Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Ministry of Jesus

Matthew 6:9-15
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Is there anybody here this morning who doesn't know this prayer from memory?

It is the greatest prayer in Christianity --- but it is also the strangest.

  • It is prayed by all Christians --- yet it never mentions Jesus
  • It is prayed in all churches ---- yet it never mentions the Church
  • It is prayed every Sunday --- but it does not mention the "Lord's Day"
  • We call it the "Lord's Prayer" but it never mentions the "Lord

Strange isn't it?

  • It never mentions --- the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, miracles, Jesus atoning death or even his bodily resurrection --- yet this prayer is central to fundamentalists
  • It never mentions that we should evangelize --- or even the gospel --- yet it is central to evangelical Christians.
  • It never mentions charisma --- or the Holy Spirit --- yet all Pentecostal Christians embrace this prayer

This is indeed the strangest prayer

No doctrine is mentioned

Sacrificial atonement for sin is not mentioned

It never mentions heaven, hell or the next life

This is a prayer that is prayed by people who emphasize what this prayer does not

But it is also prayed by people who ignore what it says.

But what if this prayer is really none of those things that we have often thought it was?

What if this prayer is really a prayer (as John Dominic Crossan calls it) --- a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world?

What if this prayer is a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth?

Why would I say that?
Why would I call this a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope --- and what does that mean for you and me today?

I call this prayer revolutionary because it proclaims God's radical vision of justice

It is a hymn of hope because it follows the tradition of biblical poetry in offering hope for a better world.

Justice is one of the most important concepts in the Bible ---- but What is justice?

For most of us --- when we hear the word JUSTICE it means retributive justice
          Somebody has to PAY for what happened

If you are to look up the word in a dictionary you would find a definition like this:
the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals

But when you look at the Biblical concept of Justice the meaning is a bit different

In the Biblical context --- justice does not mean retribution --- it means distributive justice

To be just means to deliver everything fairly

It is equitable distribution of whatever you have in mind
          Even if that is retribution or punishment

The Bible constantly talks of God as a God of "justice and righteousness"

Psalm 99:4
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

Isaiah 33:5
The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness;

Jeremiah 9:24
but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

Justice and Righteousness really express the same concept

A God of Justice and Righteousness is a God who does what is just by doing what is right and does what is right by doing what is just.

God's world must be distributed fairly and equitably among all God's people.

It derives from the experience of a well run home, household or family farm.

If you were to walk into this home or farm how would you judge the householder?

You would probably look around and ask yourself questions like:
  • Are the fields well tended?
  • Are the animals properly provisioned?
  • Are the buildings adequately maintained?
  • Are the children and dependents well fed, clothed, and sheltered?
  • Are the sick being tended too?
  • Are responsibilities and returns apportioned fairly?

That is how God visions the kingdom.

God is the householder and wants everybody to experience justice and righteousness.
          Everybody to have a chance and opportunity.

And God asks us those questions on a global scale.

That's what the Lord's Prayer is really all about.

But it is also a hymn of hope.

Especially for those on the outside --- the Lord's Prayer --- this greatest prayer is one of hope for a better --- more just world.

Let's take a look at it
          Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.

The first thing we should note is how personal this prayer is.

In the Greek it is not a stuffy word like father that is used --- but what the word really suggests is Daddy.

Jesus is telling us that we are in a relationship with a very personal God

Luke's version has no mention of heaven, but Matthew's does but it is a vision of God's Kingdom:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The heart of Jesus message is the coming of God's kingdom

A kingdom that Jesus life and ministry illustrate time and time again --- a kingdom of justice

Micah 6:8    (NRSV)
He 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?

Isaiah 2:4    (NRSV)
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

Throughout the scriptures this message of Justice is always there.

God is a God of Justice and the kingdom is one of justice.  Not just for us --- but for all

          Give us this day our daily bread.
The people Jesus ministered with were the common peasants of 1st Century Palestine.

Every day was a struggle

There was no guarantee of food on the table

Bread was the staple of life

But is this request for daily sustenance?
or for the bread at the messianic banquet?

Regardless, it is a petition to God asking God to distribute to all of God's children the bread that they all need.

The next petition in Luke is different than that in Matthew.  In Matthew we hear that common phrase that we pray each week:
          Forgive us our trespasses (or debts)

Luke changes it to:
And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Again, regardless of sins or debts or trespasses the message here seems pretty simple.

A recognition that in order to truly experience forgiveness, we need to be offering it.

The kingdom will be a place where love reigns and not retaliation or retribution.

Finally Luke ends with:
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Again in Matthew it is different for Matthew says
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one

In some ways those are two very different requests.

Matthew is reminding us that we have a God whom we can call on for strength when we find ourselves in those moral quandaries.

So what do we do with this radical prayer?


But let me offer some tips on how to do that.

  1. Think of it as a "choke" to get a cold engine started.
Pray the Lord's Prayer to "warm your spirit" so that you can more easily enter into other praying and meditation.

  1. Pray it, thinking about the meaning of each petition.
Ask yourself questions such as,
"With this line, what am I asking God to do?"
"What am I (or should I be) offering of myself in making this petition?"
"Which petitions are the hardest for me to really mean when I pray them -- and why?"
"What do I need to rethink, redo or repent of in light of what I am requesting?"
"What else should I pray for as a result?"

  1. Use its lines as the topics of a prayer journal.
Keep notes under each petition about how you have responded to, changed, gained new understanding or still need to learn about the subjects of that petition.

  1. Use it as model for your own prayers.

  1. Pray it when your mind rebels against praying your own prayers.
Praying something is better than praying nothing.

  1. Pray it when your heart is aching so bad that you can't form your own petitions. It may become a channel through which God's Spirit can flow to you.

  1. Let it be a shorthand way to teach your kids about talking to God.

Most importantly --- let the words of this prayer fill your hearts and minds with the radical – unconditional love of God ----- and let that be a sign of hope in your life!

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