Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mike: Matthew 6:7-13

The Sermon on the Mount runs through Matthew 7:28. We'll probably skip direct commentary on 6:16-18, since it replicates the matters we've already covered when dealing with 6:1-6 (we can deal with the matter when we edit our materials).

All of which leads us to take up the Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:7-13. The text (NRSV)reads as follows.

"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."

Fairly early in the church's history, a doxology was added: "For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours,forever. Amen."

The prayer assumes God desires to hear our prayers, that it is right and sane to pray, and that good prayer connects us with the great matters of God. God does not have to be persuaded to listen, nor do our prayers inform God. Instead, in ways roughly analogous to a human parent, God already knows our deepest needs. Prayer helps form us, freeing us from the illusion of false needs and teaching us to see clearly what we really need.

And what is it we really need? We need to grow into a healthy relationship with this distant yet very near God. Our yearning must be reoriented, so that we long for God's rule to become fully effective in us and the broader life of the world. We must be freed from all desire for more than we need and become content to have "daily bread." We need to acknowledge our debts (or trespasses) and ask forgiveness, even as we also become the kind of people who extend forgiveness to others. Pride must be subdued and humility put in its place as we increasingly recognize our limits and cease from boasting. All such developments come to pass over time, as we embrace the practice of prayer.

Such prayer requires both words and silence, action and waiting, speaking and listening. Ideally, it becomes our mode of life, so that all other things are subsumed in prayer. The Lord's Prayer may help both the individual and a congregation take steps in this direction.

Obviously, there is much to unpack in the phrases of the prayer, but I thought it best to start our discussion with a summary statement.

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