The Disciplines: The Model Prayer, Matt. 6:9-13

Written by admin on July 20th, 2007

I appreciate the way that Eugene Peterson in The Message gives us the model prayer

prayer at the table“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes, Yes, Yes.

I am reading this against the background of the Beatitudes.
Recall how the 5th thru 7th of them speak of the fact that as born again Christians we live out of the characteristics of mercy, a pure heart, and peacemaking in our relationships. I see these reflected in the model prayer.

Also present is an affirmation the greatness of God, our submission to and dependence upon Him, the realization that the Devil still works on us, and the awareness of the goodness of God. One finds also a desire to know God better and a hope for a better world to come.

I so wish that I could live everyday with these truths on my mind, in my heart, motivating my actions. Certainly, this is a matter for regular prayer.

 

The Disciplines: prayer. Matt. 6:5-8

Written by admin on July 11th, 2007

Many fine guides for prayer have been published in recent years regarding prayer. Generally, they follow the points found in this passage and build upon them. Pray is to God, not to others. It is to be honest conversation with God. The topics dealt with in the Model Prayer, which follows, should be addressed. Simplicity in prayer is a virtue.

This past Sunday I worshiped with an African American and with an Hispanic congregation. The first is a church which was burned by arsonists in February of 2006. In August of 2007 a new building, one that many volunteers contributed to and on which many other donated work, was dedicated by the congregation.

This morning’s prayer centered on thanksgiving to God for life, for care, for comfort and for blessings. Often, the content was very personal. Lines that expressed thanks for awakening that morning clothed in one’s right mind were uttered. The serice concluded with an altar call prayer in which the worshipers expressed their needs and their petitions to God.

I did not understand much of the content of the prayers in the Hispanic worship. But I sense that they were heartfelt and directed to God.

Public prayers may be the point of most difficulty in complying with the teachings of Jesus in this passage. Sometimes, I find myself preaching to the audience more than having a conversation with God. Sometimes, I find myself tempted to use the traditional prayer phrases of my people. But in my better moments, I see myself as uttering the prayers on the hearts of myself and my fellow worshipers. I see myself as an advocate for us all.

During the period that a friend was the interim pastor in a nearby church, I enjoyed Wednesday night prayer meetings very much. He would lead us in “directed prayer.” That is, he would speak out topics for prayer and give each of us time to pray about that matter silently. This insured that we talked with God about many, appropriate things.

 

The Disciplines: alms or charity. Matt. 6:1-4

Written by admin on July 10th, 2007

Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, among others, have reintroduced the spiritual disciples to many Protestant and lay Christians. In the next portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus looks at three of the classic discipines–alms, prayer, and fasting. Peterson identifies the basic, underlying position regarding these three disciplines, do not make a performance of them when you practice them.

In this passage, Jesus tells us to not help other folk in such a way that we call attention to ourselves, and I assume so as to not embarrass the person for whom we are providing assistance. Many of us struggle with this. I suppose our sinful nature is reflected in the desire to be praised.

The ways of giving alms in our society are varied. There are massive plans such as United Way, the Red Cross, and UNICEF. There are denominational appeals. My denomination calls for World Hunger funds on the Second Sunday of October each year. There and the needs of friends and neighbors. The massive efforts provide an easier way to comply with the teaching of Jesus here. Helping a neighbor often get known by others. Yet many of us feel a special pull toward helping those we know and whose situation we understand.

Often there are more needs than one has resources to give. This brings guilt. I have noted that often poor people are more ready to share their resources than those of us who have more than enough.

Jesus does not say anything here about the “deserving poor” and yet this has become something of a criteria for many of us when needs arise. Another point at which guilt and issues can come into our hearts.

 

On Being Perfect Matt. 5:48

Written by admin on June 25th, 2007

Mack Davis wrote a song that went like this, ” Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way….. Perhaps you remember hearing it. It was good for laughs, but like many funny things, it carries a bit of truth about it as well as folly. The fact is that none of us is perfect in many ways, if any. And most all of us have plenty of reason to be humble.

When I think of God, I see him as great and good (the childhood pray contained good theology) also as loving and free. I hope that as I mature in the faith that these qualities will be mine as well. Perhaps, you and I need to begin with working on being loving. I. Corinthians 13 provides a pretty good description of love. And when we live the beatitude way–being a peace maker, being merciful, and having a pure heart–then some progress can be made toward loving others.

Jesus expressed freedom in his relationships. He was not constricted by culture. He saw needs and responded appropriately. Rules, about hygiene, race, gender, the Sabbath, did not stop him from doing what needed to be done. This threatened the rulers. And it contributed much to their desire to kill him.

Jesus was great. Matthew beginning in Chapter 8 tells story after story about how Jesus had power over disease, death, storms, natural processes, and even his enemies. After winning over Satan and refusing to use his great power for his own purposes, he continued to win victory after victory.

And Jesus was good. When he say needs he responded with compassion. Great, good, loving and free–these qualities desribe God, his son, and his spirit who dwells within his children. These should become descriptors in the lives of his children.

 

Love for Enemies. Matt. 5:43-47

Written by admin on June 25th, 2007

The concept of “turning the other cheek” must have been the most talked about theological topic on the playgrounds of my childhood. It was during World War II and this teaching of Jesus was not held with high regard in popular culture. It appears to continue to be one of the least appreciated teaching by Jesus.

It is obvious that he was trying to defuse conflict. But nine year old lay theologians, even, saw this as opening the door to abuse and domination of the bullies of the world.

As we grow older we continue to see this as risky. But, on many occasions when we have put this principle into practice, we have seen it work. While one must not come to see this as a wise practice for its own benefit, it indeed is. This is becuase is it so much nicer to walk through life seeing those around us as friends, not as enemies. Certainly, I have known some very bitter persons who see everyone as an enemy, or potentially one, out to get them and take advantage of them. It strikes me that this is a very unhappy way to live. I feel sorry for such folk. I have even taken them on as a project and loved them and demonstrated to them that there is at least one person in the world who is not out to get them. I think that in a few cases, I have at least gotten them to question their common opinion of human kind.

Reflecting, however, it seems that for many of us as we grow older we become less optimistic and more critical of others. We come into relationships expecting the worse, not the best. And, it seems that this results in us not being disappointed.

 

Retaliation. Matt. 5:38-42

Written by admin on June 25th, 2007

It bothers me when I hear Christians quote the popular culture phrase, “I do not get mad, I get even.” It seems to me that it is this attitude that was the focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. It is never a matter of “getting even.” Rather, it is a matter of having a pure heart, being merciful, and working for peace in relationships with others.

I suspect that we have all been guilty of retaliating when hurt by another, only to see the hurt escalate. Have you also had experience of “loving an enemy” and seeing a conflict come to a halt with the enemy now becoming a friend. In Peterson’s translation he encourages us to pray for our enemies, this bringing out the best in us. He calls for each of us to “live generously.” “Be gracious,” he continues.

Here we are encouraged to very actively seek to be peacemakers. Surely, this is something that all Christians should take seriously.

 

Oaths Matt. 5:33-37

Written by admin on June 24th, 2007

There is a tradition within ethics called “mental reservation”. It allows a person to make a statement which is technically true in such a way that one knows his hearer will draw a misleading conclusion for it. This tradition justifies the speaker because he has not lied directly. This text suggests to me that this is not approved by Jesus. Think about Jesus and his responses to questions when he was being tried by the Sanhedrin and again by Pilate. He either answered truthfully or refused to answer. It cost him his life, but he did not sin.

In the arena of relationships, the topics we have just been looking at, turth telling is crucial. Relationships are normally built on trust and truthfulness is the foundation of trust. If someone is not truthful with another, then there is no trust and a relationship stalls, falls apart, or experiences more and more deception.

Jesus seems to be insisting that we be so truthful, that no one will question our integrity. Personally, I now worry about those who lie and then pass it off by declaring, “I was just kidding”, when confronted by another. It seems to me that Jesus provides good advice here.

 

Divorce Matt. 5:31-32

Written by admin on June 23rd, 2007

Jesus also condemns divorce. It appears that generally divorce reflects a failure of one or two persons to be beatitude persons. That is, they fail to show mercy, live out of a pure heart, and/or be a peacemaker. Can you think of a divorce where the couple had actively lived the beatitude life. Perhaps, one partner did, but not two. Right?

Jesus continues that in his day a divorced woman was stigmatized and was likely to have a bad future. Most of the time students of the Bible have treated this statement by Jesus as those it was a new law of the kind given by Moses. A new legalist phariseeism has been the result.

One element in this has been a discussion about whether a new couple where one or both have been divorced commits adultery anytime that they have intercourse, or if this is a sin only on the initial occasion.

I fear that this one of the many times when we have stressed the letter and missed the spirit. I hear Jesus saying that divorce is not good. Does the spirit of the law have anything to say to us here. I

First, among some Christians there has been a tendency to treat divorce as an “unpardonable sin”. Yet, most of us know divorced persons who are living godly lives and making good contributions to the churches and to the kingdom of God. We also know couples where one or both of the persons in a new marriage have been divorced who are wonderful Christians.

So, rather than looking at this passage and trying to figure out how to make some divorces and some divorced persons OK, or acceptable, perhaps we need to just declare it to be a sin, but see that like almost any other sin, God will forgive. Then work redemptively with those who have been divorced to help them become effective kingdom people.

What I am attempting to say is that I fear that often Christians become “neo-pharisees” in that we treat the teachings of Jesus as law, and we as lawyers, need to apply it to a given situation, perhaps finding a way to forgive the divorce because of other circumstances. Is it not better to say boldly that it is sin; to ask God for forgiveness; learn from it; and then get back into the task of becoming a good disciple of Jesus?

 

Adultery Matt. 5:27-30

Written by admin on June 22nd, 2007

The spirit of the law against Adultery is that relationship between men and women should be characterized by fidelity; ie, treat one another as a person, not a thing to be used for our personal benefit. To do this, in our culture is to “swim against the curent”. Adultery is the subject of many of the offerings of popular culture. It has become glorified–a source of pride more than of guilt.

It appears that the Beatitude that calls for a “pure heart” is applicable here. A pure heart respects other persons. A pure heart does not put the satisfaction of the fleshly desires of an individual over the well-being of another. A pure heart loves God and the neighbor well. It seeks to find and do the good and the right.

Jesus has some strong things to suggest as a cure–remove an offending eye or hand. I doubt that Jesus was into mutilation. Rather, he was seeking to impress his hearers of just how serious adultry can be. It is just not the thing that kingdom people do. It certainly sounds like Jesus did not approve of adultery.

Jesus continues that hell is the destination of a person who practices adultery. That is serious. But, we must see the posibility of forgiveness for those who repent and allow God to transform them.

 

Jesus as one fulfilling the law. Matt. 5:17-20

Written by admin on June 20th, 2007

This is a transitional statement. Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount with how we are to be and to live in relationship with others. He warned that we would likely suffer some for this. And he called us to live as salt and light for the world. Now he will look at and affirm the law and the prophets by helping us see beyond the “letter” of the law and “embrace its spirit”.

We will see this in the paragraphs that continue in this chapter. He will address the important laws of Israel concerning murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, lex talionis, and treatment of enemies. (In the next chapter he will consider the spiritual disciplines of alms, prayer and fasting, as well as the need to depend upon the dependable God.)

Later, as we study the life of Jesus we will find in his treatment of the laws related to the Sabbath the way in which Jesus dealt with the law. He did not focus on the application of the core law to the issues of everyday life, but rather dealt with the purpose that God had in giving the law to begin with. His statement that the sabbath was created for the benefit of humankind, not humankind created for the benefit of the sabbath.

It should become abundantly clear to us that God is not satisfied with our “technical” righteousness. Rather, God wants us to be deeply righteous in how we see and respond to the challenges and opportunities of everyday life. (I hope that someday we will reflect upon the devisive issues of our day–ordination of women, literalism in biblical interpretation, divorce, the use of divorced persons as pastors or deacons, abortion, and war.) I will seek to do just this as I look at each of the examples of the law which Jesus cites.

Be sure to take note of the fact that Jesus is talking here about how we are to live in the emerging kingdom of heaven. We will next look at the six examples that Jesus gives as to how one can focus on the spirit of a law and thus be truly righteous.