Thy Kingdom Come 7/25/10

Hosea 1:2-10, Colossians 2:6-19, and Luke 11: 1-13

Pray and let God worry.
–Martin Luther, 16th century.

There are really only two kinds of prayer: help me, help me, help me, and thank you, thank you, thank you. 
–Anne Lamott, 21st century.

Once more, we have a challenging OT prophet that makes us cringe.  It is not often that we hear the word “whore” in Scripture and it darn well better wake us up and make us wonder just what it is that we are supposed to learn from this text.  It’s not an easy pill to swallow.  Hosea is told to marry a whore (what kind of God asks that?) and he does.  But, you see, Hosea has consented to allow his life to be a parable, a representation, of God’s relationship with us. 
We are Hosea’s wife!

It’s not the person that we want to be, but Hosea is a prophet standing on a street corner trying to shock people into understanding God’s position.  God is the ever-faithful constant, ever-giving, ever-loving God.  We are Gomer, Hosea’s unfaithful wife who strays.  God’s words to this wandering spouse are not kind.  It is summed up in her children’s names: 

  • Jezreel (a reminder of an event that was the start of the downfall of the Israel people),
  • No-Mercy (as in, there will be no more mercy or forgiveness),
  • and Nobody.  In other translations, this third child is called “No-Ammi”or “not my people”. 
    This is the Old Testament God’s way of saying, “you’re dead to me.”  And to my modern ears, it sounds a little overly dramatic and too much like the Godfather to be real.  This is one of the places in the Old Testament where we find our ‘jealous’ God who vehemently wants us to have no other God before him.

God is serious.  He will brook no argument on this.  God has a plan, we have not followed it … but someday, somehow, we will be God’s Somebody.  Somebody that God will be happy and proud to claim as his own.  This text stands as a big warning sign to all of us: We are God’s!  But if we do not claim it and live it wholeheartedly, why would God claim us?

II.                 God’s Continuing Presence

Some of you may be wondering why I would include the passage from Hosea this week, and indeed it would have been a much easier week if I had skipped it.  Although the passage is difficult, I don’t believe that means it is not worthwhile or that it doesn’t tell us something about God and our faith.  In fact, when I was learning Hebrew and translating texts from the Old Testament, I learned something surprising.  One of the rules of translating ancient biblical texts is that when there are two options possible, the more difficult translation is the preferred translation.  Sometimes it is the difficult texts, the difficult issues of life, and the difficult experiences that we have that teach us the most.

Ask for What You Need

“When you pray, say,

   Father,
   Reveal who you are.
   Set the world right.
   Keep us alive with three square meals.
   Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
   Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”

“Here’s what I’m saying:

   Ask and you’ll get;
   Seek and you’ll find;
   Knock and the door will open.

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in … don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”
                             –The Message, Luke 11:2-4, 9-10, 13

One of the things that we learn from all three of our texts is that God is an emotional, relational being.  God gets angry and frustrated with us, but God also cares for us unconditionally.  Colossians says, “We can grow up healthy in God only as God nourishes us.”  It is God that provides for our future just as much as God cares about where we are in the present.  Though God may grow tired of our wanderings, God is continually present with us.  Like the very best parent, God makes the rules and then comes to drive us home if we get ourselves into trouble.

III.               The Lord’s Prayer

And so we begin the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Father,” because like a father, God disciplines us, lays down the rules, tells us when we’ve screwed, and then teaches us more about how to love someone even when he’s been disappointed.  And his beloved son, Jesus teaches us how to pray to his father like he prays.

I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage in Luke.  It is so very down to earth; it’s a lovely rephrasing.  Like any translation or re-translation, however there are limitations.  “Reveal who you are.  Set the world right,” is not exactly the same as “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.

IV.               Working for God’s Kingdom

Theologically, I know that it really is only God who can set things right … but it seems somehow insincere to pray as though my salvation depends on the eloquence of what I say.  And just praying does not seem to be a completely adequate response to God’s saving love.  This is where the prayer as we pray it comes into play, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  When we pray, we are not simply seeking what we want; we are aligning ourselves with God’s will and seeking out God’s plan for the world – not ours. 

Give us this day our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins …

There are several key things that prayer is about that this passage points to:

  1. Seeking … in prayer we are not simply listing our desires like a Christmas wish list or a weekly grocery list.  Instead, we are seeking something very basic.  We are seeking God’s presence and God’s participation in life.  Prayer, at its core, is an act of faith, an invitation and an opening in which we make ourselves vulnerable to God.  We believe God is our Creator and that God is love so we reach out to that Loving Creator and attempt to abide with that love.
  2. Asking … in prayer we are asking for what we need.  I think we should never shy away from being direct and honest with God about our needs – even more so when making that request can help us to see what it is we truly need in life.  Bringing God our requests, our concerns, our joys … all of these can help us to gain some perspective.  In doing so, we are asking God to answer our questions either by being present with someone in ways that we ourselves cannot be or by moving within us so that we can see things more clearly.  Soren Kierkegaard said, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.” We are asking God to be moved by us and by where we are, and we are asking God to change us.
  3. Knocking … through prayer, we enter into God’s kingdom.  In sincerely seeking God and asking for clearer thinking and feeling, we are seeking out God’s purposes for the world – and that is what brings about the kingdom of God. 

“There is a wonderful story about Mother Teresa and a famous ethicist who came to work at her house of the dying in Calcutta, at a time when he was seeking a clear answer to how best to spend the rest of his life.  She asked him what she could do for him, and he asked her to pray for him.  She said, ‘What do you want me to pray for?’  And he said, ‘Pray that I have clarity.’  She replied, ‘No, I will not do that – clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’ The ethicist observed that Mother Teresa always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, but she laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So will pray that you trust God.’”[1]

Prayer is a tricky thing and feisty, like the wonderful Mother Teresa.  Luke does not say that God will give us “good things” like Matthew does.  Jesus, in Luke, says that we will receive the Holy Spirit.  And in fact, the early church did not come into existence until it prayed this Lord’s Prayer and received the Holy Spirit.  If prayer could be bottled up and given to people as prescriptions, the big warning on every label would read: WARNING: Results may vary.

Sometimes the answers to our prayers are exactly what we were hoping.  Sometimes the answer to our prayers are no and we keep on praying them until the situation has been resolved but in a completely different manner than what we had been requesting and expecting.  Hosea, Colossians, and Luke all present to us a God that cares for us like family.  We are God’s children.  Cynthia Jarvis does a lovely job of explaining prayer and faith life:

Each instruction Jesus gives the disciples invites them (and us!) to enter into a relationship … that involves a conversation, and the conversation begins with a word.  God has first spoken the one Word to us in Jesus Christ; now we need only muster the good sense to speak back.  If by God’s grace we do, we will find ourselves (literally) in conversation with a friend who knows our every weakness because he himself has cried out in anguish and been met with silence.  How else but in conversation with him, through the words of Scripture and the witness of his church, could we trust that God is a God who will come after us when we are lost, dine with us when we are cast out by all others, welcome us home after we wasted our lives, and who will keep us from falling too far?  How else but as God’s Spirit intercedes between these words that bear witness to God and our poor, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short lives without him, how else will we find ourselves accompanied along the way?

If God is in some deep and eternal sense like Jesus, we can talk: through thick or thin, come hell or high water, no holds barred because nothing – neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor any other creature – will be able to silence the Word that answers our prayers in his flesh.

There is no real right or wrong for how to pray, why to pray, or when to pray.  The only rules I can figure out is make it real, do it often, and trust that God is at work.  I am often struck by the closeness of the imagery in the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life/Heaven, and we ask to be given our daily bread.  Even as we pray that, we are seeking to become Christ’s body in the world, and it seems to me that as Christ’s body we should be broken up just like we break bread at the table and be daily bread for the rest of the world.

Let us become then, in our life as a community, daily bread for the rest of the world, for one another and for all of God’ children. 
May God be at work in all our lives today
.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
and its righteousness.
And all these things
shall be added unto you. 
Allelu- Alleluia!
Ask, and it shall
be given unto you,
seek and ye shall find,
knock and the door
shall be opened unto you;
Allelu-Alleluia!

 


[1] Related by Kate Huey in Weekly Seeds.  http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/july-25-2010-seventeenth.html

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