This week was another rough one for love and hope. We saw Jesus used as a projectile in Cleveland; four hate-filled days of American fear politics. There were two more mass shootings and all the while it was hotter than blazes outside. No matter how bad my week is, I can usually find refuge and comfort at the Saturday Farmers Market. But even the market was an uncomfortable place - the sweat poured off me and I wasn’t even moving.
Whether or not we follow Jesus depends on how we handle discomfort. Can we keep our focus when everyone around us isn’t? All of this was on my mind yesterday at the Market when suddenly a young girl stopped right in front of me, removed a flower from her bouquet, turned, and handed it to a young mother carrying a baby, and in the kindest voice asks, “Would you like a flower?” The mom surprised broke into a broad smile, her baby reached out in wonder. The girl smiled, handed her the flower and said, “Have nice day” before she turned and walked away.
Living in God’s love, kindness, and mutual blessing; it’s not as complicated as we humans like to make it. What we call the Lord’s Prayer is all any one needs for direction. After weeks of trying to get our minds and hearts wrapped around following Jesus comes the foundational question “Can you teach us how to pray?” This Lord’s Prayer is the most well known and widely used of prayers. It’s also the most misunderstood.
Let’s look at this prayer in its most basic form: “Father hallowed be your name.” We begin by remembering whose name’s above all names; whose person is most high. It’s not us or our big deal churches.
Next; “Your ‘kingdom’ come.” Notice over the years this phrase expands to include the line “…on earth as it is in heaven.” My friend Maren Tirabassi says Jesus teaches us to “keep it simple.” It’s just like us to take a simple teaching “keeping our focus on God’s kingdom real and already here,” and muddy it up by pushing our attention towards heaven. I get it. Our ancestors wanted us to take the heavenly and reproduce it on earth. Still, too often this becomes “Please God, make things become heavenly here on earth.” And just like that we’ve placed God in the driver’s seat and we’re just along for the ride.
“Give us this day our daily bread” (“the food we need for sustaining our lives” is more to the point). Such a personal request can distance ourselves from others; again too much of a focus on a heavenly “please do the work for us.” And the needs of our people can displace the needs of “those people;” both on earth and heaven. The simplicity of this prayer’s lost in the layers we’ve piled up on God over the generations.
“Forgive us our sins (debts), as we ourselves forgive all those indebted to us.” Marcus Borg said of all the translations of this prayer in English, the most accurate includes “debts” and “debtors.” At the time of Jesus the most pressing issues were getting one meal a day and staying free from debt. Back then, there wasn’t living in debt like today. If you owed someone money, you paid or you were sold into slavery. The Kingdom of God, Jesus said, “Has come near” to everyone he met or who meets anyone he sends. It’s a new order of personal relationships. A kingdom not earned in the “sweet by and by,” but lived “in the sweet now and now.” Work to free ourselves from crushing debt and release others indebted to us. This means freedom from debt both monetarily and emotionally.
Finally, and here I embrace the paraphrase made famous by Eugene Peterson, “Keep us safe from ourselves and the Evil One.” Whether it’s our own discomfort or something even greater, our simple prayer should be focused on keeping our attention on the Holy One so we can all be one as God and the Christ are one. Regardless of what politicians think, we’re our true enemies. Pray then God keeps us safe from the worst parts of ourselves.
A wise and thoughtful person once asked me, “Did God create us or did we create god?” Such a question is deeply uncomfortable; it can also inch us closer to the day when love and hope will triumph over hatred and fear.
“Lord, teach us how to pray”…teach us, so we may live.