Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lord's Prayer

Monday, February 28, 2011 -- Week of 8 Epiphany, Year One
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, Educators, 1964, 1904
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:
http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 950)
Psalms 1, 2, 3  (morning)       4, 7 (evening)
Deuteronomy 4:9-14
2 Corinthians 10:1-18
Matthew 6:7-15

The Lord's Prayer is the midpoint of Matthew's composition of the Sermon on the Mount.  It is a profound and wonderful prayer.  One of my favorite writers, English Methodist Neville Ward, made it his practice to read a different book of commentary on the Lord's Prayer every year.  Late in life he wrote his own commentary, "The Personal Faith of Jesus."

In Matthew's version, the prayer opens with an address that would be typical for Jewish prayers, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name."  Luke's version opens a little more simply:  "Father, hallowed be your name."  The word "Father" is a deeply intimate word, expressing profound personal trust.

The center of Jesus' message and teaching was his proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus announced that in him, God's kingdom had drawn near, it had broken forth.  We pray, "Your kingdom come."  It is an intentionally political metaphor.  Jesus didn't choose less political options -- your religion come, your family come, your community come.  A kingdom is a government, a political reality.  Jesus' world was governed by kings and kingdoms.  The Kingdom of God is how our world would be if God were king, and not Caesar.  Jesus was executed as an enemy of the state, a traitor and threat to political order.  At the heart of the Lord's Prayer is an insistence that Christians are politically active people.  We are to name how it is that God would rule differently from how our authorities govern.  We are to strive with Christ that God's kingdom come.

The deepest personal surrender is our trust in God and our intention to do God's will.  "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  So many spiritual masters emphasize that our surrender to the will of God is our central act of morality and being.  Jean Pierre de Caussade emphasizes that we can only do God's will in the present moment, under the limitations of the present circumstances.  He tells us to accept radically the present moment as the form in which God is present to us, inviting us to do God's will.  Each moment is a sacrament, the outward and visible form of God's inward and spiritual grace.  So we are invited to trust the moment, even in its difficulty and threat, and to do God's will.

What is God's will?  Caussade says it can only be one of three options.  (1) To do some present duty.  (2) To enjoy some present joy.  (3) To suffer some present suffering.  Our intuition can help us understand what is God's will for us in each present moment.  Our life approaches perfection, and and we can live in exquisite cooperation with God, whenever we simply do God's will here and now.  Insofar as it is in our power, we are bringing the Kingdom of God to earth whenever we do God's will.  Caussade adds, commenting on option three, suffering, that we know from the cross that sometimes God does God's most remarkable work through our suffering when offered to God.

Jesus' prayer has political concerns (the Kingdom), moral concerns (God's will), and economic concerns.  "Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."  Daily bread, food for tomorrow, was a survival issue for peasants of his day and is an issue for millions on our planet today.  To be about God's business is to insure that every person has their basic needs covered, their bread for tomorrow. 

One of the primary ways that peasants in Jesus' day became impoverished and hungry was through indebtedness, especially if they owned small parcels of land.  Jesus told his followers to give freely to those who ask, and to do so not expecting repayment.  It is a radical economic program, followed rarely in Christian history.  How close can we come to following his ideals?  I don't know. 

In Luke's version, we pray "forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us."  Indebtedness can be a metaphor for sin.  Jesus offered people open, instant, and free access to God's forgiveness, bypassing the temple and its sacrifices.  Jesus also taught his followers to forgive as freely as God forgives us. 

In both prayers it is implied that the degree of debt and sin that we are forgiven is related to the degree of debt and sin that we forgive others.

Finally, Jesus prays that we not be brought into the time of trial, but be rescued from evil.  We hear anticipation of Jesus' own passion in this petition.  We also pray for ourselves and everyone who might be threatened with the terrible things that humans can do to one another.

Nearly every liturgy that our church provides for our common life of prayer includes in it the Lord's Prayer -- Eucharist, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline, Daily Devotions, Baptism, Marriage, Healing, Burial.  It is the most ubiquitous prayer in our tradition.  Some people have learned to pray the prayer constantly, like a mantra, almost subconsciously. 

The Lord's Prayer is a good anchor for our life and intention.  Through it we pray to God as our intimate and trusted Father, we align ourselves with God's reign and God's will, we commit ourselves to God's justice, we give and forgive, and we seek God's protection from the time of trial.  It is a good way to begin this day.

Lowell

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Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
--
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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