, Black, American or world citizen.

Howard Thurman used to read the Bible to his grandmother, “who was born a slave and lived until the Civil War on a plantation near Madison, Florida.” He would read her the Bible save the Pauline epistles. It was decades before he asked her why. Her answer was striking: (more…)

DC Abbey: But Jesus Got Up Again

Welcome to Part 5 of a blog series ‘DC Abbey’, reflections on my 3 days at a Benedictine monastery in DC NE, St. Anselm’s Abbey. I share to hopefully inspire others to a monastic retreat. I value critical feedback, so please comment below.

In Part 4 I explained that Jesus, fully divine, yet also fully human, understands our persistent desire to disobey God. The Spirit’s beautiful play on words that Jesus ‘fell’ on the way to Golgotha, helped me to see Jesus in a completely new light. Jesus knew what ‘falling’ – a word Christians often use to say we sinned – felt like. It was amazing to know that Jesus knew what I felt like in my moments of failure. Jesus was brought closer to me than I ever imagined he could be.

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