Thursday, August 25, 2016

25 august 2016
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“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.” Matthew 6:7-15 (NRSV)

“So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.” 1 Kings 18:26-29 (NRSV)

            Good morning, and thank you for joining me. This morning we will take one final look at prayer; specifically the Lord’s Prayer. As many commentators have noted, this prayer might be more appropriately named the disciples prayer, since it was given by our Lord to the disciples as an example of how to pray. Before we get into the prayer itself, let’s take a quick look at what heaping up empty prayers may have meant.
            Briefly put, the 1 Kings passage is a good example of empty phrases-vain repetitions, as the King James puts it. Notice two things here. First, the texts implies one phrase was repeated, over and over and over-answer us. The focus was on the petitioners. Second, as was their custom, they offered their own blood as a sacrifice as they raved on. Again, the text seems to imply some sort of frenzied activity. The point here is this-these people seemed to be more interested in manipulating their god into responding than engaging in any type of dialogue (actually, that’s exactly what they were doing, as the story makes clear). Roman custom may have been a different in actual practice, but the intent was the same-manipulating their gods to obtain a favorable result. Most commentators agree pagan Romans had a list of gods; they would go down the list of names hoping to get the right god to respond. Jesus says this kind of prayer is not necessary; our Father-the one and only God-already knows what we need (and will not allow Himself to be manipulated).
            Now, the prayer itself has been written about, analyzed and commented on for centuries, so don’t expect any new, earth-shaking revelations here. I would like to make a few brief comments, and offer a couple practical suggestions. The most important thing to see is this prayer is totally God-centered. We acknowledge God is in heaven-a Holy God in His holy place. We ask for His kingdom and His will-His benevolent rule on earth. We are saying God is God and we are not. He is sovereign and will do as He pleases; we trust His goodness in all things at all times.
            Our personal petitions are also God-centered. We ask for his continued blessings day to day because He is the ultimate source for all we have. Jesus promises His hearers God will provide for His children. He is the source of our forgiveness. Of the six petitions, this is the one Jesus focuses on-the one that wraps things up. We are obligated to offer forgiveness to others because God first offered forgiveness to us. Finally, simply put, we are asking for God’s protection. The NRSV translates vs. 13 a little differently from what you might be used to; the footnotes provide an alternate reading.  My practice, whenever an alternate reading is indicated, is to use it along with the primary-not either/or but both. This way, we get the full meaning of the text-which may very well have more than one intended meaning. Here, in either reading there is a hint of things to come here, an active force opposed to God which we cannot resist apart from His help.
            Now, here’s a few things you can do with this prayer which may help keep you oriented towards God in your day to day lives. In the first few minutes after you wake up, before you get out of bed, make it a habit to pray this prayer. This will start you off pointed in the right direction. Another thing you can do is couple the prayer with a meditative breathing technique during the course of your day. A pastor I know recommended this, which combines the prayer with a meditative breathing technique-breath in a line; hold it; breathe out a line. Repeat as often as necessary. I have reminders set on my watch for noon and four pm; when they go off I stop what I’m doing and pray the Lord’s Prayer. Last Friday I was sitting around the table in the church kitchen when the noon reminder went off. I explained what it was, and someone said ‘well, pray’. So we did. However you pray, remember the focus is on God. We are coming under His authority, seeking His presence, His involvement in our lives.

 May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG


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