Reflection: July 24

Published on Jul 25th, 2016 by Robin Murray | 0

When you pray, say Father.” With these words, Jesus invites us into the divine family.  What good news!  Flawed as we are, we are invited into intimacy with God, to be part of God’s Commonwealth of Love.   The God who is “our father” is not a neutral, impassive God.   This is an active God, who takes an interest in the success of his children – who loves them, yet gives them room to grow, learn, and make mistakes. Also, as we pray this name, “father”, together, we are invited to become brothers and sisters to Jesus and to one another.  What good news, indeed!

As we, in the United Church of Canada, strive to consciously use more gender neutral names for God, this name “Father” is problematic for some people.  We know that God is neither male nor female. Two thousand years ago, when Jesus first spoke these words, he spoke them in Aramaic, and unfortunately, the earliest manuscripts of the book of Luke that we have are all written in Greek. New Testament Scholars generally agree, however, that the original word Jesus used was “Abba”, which perhaps translates more accurately into contemporary English as “Daddy” or “Papa”, than it does “Father”.  

We could try to use the word “parent”, but that doesn’t have the same connotation as the word “Abba” or “Daddy”.  For those of us who had (or still have) loving, caring devoted fathers growing up, the prayer invites us into intimate relation with a God who loves us completely. For those who had absent or even violent fathers growing up, the prayer invites us to let God be the Daddy you wish you had. We are all invited to be held in God’s loving arms and to feel safe in that love.

You may have noticed the words “who is in heaven” were not part of the gospel reading today.  That is because those words actually appear in the other account of Jesus teaching the disciples to pray, found in the book of Matthew. Luke is a more direct and to the point book, while Matthew is more artistically organized, including the ancient Jewish sense of poetry, wherein a phrase will be restated and perhaps expanded on a little.  These words are not intended to place God in a distant location, but rather to remind us that God is much bigger than just our world and we don’t have exclusive rights to God.  We are God’s children; God is not our servant or our plaything. Similarly, the phrase “Hallowed be your name” reminds us of the third commandment, that we don’t own God’s name and can’t use it however we want.  God is the holy one.  We don’t make God holy, we just acknowledge and celebrate what already is.

The next part of the prayer “your kingdom come” is probably our favourite part in the United Church.  We long for God’s justice and love to fill our lives and our world.  Again, we struggle with the word “kingdom” as being an antiquated term.  We want to use words like “kin-dom” or “commonwealth”, but when Jesus declared God’s Kingdom during the time of the Roman Empire, those were radical words, that put God above the principalities and powers of the time.  Like with finding a gender-neutral version of the word “Daddy”, we just can’t seem to find an English word that can convey the political implications of what it would look like to have real justice and real abundant love for every single living being on our planet – to truly have God’s will done on earth.   (Again the second part of the familiar phrase “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, is not in the Luke passage we read today, but from the prayer found in the book of Matthew, and again, it is a matter of Jewish poetry.)

So now, we come to “Give us each day our daily bread.” Now, you would think this one is pretty straightforward, but you would not believe the amount of scholarly literature going ‘round and ‘round on this line over the last nearly two millenniums.  Is it physical bread?  Is it spiritual bread?  What is meant by “day’ versus “daily”?  Part of this comes from the fact that the Greek word for “daily bread” is very unusual and isn’t found elsewhere in the New Testament, or any other Greek literature, possibly being a word invented, using other Greek root words, to try and capture an original Aramaic word that was loaded with meaning beyond normal Greek sensibilities.

Have any of you seen or tried the experiment with Google translate? It’s very popular with our Youth Group teenagers right now.  They enter the lyrics to a song into the computer and have it translate it into another language.  Then they keep doing this through several languages and finally translate it back into English and see how it turns out.  In one video on You Tube, for example, “Mary had a little lamb”, came through several translations as “Mary had a small amount of mutton”.  So, I suppose it is pretty important for Biblical scholars to fuss over the nuances of words like this.

What I found most interesting, though, was the idea that we ask only for today’s bread.  We ask for what we need in the here and now. In the next chapter of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, who builds bigger barns to hold tomorrow’s bread, only to discover he has no tomorrow, but is dying.  That is our reading for next week, so we will talk more about that parable, then.  But you get Jesus’ message that we not be selfish or excessive in our petitions.  We are not to be the spoiled child, always wanting more, but to be satisfied to have enough for today.  Also, the implication is that today’s bread is to be broken and shared among all God’s children, as was the custom for meals in Jesus’ time.  It is “our” bread, not “my” bread – communal, not individual.

Uh-oh.  Now we come to our least favourite part of the prayer – the part where we admit that we are selfish, that we don’t always share the bread God gives us, and that we are sinners in need of continual forgiveness because we continually make mistakes.  We don’t like to talk about sin and sinners much in the United Church.  We like the words “trespass” and “debt” a little better.  They don’t have the same judgmental connotation as “sinner”.  The world puts us down enough, without us putting ourselves down.  But there is also something liberating in letting go of our perfectionism and admitting that we aren’t always right – admitting that we need forgiveness and we are in fact, sinners.

Forgiveness.  Now there’s a tough word.  Forgiving is not something that comes naturally to human beings, is it?  We hold anger and seek vengeance pretty naturally, but letting go of that?  Letting compassion be our guide when we have been wronged?  Now that is tough.  And so we pray, day after day, to be forgiven and remind ourselves, day after day, that God expects us to forgive one another. Now, don’t get caught up in the Google translate, here, and think that God forgives us in measure with how we forgive others.  “As we forgive” is better translated as “and so we forgive”.  We forgive because God showed us how by forgiving us first.  We forgive because we are forgiven.

Don’t get caught up in the Google translate of “lead us not into temptation”, either, and think that God would deliberately take us into peril.  We manage that pretty well, all on our own!  There’s that old joke that we say “lead us not into temptation” and God replies, “Well, stop asking me to, then!”  That’s why they always put the candy aisle right next to the check-out.  Even the health food stores like the Kootenay Co-op do that, don’t they?  And of course there are much greater temptations than just Fair-Trade-Dark-Chocolate-with-Sea-Salt-and-Caramel-Chips (in case anybody is wondering what to bring to the next potluck).  Some find themselves, like Jesus on the high mountain and looking down on the splendor of the kingdoms below, and are tempted to put power over others above love of others.  Some are tempted to use the abilities or assets God has given them for selfish gain instead of the good of their community.  We are all tempted to look the other way, where we see need and suffering.

The journey of life is a struggle.  There are real evils in this world, as we hear about too often with shootings in the United States, and terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East.  There is evil and violence that we don’t hear enough about, like our missing and murdered indigenous women, and attacks that happen in forgotten parts of Africa, that the media doesn’t seem to care about.  So we pray together and ask God’s help in this struggle.  We ask for the strength to recognize and stand up to evil.  We stand together, shoulder to shoulder in the struggle, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus tells us, next, to ask God for this help.  God wants to hear our prayers. “Ask and it shall be given.”  Does that mean God will give us everything we want, right at the moment we want it?  Would you give your child cake and ice cream for breakfast?  What if they asked for a unicorn?  But how about if they asked for bread to share with a hungry traveller, as the person did in Jesus’ story?  We pray for God’s kingdom to come.  We pray for peace in our world.  Does God answer? The Mir Centre for Peace tells us, that in spite of all the evil that still is going on in the world, we are in an unprecedented time of peace. There are fewer acts of violence globally now than we saw just fifty years ago.

And so, we keep praying.  We keeping asking God for bread, forgiveness and strength.  In Luke and Matthew, the prayer ends there. Over time, the church has added a passage from 1 Chronicles to the end of Jesus’ prayer, “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever.” So we say the familiar words, not as a rote recitation, but as a plea to God.  We add our prayers today, to the prayers of those generations that have gone before.  Together, we are all part of the family of God, invited by Jesus with his teaching us to pray.  We are all part of God’s great field of love.  What good news! What good news, indeed!

Amen.

 

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