Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
When looking at our scripture in narrative form, I find that I see things that I haven’t really seen before. For example, this Sunday we are looking at a chunk of verses that are usually broken up differently. In our scripture this week, we see the Lord’s prayer, followed by instructions on fasting and finally instructions about keeping our stuff and not letting it consume us. At first these three sections seem distant from one another and like different lessons. As we zoom out and take some perspective, in the context in which they are taught, we might realize that they all have to do with embodying what it means to be disciples.
The Lord’s prayer begins this trend by Jesus teaching his disciples a prayer that is all about what it means to be here on earth. God as flesh means that God comes out of the heavens and becomes embodied in what we do. This would have been contrast to other religions of the day. God is not above us but with us. God is not what happens after us but right now. The Lord’s prayer is brilliant in turning the focus from later on to what is happening here and now and what is happening in us. Prayer becomes something tangible rather than something abstract.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. God is acting now. The kingdom isn’t something far off. The kingdom is what we are creating and building with God’s help right now. Our prayer becomes action. Sometimes when we pray we might forget that God is acting now and that prayer is action.
Give us this day our daily bread. Give us our basic needs. Give us food that we may nourish our bodies. Allow us to be in those bodies. This is not something about our beings outside of our self it is about our flesh. Sometimes when we pray we separate the flesh from the spirit. Jesus reminds us that they are joined, not separate.
Forgive us that we might forgive. Again, we are acting now in our prayer. We are praying for the kingdom to continue to build and it can only be done in relationship with our neighbors. This is tangible and now.
With this perspective, it seems right that Jesus would talk about other matters of what it means to be here and now. Jesus would then address how we worship with our bodies by fasting and how we would treat stuff here on earth. Prayer is the basis to know how to relate to each other, our stuff, and ourselves. In fact, some might argue that this prayer in the gospel of Matthew is the building point for the entire story. This prayer sets the stage for how Jesus will interact with others, how we are to interact with Jesus, and how God might interact with us. In addition, the Lord’s prayer gives us permission to ask for what we need and to call for God to bring justice, to make things right. In this prayer, we are still requesting God’s presence for our basic needs and the here and now. As someone who has prayed this prayer every week since being very young, I forget just how powerful this basic prayer is and yet I can still find comfort, new lenses, and something to pray out of it. Let us look at it with new eyes and new purpose.
Quotes of the week
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
“Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible.” ― Teresa of Ávila
“If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.” ― Philip Yancey
“We should seek not so much to pray but to become prayer.” ― Francis of Assisi
Or you might shout at the top of your lungs or whisper into your sleeve, “I hate you, God.” That is a prayer too, because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you’ve had in months.” ― Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” ― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Matthew 6:7-21 (NRSV) 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.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Questions for the Week
How does Jesus’ prayer for us challenge you?
Which part of this scripture resonates with you the most? Why?
How do you embody relationship with God?