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Praying with Jesus

August 26th, 2011 No comments

“Praying with Jesus” (Matthew 6:1-18)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
July 31, 2011, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

I need to come clean on something here. I have never done well with bedtime devotions. I’m afraid that more often than I’d like to admit, I fell asleep during family devotions before bed. And I’ve been on spiritual retreats where you’re supposed to sit and reflect and pray, but all my mind does is wonder and wonder, and my eyes persist in drooping. I doubt if becoming a contemplative spiritual master will ever be in my future.

But I remember one night my freshman year in college. I had been just swamped with schoolwork, and I knew I’d been struggling to keep Jesus at the center of it all. Late at night, after I had finished my studying and writing. I felt a nudge to just go outside and take a walk around campus, and I found myself praying. And then I was outside again the next night. And the night after that.

And all four years, I continued to find myself on the sidewalks at Bethel late at night before going to bed. I never told anyone what I was doing until the end of my senior year, and I would get the strangest looks, like “What are you doing going outside at 2am in the middle of winter when it’s 0 degrees outside?”

So I’d go and traipse around campus, and the buildings would help guide my praying as I passed them, from simply listening to God, to prayers for mentors and professors and folks suffering around the world, and friends and family. And on my way back to my dorm, I’d pause across the green from the Administration building, and I’d remember the college’s motto from 1 Corinthians: “Other foundation can no one lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And I’d ponder if Jesus really was my foundation, or if school or friends or work had replaced the stone foundation with the sands of transience, of self, of busy-ness. And God would call me again and again to build my life around Christ, to center my learning, my relationships, my work around God, to let God breathe in me and through me.

And I would wonder what it means to build a life around Jesus. I’d wonder what it means to live a life of prayer, of radical simplicity, of service, of peace and witness, of justice and love. I’d wonder and try to listen for what it means to take up my cross, and what it means to be made alive again, what it means to be a child.

It was the strangest thing (and probably looked a little creepy – a solitary person wondering around campus late at night), but I encountered God there, and God reminded me of the things that are most important – to seek first the kingdom. And at the end of every walk, I would pray and ponder the Lord’s Prayer.

Well, I don’t do late night walks any more, but this simple prayer that Jesus taught us has remained an important part of my life. So this morning’s sermon will be a little different. I would like for us to pray this prayer together. After we pray each phrase, there will be silence for us to ponder and listen, and the I will share some of what I have heard as I have prayed this prayer over the years, and I invite you also to be listening, and to share what you hear during our sharing time this morning. So let us pray and listen together.

Our Father in Heaven

[Silence]

We pray to our Father, so that even when we are praying alone, we are reminded that prayer is something we all do together. Together, we are God’s people, where “my” and “mine” are things of the past. There’s so much in the world that tries to rob us of the divine gift of community, subtly “seducing us to settle for independence over interdependence,” for “security over sacrifice.”1 But our praying reminds us that we are living members of Christ’s body – the beloved community of the new creation.

We address our Father in Heaven. God’s name is so holy that it is not even spoken. Yet to call God “Father” is not to keep God at a safe distance. If God is our Father, then God is drawing near to us. As I pray to our Father, I’m reminded that in Jesus’ culture, fathers were the lifeline of the family. In a patriarchal society, fathers were the authority and centerpiece for provision. Jesus suggests that we have one Father. We have been reborn, and only God may be seen as Father, our Provider and Authority. And if God is our Father, then think just how big our family must be!

Let your name be hallowed –

[Silence]

Our prayer does not begin with our own requests, but with worship and the dream of God’s kingdom. The Old Testament scriptures long for a coming time when God’s name will be hallowed as it should be. When we honor and worship God, we become a little foretaste of that future.

In the stories of promises and covenants, we discover that out of all the peoples of the world, God chose Israel to be God’s own and to bear God’s name. God revealed the law to Israel, that Israel might be a light to the nations. Their life together was to be a witness to how God desires all people to live. “To know the life of Israel was to know the love of Israel’s God.”2 Jesus came and fulfilled this calling, living a life worthy of God’s name. Those who live by faith in him are also branded with the name of God. To pray, “Let your name be hallowed,” is to pray that we would be holy, that God would teach us a new way of life.

Let your kingdom come –

[Silence]

Jesus came and announced a kingdom that’s not of this world. It’s the kingdom that Israel’s prophets dreamed of, a kingdom of deliverance and salvation, a kingdom of peace and joy, a kingdom of God’s light and healing, a kingdom justice and righteousness, of forgiveness reconciliation and restoration and coming home.

Jesus talked about his disciples as being a city on a hill and a light for the world. It’s like we’re little colonies of God’s Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Paul had said that we’re ambassadors for Christ. We get to become coworkers in the kingdom.We’re little outposts of God’s reign and God’s future.

The book of Revelation ends with the fulfillment of our common prayer: The New Jerusalem descends from heaven and becomes a city on earth. God’s reign is to be a reality right here among us. It’s like Jesus is the trailblazer of God’s kingdom, and he has given us this glimpse, this vision of the kingdom like what John, the author of Revelation, had, and Jesus taught for us to pray for that vision to come in full, and he has invited us to participate in his redemptive work for God’s kingdom.

Let your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven –

[Silence]

As I pray, “your will be done,” I am reminded that this is the very prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest: “not what I will, but what you will.” As we pray this prayer, we are training ourselves to follow Jesus in yielding our will to God’s will, God’s will might become our will, that our desires might be conformed to God’s desires. Praying this prayer raises our awareness of where our will is out of sync with God’s will, so we pray to have the mind of Christ (Php. 2:5).

Praying for God’s will to be done reminds us that we don’t have to pretend to know all the answers; instead, we pray and listen for God’s will, especially in the life of Jesus. And we pray and listen earnestly, “Let your will be done. . . in our marriage. . . in how I speak to others. . . in my use of money. . . in how I share your love with all my life.”

Give us this day our daily bread

[Silence]

Praying for daily bread reminds me of the overwhelming poverty of Jesus’ listeners, and of many of our neighbors as well. Most of us have pantries and deep freezes and fridges so stuffed with food cuts of meat and fruits and vegetables and casseroles and ice cream that we can’t even imagine what it means to pray for bread. But we can’t possibly pray this prayer on Sunday, and then neglect those in need on Monday. I’m reminded of how this prayer became reality for the early church – how the believers gave to all in need and found abundance in sharing God’s generosity.

This prayer is a prayer of total trust and dependence on God. We struggle with this. We hedge our bets with storehouses of provision in case God’s runs out. Jesus warned his disciples about seeking recognition and status – even the temptation to turn God into an idol serving our ambitions. But Jesus says to pray alone – to rely solely on God instead of human recognition.

We might also translate this, “Give us today our coming bread.” What does it mean to pray for tomorrow’s bread to come today? What does it mean to taste something of God’s future? What does it mean to taste the kingdom coming? How can we live now in a way that gives other a foretaste of the coming Kingdom?

And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors

[Silence]

When I pray this, I’m reminded of Jesus’ first proclamation of the gospel: “The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15). To repent means to change one’s course and one’s mind – to follow a new path. In my imagination, I see Jesus pointing to the Kingdom, and saying, “Good news! God’s Kingdom is coming! Turn around! Change your direction, look over here, and follow a new path!”As we pray this prayer, we become aware of when we aren’t living as Kingdom people – when we’re selfish, unfaithful, hateful, lusting, greedy, hostile, vengeful, hypocritical, pretentious, anxious, dishonest, and prideful.

Forgiveness frees us from our broken ways to follow Jesus. So often we miss just how radical the message of forgiveness is. But in a culture bent on retribution, cool application of justice, getting what I deserve, and lusting after punishment, forgiveness is a radically different orientation for life. It’s interesting that quite often when Jesus preached about repentance, he was addressing peasants – folks forced off their land, controlled by foreigners, always at risk of falling into debt slavery – oppressed people. Oddly enough, he didn’t usually preach to them about how their evil oppressors needed to repent, but rather that they themselves needed to repent. They themselves needed to repent of their hostility, seek forgiveness and learn to forgive, and participate in God’s grace by living as kingdom people now already. That’s where they would find their freedom and fulfillment.

Jesus reminds his followers that the power of prayer depends on our own practice of forgiveness (Mt. 6:14-15). Kingdom people don’t carry around grudges. They weigh us down too much and prevent us from giving ourselves full and energetically to the work of God’s Kingdom.

And lead us not into temptation

[Silence]

Sometimes, I think this maybe means, “Let us not sin when we are tested,” and we will be tested, just as Jesus himself was. As long as we are praying for God’s Kingdom, we will be tested, because not everyone wants God’s Kingdom to come, and the kingdoms of the world have perfected their art of seduction.

If we believe ourselves to be above temptation, chances are the Tempter has already won. We need to beware of the “almost good” things. The Tempter is craft and sometimes knows better than to tempt us with the clearly evil things, but rather to settle for the “almost good” – just shy of God’s Kingdom. Or the Tempter keeps us busy with “important” work to distract us from Kingdom Work.

Jesus wasn’t tempted in the wilderness to hurt anyone; he was tempted to make bread and dazzle the public and rise to power, by giving his allegiance to Satan. Instead, he chose to trust God’s Kingdom and God’s ways. I sometimes wonder what Jesus’ last temptation was. Was it in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before his arrest? Did the Tempter whisper in his ear that his followers wouldn’t understand his death? Did he show Jesus the centuries of blood spilled in his name, and say, “Do you really want to die for this?” Or was the last temptation at the cross, as nearly every sort of onlooker imaginable paraded by to mock him, bearing the Tempter’s words on their lips: “If you are God’s son, come down from there!” Was he tempted to prove himself in displays of power?

Our faithful obedience is to be conformed to that of Jesus, who remained faithful even unto death. This, I think, is what we are to pray for.

But deliver us from evil

[Silence]

The way of the cross is not the way of safety and comfort. Jesus was not delivered from evil (apparently!); instead, he was handed over to evil that he might deliver us. Evil seemed to triumph, but it did not have the last word. Deliverance from evil may initially look different than what we imagine. Paul understood it this way. Deliverance from sin and evil involves suffering, crucifixion, dying with Jesus (e.g. Rom. 6; 8:13; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 4:11; Gal. 2; 5:24; Col. 3:5).

Jesus warned us not to worry about those things that can destroy the body – we’re to worry about those things that can destroy the soul (Mt. 10:28). Maybe the scariest place for a follower of Jesus to be is in safety and comfort, securely removed from the suffering of the world, where we forget to pray for daily bread because we do not need to.

For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.

[Silence]

What would happen if every person at Grace Hill Mennonite Church – from age 2 to age 92 – would pray this prayer every day for one month – or even for a year? What would happen if this prayer that Jesus taught us would come to define us? What if this prayer would become like our mission statement as we seek God’s kingdom and God’s will here in Kansas or in Texas? What do you think would happen? How would God use such a simple act of obedience and worship? How would we be changed?

Our Father in Heaven
Let your name be hallowed –
Let your kingdom come –
Let 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 forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.

Amen.

Notes:
1. Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, 19.
2. Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove, 28.

A Brief Exegesis of Matthew 6:11 (// Luke 11:3)

April 29th, 2010 No comments

I thought it would be fitting to begin this blog with an exegesis of Matthew 6:11, the source of this site’s name. It’s a fascinating study that involves a good amount of Greek, so hang on for the ride!

Translating επιούσιος (“Daily”)

The Greek term επιούσιος is notoriously difficult to translate, occurring only twice in the entire New Testament (Mt. 6:11 // Luke 11:3), with only two possible but disputed occurrences outside the New Testament. The extreme rarity of this term, coupled with the fact that it appears in both Matthew and Luke at the same place, likely indicates that Matthew and Luke had a common Greek source, such as the posited Q source, or that one writer used the other as a source. Recalling that Jesus spoke Aramaic, it is possible that whoever translated the prayer into Greek used this particularly obscure construction to capture some complexity of meaning in Aramaic that is difficult to translate into Greek. In fact, Origen posited that the gospel writers themselves invented the term. Arland J. Hultgren notes four possibilities for translation and etymology:1

  1. “Necessary/For subsistence.” The etymology here is επί (“for”) + ουσία (“being/existence/substance”). The main weakness to this option is that the iota is generally elided (dropped) in such a situation; we would expect επούσιος instead.
  2. “For the existing [day].” Eπιούσιος is a contraction of επί την ούσαν (“for the existing/present”). This option also suffers from the same elision problem as above.
  3. “Coming [day].” Eπιούσιος is a participle of έπειμι (“come upon”). A common participial usage is ή έπιούσα ήμερα (“the coming day”), often abbreviated ή έπιούσα. Eπιούσιος is then formed from επιουσ + ιος. Using this etymology, the translation is, “Give us today our bread for/of the coming [day].” Some additional support comes from the extra-canonical “Gospel according to the Hebrews,” which translates “of tomorrow.” But why not use the more familiar participial forms — or even the familiar noun αύριον (“tomorrow”)?
  4. “Coming bread.”  The etymology remains the same as 3), but the adjective now modifies “bread” instead of “day.”

Textual Context

Matthew and Luke differ slightly with their presentation of the phrase in question. The imperative “Give” is in the aorist active tense in Matthew (similar to the way we usually think of imperatives), while Luke uses the progressive active tense, indicating repeated action. Furthermore, Matthew and Luke have chosen different adverbial constructions to modify “Give.” Matthew uses σήμερον (“today/this day”), while Luke uses καθ’ ήμεραν (“daily”), which answers Luke’s iterative imperative nicely. Therefore, we have Matthew: “Give us today our επιούσιον bread,” and Luke: “Continue giving us daily our επιούσιον bread.”

Luke’s usage of the imperative and the adverb indicate a sort of continual action. Interestingly, Luke uses the same adverbial construction in 9:23, “. . . take up their cross daily,” an addition to the statement as recorded in Mark and Matthew. Some have wondered whether Matthew and Luke both added the adverbial modifier in order to clarify the meaning of the obscure επιούσιον; however, it is probably more likely that Luke simply modified the phrase so that it would flow with the larger themes of day-by-day discipleship in his Gospel. Furthermore, Exodus 16:5 LXX contains the same adverbial construction, and Luke may be making a canonical connection (Huldgren).

Indeed, in choosing the vocabulary of bread, Jesus pulled in a richness of biblical significance. I imagine that the Exodus story was most immediate in his listeners’ imaginations: unleavened bread at the Passover and manna (“bread from heaven”) in the wilderness. The idea of “coming bread” captures this powerful memory of bread coming from God. The New Testament — especially the gospels — further adds to its significance: the Last Supper, feeding the multitudes, “not by bread alone,” the Bread of Life, and so forth.

Eschatology

Much of the discussion so far has been implicitly pointing toward the question of the role of eschatology in interpreting this phrase. Eschatology literally has to do with “last things.” However, biblical eschatology follows a slightly different paradigm of the fulfillment of things. We generally tie in ideas of salvation or the “big picture”. I like to think of it has having to do with “the coming fullness of God’s Reign,” or “the full realization of God’s New Creation.”

Clearly, the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come,” is eschatological. So is the second, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The overlapping of heaven and earth, or the coming of heaven to earth, is a common biblical eschatological motif, indicating God’s sphere of influence being present in the entire created order.

But the eschatology of the remaining petitions is debated. Clearly, there is a “dailiness” to them — especially in Luke’s version. We need bread each day. Forgiveness is needed each new day, and deliverance too. But need daily discipleship preclude eschatological hope in this passage?  I don’t believe so for several reasons, two of which follow:

First, each successive petition in the Lord’s Prayer can be seen as supporting the first (“Thy kingdom come”). Further, each successive petition is a sign of God’s kingdom: God’s will is done (God reigns); all have bread, which comes from God (justice); forgiveness abounds (righteousness and mercy); and God’s deliverance reigns (peace and victory).

Second, the New Testament affirms both a realized and an expectant eschatology. That is, in the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God’s future has begun, God’s reign has been inaugurated, the Spirit has come, and creation is being restored! At the same time, we hope for a coming fulfillment of what is begun. Holding these two convictions together, the church sees itself as a foretaste of the coming fullness of God’s reign. Day-to-day discipleship becomes a sign, instrument, and agent of God’s New Creation. Daily discipleship is therefore an eschatological act, and the traditional wedge between dailiness and eschatology is overstated.

Conclusion

So, what are we left with? I think Jesus purposefully chose a rich image and at least somewhat unique vocabulary in Aramaic (which also found its way into the Greek) to communicate a multifaceted idea. At its most basic level, the petition is a corporate prayer for simple human needs (a sign of God’s future). It is also a prayer that recognizes the sustenance that comes from God alone (our “coming bread”).  And it goes beyond in fervent expectation of sharing and becoming a foretaste of God’s tomorrow. I think “coming bread” is the translation that best captures the richness of meaning being communicated here. I also think “bread of tomorrow” is highly evocative and a correct expression of one meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, which beautifully captures our future hope expressed already in the present. In the case of naming a website, aesthetics wins over exegesis!

Notes:
1. Arland J. Hultgren, “The Bread Petition of the Lord’s Prayer,” Anglican Theological Review Supplemental Series (11 March 1990): 41-54.

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