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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before July 28, 2013

Luke 11:1-13

11He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

What I am Learning:

The Lord's Prayer is revered in every Christian tradition. We are so familiar with it, however, that we can take it for granted.

So let's slow it down a bit and look at it bit-by-bit.

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

The "you" here is plural. He is not telling individuals alone how to pray, but is shaping the prayer of his disciples as a group.

Father, hallowed be your name.

The Greek seems mean two things at the same time:  Father, make your name hallowed and may all the creation hallow your name. This prayer is therefore both a call to action for the community AND a challenge to God to act so that people will recognize God's holiness.

Your kingdom come.

The community asks God to fully realize God's reign of mutuality on the earth, and transform all other kingdoms of domination/submission into communities of mutuality. Asking for God to bring God's kingdom means that we are already willing participants in that kingdom - which means that we will work for it, too.  I say "kingdoms of domination/submission" because it is too easy for us to assume that "other bad people are dominating us" and not realize that our submission to them is exactly 1/2 of the problem.

Give us each day our daily bread.

As we participate in God's inbreaking reign of mutuality, Jesus suggests we are valuable and cherished children of God, so much so that we can pray for our own daily basic needs. This probably does not extend to the new 72 inch flat-screen that we have been lusting after. This "daily bread" is in stark contrast to the consumerism that so often captivates us.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

In the midst of our participating in God's reign of mutuality, we will fall short or miss the mark - the literal meaning of the Greek word for sin. Our participating with God does not demand that we ascend to the heights of perfection. But it does demand honesty when we do fall short. This is speaking to a deep humility which calls for from us a continual action and attitude of forgiveness for others. "Indebted" here probably means both relational forgiveness and economic forgiveness - that is forgiveness of debt owed to one another. This links back to the previous verses as God had commanded no interest and instituted a Jubilee year to forgive debts (Leviticus 25) which was a key part of Jesus' teaching about the reign of God (Luke 4:19) and is related to how our behavior as a group can transform society from haves and have-nots to a society of abundance. It is a sort of, "let it begin with us" sort of prayer. As Paul writes, "we have the ministry of reconciliation."

And do not bring us to the time of trial.

The time of trial here is not about temptation to being naughty, at least that's not most of it. It is more like "and do not bring us to court" as followers of Jesus challenge the larger culture and are thus in danger of being arrested. Notice that Jesus does not encourage his disciple community to hope for some kind of crash and burn martyrdom. He asks them to pray that they would not be arrested and be taken to trial. But this prayer also brings to mind that there was some element of risk in following Jesus and while we pray that these risks do not lead to danger, that they might.

The following stories are hard, because we tend to interpret them in terms of God responding to personal prayer. These two stories are really about the community's prayer to participate in the Reign of God and for the reign to be fully realized. It's not about the flat screen TV. It's about the transformation of human society.

Of course, it has been two-thousand years. We have prayed this prayer a few times now and God's reign seems as far away as ever.

This prayer is intended to shape a community: to remind us that God is bringing the "kin-dom of God" and it is our job to participate in the reconciling work of God in the world and to rest in the forgiveness and abundance of God as we do.