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Join us as we “live” into Lent. I will try to post 40 days of Lenten study using the Lord’s Prayer through the Book of Faith. Enjoy and use this time to get closer to your Lord.

 

Day 28 - Saturday (March 28)

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgiveness is dynamic, always happening, always needing to happen because we live in a far ‘less than perfect’ world and we are far ‘less than perfect’ people.  Like daily bread, which we share with others as an expression of God’s justice, we receive forgiveness daily, and we share it with others as an expression of God’s love.  How could we not?  We have been given a chance to get things right.  How could we deny that chance to others?

In the Gospel of John, we are told of a woman, caught in the act of adultery, who was dragged by a group of angry men to Jesus.  They reminded Jesus that the law commanded them to stone such a woman to death.  They stood there, stones in hand, wanting to know if he agreed.

In the anger-filled silence that followed their question, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” the text doesn’t tell us what he wrote, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he scratched “Where is the man?” into the dust.  Be that as it may, Jesus finally stood up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  He bent down again and went back to writing in the dirt.  Again we don’t know what he wrote, but I wonder if it might have had something to do with God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness.

One by one, the men dropped their stones and left.  Jesus looked up and said to the woman: “Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one sir.”  To which Jesus replied, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:2-11).  She was not condemned; we are not condemned; we are not to condemn.  She was given the freedom to make new and better choices; we are given the same freedom and expected to offer that freedom to others.

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1

Questions to Ponder:

* What do you make of the fact that the woman caught red-handed in the act of adultery was not condemned by Jesus?

*  Luther said that the law should be used to restrain the wicked (civil use of the law).  Does this contradict Jesus’ teaching?  Why or why not?

*  How can someone be both forgiven and held responsible for their actions?

Prayer for today:

Un-condemning God, if I am carrying any stones today, help me to drop them.  Amen.

Day 27 - Friday (March 27)

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Relationships matter to God - and so relationships should matter to us.  “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1John 4:11).  It is important to remember this.  Much damage has been done by those who think God cares more about “the rules” than relationships.

Once Jesus told his followers, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your give there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Imagine a pastor confronting a man who shows up in church on a Sunday morning, offering in hand, scowl on his face, and his wife absent.  The pastor asks where his wife is; he responds that they had an argument and are not talking to each other.  Now imagine the pastor telling him, “Well, take your offering with you and get out of here!  Go back to your wife, make it right with her, and then come together, hand in hand, with your offering.”  Hard to imagine,isn’t it?  And yet that is exactly what Jesus told his followers to do.

Jesus once told Peter that if someone kept sinning against him, he should just keep forgiving (Matthew 18:21-22).  Relationships are that important.

Such gratuitous forgiveness neither condones the offense that is forgiven nor welcomes continued offense.  Forgiveness takes the offense with great seriousness, but takes the relationships involved with equally great seriousness.  Forgiveness does not necessarily restore a broken relationship (some relationships are so destructive they are better not restored), but it does create the conditions for people to make new, better, more just choices and, thus, to make new relationships.

Jesus counseled against the ancient but conventional wisdom of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” - or as we say today, “Don’t get mad, get even”.  He substituted for it the unconventional wisdom that calls us to love our enemies and do good to those who would harm us (Matthew 3:38-45; cf. Romans 12:17-21).  As Mahatma Gandhi reportedly said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32

Questions to Ponder:

*  In what ways does our culture discourage rather than encourage forgiveness?

*  Are there some sins (and thus people) that should not be forgiven?  Explain.

*  Are relationships really as important as Jesus makes them out to be?  Why or why not?

Prayer for Today:

Jesus, grant me the courage to say “I’m sorry” and the courage to say “I forgive you” whenever these words need to be said.  Amen.

 

Day 26 - Thursday (March 26)

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

If we are in debt to God and in need of God’s forgiveness, then it stands to reason that we are in debt to each other and in need of each other’s forgiveness.  Our failure to love each other as God loves us runs up our debt to God while at the same time running up our debt to each other.

As St. Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).  When we do not love, we are in debt to those we owe love.  When we are not loved, those who have failed to love us are in debt to us.  We cannot pay the accumulated debt, and neighbor can they.  The only answer to this spiral of debt is forgiveness, a clean slate, a fresh start, a renewed relationship.

As God forgives our sins, we forgive those who sin against us, and we pray that those we have sinned against will do the same - forgive us.  As this cycle of forgiveness replaces the spiral of debt, everything old passes away, everything becomes new (2 Corinthians 5:16-19).

Lots of ink has been spilled trying to explain away the apparent conditional nature of God’s forgiveness in this petition.  It can be (and has been) argued that God will forgive us only to the degree that we forgive others.  That would suggest, however, that our forgiveness of others earns God’s forgiveness of us.  Such an interpretation smacks of “works righteousness,” the notion that human behavior trumps God’s grace and “merits” God’s forgiveness, salvation, blessing.  It doesn’t.

We forgive as a grateful response to God’s already granted forgiveness, and in recognition of the fact that forgiveness is the royal road to renewed relationships.  That God freely forgives us in no way means that sin doesn’t matter to God.  It does, and so do sin’s consequences, which usually continue way past forgiveness-consequences that demand our attention.

God forgives, not in spite of sin, but because of sin.  Sin is a disrupter and destroyer of relationships and God wants a healthy relationship with us.  And so, God forgives.  God wants us to have healthy relationships with each other.  And so, God calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven.  When we pray this petition, we are saying, “God, you keep on forgiving us and we’ll keep on forgiving others because that’s the only thing that makes sense in a broken world.

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us - Romans 5:8

Questions to Ponder:

*  In what ways are our debt to God and our debt to each other interrelated?

*  How does forgiveness break the spiral of debt?

*  What does it mean to say that God forgives because of sin and not in spite of sin?

Prayer for Today:

Forgiving God, as far as it depends upon me, may there be forgiveness in all my relationships.  Amen.

Day 25 - Wednesday (March 25)

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

The fifth petition in our Lord’s Prayer is about a subject dear to the heart of Jesus - forgiveness.  Jesus both declared divine forgiveness (for example, Luke 7:47; Matthew 18:21-22).  He saw forgiveness as a two-way street: God freely forgives us, and, within the ethos of divine forgiveness, we freely forgive others.  That’s just how things are under the rule of God.

Although Matthew’s Greek is often translated “Forgive us our trespasses,” the word literally means “debts”.  In this prayer we ask God to forgive our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us.  In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  So what is all this talk about debts?

It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to realize that we are deeply indebted to God.  God has created this planet in such a way that it bountifully provides all that is needed for a meaningful and happy life for all people.  We are in debt to God in that we have a moral obligation to recognize God’s beneficence with the gratitude it deserves.  We rarely do.  We “owe” God trust and love and a life lived in keeping with God’s gracious will - it is a debt that keeps growing as we turn our trust and love toward the things of this world rather than toward the creator of this world.

God deals equitably with us and expects us to deal equitably with each other - our lack of justice is rolled into the debt that we owe God.  God has compassion on us and treats us with mercy - our indifference to others adds to the debt that we owe to God.

Our failure to pay our moral obligations, our “debt” to God, is one way to define sin, and that is why in some translations of the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to forgive our “sin” and in others we ask God to forgive us our “trespasses” (a word that literally means “to commit an offense, to transgress, to sin”).

Our debt to God is so great that we cannot repay it, and so we have no recourse but to ask for forgiveness - a forgiveness that God is quick to grant (for example, Luke 23:34, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Psalm 103:10-12).  In granting forgiveness, God grants the gift of relationship, the gift of a future not chained to or determined by the debts and sins of the past.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

Questions to Ponder:

*  Which word do you prefer: trespasses, sins, or debts?  Why?

*  In Matthew’s Gospel, why do you think Jesus used a word that literally means “debt” instead of a word that literally means “sin”?

*  Does it make you feel any different asking God to forgive your debts instead of sin?

Prayer for Today:

Forgiving God, thank you for removing the weight of my debt.  Amen.

Day 24 - Tuesday (March 24)

Give us today our daily bread

When Jesus taught his followers to pray for daily bread, he probably did not have the sacrament of Holy Communion in mind.  Given the nature of Jesus’ own life and teaching, his command that we pray for daily bread was most likely a command that we pray for simple ordinary bread, food for the day, the material necessities of life. 

Nevertheless, the experience of the church in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection has encouraged people of faith to see the daily bread for which we pray both as ordinary bread and as the bread of Christ’s presence in Holy Communion.  We pray for ordinary bread to strengthen our bodies.  We pray for the bread of Christ’s presence to sustain our spirits.

When we come to the table of Christ to receive bread and wine, our minds (and faith) are drawn in three directions - the past, the future, and the present.  When Jesus blessed bread and wine and gave it to his followers during his last supper, he told them to eat and drink to remember him (Luke 22:19).  When we come to the table of Christ, we come remembering what Jesus said and what he did how he lived and how he dies, and why.

After giving his followers the bread and wine Jesus said to them, ”I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).  When we come to the table of Christ, we come anticipating the great feast when “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29)

In speaking of the sacramental bread, Paul declares, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”( 1Corinthians 10:17).  When we come to the table of Christ, we don’t come alone.  We come as “one body”, men and women and children bound to each other in the present moment as those who need the spiritually nourishing “daily bread” of Christ’s presence in order that together we might have the faith, strength, and courage to daily follow Jesus in the way of God. 

When we come to the Lord’s table for daily bread, we come remembering, anticipating, and following.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

Questions to Ponder:

*  Does it make sense to you to add Holy Communion to the meaning of “daily bread”?  Why?

*  Usually, we think of communion in terms of remembrance.  Do you agree that communion also focuses our attention on the present and the future?

*  What does it mean to say that because we all eat of the “one bread” we are all bound together in “one body”?

Prayer for Today:

Enlivening God, thank you for satisfying my hungry soul with bread of Christ’s presence.  Amen.

Day 23 - Monday

Give us today our daily bread

Today we ponder a much deeper meaning to the prayer for daily bread.  Yesterday, we noted that we do not live by bread alone, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). This can be taken to mean that we live by Jesus, the “Word [that] became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).  Jesus is Word of God - the one who makes God known.

In the mystical and poetically beautiful language of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

We hunger and thirst for so much - and so much of what we hunger and thirst for dies not satisfy.  So much of our time, so much of our work, so much of our efforts and planning go into securing this, that or the next thing that we hope will satisfy our hunger- but they don’t.

Our true hunger is for God, and the baubles of our culture will not satisfy this hunger.  As St. Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”  Our prayer for daily bread must be accompanied by the recognition that bread alone will not fill the gnawing emptiness within.

The prophet Isaiah well understood this human restlessness that only God can still:

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

                                            (Isaiah 55:1-2)

Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

Questions to Ponder:

*  What does the image of vine and branches tell you about our relationship with Jesus?

*  What cultural evidence is there of the “restlessness” of the human heart?

*  How do we know when our hunger has been satisfied, our thirst quenched, our restless heart finally at rest?

Prayer for Today:

Jesus, teach me what it means to abide in you, to be nourished in you, to bear fruit in you.  Amen.

Day 22 - Saturday

Give us Today Our Daily Bread

It is possible to make too much of bread - both in its literal and figurative sense.  It is also possible to confuse needs with wants.

We have noted that “bread” is a metaphor for the material necessities of life.  Safe and nutritious food is a necessity.  A $200 meal is not.  Safe and clean water is a necessity. “Designer” water is not.  A good and safe place to live is a necessity.  A million dollar house is not.  A safe way to get where we need to go is a necessity.  A $75,000 automobile is not.  Safe and affordable health care is a necessity.  Elective cosmetic surgery is not.  When we make too much of “bread” and confuse genuine needs with wants, we make a mess of things for ourselves and others.  We get distracted by things that might be nice to have but really don’t matter and, in our distraction, we miss much of what makes life truly meaningful and happy.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went into the wilderness to pray and to confront the temptations that are common to human kind.  He ate nothing during his time in the wilderness, and when it was almost over he was famished.  “The tempter came and said to him,’If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’  But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’. (Matthew 4:3-4)

We are strange creatures.  On the one hand, we are flesh and blood, biological creatures who cannot live without “bread”.  On the other hand, “bread alone” is not enough.  We are ensouled flesh and blood, spiritual creatures who truly cannot live without “every word that comes from the mouth of God” - words such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23).

When we pray for our daily bread, we should not make too much of bread; we should remember that “bread alone” is not enough, and so we should also pray for the “fruit of the Spirit”.

No, the word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Deuteronomy 30:14

Questions to Ponder:

*  In what ways does our culture “make too much of bread”?

*  What criteria can we use to distinguish between real needs and wants?

*   How do we “consume” every word that comes out of the mouth of God?

Prayer for Today:

God, nourish me with your Word, sustain me with your Word, correct me with your Word, guide me with your Word.  Amen.

Day 21 - Friday

Give us today Our Daily Bread

Could there be anything more important than food in making life worth living?  Perhaps only one thing - food eaten together.  From the family meal to the village festival, from dinner out with someone special to a lunch break in the cafeteria, from the church potluck to the wedding east, from sitting around a campfire toasting hot dogs to inviting friends over for pizza - eating together is one of the best things we do.

Relationships are formed around food.  We get to know each other, we discover our commonalities, we laugh and cry, we celebrate our joys and share our sorrows - all around food.  In so many ways, sharing food is the “tie that binds” us together. 

Jesus ate with anybody who would eat with him.  And he was criticized for it.  About himself he said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”’ (Matthew 11:19).  No one was excluded from Jesus’ table except those who excluded themselves.  The only ones who didn’t experience the good food, good wine, and good times at Jesus’ table were those who thought they were too good to eat and drink (let alone talk to) the folks who joyfully sat down to the table with him.

Jesus’ meals with “tax collectors and sinners” were a powerful symbol that in Jesus God’s rule had begun.  For centuries, the “great day of the Lord”, the coming of God’s kingdom had been symbolized by a great banquet where everyone had their fill of the inest food.  One of the great prophecies of this “great day of the Lord” comes from the prophet Isaiah, and there is no doubt but that Jesus knew it well:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

       (Isaiah 25:6)

Jesus’ open meals with “tax collectors and sinners” were a foretaste of the feast to come.  Our daily bread, our meals together, are also a foretaste of the feast to come.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. Luke 15:1-2

Questions to Ponder:

*  What do church potluck suppers have to do with Jesus’ open meals?

*  Do you like the idea that Jesus was criticized as a “glutton and a drunkard”?

*  Why do you think that a banquet or feast was used as a symbol for the fulfillment of God’s hope for the world?

Prayer for Today:

God of such abundance, thank you for common meals in which that abundance is shared.  Amen.

Day 20 - Thursday

Give us today our daily bread

Bread means bread - but it also means much more than bread.  It is a metaphor for the material necessities of life.  When we pray for daily bread, we recognize our dependence upon God for “bread”, for all those things that sustain life, that bring security, that make the experience of being alive a good experience.  For all too many people, the experience of being alive is not a good experience.  And that matters to God.

Christianity cannot be reduced to a concern with spiritual things alone.  It also has to do with the earthy, the fleshly, the bodily, the physical.  When Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), he wasn’t only talking about eternal life, he was also talking abut this bodily life we live right here and now.

This life we live right here and now is a gift of God, but it is a fragile, vulnerable gift - we so easily suffers and die from want of bread - and so we pray for daily bread, for whatever is needed to protect the gift.  In the Hebrew book of Sirach (written about 180 B.C.E.) we are told, “The necessities of life are water, bread, and clothing, and also a house” (Sirach 29:21).  In our globalizing world, we might add to the list: health car, education, the arts, equal opportunity, freedom from political and military violence; in short, whatever gives security, happiness, and meaning to human life.  When we pray for daily bread, we pray for it all - for ourselves and for everyone else.  No exceptions.

            And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that

            by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in

            every good work.  As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor,

            his righteousness endures forever.”   2 Corinthians 9:8-9

Luther:” [Daily bread means] everything included in the necessities and nourishment of our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”

Questions to Ponder:

*   Look again at Luther’s definition of daily bread above.  Have you thought about “daily bread” this way before?

*  What might you add to Luther’s list to make it more twenty-first century?

*  When it comes to people suffering for want of “bread”, do you agree that it is a problem of distribution and not scarcity?

Prayer for Today:

Giving God, grant me and all people sufficient bread for the journey through life.  Amen.

Day 19 - Wednesday

Give us Today Our Daily Bread

For the past three weeks we have focused on God’s name, God’s kingdom and God’s will.  Now our focus shifts.  In the last four petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, our attention is drawn to human needs - our need for bread, our need for forgiveness, our need for rescue and deliverance.

First, we pray for “our daily bread”.  Again, the little word our is worth thinking about.  Christian faith is personal in the sense that we all stand personally before God, are all loved personally by God, and are all personally called to follow Jesus in the way of God.  But Christian faith is not individualistic.  It is never only about me.  We always stand before God as part of both the community of faith and the larger community of humankind.  Christian faith connects us to everyone.  When anyone suffers, we all suffer; when things go well for anyone, things go well for everyone.  As the seventeenth-century English poet John Donne so beautifully put it:

            “Any man’s death diminishes me

            because I am involved with mankind.”

To be Christian is to be involved in humankind.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not pray for “my” bread; we pray for “our” bread.  We pray that no one would go to bed hungry, would suffer from malnutrition, would die for lack of “bread”.

The celebration of Holy Communion gives us a powerful symbol of what it means to pray for “our” bread.  Have you noticed how the sacrament levels the playing field” The wealthy and the poor, the strong and the weak, the powerful and the powerless, those who have the “good life” and those for whom life is a constant struggle - everyone comes to the table of Christ and everyone eats.  Everyone, regardless of his or her station in life, gets the same small piece of bread, the same small cup of wine.  The “haves” do not get the whole loaf while the “have-nots” get the crumbs, as so often happens in the world outside the church.  The bread and wine of Christ’s presence is food for the journey, and no one gets left out.

When we pray for “our daily bread”, we are praying that the fairness and justice of Holy Communion would become the fairness and justice of our world.

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.

                                                                                                              Proverbs 22:9

Questions to Ponder:

*  Do you agree that Christian faith is “personal” but not “individualistic”?

*  What does it mean to you to stand before God in the larger community of humankind?

*  In what sense is John Donne correct when he says that anyone’s death diminishes us?

Prayer for Today:

Lord of the harvest, thank you for “bread to strengthen the human heart”. May everyone’s heart be strengthened with bread.  Amen.

Day 18 - Tuesday

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Once, when Jesus was asked if he was hungry, he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34).  He hungered and thirsted for God’s will. We, on the other hand, hunger and thirst for so many things that have little if anything to do with God’s will.

With our mouths, we say the words “your will be done,” but all too often our lives say “my will be done”.  If we are going to pray this prayer rightly, we will need to take Paul’s advice seriously:

Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (Philippians 2:4-7).

Impossible?  It would seem so in our culture, which encourages us to be full of ourselves, self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish - quite the opposite of the mind of Jesus.

Paul’s advice that we think with the mind of Christ, that we look first to the interests and needs of others, would indeed seem like hard, if not impossible, advice to follow if, six verses later, he had not written, “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  This is something that every baptized Christian should know, claim, and experience for themselves.  God is at work in us.

Perfection is not in the cards for finite human beings.  That being said, it is nevertheless true that, open to the enlivening, empowering, guiding presence of the Spirit of Christ within us, we are capable of living a lot closer to the will of God than we usually do.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

Questions to Ponder:

*  What are some of the major “hungers” and “thirsts” of our culture?

*  What are the cultural values and forces that work against our having the “mind of Christ”?

*  What would you say is evidence that God is at work in your faith community?

Prayer for today:

Holy God, help me to sort out my hungers and thirsts so I know which are in keeping with your will and which are not.  Amen.

Day 17 - Monday

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

If God’s will is that we should all walk humbly with our God, then God’s will must be that those of us who are doing just that help others get to the same place.  Not by coercion, not by button-holing them, not by pestering or intimidating them -  but by the persuasive power of love.  As Jesus told his followers, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

According to Paul, God “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against the, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  God’s reconciling of the world was a pure act of love and the message of that love is ours to live out and share in a largely loveless world.  As Mother Teresa once said, we are all “a little pencil in the hands of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

Evangelism is at the heart of God’s will for us.  The word evangelism, however, troubles many Christians.  It conjures up images of aggressive proselytizers, religious fanatics or extremists who self-righteously demand to know if others are “saved”.  But this is not evangelism, and there is no need for people of faith to tremble at the sound of the word.

True evangelism is simply sharing in one way or another what’s real for you.  Evangelism is speaking and living the good news of God’s love, God’s justice, God’s forgiveness, God’s compassion and God’s salvation.  Usually, living the good news will come before speaking the good news.  To paraphrase the saying “Build it and they will come,” “Live it and they will ask about it”.  And then with “gentleness and reverence,” you simply give an account “for the hope that is in you,” for the love that drives you, for the faith that gets you up in the morning and sees you through the day (1Peter 3:15-16a).  To pray that God’s will be done on earth is to pray for the faith and courage both to live under the rule of God and to invite others to do the same.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

Questions to Ponder:

*  How is God’s will that Christians be evangelists expressed in your faith community?

*  What do you think is the content of the “message of reconciliation” God has entrusted to us?

*  Many Americans feel that faith is a private matter not to be shared.  Do you agree?

Prayer for today:

God of invitation, I want to live in such a way today that I am an expression of your message of reconciliation.  Amen.

Day 16 - Saturday

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

If there is one thing that is clear from the beginning to the end of the Bible, it is that God desires to be in relationship with us.  We have already seen that one of the things God wants from us is that we “walk humbly with [our] God.”  Throughout the Bible, God beseeches his people to “return” to God, return to following God.  Isaiah 44:22 represents a constantly recurring refrain:

            I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud,

                        and your sins like mist;

                        return to me, for I have redeemed you.

“Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”  When we pray that God’s will be done on earth, we are praying that we (and everyone else) would return to God, trusting and celebrating the forgiveness and redemption that have been freely given to us.

Jesus came to make God known.  He knew that the only truly human life is life lived with God the only life that finally makes sense is life lived with God, the only life that truly is life is life lived with God.

On the night before he died Jesus prayed for his disciples, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  Knowing God and following the God you know is what the life of faith is all about. Walking humbly with God - a life of prayer, immersion in the Bible, learning to love (1 John 4:7-8), and living faithfully - is the path to such knowledge.  Walking that path is the will of God for us.

We might also say that God’s will is that we should live lives that are good for us and good for others.  Walking humbly with God is just such a life.  As God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11).  When we pray that God’s will be done on earth we pray for such a “future with hope”, a future grounded in and dependent upon our deepening relationship with God.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit Galatians 5:25

Questions to Ponder:

*  In what ways does your community of faith foster a humble walk with God?

*  How do worship and the community activities of the church cultivate and nourish a humble walk with God?

*  While waiting for church to begin, read the Sunday bulletin and church newsletter looking for examples of the ways in which the church does justice.  Where might you get involved?

Prayer for today:

God, I do not know where today will take me.  I only pray that, wherever I go I walk with you.  Amen.

Day 15 - Friday

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

At first glance, it may seem somewhat strange to hear that God wills us to love kindness.  In our impersonal, high-powered, high-pressured, high-tech, high-maintenance world, it seems that there would be more productive, more efficient, certainly more important items on God’s agenda.  At second glance, maybe kindness is just what we need to make the world more humane.

Kindness is listed as one of the nine “fruits of the Spirit”, one of the nine characteristics of those who “live by the Spirit” and are “guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).  Kindness is the goal of those who pray “your will be done on earth...”.

Jesus was kind.  He told the crowds who gathered around  him, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  Over and over again, we are told that when Jesus saw the crowds with their questions, their suffering, their need, “he had compassion for them” (Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32).  On two occasions, in arguments with religious leaders who were angry with Jesus for not being fussy about the “rules,” Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).  Jesus did not have a rules-based understanding of religion; he has a relationship-based understanding.  What was good for people mattered and so he told his followers, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7).

It is a radical kindness that Jesus asks of us for he knew that kindness as the will of God is rooted in the very nature of God: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Like 6:35-36).  When we pray this prayer, we pray that we would come to see kindness not as law but as gospel, as a grace-inspired quality in human relationships that we seek to learn and to live.

            Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and

            mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or

            the poor; and do not devise evil in our hearts against one another.

            Zechariah 7:9-10

Questions to Ponder:

*  Does it seem strange to you that kindness is included in the will of God?

*  Think about a time you were treated with unexpected kindness.

*  In our impersonal, high-stress, competitive world, kindness might seem a luxury we can ill afford. Is it?

Prayer for today:

Jesus, let me back in your kindness today and find rest for my soul.  Amen.

Day 14 - Thursday

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Today, and for the next two days, we will take a closer look at God’s will through the lens of Micah 6:8.  Jesus’ own teaching was right in line with Micah 6:8.  For example, at one point he sharply criticized some religious people of his day who were fastidious about observing religious rules and rituals while they “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).  Sounds a lot like justice, kindness and walking with God.

The demand for justice in the Bible is grounded in the nature of God.  God is just; it is God’s will that we be just (for example, Deuteronomy 10:18-19).  And as the prophets and Jesus make clear, justice is not a question (as we often mistakenly believe) of civil or criminal law - it is about equity, fairness, sharing the abundance that God has so graciously provided.  As we hinted at on day nine of this forty-day journey, in a truly just world (one living under the rule of God), nobody would have more than enough of the material necessities of life until everyone had enough.  Then, it would be all right to have more than enough - but only then.  As folks who live in a society that has been diagnosed as suffering from “affluenza”,  we would do well to ponder God’s will for justice.

Justice for the oppressed means deliverance; for the oppressor it means judgment.  Justice overturns the gross political, economic, and social inequities that diminish, damage or even destroy the lives of some for the benefit of others.  This matters to God.  It mattered to Jesus.  It, therefore, matters to those who follow Jesus.

Both Matthew and Luke declare that the Spirit of God anointed Jesus to “proclaim justice” and bring “justice to victory” (Matthew 12:18-21, Luke 4:16-21).  It’s what he was about.  It is what we are to be about.  It is why we pray, “Your will (not my will) be done on earth.”

            16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

                 Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,

            17 Learn to do good; seek justice,

                 Rescue the oppressed,

                 Defend the orphan,

                 Plead for the widow.

                                      Isaiah 1:16-17

Questions to Ponder:

* Is it possible for something to be legal and yet unjust?

*  Do you agree that American society suffers from “affluenza”?

*  Jesus gives priority to doing justice over observing religious rules and rituals.  Do you think that religious rules and rituals might be used to mask injustice?

Prayer for today:

Loving God, today, in the decisions I make that get me from morning to night, may I seek to be fair in my dealings with others.  Amen.

Day 13 - Wednesday

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

It seems important - doing the will of God.  At on time Jesus told his followers, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34)  At another time, when told that his mother and brothers had come to see him, he declared, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34-35).  It seems that being a part of the family of God involves doing the will of God.

So what exactly is the will of God?  One might point to the Ten Commandments as the will of God.  One might point to all of Jesus’ teaching.  One might also point to Micah 6:8 - the best one-line description of both the will of God and a truly Christian lifestyle that can be found in the Bible.  It is a text that sums up both the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ teaching:

            [God] has told you, O mortal, what is good;

            and what does the LORD require of you

            but to do justice, and to love kindness,

            and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

The will of God in a nutshell.

Naive though it may seem, one wonders how the world would change if politicians and diplomats, business leaders and economists, and all the other powers that be would ask themselves three questions before making decisions that affect the lives of countless people: What does this have to do with justice?  What does this have to do with loving kindness?  What does this have to do with walking with God?

Given the broken, sinful nature of humankind, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.  But what if these questions guided the agenda, decisions, and actions of every Christian faith community, and of each individual Christian man, woman, and child?  How would the world change - given the fact that there are some two billion Christians in the world - if people who pray “your will be done” took God’s will a bit more seriously?  What would happen if we all were a bit more serious in taking the will of God as “a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Psalms 119:105)?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

Questions to Ponder:

*  At this point in our Lenten journey, what do you think it means to “do justice”?

*  What do you think it means to “love kindness”?

*  What do you think it means to “walk humbly with your God”?

Prayer for today:

Jesus, you are the light of the world, and you have declared your followers to be the light of the world. Let it be so.  Amen.

Day 12 – Tuesday

Your kingdom come…..

It is terribly important that we recognize that the kingdom has broken into (and continues to break into) human reality – first in the life of Jesus and second in the lives of those who follow Jesus.  But there is also a “not yet” dimension to the kingdom.  Even as we live now under God’s rule, we wait in hope (and pray) for the final coming of the kingdom in all its completeness.

When we think about the coming kingdom, we think of human life brought to perfection.  We think about the reign of perfect justice and perfect love; we think about goodness, truth, and beauty. We think about seeing God face to face and finally knowing what is now too great for human minds to grasp.  “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

When we think about the coming kingdom, we are reduced to vision and poetry:

            On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

                        A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

                        Of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines stained clear.

            And he will destroy on this mountain

                        The shroud that is cast over all peoples,

                        The sheet that is spread over all nations;

                        He will swallow up death forever.

            Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,

                        And the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,

                        For the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 25:6-8)

It is for this we pray when we say “your kingdom come”.  It is the hope that sustains us as we work now under the rule of God to turn this old world “upside down”. (Acts 17:6-7)

Questions to Ponder:

·         What are the signs of the kingdom that broke into human reality in the life of Jesus?

·         What signs do you see of the kingdom, breaking in through the lives of Jesus’ followers?

·         Which dimension of the kingdom – the “now” or the “not yet” – gets the most attention from you?

Prayer for Today:

God of today and tomorrow, today and tomorrow I want my life to be a sign of your kingdom. Amen.

Day 11 - Monday

Your kingdom come...

There are many images of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, but dominant among them are images of eating together, of food and drink, of growth and of value beyond measure.  In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-48, Jesus tells five short parables that give us word pictures of the way he thought about the kingdom.

First, the kingdom is like a mustard seed.  A tiny seed is planted.  It grows.  It takes time, but it grows.  It becomes a shrub and then at last a tree - and birds find refuge and food, a place to call home in its branches.  From the planting of a tiny, seemingly insignificant, practically worthless seed, over time shelter and safety for others come.  Such is the kingdom.

The kingdom is like yeast.  A woman making bread mixes a small amount of yeast into the flour and it changes things.  Over time, the dough rises and there is bread to feed the hungry.  No yeast, no bread.  Such is the kingdom.

The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field.  A man finds it, sells all that he has, and buys the field.  Nothing that we think has value and is worth striving for comes anywhere close to the value of the kingdom.  It is the only treasure worthy of our striving, worthy of our prayer.  Such is the kingdom.

The kingdom of God is like a merchant who finds a pearl of great price.  He is a man who knows a good deal when he sees it.  He sells all that he has and buys that pearl.  With great joy and single-minded devotion he goes after that which has great value.  So it is in the kingdom where men and women of faith live with great joy and single-minded devotion under the rule of God because no other life makes sense.  Such is the kingdom.

The kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea.  It catches fish of every kind.  That’s the net’s job. Such is the kingdom - radically inclusive, drawing everyone in, good and bad together. Separating the good from the bad?  That’s God’s job, not for us to worry about, for only God knows which is which.  Such is the kingdom for whose coming we pray.

At daybreak [Jesus] departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.  But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 4:42-43

Questions to Ponder:

* Why do you think Jesus chose ordinary things to use as symbols of the kingdom?

*  Which of the images of the kingdom in today’s reading speak most powerfully to you?

*  Jesus’ images of the kingdom come from his world.  What images might we use from our world to describe the kingdom?

Prayer for Today:

Lord, today I intend to be as welcoming and inclusive as a “net” of the kingdom.  Amen.

Day 10:  Saturday

Your kingdom come....

 When we pray for the kingdom to come, we are, in a profound way, praying for love to come.  Jesus rejected the then-popular notion that God’s kingdom would come through violence against those opposed to the coming of the kingdom.  At one point, he told his followers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45).  Like Father like child - or so it is supposed to be.

The way of God is the way of love.  The early Christians seemed to know this, and their life together, while by no means perfect, demonstrated it. (for example, Acts 2:44)  Paul knew it.  He tells us, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” (Romans 13:8)  Martin Luther knew it.  He tells us, “A Christian lives not in himself but in Christ and in his neighbor.  Otherwise he is not a Christian.  He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love.”

The rule of God is the rule of love.  A scribe (an expert in the law) once asked Jesus which commandment was the most important.  To paraphrase his answer, Jesus replied that the first was to love God who made you and the second was to love your neighbor as yourself.  The scribe agreed: “You are right Teacher; you have truly said that ’he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength’, and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself’, - this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  To which Jesus replied, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)

Not far?  Why not in?  Perhaps because Jesus saw a difference between knowing the right answers and living the right answers.  The distance between “not for” and “in” is the distance between talking about love and loving.  After all, he did tell his followers, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 1John 3:18

Questions to Ponder:

*  Jesus asks us to love our enemies.  Why, then, is there so much physical, psychological, and spiritual violence done in the name of religion - even the Christian religion?

*   What do you think Luther meant when he said, “A Christian lives not in himself but in Christ and in his neighbor.  Otherwise he is not a Christian?

*  What differences do you see between understanding Christianity as a way of belief or thought and understanding Christianity as a way of life?

Prayer for Today:

God of love, today I will see to follow the rule of love in all my relationships, trusting in your Spirit to guide my way.  Amen.

Day 9:  Friday

Your kingdom come......

Most of us worry a lot.  We are fearful creatures, full of anxiety.  There seems to be good reason. We live in a competitive if not cutthroat world, and we wonder and worry if there will be enough for us.  It is hard to feel secure when financial institutions fail, when prices go up and salaries don’t, when the housing market collapses, when pensions fold, when healthcare costs skyrocket, when both personal and national debt goes through the roof.  Most of us worry a lot - both the well-off and the not-so-well-off.  When we pray “your kingdom come,” we are seeking a way out of worry, a way beyond fear. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows a deep understanding of human anxiety.  He pinpoints our many worries about what we will eat and what we will drink and what we will wear - metaphors for the many fears, anxieties, desires, cares, and distractions that constantly consume is.  Then he asks a question that we would all do well to ponder: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25-31)  It is - if life is lived under the rule of God.

Rather than worry about what we will eat or drink or put on, Jesus suggests that we trust God for all that.  If we did, we would discover that we need much less than we think we do to have a life that is good for us and for others.  God knows what we need, and rather than focus on all that, we should “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

In the Gospel of Luke, right after telling his followers to strive first for the kingdom, Jesus tells them: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).  Another paradox.  God gives us the kingdom; we must strive for it.  God gives us the kingdom.  God has created the world in such a way that if everyone were satisfied with ‘enough’, there would be enough for everyone.  It is for us to strive for such a reality.

When we pray “your kingdom come”, we pray that God would bring about equity and fairness and dignity and richness of life for everyone.  And we pray that we would not take more than enough of what God provides until everyone had enough.

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.  As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”  2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Questions to Ponder:

* Is it true that we need much less than we have to live a happy, meaningful life?

*  If, as Jesus suggests, life is more than food and the body more than clothing, what is life really about?

*  In what ways does your faith community both receive and strive for the kingdom of God?

Prayer for Today:

God, let me cast my worries on you, trusting you know better than I what I truly need.  Amen.

Day 8:  Thursday

Your kingdom come.....

People are interested in power, interested in being in control, in calling the shots, in setting the agenda.  People care about position and privilege.  But not the kingdom of God.

Once, when Jesus’ followers were worrying about divvying up the positions of power and privilege in the kingdom, Jesus set them straight by saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25b-26)  Jesus turns things upside down.  That’s the way it is under the rule of God.

On another occasion, his followers (who were often a bit slow to catch on) asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  His answer: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

The kingdom of God is a relationship between us and God, in which we acknowledge our dependence upon God.  Children are good at this.  Children are very relational creatures. Indeed, nothing matters more than their relationships with parents, siblings, relatives and others who love them and care for them - and who they love back.  They don’t need to acknowledge their dependence; it goes without saying.  And it’s not a bad thing - it is just the way the world is for them.  And (in a good family) the very young live joyfully in the confidence that the “rule” of their parents is naturally good.

As children grow from toddlerhood to adulthood, however, this broken world of ours teaches them different ways of being.  Power, position and privilege become quite important - as they were to Jesus’ earliest followers.  Perhaps that’s why Jesus’ announcement of the good news of the kingdom or rule of God was accompanied by the call to repent, the call to turn around and return to the childlike faith that what God wants for us and from us is and always will be good.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 19:14

Questions to Ponder:

*  Why is power (the ability to control others) not a characteristic of the kingdom of God?

*  When Jesus calls us to be “humble” like a child, what do you think he means by humility?

*  Is Jesus’ call to repent a threat or a promise (law or gospel)?

Prayer for Today:

God, help me become aware of the ways in which I exercise power in my relationships and give me the grace to serve rather than be served.  Amen.

Day 7:  Wednesday

Your Kingdom come...

Now we will study for a week what we could profitably spend a year - or more.  We will be thinking together about the one thing that Jesus seemed to think about most - the kingdom of God.  In the Gospels, the work kingdom appears some 123 times, Jesus uses the word 98 times.  It is at the heart of his message.  Mark - the earliest of all the Gospels - records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry this way: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”’ (Mark 1:14-5)

And the “good news”, of course, is that the kingdom is for everyone.  The only ones excluded are those who exclude themselves, those who - for one reason or another - do not want to live under the rule of God.

Which brings us to a paradox: the kingdom both is and is not.  It has begun in the life of Jesus, and it continues to spread in and through the lives of people who follow Jesus - but it has not yet come in its fullness and completeness.  The world is still mostly a mess.  All creation does not yet live under the rule of God.  When we pray “your kingdom come,” we are praying for God to make his rule complete, we are praying for God to clean up the mess we have made.  But, we are also praying that God’s kingdom would come to and through us; we are praying that we would live faithfully under God’s rule, that we would be part of the clean-up team.

Even a quick reading of the Gospels is enough to show that the kingdom of God, the rule of God, is the rule of love and justice.  The rule of God is the rule of compassion and mercy, the rule of forgiveness.  The rule of God is the rule of equity, of dignity, of peace and prosperity for all-not for the few at the expense of the many, but for all.  The rule of God, in short, is the rule of life - fullness and richness of life for everyone.  That’s what we ask God to make happen when we pray “your kingdom come.”  And we also ask for the grace to help make it happen.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say,‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among [and within] you.”

Luke 17:20-21

Questions to Ponder:

*  What is your relationship to God at this moment?

*  What does it mean to you to live under the rule of God?

*  In what ways is “the kingdom of God...among [and within] you”?

Prayer for Today:

God of justice, remind me today that I am living under your rule, within your kingdom.  Amen.

Day 6:  Tuesday

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name....

God is called by many names in the Old Testament, but they are largely descriptive rather than personal: “Marvelous,” “Strong One of Jacob,” “He of the Mountain,” “Mighty One”’ “Rock,” “Refuge,” “King.”  It is interesting to read through the Old Testament and make note of the many adjective, nouns and images used to attempt to name that which the human mind cannot fully grasp.  Given the limitations of human understanding, if God does not disclose God’s name, it will not be known.

According to the book of Exodus, God did exactly that - disclosed God’s name to Moses before sending him to Egypt to liberate the Hebrew slaves from captivity.  When Moses asked God what to tell the Hebrews when they asked who sent him to them God replied “Yahweh,” which can be translated as I AM WHO I AM, OR I AM WHAT I AM, OR I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE, or simply, I AM (Exodus 3:13-15).  It is a strange name, hardly a name at all, but one that should evoke a sense of healthy fear.  It declares that God IS in a way that humans are not, and God should thus be taken with great seriousness.

In ancient Israel, the name of God was considered so holy that it was not to be spoken or written.  Instead of writing Yahweh, the writers of the Bible wrote only the four consonants in the name, YHWH, a sign to the reader that, rather than pronounce the holy name, they should read the word as either Adonai (Lord) or Elohim (God).  The convention continues today.  When you read your Bible and find LORD or GOD in all capital letters, it is a sign that the Hebrew text has YHWH representing Yahweh, the holy name of God.

The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to ponder the sacred, to wonder about I AM, the mystery from which we came and to which we shall return.

When God disclosed God’s name to Moses, God spoke from a burning bush.  As Moses approached the bush, he was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground.  With reference to this event, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: “Earth’s crammed with heaven./ And every common bush afire with God:/ But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,/ The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  We - especially people of Christian faith - should all be running around barefoot.  Sadly, too many of us have blackberry juice running down our chins.  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

I am the LORD, that is my name.

Isaiah 42:8

Questions to Ponder:

*  How might a community of faith help promote a sense of the sacredness of God’s name?

*  It might seem strange to think that God’s name is not God, it is Yahweh.  Would it make any difference to you to think of God as Yahweh (I AM) instead of as “God” or “Lord”?

*  The Second Commandment tells us that we are not to misuse the name of God.  In what ways is the name of God commonly misused in our world?

Prayer for Today:

Holy God, enable me to see that all ground is holy ground for you are always with us. Amen

Day 5:  Monday

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...

And now we come to the first of seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer - “hallowed be your name.”  According to the form of the Greek verbs, in this petition and the two that follow, we are asking God to act in ways that God should act, and we are asking God to enable us to act in ways we should act.  “God, you make your righteous kingdom come - and enable us to be agents of your coming kingdom in all we do.”  “God, you cause your will to be done on earth as in heaven - and enable us to do your will as well.”  We are bold to ask God to act in ways that vindicate God’s righteousness; we are bold to ask God to enable us to act in ways that express God’s righteousness.

It takes a bit of chutzpah to do this!  To remind God that the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of God’s kingdom and doing of God’s will is first God’s responsibility and second ours seems a bit uppity coming from the creature to the creator, the child to the Father in heaven.  Perhaps that is why, on Sunday, the pastor often reminds us that we should “pray with confidence in the words our Savior taught us.”  Our confidence and boldness come from Jesus’ telling us that it’s okay to speak with God in this way.

To pray these first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is risky because it expresses our commitment to serve God’s purposes, our willingness to be used by God in bringing love, justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, peace, and hope to our hurting and hurtful world.  When we live this way, we hallow God’s name.  It is risky business because the forces of darkness that stand against God will stand against those who stand with God.  This is not a prayer for the faint of heart.  As Jesus reminds us, God’s name (s) are not made holy by simply repeating them.  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”. (Matthew 7:21)

Those who pray this prayer with a deep awareness of what they are doing in church.  They hallow God’s name in worship, and receive from God and each other the faith, wisdom, strength, and courage to hallow God’s name out in the world where they live and work and play.

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I tell you?

Luke 6:46

Questions to Ponder:

*  In Leviticus 19:2, God tells the people, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”  What does this mean to you?

*  Have you ever experienced praying the Lord’s Prayer as a “risky business”?

*  Describe a time, place, and activity when you have felt the holiness of God.

Prayer for Today:

Holy God, may the way I live today, what I say and what I do, mirror your holiness. Amen.

Day 4:  Saturday

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...

Although Jesus invites us into a deeply personal and intimate relationship with God, he does not invite us to domesticate God, a temptation that is all too easy to fall into.  A domesticated god is a tribal god, a god who serves to sanction the political, economic, social, and individual agendas of those who have essentially created a god in their own image.  A domesticated god is a safe god - one who asks nothing of us that we don’t want to be asked.  A domesticated god is a small god, reflecting the pettiness and serving the greed and ambition of people for whom god is a tool or weapon to be wielded in self-interest.

But God is not a tribal god wedded to the particular interests of particular people - God is the creator of all that is, a transcendent God, a God to stand in awe of, a God clothed in mystery.  God cannot be contained in any ideology or even theology, nor can God be manipulated by human plans and designs.  And so, to prevent any attempt to house-train God, Jesus tells us to pray to “Our Father in heaven.”

Those words, “in heaven”, insist upon the awe and wonder that is appropriate for the creature in the presence of the creator.  Although God is closer to us than we are to ourselves- in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) - God is in heaven.  Which is a way of saying, “Yes, God is our Father, but do not take the relationship for granted!”  When we pray this prayer, we might do well to remember Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God!”

The paradox of God’s immanence and transcendence is most profoundly expressed in the two creation stories in Genesis.  In Genesis 1, God speaks and creation is called into being.  With a word, sun and moon and stars are flung into space, the oceans, the forests, the prairies are populated.  With a word, men and women are created in the very image of God.  Here God is completely transcendent, all powerful, wholly Other - a God in heaven.

In Genesis 2, however, God creates not with a word but with hands.  God plants a garden, fashions Adam from the dust of the earth, and breathes the breath of life into his nostrils.  God fashions all the animals as a potter works with clay, and creates a woman to be with Adam from Adam’s rib.  God walks through the garden in the evening breeze calling for Adam.  This is a hands-on God, immanent and intimate, connected and caring.  A God who can be approached. A Father/Mother God.

The Hebrew storytellers were wise. God is our Father - and God is in heaven.

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6

Questions to Ponder:

*  In your faith community, in what ways is God’s transcendence emphasized? God’s immanence?  Is it a good balance?

*  What is lost when the sense of God’s transcendence is lost?  When the sense of God’s immanence is lost?

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

            the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

            mortals that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

Prayer for Today:

Our Father in heaven, do not let me lose either the sense of awe in your transcendence or the comfort of your immanence.  Amen.

Day 3:  Friday

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...

Today we focus on one of the big words - Father.  In the Old Testament, it is not uncommon to find God referred to as the father of Israel, that is, as the God who established Israel as his own special people (for example, Deuteronomy 32:6).  It is, however, somewhat unusual to find father used as a term of personal address to God in the way Jesus used it.  Clearly Jesus’ relationship with God was both interpersonal and intimate, and the wonder is that by teaching his followers this prayer, he invites us into an equally personal and intimate relationship with God.

Jesus’ world was distinctly patriarchal and his religion was distinctly Jewish.  Although you can find feminine images of God in the Old Testament (for example, Isaiah 66:13), if Jesus had called God “Mother” instead of “Father”, I suspect no one would have taken him seriously.

But can we call God “Mother”?  In our world of domestic and sexual abuse, broken homes, and absent fathers the word father can have deeply negative meanings for many people, meanings that keep them from experiencing the deeply interpersonal intimacy and love that move Jesus to call God “Father” and to teach his followers to do the same.  If calling God “Mother” opens a wounded soul to the experience of divine love, then why not?

After all, God is neither male nor female, but completely transcends such gender distinctions.  The words father and mother both make the point Jesus was making when he taught his followers to pray “Our Father.”  We are dependent upon God as a child to a parent.  We are to obey God as a child obeys a parent, trusting that whatever God asks of us will be good for us.  We are to respect and love God as a child respects and loves a parent, when the parental relationship is grounded in love and care for the child. 

When we pray “Our Father”, we address our divine parent and stand firmly within the circle of God’s love and care.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;

            we are the clay, and you are our potter’

            we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:8 

Questions to ponder:

*  What might Jesus’ invitation to call God “Father” lead you to expect?

*  How might calling God “Father” challenge the way you experience your life and relationships?

Prayer for Today:

Holy God, Father and Mother, thank you for the steadfastness of your love this day and every day. Amen.

Day 2:  Thursday

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...

When reading the Bible, it is common to focus on paragraphs, whole sentences, phrases, big words.  Little words often get lost in the rush to understand.  That’s too bad; the meaning of a long sentence often hinges on the meaning of small words - prepositions, pronouns, adjectives.  It’s like cooking, where the slightest dash of spice can enhance the flavor of the whole dish.

When reading the Bible in a devotional way, don’t ignore the little words.  Savor each word as if it were the main course.  Let each word have its own moment in your consciousness, a moment to suggest associations, to evoke insights, to raise questions.  Be like the prophet Jeremiah who (metaphorically, of course) declared to God, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Today we want to savor one little word - our.  Our is the possessive form of the pronoun we.  It implies something in common, as in, “We went to Europe for a week but our flight was delayed, our baggage got lost, our accommodations were terrible, our food was awful, we both got sick and our trip was ruined!”  Two or more people with a common experience, a common possession, a common hope, a common fear, a common joy, a common sorrow.  Two or more people standing in solidarity with each other.  Two or more people somehow bound together.  All of this is contained in the word our.

Our Father...”  If God is our Father, then God is not only my Father.  We share a Father.  We are part of something larger than ourselves - a family, as it were.  If God is our Father, then all other people are, in a profound sense, our sisters and brothers.  We belong to and are responsible for each other.  You will notice that there are no first person pronouns in this prayer.  In no way is the Lord’s Prayer ever my prayer.  It is always our prayer, and whenever we pray it our attention should turn not only to our own needs but also to the needs of others.

We never pray this prayer alone.  Whenever we pray these words we stand with every other person - whether they pray this prayer or not.

[There is] one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:6

Questions to Ponder:

*  How do you generally experience the church - as a true community or as a collection of relatively “isolated individuals”?

*  In what activities or programs of your faith community do you most experience a sense of commonality, connection, and true closeness with others? In what programs or activities do you feel unconnected, separate, or even isolated from others? Why the difference?

*  What does the recognition that God is not just my Father but our Father imply about God’s (and the church’s) mission in the world?

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.

Prayer for today:

Loving God, open my eyes that I may see other people as your children - loved by you as much as I am loved by you.  Amen.

Day 1:  Ash Wednesday

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Luke 11:1

Pray then in this way...

Matthew 6:9a

Jesus would often go off to some lonely place to pray, sometimes alone and sometimes with his disciples.  Clearly, Jesus needed times away from the crowds who clamored for his attention - and he thought his disciples needed to get away from it all from time to time as well.

He (and they) needed time when his attention could be completely on God, on his relationship with God, time to speak and time to listen, time to rest in the love of the one who sent him into the world for love of the world.  Clearly, Jesus needed the encouragement, the strengthening, the empowerment that comes from encounters with God in deep, intentional times of prayer.  If he needed to pray, how much more do we?

But, not only do we need to pray - many if not most of us want to pray. If we stop for a moment, step aside from the many distractions of our lives, and look deep within, we find a longing to connect with God. We yearn for intimacy with the divine, the holy, the one whom Jesus called “Father”.  And so, we too ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

And the request is answered.  Jesus responds, “Pray then in this way,” and then he teaches what we call the Lord’s Prayer - words repeated so often for so long that they may have lost their edge for us.  Many of us have become numb to their meaning, insensitive to the radical nature of this ancient and yet modern prayer.

“Pray then in this way...”.  These are not words of friendly advice from a gentle wisdom figure encouraging us to develop our own personal piety.  Rather they are words of command spoken to people who have been chosen to follow Jesus in God’s mission and who have freely accepted that remarkable calling.  We lose the full force and effect of this prayer if we do not hear the words “Pray then in this way” as marching orders for people chosen for the mission of God - the mission of bringing justice and love, forgiveness and redemption into the world’s sin and suffering and death.

Questions to ponder

*  What place should the teaching of prayer have in a community of faith?

*  What are some of the distractions that numb our longing for God and keep us from prayer?

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

            so my soul longs for you, O God.

Prayer for today:

Jesus, teach me to pray, and grant me the faith and courage not only to pray but to follow you in the way of God. Amen

    

   
 

Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110        412-466-7773