Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lord’s Prayer

Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is 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 don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father won’t forgive your transgressions.
Matthew 6.9-15

Most people call it “The Lord’s Prayer,” and pluck it from the SOM as a whole and turn it into a magical incantation.  We won’t do that here. 

What you need is to remember to keep thinking contextually, so that this is just a small insert into a larger sermon – and then convert your learning into action.  If you don’t learn, your ignorance will cost you dearly, but if you don’t take action on your knowledge, you’ve just built a beach-house on the sand in a hurricane zone.

First, let me remind you that probably Jesus preached the different parts of the SOM on different occasions, and Matthew put it all together as if it were one sermon.  Matthew put thought into this and was guided by the Holy Spirit – so the way it’s organized matters. 

This is in the middle of a section that began with the simple theme introduced earlier:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 6.1)
After that simple ‘theme’ statement, Jesus itemizes three acts of righteousness his disciples are to practice in private: giving, prayer and fasting.  The section concludes when Jesus told his disciples that they need not live with stress, fear, anxiety as is common among people in the world, for we have a Divine Father who loves us.  If we focus on His (Kingdom) business instead of earthly, daily stuff, we can live free of these other things.  In that last section he’s talking about being free from concerns over money, food and clothing … and in these early three things, he’s talking about being free from concerned about what other people think. 

The whole of chapter 6 is really about something simple:
If you live for God, He will take care of you, and you’ll be free. 
If your attention is divided between eternal things and temporal things, you’ll be a slave to your own temptations, anxieties, fears, stresses, and worries. 

So why does Matthew insert this prayer? 
Do you see that the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is inserted here and it’s almost awkward?  I’m not sure … but I suspect Matthew inserted it here for two reasons: first - it was convenient, because he happened to be quoting Jesus on prayer anyway; and second - he wanted to remind them again about forgiveness.  We've already seen the theme of forgiveness in the SOM, and we’ll see it again. 

In fact, for Matthew (remember he was a ‘sinner’ and a ‘tax collector’ in the eyes of his fellow Jews) forgiveness is a very prominent theme.  Forgiveness is a two-way thing.  God has forgiven us of so much … how can we yet be condemning of others?  This notion of forgiveness and its ugly opposite (hypocrisy) is repeated again and again in Matthew.  Do not ignore this important lesson!  Of all the teachings of scripture, all the strange doctrine we can argue over and religious rituals we observe, there is one thing that stands above it all:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13, 12:7)
This theme is the dividing line between religious people and repentant sinners.  Religious people sit satisfied (and even happy) in their smug belief that they are “good enough,” while sinners recognize that we are so flawed, it’s impossible to look down on anyone and be judgmental. 

Sinners are lost
Repentant sinners rejoice in their repentance and struggle to help others, while …
Religious people raise their hands, sing praise and thank God that they are saved:
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14)

Do you “trust in yourself,” and are confident that you’re righteous?  Of course this is the lesson taught consistently in our culture.  “Believe in yourself, follow your own voice, and know that God loves you, no matter what,” say many of our religious teachers.  Wow – where do you suppose they learned to talk that way, from Jesus, or by listening to other modern voices?

The basics of Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer are simple: the focus is on God and others.  All we ask for ourselves is not to be given too much or too little (just daily bread), to be kept from temptation, and to be forgiven.  Meanwhile we focus on the kingdom. 

The challenge for each of us is to change our point of view.  When God’s will (His business and His Kingdom) becomes the most important thing in our lives, then we've made the important first step. 

As we grow and mature, it’ll no longer be the most important thing to us – it’ll be the only thing.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;
but only one thing is necessary.”
(Luke 10:41-42)

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