Lead Us, Deliver Us

I don’t know how anyone could approach this prayer as a whole, but especially this petition without the context and insights offered by John Dominic Crossan in his brilliant book The Greatest Prayer (Harper One, 2010). 

Primary Text: Matthew 6:7-15  Also Matthew 3:16-4:11


And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Or as the more familiar King James version reads:
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

This section is probably the most perplexing of the petitions in Jesus’ model prayer.  

Much of the rest of the prayer can be understood with a very surface level reading, or at least makes sense in light of teachings we are more familiar with in the gospels.

When we pray this prayer together, we call out to God as our shared Father, a reminder that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus the Christ.  We remember that we have a relationship with God, on a first-name basis, so to speak. But we also remember that God is God – holy, set apart. That while we are welcome to call on God by name, we are not to take that relationship lightly, nor to use God’s name flippantly.

In our prayer, we seek from God an experience of creation as it was meant to be, a peaceable kingdom under the rule of the one who Created and then set the world in motion, a Kingdom under the care of the Prince of Peace.

As we go deeper into the prayer, we ask God for the food we need, trusting that God will provide for our physical needs here and now, and that we will be fed spiritually as we learn to forgive others in the same way that God offers grace to us.

And then we come to this petition: Do not bring us to the time of trial. Rescue us from the evil one.

It’s a little tricky, risky even, to bring the words of Jesus, a Jewish rabbi who walked the earth 20 centuries ago up to current times. We’re already taking them from an ancient Greek text and translating them into English, which has its limitations as a language. Then there are the geographic and technological differences.

Most of us -including me – aren’t familiar enough with the Jewish traditions in which Jesus was raised to pick up on the nuances of the theological shifts he was making in his teachings, at least not without doing some research.

Our individually-focused American culture makes it hard to understand the collective language and community-oriented culture that permeates the commands and expectations of the faithful that we receive through scriptures.

And, we generally read our history from the perspective of the victor, the dominant force.

For instance, the history of the western world generally starts with the Roman Empire, definitely not that of the people who were subjugated by Rome in the Mediterranean or across Europe and northern Africa. In fact, it always catches me by surprise to think of the Apostles going to Rome… seeing the aqueducts, traveling on the Roman roads that I read so much about…  But the truth is that Rome wasn’t some far-off concept for first-century Jews.

The empire was about the business of keeping people under their thumb by whatever means were necessary, including the people in the region where Jesus was born, grew up, taught and was executed.

I offer all this by way of introduction today because unless we improve the lens through which we read this portion of Jesus’ model prayer, unless we have at least some sense of the historical and cultural context in which Jesus offered these words, our modern applications of its teachings become so shallow as to be meaningless.

If we could jump into a time machine, a faith-powered TARDIS, if you will, and point it to the decade or so before the birth of Jesus in Nazareth, we would be landing in a very dangerous time. Following the death of Herod the Great, bands of rebels had taken up arms and were engaging in small battles across the region.

There was a significant Roman presence in the capital city of the Galilee, Sepphoris.  A rebel named Judas gathered a large number of men and led an assault on the royal palace in Sepphoris, where they took weapons and stole back all sorts of seized property which they then redistributed – Robin Hood-like to other rebels.  

There was no permanent military presence in Israel at the time, so to quash the rebellion, Rome would have to make a calculated risk, pulling men from their posts on another border.  If you’re thinking Rome would need to work quickly in Galilee to avoid tempting enemies on the border, you get bonus points.  

Two legions arrived, ready for a campaign of “shock and awe” or Sword and Blood. The leaders of this massive army made clear that they would teach the rebels and the whole region that produced them a lesson that would last at least 2 generations.  

They marched into Sepphoris with at least 12,000 troops – ELITE troops- along 2000 cavalry soldiers and 1500 infantry.  An Arab ally arrived with additional resources. Varus, the commander, split his forces, knowing they would still overpower everyone they encountered. Half of his men went to Jerusalem, with the others fighting against the rural Galileans.

They were relentless, gutting the capital city of Sepphoris and razing the surrounding villages. Nazareth – where Joseph worked as a carpenter – was a tiny village about 4-5 miles away. While Nazareth is not mentioned by name in the surviving documents containing Roman and Jewish historical accounts, we know the fate of other villages of similar size in the region.  

Here’s an excerpt from one such collection called Jewish Antiquities.

They [the Romans and their Arab allies] encamped near a village called Arous sacked by the Arabs. Thence Varus advanced to Sappho [in Judea], another fortified village, which they likewise sacked, as well as the neighboring villages which they encountered on their march. The whole district became a scene of fire and blood and nothing was safe against the ravage of the Arabs. Emmaus, the inhabitants of which had fled, was burnt to the ground by the orders of Varus.

Whether overrun by Romans or Arabs, the sacking was complete
Grain, produce and livestock – Taken
Houses, farms, fruit trees – destroyed
Men were killed, women raped and young people enslaved.

Those who survived and somehow fled found themselves living as refugees of political violence.  Those who stayed – they gathered what little was left, bringing home as many extended family members as were nearby and grafting in those who were widowed, orphaned or otherwise left behind.  

Children like Jesus, born into this region in the years after the occupation would surely have heard the stories being told and retold. It would have become part of the local language and lore.

As my friends in New Orleans and around the gulf coast would attest, traumatic events can cause a shift in the way we mark time. For them, every life event is placed in relation to Katrina. For New York City especially, September 11, 2001, marks the beginning and end of an era.  No doubt, Jesus would have heard elders in his community telling stories that used the sacking of Nazareth or Sepphoris as the time stamp.

Zealots remained active, though not nearly as boldly or broadly as before. The Military incursion had done its job, it would be another 60 years before an invasion of this size would be necessary to tamp down violent resistors.

In the meantime, the Jews would engage in non-violent resistance.

Leaders of the synagogues and temples aligned themselves with Roman leaders, hoping to influence them, align them, “change things from the inside” as much as any outsider could. Communities rebuilt and redoubled their efforts to be unified, watching out for one another, sharing what little resources they still had. And they focused on being a distinct culture that was in opposition to the culture of Rome.  Not just in protest, but truly being the opposite of the Empire. The laws of the Torah, the calls to justice and mercy, the commands to forgive… all set the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart.

It was into this culture, this history, that Jesus was born
It was among these rabbis, in this extended family that Jesus was raised to manhood in faith.
It was into this culture, where the laws of God were enforced by men who counted on the law to save them from harm in this life, that the fully divine Jesus taught the people about the heart behind the rules.

Jesus teaches his people to pray lead us not into temptation.

But more specifically, he is teaching them  to pray
Lead us not into the temptation of violent resistance to Rome’s oppression.
Deliver us from the acts of the evil one

The one on the throne who seeks to do us evil
The evil one who would have us join in the chaos by repaying evil for evil

This feels to me like the best explanation for something that makes very little sense on the surface.  It seems odd that God would lead us into temptation… so why would we need to ask God not to?

We see God leading people from so very early on in the relationship between humans and God- God leads us with words, just as clearly as with clouds of fire, God leads with prophets, kings and teachers. It’s not as if God is in the business of leading people into temptation.

Except that one time… Listen to these words from a little earlier in Matthew’s Gospel…
16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

God is pleased with Jesus getting baptized in obedience to God’s call. Now listen closely to what happens next:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Biblical Scholar John Dominic Crossan points out the importance of this sentence that lays out the  sequence of events.  Notice…, he says, that Jesus is “led by the Spirit – to be tempted – by the devil. It is God, as in the Abba Prayer, who brings Jesus to the time of trial. (CrossanThe Greatest Prayer, 170)

God brings Jesus to the time of trial, of temptations, so that as we face our own times of trial, we have an advocate who understands and speaks to God on our behalf, inhabiting our own prayers.  

Jesus was weak – or at the very least must have been getting hangry –  as the temptations come at him.
He [Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

This was a personal temptation – literally saying, you have more than enough power, miraculous power, to take care of your own hunger.  Why not? And yet, Jesus knows that his divine power was not to be used for personal comfort, but for the work of God among the people of God. So he responds using the words in Deuteronomy 8:3
But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The tempter builds on Jesus’ response, going to Scripture himself.  He cites Psalm 91:11-12, tempting Jesus with a public display of God’s power, since the personal display was not enough to draw him in.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus sees that this situation goes beyond him to test God – Would God protect Jesus, if the Son were to take this opportunity to prove his identity in a public way?
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The third temptation starts with the assumption that Jesus is who he claims to be.  No longer will the challenge be about his identity as the Son of God.   And there is no pretense of religiosity here, no scripture quoted.

The tempter goes straight to the desires of most human hearts – and right to the antithesis of Jesus’ purpose here on Earth.
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Jesus has been offered all the glory and power of the Kingdoms of the World.   All in exchange for worship. This rule, this domination over multiple peoples and lands, is precisely the sort of rule that the Roman Emperors had built over the years, expanding their borders ever farther, sending legions of soldiers to defend those borders.

But this gathering, compiling of power and glory that comes of ruling worldly kingdoms has no appeal. Not to the Son of God who was with God from the beginning of all creation.  The Word who spoke all creation into being.

God alone is worthy of worship.  And so,
10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

I suspect he wasn’t hangry for much longer.

The violent world that we call the civilized world
The world of war and invasions and revolutions
The world of systemic imbalances and oppression based on ethnicity and country of origin
That is world of the now, the world that is not yet as it will be.

That is the world in which sinful humanity rules, and not particularly well
The nonviolent world of creation
The world of innocence and intimacy with God that we read of in Genesis
The world of worship and unity we read of in Revelation
That is the world in which God rules with mercy and lovingkindness

The tempter may lay claim to have the authority to give away the violence of human kingdoms, but only God may offer that world to the healing work of Christ

And God did just that. All because of love.

God so loved the world that God sent Jesus to redeem the world, to begin the long process of reconciling us to God, not with a sword and flames, not with miracles devised to terrify and terrorize.

God sent Jesus to draw humankind back to God by becoming a living, breathing portrait of God’s love…
Jesus fed the hungry, healed the lame, gave water to the thirsty and clothes to the naked.
Jesus gave sight to the blind and set captives free.  

It seems silly, really, to think that Jesus would have succumbed to the temptation to worship Satan in hopes of gaining power or glory. Especially knowing that he gave it all up to be here among us. Using violence to gain power or influence, inciting violence to gain fame or notoriety, winking at the violence of others on your behalf as you seek honor and authority… that right there is worshiping Satan.  

But [for Jesus] to obtain and possess the kingdom the power and the glory by [means of] nonviolent justice is to worship God.  (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 173)

As our divine proxy, Jesus declines the opportunity to use violence to establish the Kingdom of God, recognizing it could only bring more of the same pain, despair, mourning and isolation that marked life under the Empire.

Time after time, empire after empire, nation after nation (including our own) has fallen prey to this temptation.  Has chosen to engage the pursuit of power by way of violence. All too often in the name of God.

We have done violence to other peoples
By signing treaties that remove entire nations from their homelands and any hope of a future
By participating in genocide on our soil and on other continents
By kidnapping, enslaving and subjugating generations of Africans
By developing and using weapons of mass destruction
By deporting immigrant women and children to nations at war
By closing our borders to refugees

And then we claim to be followers of Jesus, the Christ.
Who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:6-11)

The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted, just God tests us and leads us to times of trial. Not because God is fickle, but because we are… God’s stamina within our covenant relationship is astounding. God is unshakable.

We humans, however…  well, we have integrity issues. God must check in with us regularly to see that we are still serious about following, trusting, and worshiping God alone.

Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are tempted to turn from the commandments of God
By feeding ourselves as others go without
By wielding and displaying our power in order to intimidate others
By bowing down to and placing our earthly kingdoms in a position of power at the expense of others’ agency, culture, health and livelihoods

We can and must call upon his power, his capacity for love and mercy to overcome our own capacity for fear and hatred.

Our Father in Heaven is holy, and wholly beyond our imaginings
Our Father’s kingdom is one where all are welcome, all are fed, all are heard
Our Father’s grace and forgiveness is so abundant that we are filled to overflowing and splash them onto others with abandon
All of which assures us that when we worship God and God alone, we will see God’s kingdom of justice breaking into this world of violence, and God will no longer need to test us.

As children of God, we can call upon our Father with a sense of trust and hope
Giving all the glory and honor to our Creator, Savior and Helper
Now and forevermore
Amen.

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Forgive Us As We Forgive

Primary Texts: Psalm 32, Luke 11:1-5  With gratitude and credit to Gord Waldie for his inspirational musings on forgiveness and the great reference to Miroslav Volf’s ideas in Free of Charge

The last couple of weeks, we’ve been digging into the Lord’s Prayer, taking a closer look at what we say every week as we pray it together. Like everything we do as a ritual, whether once a day, once a week, once a month, there is the danger of the prayer becoming another habit.  The danger of words becoming so ingrained in our memories that prayer is an act of rote recitation.  

We can get distracted or rush through the words, instead of knowing and re-claiming a prayer that speaks from the heart. And so this month, my goal has been to slow us down a bit.  To take time to remember what we learned about this prayer when we were young – or at least young in our faith.  

Jesus was giving his followers – then and now – words to pray that also remind us how to live.  

We remind ourselves first that God is our Father –
The one who claims and adopts us
The one who provides for us
The one in whose image we are created

We remind ourselves that our Father is God
The one who is Holy and set apart,
The one who is worthy of our worship

We remind ourselves that our Father God is our Provider
The one who sends the bread we need each day
The one whose Kingdom has come and is coming
The one whose will we are part of making known in the world

And then we remind ourselves that God’s grace is the source of  what we all so desperately need: forgiveness.

This petition about forgiveness is in the next to the last segment in both Matthew and Luke’s records of the prayer, though the words differ.  In Luke we read: And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Depending on what tradition you grew up in, you might have learned that portion of our liturgical prayer as debts and debtors, trespasses and those trespass against us, or even sins and those who sin against us

Regardless of which terms you usually think of within those phrases, the underlying meaning is clear.
First – We are sinful humans; we need forgiveness for the ways we fall short in our attempts to follow God’s commandments.
Second – we are not the only sinful humans in the world, and we will be called upon to forgive others.

We are indebted to God’s mercy and grace. All the love and care in the universe is extended to us, with only the expectation being that we love God in return and love our neighbors as God’s image-bearers in this earthly realm.

Forgive us, Lord. As we, in turn, forgive others.
It seems pretty simple, at least on paper.

I don’t know about you, but in real life, in the real world, I find forgiveness to be incredibly challenging. If I’m being absolutely honest, I have a hard time believing that I am worthy of being forgiven.

I understand and – by faith – continue living into the truth that there is not a thing I can do in this life that is beyond the power of the living God to forgive.  I can stand here and say that with confidence to each of you, looking you straight in the eye. I can believe it on your behalf.  

I can say it and believe it on behalf of the people who have confessed committing awful crimes in their past.  

I can even say it and believe it on behalf of the people who have committed those awful crimes against me.

Because I honest and truly believe
that 
God’s grace is bigger than the circumstances in which we find ourselves struggling to find the next right thing to do.
that God’s grace is deeper than the depths of our despair over our own failings.
that God’s grace is wider than the gulf between perfection and our very very messy inner lives.

I believe all of those things.  

And yet, there are moments when I desperately need a brother or sister in Christ to stand right in front of me,  look me square  in the eye and say it:
Yes, Laura, God’s grace is big enough and real enough to cover your sins, too.

I wonder sometimes if the difficulty I experience in receiving forgiveness from God is the risk involved in being honest about who I am, with myself before I go to God, and then again as I approach the one who loved me before I understood what sin and love are.   

So much of what we are taught about sin has to do with condemnation and eternal damnation, mostly as a means of moving us to choose salvation.

So much of what we are taught about how to behave, how to move through this world – even when we are just talking about manners and etiquette – is tied to shame, often using sin language.

We are judged by our actions, dragging our families or other social groupings along for the condemnation. We are trained then, to judge and condemn ourselves, regardless of what God might have to say about it.   Can you see why Jesus, when he talked about his work here on Earth, spoke about releasing the captives?  

A big part of that bondage existed and still exists in the form of laws that keep us tied up emotionally, and relationally, the customs and traditions that keep us from seeing one another – and even ourselves – as loved and lovable children of God, worthy of a second, third or 500th chance.

Author Miroslav Volf once described forgiveness as choosing “To condemn the fault but to spare the doer”.  Volf’s argument is that this is what God does.  God recognizes the fault – the wrong that is done – and condemns it.  But then God chooses to spare the wrong-doer from the punishment that is deserved and could rightly be given.

This, my friends is mercy.     

This is God sending Nathan the prophet to David so that David might come to understand the lengthy list of sins he had committed while making Bathsheba his queen. Rather than strike David down, or even remove him from his seat of power, which God certainly could easily have done. God chose to spare David.

Oh, there were consequences, echoes of those choice made, as we see in the lives of his children. But God’s forgiveness and forbearance left space for change, for restitution and reformation. A chance for David to repent and become again the man after God’s own heart.  A chance for David to experience the joy of forgiveness.

Now, here’s where Volf’s idea goes from teaching to meddling. What if, as we live into our roles as image-bearers of God, as ambassadors for Christ, God wants us to go and do likewise?

Yes… God expects us to forgive one another in the same way we are forgiven.   

We are to acknowledge the wrong-doing, but rather than seek retribution or revenge, rather than holding a grudge, or even just keeping a tally…
We are to erase it.  
Tear up the tab.  
Forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

Yeah…  I know.

It is hard.  Really hard.  Really really for real hard. And it’s not like this is logical at all.  It’s pretty much the opposite of human nature. We are hard-wired and then loaded with software that moves us to protect ourselves and whatever we’ve gathered as ours.  We build fences and install locks.  We back away from dangerous situations.  We filter our words and are aware of our actions, in hopes that we can move through the world without attracting the wrong kind of attention. We even erect unseen barriers around our hearts to reduce the risk of pain and sorrow.

Walking through the world in a way that invites people to apologize and believes the best about their intentions when they do…  and asking others to do likewise for us… that is a very vulnerable, risky way to live. Especially when you start talking about forgiving people for BIG stuff, stuff that seems impossible to forgive. The stuff that you find it really hard to forgive in yourself.

But that is what we are called to do
That is who we are called to be.

Luke’s gospel is chock full of discussions around forgiveness.  But perhaps the most salient passage for this discussion comes from Luke 6.  This is at the start of Luke’s equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount that Matthew records. But instead of going up onto the mountain to teach, Jesus has just come down to the plains from praying up in the hills. He stands and looks out on a huge crowd that includes his close followers, as well as gobs of people from all over the region…

They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you  on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors  did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,
   for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
   for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

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.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

You see, forgiveness comes when mercy is offered where condemnation is expected.
Forgiveness comes when grace is extended.  When lovingkindness has no strings attached.
Forgiveness is good news to the one who has red in his ledger, whether financial, emotional, or relational
Forgiveness is the first stop on our way to shalom, balance, peace, health.

If we speak at all of our faith, we do so in the language of forgiveness, of grace. We proclaim it together, week after week, in our assurance of pardon.  The words we read with Marianne this morning at the end of the assurance of forgiveness:
“Friends, hear and believe the good news…  in Jesus Christ you are forgiven.
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, Alleluia! Amen.”

Every time we eat and drink our holy meal at the Lord’s Table, we proclaim Christ’s saving (forgiving!) death until he comes. The body of Christ is broken; the blood of Christ poured out as a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins.

As forgiven people, we are challenged to go out and offer that same forgiveness to others. Just as we love because God first loved us, we draw our capacity to forgive from God’s deep well of forgiveness.

It is a choice we make, each and every day, to live and love and forgive… to bear witness to the life, love and grace of God in Jesus.

Perhaps you are familiar with the an old proverb that says “holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.

But forgiveness – Forgiveness is like cold water on a god-awful hot August day in Florida.

When we are unable to forgive we are holding on to anger and hurt.  And we all know that hurt people, hurt other people. To be the people God created us to be, we need to forgive ourselves, we need to forgive each other, and we need to accept forgiveness from others.

All so that we can be healthy. So that our families and friends and neighbors can be healthy; so that our community and city can be healthy.  We ask for forgiveness, even as we offer it to others…because God is ALWAYS at work in us.

And so we must pray, over and over and over again…
Forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those who are indebted to us.
Amen.

 

Prayer for Class of 2016

A prayer for the Baccalaureate Ceremony for the 2016 graduates of Apopka High School

Gracious and loving God,
We praise you for who you are…

The artist who paints sunsets, birds, planets, and fish in vibrant, unforgettable colors.
The healer of bodies and minds.
The parent who nurtures us, sings over us and quiets us with love.
The one who laid down his divinity to become one of us, living among us.
The rabbi who taught fishermen and tax collectors.
The leader who washed the feet of his followers.
The Spirit who enlightens and inspires.
The one who is three – always in community, bound only by love.

And You made humankind in your image…
Creative, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, focused, humble, loving, fun…

You create us to pursue passions and call us to work that can change lives and transform the world…
Musicians, teachers, leaders of cities and nations, doctors, nurses, parents, chefs, lawyers, ministers, farmers, software developers, architects, grocers, soldiers, pilots, artists

We give thanks for the gifts that you have begun to reveal in the Class of 2016.  As you call them into particular vocations and professions, we trust that you will continue to equip and empower them to serve not only in this community, but wherever you send them.

Bless the village that has raised each of these precious young people –
Parents and extended families,
Teachers and coaches,
Faith communities,
Neighbors
Employers and mentors

On the way to this moment, this evening, this week, that in many ways marks the end of childhood, many tears have been shed – in joy and in sorrow – by these students and all who stand behind them.

Hours have been spent at desks, in locker rooms and rehearsal halls, in gyms and on fields, on stages and in classrooms

Many more hours have been spent on couches, in libraries and study halls, heads in books, eyes on the prize.

There have been lectures, and lessons
There have been awards and trophies
There have been failures and fears

There have been goodbyes that ripped hearts wide open
There have been new friendships forged, relationships that blossomed, love unrequited and passions overstated

There have been car pools, bike rides, bus rides, and missed rides

And you were there for all of it.

Before pop quizzes and AP exams, prom invitations and cheerleader tryouts…
You heard every “please…“ ,
every “I promise…”
every “Just this once…”

You heard and answered those cries for help..
Sometimes that meant miraculous success,
Other times, the lessons that follow a spectacular failure.

Thank you for the ways that you have made and continue to make your presence known, whether we are looking for you or not.

Thank you for making good out of our messes, for working in us and through us in every circumstance.

Thank you that even now, as we face the consequences of our choices –good, bad, and in between – you are with us and for us.

Trusting in your lovingkindness,
Trusting in your faithfulness,
We give these graduates to you, dear Lord,
knowing that this commencement week marks a beginning,
a new season of life with new horizons of opportunity.

Give them eyes to see just how much this world needs their tenacity and joy and empathy
Give them hearts that beat with yours
Give them feet that walk steadily on the path you have set before them
Give them hands that reach out to lift up the discarded and arms that embrace the lonely
Give them voices that speak on behalf those who have been silenced   

Above all, give them ears to hear just how deeply and fiercely you love them and the faith to believe it is true, now and to the very end of the age

In the name of Jesus the Christ, the one who came to heal, feed, love, and set us free from all manner of bondage, then taught and commanded us to do likewise, we pray.
Amen

For the National Day of Prayer

Many people have gathered for Prayer Breakfasts, others will meet for afternoon prayer huddles or evening prayer services.

Some of us are at offices and other places of work, at school, volunteering, or caring for others in myriad ways. Our calendars are full, too full to make it to a formal prayer gathering.

Know this… Wherever you are today, you can join in prayer for our church, the larger Body of Christ, for our community, the nation and the world.

God already knows that we are overwhelmed with the pain and difficulties in our own lives and in all of those widening circles.  And God knows the many things that bring us joy, which we sometimes forget to include in our Thank You’s.  But when we take a moment to engage our hearts with our Creator’s heart, we are choosing to return the love which God has poured into us.
When you have a moment, step away from your task list and try this breath prayer:
Breathe in deeply, aware of the Spirit filling your heart as the air fills your lungs.
Breathe out slowly, making space for still more.
Breathe in the goodness of God’s grace.  Then breathe out a prayer of gratitude.
Breathe in the wideness of God’s love; breathe out a prayer for the people and places in need of healing.
Breathe in the steadfastness of God’s presence; breathe out a prayer of awe and wonder.
Breathe in, breathe out, and know that you are a beloved Child of God
Breathe in, breathe out, and let the words fall away.
Amen.

You know you’re a meeting junkie when 

I was asked to offer the invocation at today’s city council meeting. Apparently out church had dropped out of rotation at some point, and someone in the city office noticed last month. I said “of course” since I am always looking for opportunities to connect with the larger community. 

I made my way over to City Hall a little early, met the council members and mayor, got my instructions and found a seat. I offered my prayer (below) and sat down to watch the proceedings. 

There was a long discussion around the city recreation department’s proposed fee structure for youth sports. So long and robust, in fact that I had to leave at the break and didn’t see the vote. 

As I drive back to the church, it struck me. I was really enjoying that meeting. Just like I enjoy a session meeting or a Preabytery meeting. There is something about the energy in a room where people are working to find a solution to a problem that affects a community- whether municipal, ecclesiastical or organizational. Then there is the opportunity to collaborate with people beyond your usual area, like the folks I met today who are leading a task force in a part of town just south of our church. 

Yes, I am that meeting nerd. God help me. 

Anyway, here’s the prayer: 

Gracious God, 

We give thanks today for men and women who answer the call to public service, taking on the mantle of leadership beyond their own families and bearing responsibility for the community at large. 

We give thanks as well for the model of leadership and the teaching that you provided through your own Son, Jesus. 

Throughout his ministry, he made clear that the way of leadership is the way of love, of self-sacrifice, of compassion. Through his teachings, he made clear that your commandment to act justly and love mercy is still very much in effect. Through his obedience, he modeled what it means to walk humbly in your pathways. 

We ask Lord, that you tune the hearts of these leaders to yours, that their eyes would be open to the needs of every neighborhood in this city, and that their ears would hear the voices of all the households they represent, including those at the margins, the youngest, the oldest, and the most vulnerable among us. 

We ask you to pour out your Spirit in this place, drenching us all in your grace, that we might know what it means to love our neighbors in word and deed, even in the process of governing. 

In the name of the one who healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry and set captives free from all manner of bondage, Jesus the Christ, we pray. 

Amen.   

Of Bathrooms and Feet

You gave to us, to me, a new commandment

 

Love now
Love boldly
Love unconditionally
Love your way out of power and into solidarity
Love your way out of influence and into community

You are already clean
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

You are already mine
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

You are already powerful
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

You are finally awake
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

—-

When Maundy Thursday and NC HB2 collide

Going off the Grid

NaBloPoMo while Off the Grid

Today is the day.

Well, kind of.  I am sitting at the keyboard on Sunday, but through the magic of scheduled posts, I get to be a little timey-wimey in my imaginary Tardis and make this post appear on Wednesday.  Which is the day.

If all has gone according to expectations, at 4am eastern time, I will have gathered with 27 other intrepid Presbyterians to head from Tampa to Santa Clara, Cuba.

We’ll be in the central part of Cuba for a week, where we will not be using cell phones or laptops or any of the devices that I have become accustomed to having at my beck and call.  I actually got a camera and a watch to take with me.  I can’t remember the last time I wore a watch. Or carried a camera that wasn’t part of my phone. But I digress…

For the next 7 days, our group will be meeting with pastors and lay leaders of the churches in Central Cuba. My fellow PresbApopkaterian and I will visit two different churches, where we will learn how they are connecting with their communities, serving the people who are not yet members and how they move people into membership.  It’s much more complicated than our American model of church-shopping and church-joining.  But I get a sense that the barriers the churches are required to overcome are actually problems we face for very different reasons.  I suspect we have much to learn from our neighbors.

Since we’re off the grid, I’ll have to post pics and stories after the fact.   Which is probably just as well. The idea of being fully present on this trip is getting more and more appealing.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to get a handful of posts pre-loaded. Because you know, getting ready to leave the household and both jobs for a week while doing both jobs leaves so much time for writing bonus blog posts.  New Procrastination Level unlocked.

If you’re the praying type, I’d sure appreciate them – here are some specifics:

  • Safe travel today, during the week and during our return flight next Wednesday
  • No travel tummy or other health issues among the team members
  • Some recovery of all that Spanish I took in HS and College
  •  That we would be able to rest in strange surroundings
  • No drama on the home front for the Hubs and the Yaya
  • That we would indeed learn from our hosts and discern whether these are places we can partner for the long term.

Care and Feeding

Preaching the Great Ends of the Church
#3 – The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of God’s children.
Primary Scripture: Luke 2:41-51

When I first asked for a pet (beyond the outside dogs that we had growing up) mom sent me to the library. I looked up the kinds of animals my friends and classmates had – fish, cats, turtles, guinea pigs, gerbils…

I’d bring home the books, looking at all the pictures, especially the cute baby ones. But Mom would cut to the chase, asking me about the “Care and Feeding” section…

  • Where does it sleep?
  • What do you need for its bed or cage or whatever?
  • What do you feed it?
  • How much exercise does it need?

Of course, the most exotic pet my brother and I might think about was a colony of Sea Monkeys we saw advertised in comic books and kids’ magazines. Fast forward a couple of decades, and Paul and I are the parents asking about the “Care and Feeding” pages on websites that encourage families to welcome hedgehogs and sugar gliders and hermit crabs into their homes.

All I have to say is “Thank goodness for plain old dogs…”

Of course, if we back up a bit – to the months  before we first became parents, Paul and I did a lot of research on the care and feeding of small humans. This has become quite the industry, with plenty of debate over things like…

  • What’s the safest place & position for babies to sleep?
  • How do you keep them safe in the car?
  • What should they wear?
  • How often should they eat?
  • Is it really better to breastfeed?
  • Do you really need to use special laundry soap?

I hear – from some of you even – that I needn’t look forward to that changing.. that you spend a lifetime parenting. The questions just change…

Mary and Joseph could probably relate. The passage from Luke today is really the only glimpse into the life of Jesus we have between those early scenes in Bethlehem and the start of his ministry almost 30 years later.

Luke tells us Jesus is 12, which is right on the verge of becoming a man in the Jewish tradition. The family had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, along with as many people as could leave their small towns and villages.

It was a 2-day walk from Nazareth, so they likely stopped at the mid-point to set up camp with the others in their caravan. By then Jesus would have had younger siblings, Mary might even have been carrying a baby or watching a toddler – her own or someone else’s.  Jesus would have been walking with other boys his age (less likely girls), and they would probably have had someone’s eyes on them most of the time on their way to the city.

After the festival, the travelers would have gathered into caravans and bands,  based on what direction they were headed, with Mary and Joseph joining their extended family and community on the way back toward Nazareth. After a full day’s journey, as they set up camp at the midpoint, one of them finally noticed.

I always imagine the conversations between Mary, Joseph and the others followed the familiar  “I thought he was with you… “ “And I thought he stayed with you…” pattern that most every parent or babysitter has endured.

They hurried back to the city – which meant another full day of travel. They searched all over the city for three days. So from the time they left for home, it had been five days. Seriously.  1 out, 1 back, 3 in the city. 5  Days.

They found him in the Temple. We don’t know what drew them there… maybe someone was talking about a boy hanging out there and they thought it was him, maybe it was one of those God nudges. Whatever led them to the room, they finally found their precious and precocious man-child in the presence of a bunch of teachers who couldn’t say enough good things about him.  “He was amazing… Wise beyond his years…. Filled with insights.”

And he was in deep trouble.

Mary and Joseph were astonished, our scripture says. I suppose they were… But astonished could also have been translated as overwhelmed.

That feels closer to right to me… overwhelmed with frustration, fear, anger, joy…
overwhelmed with exhaustion…  relief….
overwhelmed with the realities of parenthood.

The exchange that follows might have been a little more colorful than Luke described, as well. Mary speaks first – possibly because she knows that Joseph won’t be able to speak without words that would cost the family a small fortune in sacrificial animals and a long period of confession and repentance.

So Mary dives in. “What were you thinking, Jesus?   You knew we were leaving! We have looked all over the place for you…Seriously… Your dad has aged 5 years in the past 5 days.  What were you thinking? Were you thinking?”

Jesus, implacable, possibly oblivious, but definitely straight to the point. answers her questions with one of his own…  “Why didn’t you come straight to the temple? You know who I am. You know why I am with you. Where else would I be, besides here… in my Father’s house… doing the work of God, my Father?”

Luke says they did not understand what he was saying to them. Or maybe they understood but still felt overwhelmed, imagining how it would only get worse as he got older and became a man.

“Let’s just go home, son”

Luke tells us Mary treasured these things in her heart. I suspect that means “Mary resolved never again to trust messengers who start the conversation by saying Be Not Afraid

Mary and Joseph found themselves doing exactly what every fully human parent has done since God invented belly buttons… The did the best they could do, given the circumstances. Under these capital-u unique circumstances, Mary and Joseph would probably have given anything for more clarity on the care and feeding of a young messiah.

They started with the basics, assuring that he had shelter – safety, a home,  protection from Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, and even before the manger in Bethlehem Joseph assured that his fiance and their unborn son would not be harmed, standing beside her as the pregnancy became obvious.

They brought Jesus to worship. They kept sabbath as a family and prayed and followed the customs in their home. They nurtured his curiosity and emerging faith. They assured that he knew the community- his extended family and those with whom they shared history and heritage as children of Israel.

Clearly, they were doing something right. Jesus felt right at home among the teachers, and the teachers welcomed him, took time to listen to him, and allowed Jesus to stay for a full five days.

The church is called upon to do exactly what Mary, Joseph and the teachers did  – provide for the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.

The church is all about the care and feeding of Christ’s disciples. We tend to think primarily of the older generations passing on our wisdom to those who come after.

Before recounting the works of God for the people of Israel in Psalm 78, the psalmist explains why the stories and the law are to be told and re-told to each generation:

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a decree in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their ancestors,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.

In order to live as children of God, we must recall and recount for one another who God is and was and what God has promised… not only in the covenants in the Hebrew scriptures, but in the new covenant… through Christ Jesus.

But when we speak of the children of God, it’s not just about age… Young or old, all who call upon Jesus as Lord have access to God the Father. We have been adopted. We are sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ.

That one word – ALL –  means that the Church must resist the temptation to rebuild the walls that Christ has broken down, the temptation to believe that some of God’s children are more or less worthy than others.

That is the challenge of being the beloved community, of taking seriously the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors, here in the room, outside these doors and around the world.

Jesus came for all – thus, the church must proclaim that good news to all, just as the church must pursue justice and pray for the welfare of the city on behalf of all who live therein.

So just how does the church – the Body of Christ – provide shelter and nurture? We get a picture of what God desires in Deuteronomy 10:

12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it…

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Certainly last Friday, this building was a sanctuary from the lightning and the pouring rain for those men, women and children who came for a hot lunch. They were cared for, nourished physically. They were prayed for and made to feel welcome. There was laughter and fellowship, There was a sweet spirit in Ranson Hall for that hour or so.

Those folks have heard they are welcome on a Sunday. Many of them are already children of God. Some of them might not yet make that claim.

But I wonder, in addition to a physical presence, how might this church provide a canopy of faith, a shelter of grace, under which we could all come together and experience God’s presence in and among one another?

How might we make this place a home for faith?
A place where hunger for God is sated?
A place where thirst for love and hope is quenched?

What do we need, what do we yet require – among ourselves and among those who would come alongside us- so that all might experience welcome when they come as strangers, and so that all might offer hospitality as the former stranger becomes part of the family?

I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of answers, not yet … but in our conversations about this congregation and its history, I am beginning to see patterns that make me think these are the right questions to ask…

And here’s a big one… How might we take advantage of the relationships and fellowship that are so foundational to this congregation?

How might we together explore the scriptures more deeply and begin to wrestle honestly with issues that might otherwise divide us?

How might our younger members share what they have learned and experienced as followers of Jesus, just as he did with the teachers and leaders in Jerusalem…

What work might God do through and among us, if we moved beyond social connections and into a deeper spiritual fellowship?  The kind of fellowship that can weather disagreements because we have spent time in prayer together. Because we have heard one another’s stories, laughed with one another, and carried one another’s sorrows. Because we have chosen to cast off judgment, sarcasm, jealousy and fear so that we might embrace honesty, compassion, empathy and trust.

What might God do in and through a community of faith that is truly committed to being shelter, offering nurture, and establishing spiritual fellowship that is open to all?

I don’t know… But I have to say, that is exactly the kind of church I want to be part of.

Part of the paperwork I had to submit in preparation for ordination was a Spiritual Biography- a one page description of what had shaped me and led me to understand my call to ministry. Thinking back and looking forward, I could see that I am shaped by community – by being part of a community that cares for and feeds this child and all God’s children.   Here’s how I described it:

As a child, going to church was like going home. We gathered to play and sing and enjoy great food. People who loved me told stories of how Jesus loved people everywhere, including right there in Central Texas. Church was where we shared bread and juice and lit candles. It was also where I learned to articulate my faith, including the understanding that God had work for me to do.

Church still feels like home; only now, it is where I get to wrestle with scriptures, put on my preaching shoes and do the work God made me to do. We gather to pray and sing and share covered dishes. We tell our stories of God’s provision. We light the advent candles and put out the tenebrae candles. And the church doors are open whenever and wherever we embody and proclaim Jesus’ deep, fierce love for all people.

I feel right at home in a church, so church feels like home. This church feels like home.

I’m not alone in my desire to experience that feeling in church, or my desire for all God’s children to feel at home. And this desire is nothing new.

Listen to this portion of a prayer from James McClure, president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, at a service of dedication for a church  in 1904:

My soul’s desire and prayer to God for this church is that its heart may be like unto the heart of God, that heart that loves every child of earth… O that this church may be bigger than any one creed, sect or class or race of color. May it be so big that any human being may feel at home here, may draw nigh to God here. May it be the mission of this church to tell every person in unmistakeable terms how dear they are- preciously dear – to God, and then to live those words in the magnanimity of its welcome, the warmth of its fellowship, and the generosity of its devotion.

I don’t often ask, but can I get an Amen?

In your mercy, Lord, hear this as our prayer for this, your church.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer – inspired by Ps 130

Gracious and Steadfast One,
we cry out to you and you alone,
believing that your ears are turned toward us
trusting that you will hear.

Our supplications tumble out, mingled with our praises
perhaps because we feel ourselves in the depths…
the depths of frustration
the depths of sorrow
the depths of exhaustion
the depths of business
the depths of distraction and even idolatry and sin.

The truth is, we cry out to you because we know you
We know that  – from the very beginning –
you have been creating, loving and reconciling.
You loved us long before we could return our love to you

As much as we think we wait for you, wait for a word from you
marking the days on the walls of our hearts,
You have actually been waiting for us –
Patiently, kindly, generously, faithfully waiting

And so we come, giving thanks and praise for who you are
offering up ourselves, honestly and simply,
believing with all our hearts that…
With confession comes forgiveness
With repentance, your restoration
Our seeking and watching leads us to your hope, which is deep and abiding
Our meager faith and faltering love calls out to your steadfast love and
great power to redeem…

All flowing from the depths of your grace

(insert community-specific supplications here)

For those in need of healing, of comfort and of your presence
For those in need of new beginnings and cleared records
For those in need of forgiveness and peace
For those in need of stability
For those in need of safety
We look up to you and ask simply and honestly for your help.

For those in seats of authority – over a few or over millions,
We look up to you and ask simply and honestly for your guidance

For those in places of war and violence
For those in households filled with anger and rage
For those who are confused or weep over decisions outside of their control
We look up to you and ask simply and honestly for your protection

For those experiencing joy and wholeness
For those buoyed by good news and walking hopefully for the first time in months
We look up to you and offer our simple and honest thanks

Would you keep us honest, keep us looking up, and keep us close?

We pray these and all those needs that have been left unspoken this morning in the name of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to pray by saying….

When You Pray, Part 2

Written for and delivered at First Presbyterian Church of Apopka
Primary text: Matthew 6:5-15, as well as Mark 10:46-52 and Genesis 18:20-33

This week we’ll focus a little more on the portion of this passage often called the Lord’s Prayer. We could actually call it the Disciples’ Prayer, given that it was provided for them – for us – as a structure to learn from, to follow in our private prayers.

That is the context here- Jesus has just provided two examples for how we ought (and ought not) to pray. First, the focus needs to be on God, not on us; personal prayer is not for the benefit of those who might see or overhear us.  Second,  the language we use should be simple, from the heart, and straightforward. God doesn’t need the frills or stall tactics. God knows your needs and is waiting for you to ask.

It strikes me that Jesus shows us what God’s waiting might look like when he meets Bartimaeus. Jesus would have known from the circumstances and the man’s appearance that he was blind. The man’s friends had encouraged him to seek help from Jesus, that this was his chance to be healed. When Bartimaeus calls out, Jesus comes over and he asks, “What is it that you want me to do for you?”

Every time I read this, I think… “Come on, Jesus…You know what he wants… “ He wants to healing.  He wants to stop begging. He wants his parents to be free of the stigma of a son whose disability must represent some unforgiven sin. He wants to see!

Jesus knows all of this, and that he can offer even more- new life – both physical and spiritual. But he gives the blind man the opportunity to ask, so that Bartimaeus has agency in the situation, and so that he and all those who witness it will know from whom the healing comes.

You see, praying also pushes us into a space in which we must come to terms with what we have, what we are hoping or longing for, to whom we entrust those requests, and to whom our gratitude will ultimately flow.

When we begin the prayer Jesus teaches with Our Father in Heaven, we are placed in conversation with God. And God replies with tender love and great patience, What is it that you want me to do for you?

Jesus teaches us that we are praying to God as we would approach our own fathers. It’s possible that in speaking, Jesus might have used the more familiar term “Abba” – but he definitely intends a parental term. In our time, we might think of Father as formal, but it is far more personal than Adonai, or Lord as would be used in corporate Hebrew prayer,

God is not only Jesus’ father , but ours. And when we learn to make that claim in prayer, we are trusting that God is a good father, one who has our best interests at heart. But in the next phrase, Hallowed be your name, Jesus reminds us that name of God is to be cherished as holy and set apart, unlike the other gods of the ancient world, whose names and likenesses are recorded. The God who chose the Hebrew people never revealed a name beyond “I am.” We are approaching a God who is familiar, yet mysterious, loving and yet powerful.

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.

God’s kingdom and will are not of this realm, at least not yet. Not entirely. But God’s will is still done here on earth. We can see it, and thus we can express the hope of God’s kingdom to come. And we can pray in expectation of the changes that God’s will can and does bring to bear in our lives and in the affairs of the world.

When we pray this, if we mean what we pray, we’d best expect that God is listening and that God is able to do what we ask and more than we can imagine. But we also need to expect that God is aware of much more than we can imagine, can see far past our own horizons. God’s will won’t always match up with our will and that therefore, God’s answers won’t always satisfy our desires. As any child from Central Florida who has ever prayed for a snow day can attest…

But the fact that we are not building snowmen does not mean that prayer has not effect. Our reading from Genesis is a conversation between God and Abraham, in which Abraham challenges the Lord, boldly requesting that God reconsider his plans to destroy Sodom.

There’s a lot going on in this story that we won’t be able to dive into today. But I want to point out a couple of things that apply directly to our conversation on prayer. Abraham approaches God with a mixture of familiarity and humility.  He knows God, has been on quite a long journey with God. Abraham has made mistakes, as we do. And through them, Abraham has learned much of God’s nature – of grace and mercy, of faithfulness. And Abraham has experienced God as a conversation partner.

Over time, Abraham learns that God will follow through, though not always how and when Abraham might prefer. So when Abraham approaches God, he does so trusting that God will listen, which God does.  God’s timing is not always our preferred timing; God’s provision is not always what we expect. But Jesus teaches us to pray for timely provision…

Give us this day, our daily bread.

This particular line is really interesting, and it’s hard to translate. The word translated as daily only shows up here, in Luke’s version of this teaching and in an early discipleship document called the Didache. If you break it down, by root and prefix, you could go with  day to day or of the day.

So we could pray, “day by day, give us the bread we need.”  I suspect Jesus was calling to mind God’s provision of manna to the people of Israel in the wilderness – just enough day to day, not more, not less. It’s harder for us here and now, to understand. Especially we who have plenty.

This was a prayer addressing a very real need for many of Jesus’ followers. It addresses a very real need for many people around us, and around the world. I wonder, as people of plenty, who often have more food than we need in a day, more stuff than we need in a lifetime… I wonder if we might be the answer to someone else’s prayer today. If we might provide someone with the bread or the blanket or the cash they need for today, or tonight or tomorrow

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors

There’s a subtle difference there between the way we typically recite this prayer and the way Matthew captured it. Did you catch it?   As we also HAVE FORGIVEN By the time we ask the Lord to forgive us our debts, we are to have already forgiven others ourselves. We should approach God for forgiveness only after we have released someone else of that burden.

I fear our current prayer “as we forgive…” might give us a little more wiggle room than was intended, especially when you drop down to verse 14. The warning here is that holding onto grievances, keeping account of debts- emotional or financial- lacking forgiveness, letting the sun set on our anger… any and all of these keep us from experiencing the fullness of God’s forgiveness.

How very different our lives can be when we are freed from the bondage of anger over disputes and slights from the past. How very different our communities could be when we work to reconcile those differences that cause brothers and sisters to walk away, wishing harm or at least some small amount of smiting would befall those with whom we are angry. And how very different the world might be if the people who gather in God’s house were to model that sort of grace and forgiveness often and publicly.

This is what Jesus is teaching… We are to approach the throne of grace daily, asking not only for our material needs, but for God to speak grace and love over our debts, our sins, enabling us to forgive still more. But our personal needs are not separate from our place within the community, the family. What we say and do and give to one another matters both to our spiritual health individually and as a body – the Body of Christ.

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one

If sin is that which separates us from God, and pulls our attentions away from our first love, the temptations and trials against which we seek protection are myriad, including the sin of isolation.

We cannot isolate our prayer life from our economic and social activity if we are to be in honest and straightforward conversation with ourselves and God. We must be aware of how our actions and our inaction, how our relationships with our neighbors and with our environment affect the provision of daily bread for all.

And we must be aware of how our actions and our inaction, how our words and our silence affect our families, friends, neighbors, and the sisters and brothers with whom we worship, whether they are in need of forgiveness or a chance to forgive.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to develop relationships open enough to be that accountable. Actually, I doubt it’s just me, otherwise we humans wouldn’t be so skilled at building walls & fences, crafting curtains and shades for windows, and creating firewalls and passwords to maintain some space between us.

Maintaining honesty with the one who will return to judge the quick and the dead – who knows when a fair falls from my head, thus already knows that thing I’m still ticked off about from last year – I find the idea of being that known really intimidating.  And maybe a little bit freeing. After all, it’s a lot less work when you aren’t trying to hide…

Of course, the God who knows my needs before I speak them, knows my heart intimately. God knows my sins, knows my grudges, knows my fears, knows my doubts.

And knowing all those things, all those things, even still God loves me
Knowing all those things, even still God loves you.
Even still, God loves us.

And God listens,
Ready to strengthen, to comfort, to heal, to forgive.
Ready to guide, to reconcile, to build up, to renew

And still God is asking, “What is it that you want me to do for you?”