Lord’s Prayer – Part 1

Over the next few days, the devotions will be focused on a common and frequently utilized prayer within the Christian community, the Lord’s Prayer. By examining the words found in this prayer, the opportunity to obtain a deeper understanding may be possible. This will enrich those times when we share in the prayer either as a community of faith or individually.

The most common source of words used in the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew 6:9b-13. A shorter version of these words are located in Luke 11:2-4.

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9b-13 (NIV)

Today’s focus phrase is: “Our Father.” In two short words, Jesus communicates much about the prayer he is teaching the disciples. Jesus’s use of the ward “our” communicates that this is intended to be a prayer of the community. This can mean that Jesus was sharing these words to be utilized as part of the community worship settings. Another possibility may be Jesus is communicating an aspect of God’s nature, God is God not of individuals but of a community of believers.

The second word, “Father,” places before us an insight into God’s nature. Referring to God as Father can be troublesome for individuals who have experienced pain associated with earthly father figures. The word here is used to encapsulate the characteristics of protection, providing, strength, guidance, teaching and support. Imagining these characteristics should evoke feelings of safety and security.

Starting the prayer with these words clearly places God in the center of the prayer and the community of faith’s life. It demonstrates a belief that God is the one who can, and does, provide for all our needs and security. The words remind us that we are part of a much larger entity than ourselves. As the two words are said, we declare that God is god of a multitude, not our own personal god.

Give It Back

20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Luke 20:20-26 (NIV)

There was a time when I owned an inked stamp which I would use to mark books when I purchased them. The stamp indicated who the book belonged to and I would stamp the book on the inside cover. I did this so that if I lent the book to someone or accidently left it lying somewhere, it could be returned to me. The stamp indicated the book was my property and should be returned.

In today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, we encounter a question about taxes and returning what belongs to someone. The Jewish leadership sent spies to trap Jesus in saying something which would anger the Roman authorities.They determined this would be a good way to get rid of Jesus. The spies ask Jesus if it is right for Jews to pay tax to Caesar. Jesus knows what they are attempting so he has them produce a denarius. He then asks them whose image and inscription are on the denarius. They indicate it is Caesar’s so he instructs them to give back to Caesar what belongs to him while giving God what belongs to God.

Reading Jesus’s response, we are confronted with our own sense of civic responsibility and our responsibility to God. On a civic level, we are bound to return a portion of our government-issued money back to the government to assist in our protection and the care of all of the citizens in our country. Look at any paper bill or coin used as money and you will see the inscription, “The United States of America.”

Our responsibility to God is of even greater importance. Considering God created EVERYTHING, there is nothing outside the scope of what should be returned. God, however, does not need our money or anything else which is placed in our care. When we tithe, present an offering of any sort, we do so as an act of gratitude. What God desires most is our love. By giving our love to God and all which God has created, we are returning what has been begun by God. God gave love to us and filled our lives with love along with the results of that love. Love belongs to God and should be returned to God.

Give to the government (Caesar) what belongs to the government, and give to God what belongs to God which is everything but especially love.

Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

A Rising

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (NIV)

The process of making food which includes a rising element has always been fascinating. Mixing together the correct ingredients which leads to the food item rising either before or during the baking process contains an element of mystery. Whether it is a type of bread or a cake, the rising is necessary for an enjoyable outcome. As an adult, I understand the chemical process which results in the rising but as a kid I was amazed by it. The key is that the right ingredients must be in the batter to make this possible.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of having the correct ingredient to produce a rising, the rising of our own mortal bodies after death. Paul tells the Roman followers that if Christ is in them, they are now in the realm of the Spirit and no longer the realm of the flesh. The body is still subject to death but the Spirit gives life. Because the Spirit is in us, we will have a bodily resurrection just as Christ had one.

The key ingredient for us is the Spirit living within us. This Spirit moves us from living just in the physical realm into the spiritual realm. It is the Spirit which is necessary for our physical bodies to be raised after death like Christ was raised. The Spirit lives in each of us, when we believe and acknowledge this, we accept the gift of the promised resurrection.

Choosing Correctly

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

Growing up, I remember my parents using maps to plan out trips to new destinations. They would spend time determining the best routes. Today, we no longer rely on paper maps and atlases but use GPS and the maps on our phones. If you use Google maps, it will give you a few alternative courses to choose from. The shortest or quickest route is the main one which Google recommends. Choosing the correct route can be important as we maneuver through our journeys.

The passage from Matthew is part of a series of teachings given by Jesus which has become known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks to the people about making a right choice. Jesus tells the people to pick carefully which gate and path they choose. One choice will lead to destruction, the other to life.

In our lives we face choices in regards to a variety of aspects of life. Some of these choices are more difficult because they may require more from us. It is a great temptation to pick what appears to be easier and less demanding. Yet Jesus’s words should cause us to pause as we make choices. The wide gate and broad road is definitely the easiest route but the outcome will be less favorable.

Kingdom Plants

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29 (NIV)

A characteristic of a great story teller is being able to connect with people using imagery with which the receiver can relate. If a reader or listener is unable to connect elements of the story to their own life or experiences they are familiar with, they will become bored and disinterested in the story being told. A much repeated piece of advice to speakers, writers, and communicators is “know your audience.” By following this advice, the one sharing a message can personalize the message which leads to a more effective deliverance.

Jesus was a tremendous story teller. The Gospels contain evidence of this fact in the many recounts of stories which Jesus used to communicate all types of concepts and life lessons. Today we read one of Jesus’s stories. His audience was very familiar with the growth cycle and processes of plants. Jesus is providing images to explain the essence of the kingdom of God. The image of seed being scattered on the ground and becoming a mature plant creates the sense of mystery regarding growth within the kingdom. Jesus also tells the listener that a time will come when the plants will be harvested because they have reached full maturity. The listener understands that there will be a growth of the individuals in the kingdom and a time will come when a gathering will take place.

This story which Jesus uses to explain God’s kingdom provides imagery which allows us to see ourselves in the kingdom. We are the plants which begin as seeds. Our growth in the kingdom is not of our own doing but solely reliant upon God. There is mystery in how God causes this to happen. We grow up and mature within the kingdom. Then we await our gathering up by the Lord once we have fully matured.

Remove the Blinders

31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Luke 18:31-43 (NIV)

Have you ever seen a horse who has blinders on its head? The purpose of these blinders are to prevent the horse from seeing behind it and on the sides of it at times. This keeps the horse focused forward and prevents it from being easily spooked. The blinders also improve the horse’s ability to remain focused on whatever tasks are being expected. Another benefit the blinders provide for the horse is a reduction in stress. With all the activity around most horses, their natural instincts to avoid anything perceived as a threat or predator can lead the horse to become overly stressed. For horses, blinders have many benefits which promote their safety and the safety of humans with whom they interact.

In today’s reading, we hear about Jesus’s interaction with a blind man along the road. Jesus predicts his death and the events leading up to his death which will occur upon arrival in Jerusalem. As he and his disciples are walking to Jerusalem, they encounter a blind man sitting by the road. The blind man cried out to Jesus seeking his mercy. People tried to silence the blind man but he only shouted more. Jesus stopped to ask the blind man what he wanted Jesus to do. The blind man requested to see. Jesus restored his sight indicating the man’s faith had healed him. The man then followed Jesus, praising God.

We, like horses, can sometimes have blinders on us metaphorically. Unlike the horses, most of our blinders are a detriment and not a benefit. When our blinders prevent us from seeing where the Lord is leading, they have a negative impact. If these blinders prevent us from seeing Christ in others, they are a problem. Blinders which do not allow us to experience the fullness of God limit us. We are then like the blind man who was sitting by the road.

We do not have to continue to wear the blinders. As the blind man did, we can cry out to our Lord. Our cry and request for the removal of our blinders has already been heard. The Lord invites us to grow our faith. As our faith grows and expands, our blindness reduces. Our eyes can open to new possibilities, new understandings, and new visions of God’s active work in our world. We can obtain this faith growth by studying God’s Word alone and with others. Expanding of our faith will occur as we engage in serving others and sharing in fellowship. Time in conversation with the Lord will increase our faith. Then, just as the blind man experienced, we can hear Jesus say that our faith has healed us.

Turning Things Upside Down

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Matthew 5:38-47 (NIV)

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book which has a complete plot switch towards the end? The story line may appear to be taking you in a certain direction but before the book ends, the plot winds up resulting in a completely opposite outcome. This can be shocking, frustrating or even disarming but for some reason there also exists some excitement when this occurs. The unexpected can create a thrill for the viewer or reader.

Jesus creates a plot twist in his teaching as recorded by the writer of Matthew. The people of his time, and we who are later readers, understand the social norms of how to react when we have been treated unfairly or have an enemy. But Jesus turns all of our understandings and social norms upside down. Jesus teaches that instead of an eye for an eye, we are to not retaliate when someone treats us wrong. Instead, we are to offer more than they demand from us. Jesus continues in teaching opposite reactions when he speaks of loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. He calls us to be different from others who follow the norms of our society.

This is absolutely mind blowing. Surely Jesus really did not expect us to follow these teachings. Perhaps we should just skip over this passage. Perhaps it was an editorial addition which some scribe added during translation. If Jesus really did say these words, then we have to redirect our instinctual responses. We cannot seek revenge but instead we must offer more. We cannot seeth about and lash out toward our enemies and persecutors but extend love and pray for them. It is just like Jesus to shake up our view of what seems right. He even went further by demonstrating this as he was persecuted and hung on the cross.  Guess that he meant it.

Give It All

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:36-38 (NIV)

This is the day of the year when we pause to remember those women and men who have died while serving their nation. Memorial Day has changed a lot since it first began. There have been various dates and times which nations have set aside to honor the deceased military. Our current holiday came out of some local practices within communities. The former confederate states set aside a day to honor those who had died during the Civil War. Northern states soon followed suit. In 1868, General John A Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic which was a northern Civil War Veterans organization, issued a general order setting May 30 as Decoration Day which was “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” This became the starting seed of what was declared a national holiday in 1971. Today the holiday has been moved to the last Monday of May and has become a day when all who have died are remembered and graves decorated. However, the original purpose of setting aside such a date must be remembered. This day is meant to recall those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863) by giving their lives for their country.

Our passage from John comes in the midst of whatwereferto as the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at a meal with his disciples. The ones who are closest to Jesus are beside him at the table. Judas has just left after Jesus identified him as soon becoming the betrayer. Jesus tells the disciples that he is to leave soon. Simon Peter asks Jesus where he is going and Jesus tells him that Peter cannot follow him now but will later. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow now and declares his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus questions Peter’s true willingness since he knows Peter will soon deny knowing him.

It is easy for us to identify with Peter. Peter’s love for Jesus is strong, so strong that he declares his willingness to give his very life for Jesus. He is eager to give his all. However, Jesus knows the weakness in Peter. When the time came for Peter to risk his own life by acknowledging being a follower of Jesus, Peter was unable to follow through. Few of us have ever been put in such a situation so we are unable to say if we would choose as Peter did or not.

In the brave men and women who we honor on this day, we are given an example to follow and a challenge to accept. These military women and men loved their country and its ideals so much that they were not only willing but did give their lives in defense of them. This is an example for us to admire and emulate in our lives. The challenge set before it is to not only be willing to do this for our nation but also for our Lord. Are you willing to physically and/or metaphorically give your life because of your love for the Lord and the ideals which the Kingdom of God sets forth?