As in heaven, also on earth
This morning we had an interesting video clip in Discovery Zone. It was interesting because it took the two different passages and put them in a blender and came out with a single passage. In the Sermon on the Mount, there are two different “blocks” that teach us about prayer. We have the Lord’s prayer in chapter six, then in chapter seven we return to the subject.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
It is important to note that in Matthew, and in the parallel passage in Luke 11, the Lord’s prayer comes before the promise that God will give us whatever we ask in prayer. That sequence is important, the Lord’s prayer forms the context in which the promises of Matthew 7 are extended. When we, like the video we used today in Discovery Zone, mix the two together, we can do damage to both passages. Prayer isn’t about some secret way to get God on our side, it isn’t about the magic words we use to bring God into play in the minutia of our lives. Prayer, the kind of prayer Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer is about something far more radical, far more life changing. The Lord’s prayer is about how we change ourselves to align and participate in what God is doing in our world. Before prayer changes anything else, it changes us in profound ways and aligns us with what God is doing.
Contrary to much popular religion in our day, God isn’t waiting at the edge of heaven to pour out stuff on me or on you. God is in the business of bringing heaven back to our earth, of bringing wholeness, healing, justice and peace to the whole of the creation. This prayer is about declaring our allegiance, our fidelity to God in this. The prayer calls this process of bringing wholeness and restoration to the creation three different things, but all three of them have the same thing in view:
God being confessed as holy
God’s reign beginning
God’s will being done on earth
This morning, I would like to work my way through these three. What is it that they are talking about, how does that effect my life today and tomorrow?
I think there is an order to these three. I think the first of the three (God being confessed as holy) is the broadest, most universal. More narrow would be the prayer for God’s kingdom to come, and intensely personal is the final God’s will being done on earth.
The first of these three parallel ideas says “hallowed by your name.” It isn’t God’s name that is an issue, God’s name is being used as a figure of speech for God. The prayer is that everything that isn’t God would respond to God as holy, set apart, special. Hallowed, holy be your na me. The jewish scribes who copied the Old Testament understood something about God’s name being holy. There is a special name used in the Old Testament for the covenant God if Israel. In your English bibles, the word LORD in upper case letters is a translation of that particular name. It was so revered among the rabbis and scribes that they wouldn’t pronounce it, they made up a word (Jehovah) to use in its place. Its only been in the last 20 or so years that I’ve started to hear people use the name YHWH rather than the ancient circumlocution. They wouldn’t say the name, they regarded it as so different, so hallowed, so holy. It is used about 6,800 times in the Old Testament. After a scribe wrote God’s name, they set the quill aside and used a new quill. The quill that had named God was too holy to use.
God being “holy” is a one of the central visions of the bible. In Isaiah 6, the young prophet Isaiah sees a life changing vision in the temple:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
In Revelation 15, there is a vision of the end times; in the vision, those who have given their lives for God are gathered together like a great sea. Together this host cries out:
Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”
When we pray, “Hallowed be your name” we are joining with these prophetic visions. We join in their vision for the whole of that which has been created by God, the being in heaven and on earth. That everything which owes existence to God will join in the acclamation, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.” This is a cosmic vision.
The second petition is more centered, less cosmic: “May your kingdom come.” The language of the Old and New Testament of kings and kingdoms isn’t familiar to us. What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come? I haven’t found a better definition than the one NT Wright gives us in The Lord and His Prayer. Wright says that God’s kingdom is where:
God’s writ runs and God’s future purposes are waiting in the wings
The place where God’s writ is in danger of not running, and where God’s future purposes are resisted is right here, our little planet. God’s kingdom is what the creation will look like when God’s justice brings about God’s wholeness and peace. At this point, we’re no longer praying for the angles and the cosmic order. The pray for God’s kingdom is about our world, our creation, our sin and its consequences.
Jesus often talked about repentance and God’s kingdom:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
To repent means to turn around, to change our minds and our directions; it means to be headed one way then start to head another way. When we pray, “May your kingdom come” we’re praying a prayer of repentance. It admits that doing things our way, deciding what is right and wrong, who to love and how to reject hasn’t worked out for us. When we pray “May your kingdom come” we’re admitting that we’ve really made a mess of the creation of our lives. It’s a prayer for the maker, the one who wrote the instruction book to step back into the creation and show us how to live.
Hallowed by your name: cosmic everywhere and everything. May your kingdom come: here on earth, the place where sin has ravaged everything and everyone. May your will be done: this is God’s reign in its most personal, most intimate form. God’s reign, God’s kingdom happens one person at a time, one life at a time. Jesus told his followers:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
To pray “Your will be done” is a step beyond repentance. This is a question of wills, of visions for how things are supposed to turn out. We all move against a picture in our heads: the way things are supposed to be. Jesus is clear, to be his follower, to participate in God’s kingdom breaking in is not just to turn away from the picture of how life should be in our heads. It is to deny, to set aside, to reject the picture in favor of being committed to seeing God’s writ run and God’s future purposes realized. It is to give up the thing we hold so close, our picture of our lives and how they should be. We can only find our place in God’s reign by giving up our images of how things should be so that we can adopt God’s images.
The Methodist church has a liturgy known as the Covenant Prayer. It is used in a service of renewal, a time when people throw off dry religious ritual and commit themselves to God’s reign in their lives. The opening of the prayer was written by John Westley; it reads:
O Lord God, Holy Father, who has called us through Christ to be partakers of this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience, and engage ourselves, for love of Thee, to see and do thy perfect will.
Westley then begins to quote the Puritan Richard Alleine:
I am no longer my own, but Thine. Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee or laid aside for Thee, exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it. And the Covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.