Earthquakes, coup d’état, and plague convert citizens into refugees, and homeland into exile, as has happened last week in Haiti and Afghanistan.  Against such painful backdrop, the People of God in Jesus Messiah have a song to sing that offers hope from a deeper and wider story.  Consider how.

The ancient people of God experienced Exile as world-crushing and hope-ending.  All God’s promises seemed dashed by their own persistent rebellion and disobedience.  They had been warned and now they tasted the bitter fruit of their own undoing.  We understand why they wouldn’t be in the mood to sing the songs made famous in their glorious Temple.  We understand how galling it was to have their enemies demand mirthful celebration.  We understand why they would cry out to the God who seemed to have rejected them.   But in their anguish they lust for vengeance, crying out for blood.  We can even understand that.  But when vengeance leads them to long for babies to be smashed into the rocks and cites this as cause for happiness, we do not understand.  Or perhaps we do, but we do not feel so good about that and wonder what place it has in the Bible that leads us to Jesus.  Here’s a response.

In Exile—literal or not—you weep until there are no more tears; you scream at your oppressors; you vow never to forget; you swear to get even; and you fantasize the satisfaction of the oppressor’s suffering. This range of options sticks out like sore thumbs in the song of Lament God’s people sang in Babylon.

 1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.

 2 We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.

 3 For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”

 4 But how can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a pagan land?

 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp.

 6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.

 7 O LORD, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!”

 8 O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us.

 9 Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!  (Ps. 137:1-9 NLT)

For Israel’s forebears in Exile, weeping came reflexively and convulsively.  Their suffering and loss had seemed sudden, total, and irreparable.  Persons most dear, places most revered, experiences most sacred—all vanished leaving nothing but pain.  What were they to do?  (Indeed, what are today’s displaced persons to do?)  What are their options beyond the weeping?  Or is there nothing beyond this weeping?

The captor-tormentors urge them to sing one the songs of Zion.  Not because they loved music.  Not because they loved Zion.  No, they hated Zion and the people of Zion, and only wanted to drive their captives deeper into despair.

Their ill will did not escape notice.  The faithful cranked their courage and stiffened their resolve.  It would be unthinkable to sing the Lord’s song here!  Not here and not now, and not for those people.  In fact, it would be sacrilege to sing the Lord’s song here.  We will remember the songs at the risk of everything, and dream of the day when we sing them there again, to the accompaniment of our captor’s wailing as they hear the dull thudding of our revenge visited on their little ones.

Today’s Holy Lands witness the same vengeful resolves of captors envisioning the torture of their tormentors.  Today’s exiles follow ancient paths and thus chart new courses for future miseries.  And, sadly, among them some of Zion’s daughters dwell.

But these are not the only ways possible.  The tormentors taunted with insincere prompting to sing one of the songs of Zion, the city of the great King, the city of Yahweh-God.  If it should be one of Yahweh’s songs sung, however it began—whether of lament, dirge, taunt, torment—eventually Yahweh’s song becomes a song of worship.  For Yahweh’s song turns out to be the song of Another, the song of an altogether Other One, whose ways also are “other.”  In time, the song of a Lamb.

If it is Yahweh’s song they sing, where is Yahweh Lord?  Is it only somewhere else, where they no longer are?  Or is Yahweh Lord there too, and everywhere?

If Yahweh is Lord there too … then can’t his song be sung?  Even there?  Wouldn’t the song be more about Yahweh than them or us, more about what the Lord has done and will do, or might do, than what the Lord didn’t do and hasn’t done?  And if Yahweh is LORD, shouldn’t Yahweh’s song be sung anyway?  Can a place or a people nullify this Lordship and prevent his songs from being sung and heard?  If Yahweh is Lord, is any place irreparably profane?  Any place where his songs would be out of place?

IMAGINE what could happen if exiles longing for “Zion” chose to sing the song of the Lord, especially the song of the Lamb, if they allowed their memories to expand to include all of the past to anticipate all the possibilities of the future, a future not just informed but transformed by the song.

IMAGINE the Lord reclaiming the place of highest joy, replacing memories of other places and times.  Then … the Lord in power and sovereignty turns exile into “home,” so that some exiles remain as citizens, and then become ambassadors of another Place.  Then … rivers of Babylon become streams of living water, tormentors demanding mirth from the Lord’s songs become curious inquirers when they hear such unnaturally joyful songs.  Then … memories of atrocity become doors of awareness and the heinous in us all finds hope for a better way.

IMAGINE if enemies became friends, all lands became the Lord’s, and the most alluring songs sung were the Lord’s.  Imagine if even Edomites became family, if no children anywhere were ever again smashed against rocks but were everywhere welcomed as kingdom-mentors of a Zion made new.

The Politics of The Lord’s Prayer III

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

(Matt. 6:9-13 KJV)

When we pray as Jesus taught us, our petitions call for “regime change” in relation to the politics of the day, whatever day it is and wherever we happen to be.  This is so because we pray that God’s Kingdom would come to our here and now world, not just generally or ideally, but particularly and locally (Matt. 6:10).  This is the very Kingdom—the Government of God—Jesus declared to be present at the beginning of his ministry (e.g., Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:14-15; see also Luke 17:21).  Further, as we have seen, our Jesus-led praying asks for the King’s will to be done in today’s world as it is in today’s Heaven (Matt. 6:10).  As Jesus leads us, we are pleading for Heaven’s way to become more and more present and prevailing with, among and through us in and for our world.

In prior posts I have noted how Jesus tells his followers to address God.  Not as the Almighty, not as the Eternal One, not as the Holy One, not as the Most High or only God, not as the Most Blessed One, and not even in the first instance as King.   Rather, as Father.  This may seem off-putting both for people of Jesus’ day and our own, though for different reasons.  For the first century, God’s people commonly focused upon the exalted and transcendent character of their Lord: The Holy One whose name—YHWH—was not to be uttered for fear of profaning God.  “Father” suggested associations too common and familiar, perhaps even profane.  And, in the 21st century, to identify God as father dredges up the failings of human fathers whose impact on their children may cast dark shadows upon the whole of their lives.

Even so, Jesus says, pray like this: Father ….  As he does, he reveals God in a new way, as F-A-T-H-E-R—God, and then names this God King.  The whole of Jesus’ life—healing, casting out demons, teaching/preaching, serving and caring, contending for people, especially the last and least, suffering, dying and rising—fills in the content of the term Jesus uses to name God.  Considering the whole of his life, F-A-T-H-E-R—God is the One who is near, who shows mercy and thus gives, cares, rescues, forgives, forebears, generously and indiscriminately.  Ultimately, F-A-T-H-E-R—God is not simply One who shows love but who is love.

Therefore, Jesus reveals “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” to be the center and source of all that the created world and its creatures need, and invites us to address our worship and praise, along with our  petitions and supplications heavenward accordingly.  Just as this deconstructs and then re-constructs the concept of F-A-T-H-E-R, so it also deconstructs and re-constructs the concept of K-I-N-G.  It is precisely F-A-T-H-E-R—God to whom we ascribe “the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever,” (Matt.6:13, KJV).   Now, precisely this F-A-T-H-E-R—God, Jesus claims, is Our Father.

During his ministry Jesus called God “My Father” (e.g., Matt. 7:21; 10:32; 12:50) and when speaking to his disciples he called God “Your Father in Heaven” (e.g., Matt. 5:16, 45, 48).  But in this special teaching on how to pray: it is Our Father.   As Jesus relates to F-A-T-H-E-R—God so his disciples relate to F-A-T-H-E-R—God.  Thus, as followers of Jesus, when we pray according to his instructions, we are entering into the prayer closet to claim Jesus’ Father as Our Father.

Which implies that all of us who pray like this, following Jesus’ lead, are Family, God’s FAMILY. Indeed, in the same way Jesus and Father-God are, so we are in some sense all FAMILY.  Consider several facets of this claim, and what they suggest about the nature of Our F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s Kingdom for which we are praying.

Imagine the year is not 2021 but 29 or 30.  As Jesus teaches: “Pray like this: Our father …,” he is speaking to the twelve disciples and others in the crowd who are listening and open.  Among them are small town/village folk and city dwellers, uneducated and schooled, tax-collectors and political activists (if not violent revolutionaries), women and men, some notorious for their sins and others noted for their piety.  Some of them would be among the “conservative fundamentalists” and others the “liberal humanists” of that day.  All of them following Jesus’ lead, learning to pray: “Our Father-in-Heaven.”  All in the Family.

Let’s imagine the year is not 2021 but 1021.  The dominant faith throughout the vast Roman Empire is now Christianity.  Thus, when the faithful gather, they pray: “Our Father ….  Thus, when the faithful gather, Romans and non-Romans, Middle Easterners, Africans, Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Asian-Indians, Eastern Asians, perhaps even some Chinese—all those different peoples, gathering for worship then scattering to live as disciples, are lifting their voices, calling upon “Our Father.”  All of them Family.

At present we don’t have to imagine it’s 2021, but it may take some imagination to appreciate that today’s followers of Jesus regularly pray like this.  In every corner of the world, dispersed among the 7.5 billion people on earth, voices in multiple languages blend together addressing “Our Father …”.

Although last year, 2020, was the year of the pandemic, COVID19 sadly remains present and threatening thus far in 2021.  There is no region of the world entirely free of this viral contagion and its unknown variants.  At the same time, there is likewise no region of the world without communities of Jesus crying out: Our Father … .

This is the FAMILY-OF-GOD-Prayer, and the FAMILY extends to all corners, and includes representatives from virtually every nation, tribe, clan, and family.  This is not just a future vision from the Revelation; it is already present reality.  In a world divided and defined by so many differences, fearful and vengeful, feuding and warring, rich and poor—in every region, despite all such differences, ONE FAMILY prays Our Father …

This is so important to remember when we pray and as we pray.  Consider these questions and answers:

Q. When we ask for “our daily bread,” who is included?

A. All who pray Our Father …

Q. When we plead, “Forgive us … as we have forgiven …,” who are the forgiven and the forgiving?

A. All who pray Our Father …

Q. When we plead, “Lead us not into … and deliver us from … ,” for whom are we petitioning protection and            rescue?

A. All who pray Our Father …

When we pray for Our needs and concerns, in view of Our circumstances, we pray as disciples of Jesus who are connected to the family that spans the globe, and calls upon the same F-A-T-H-E-R—God as we do.  If in Jesus we are truly Family, if in a sense, we all gather in F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s presence, we pray with and for one another as surely as we pray for ourselves.

These connections become clear once we begin making requests to Our F-A-T-H-E-R—God in Heaven.  The first request is: Hallowed by thy name.  Or, let your name be holy.  “Name” refers to the essential character of God, the kind of God to whom we pray.  “Holy” means distinguished, recognized, honored, in all the ways appropriate to God’s name.  Thus, first on the list of Jesus’ requests is for God to be recognized and honored for who and how God is.  So, let’s remember:

Q. Who and how is God?

A. Our F-A-T-H-E-R—God!

The first request calls upon Our Father to be known, honored, understood and experienced in the way that Jesus reveals.  Put another way, we follow Jesus in offering our lives as the audio and visual commentary—the Bodily Expression—of F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s plan for humanity.  We are asking to live, relate and respond toward (especially) one another so that all may know God as F-A-T-H-E-R, and thus recognize us—all of us—as F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s FAMILY in Jesus.

We’re not praying that all might know we claim to be, but that we are in fact the FAMILY of F-A-T-H-E-R—God.  We are praying for Bodily Expressions of F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s nearness, goodness, kindness, and care.  Indeed, of F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s love that shows mercy, assures forgiveness, secures freedom, and lays Self down to protect and defend.  We are praying that Bodily Expression of F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s name could be seen wherever the Family may be the world over.

This anticipates the second and third requests: “Let your Kingdom come; let your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.”  In fact, these requests are two sides of the same coin.  The Kingdom is wherever and whenever the King rules, which is to say, where and when the King’s will is done. So, Jesus instructs: Ask for Kingdom-come, that is, for the King’s will to be done.

Note this: When Jesus teaches us to pray for Kingdom-come he assumes the presence of the King who is forming the Government of God amidst all the governments of the world currently in place.  Kingdom-come assumes the reality of God’s Government as the alternative to the governments claiming the peoples of the world and their allegiance.  But not as a rival kingdom among the nations vying for support, rather as the Kingdom that fulfills and perfectly matches the governance humans most need. And, likewise, we pray for not just another better King, but the singular King whose will and way express such ultimate governance.

When we hear or say the word ”K-I-N-G” most people immediately think of someone who has power and uses it to take command, lay down the law, enforce an agenda, and establish a reputation (or name) for greatness.  This is just what a ”K-I-N-G” does.

Yet we are not praying for this kind of King or Government.  Rather, the Government of God will be led by Our Father.  By naming God in this way, Jesus reveals the kind of King God is, and casts “Kingship” in new light, the light that God is and Jesus brings.  So, the High King of Heaven, almighty and eternal, without peer or rival, is Our-Father-God who sent Jesus to live, die, and rise again for us!  The High King of Heaven manifests ultimate power in service to love—drawing near not to take but to give, not to lay down law but to lay down love embodied in Self, not to be served but to serve, suffer, sacrifice, and thus to save the day.

Jesus says: Pray like this to His Majesty, Our-FATHER-GOD: Please align our lives and relationships—our everything—with your heart and your mind, so that your nearness, generosity, goodness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and freedom fill the land.  Yes, Our-Father, may it be so in all the lands where The Family gathers to pray and live as citizens of the Heavens.

To sum up Jesus’ teachings on how to pray, thus far, fraught as they are with political implications:

  • God is F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heavens, as Jesus reveals.
  • God is Our- F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heavens, dispersed throughout the world.
  • God, Our- F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heavens, is K-I-N-G, as Jesus reveals!
  • We ask for the Government of Our- F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heavens to prevail over all, beginning with the Family but extending geographically and temporally over all places and peoples.
  • Wherever the Our- F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heavens Family happens to be—this is the Kingdom that claims their ultimate allegiance, in ways consistent with the name of the King, Our-F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heavens.
  • All other and rival kingdoms/governments, and their claims for allegiance, must be subject to the Our- F-A-T-H-E-R-in the Heaven’s Kingdom and its way of life, as Jesus reveals and embodies it.

The Politics of The Lord’s Prayer II

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

(Matt. 6:9-13 KJV)

When we pray as Jesus taught us, our petitions speak to the politics of the day, whatever the day it is and wherever we happen to be.  This is so, if for no other reason, because we pray that God’s Kingdom would come to our here and now world (Matt. 6:10).  We are praying for fuller realization of the very Kingdom Jesus declared to be “near” or “at hand,” or presently among us in our midst (e.g., Matt. 4:17; see Luke 17:21).  Further, our Jesus-led praying asks for the King’s will to be done in today’s world as it is in today’s Heaven (Matt. 6:10).  That is, we plead for Heaven’s way to become more and more present and prevailing with and through us, in and for the world around us.

Whether in the first or the 21st century, these prayer requests convey profound political implications and, when answered, powerfully shape our lives in relation to the politics of the day, whatever the government.  In these posts, by “politics” I refer to the functions and structures associated with governing a country or realm, with special focus on power and status and the roles they play in governance.  Although I am no expert, in my lay understanding politics always speaks to how the life of a people is ordered and organized, by whom and for whom it is ordered and organized, and how power and people interact within that order.   I contend that praying with our Lord distinguishes us from and yet draws toward engaging with the politics of our day.  Let me contiunue to suggest how.

Jesus names the God to whom we pray and whose Kingdom we seek, “Father.”  While this seems commonplace today, it was extraordinary in Jesus’ day.  Within the Old Testament the prayers of the people seldom name God “Father.”  Likewise, prior to Jesus the prayers of Second Temple Jews addressed God as “Lord, King of the Universe, the Blessed One,” among other titles, but scarcely ever as “Father.”  Jesus, however, constantly names the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who appeared to Moses, who anointed Kings and summoned Prophets, “Father.”  He does so 17 times within the Sermon on the Mount where we find this prayer (Matt. 5-7), and 24 other times throughout the rest of Matthew’s Gospel.  The other Gospels confirm that this was simply the way Jesus understood and conversed with “God.”  When you pray, Jesus says, call God “Father … .”

For many people this feels off-putting, either because human fathers have often abandoned or abused their children or because they object to the patriarchal way the ancient and modern world has been shaped.  Either way, the assumption that God is like a father is for them a non-starter.  I will return to this important point.

To address God in this way reveals God in a new light, which Jesus then elaborates in his teaching, preaching, healing, and ministering among the people of his day.  In fact, as the Gospel of John asserts, Jesus makes the God who mere humans cannot otherwise see or understand fully and finally known (John 1:18).  Jesus not only calls God “Father;” he fills in the content of “F-A-T-H-E-R” through his words, deeds, and accomplishments.

How does Jesus fill in the content of “F-A-T-H-E-R” as he leads us to pray?  To begin, he calls upon “F-A-T-H-E-R in the heavens.”  We moderns typically take this to mean that God is “up there” in Heaven, and we are “down here” on earth.  “In the heavens” signals the distance and gulf between God and us.  But that is not the way ancient people thought about “the heavens.”  For them “the heavens” denoted the air and atmosphere immediately around us which extends as far as the eye can see, and then beyond.  “The heavens” surrounding us reach beyond us to the planets and stars, and beyond them to all unseen realities and realms.  When Jesus calls the God who made it all and filled it all “F-A-T-H-E-R in the heavens,” he identifies God as bigger and beyond us and all, yet as near and present to us as the air we breathe.  The “F-A-T-H-E-R in the heavens” brings the enormity and capacities of the Creator-Sustainer-God as near as the breath we just took!

How else does Jesus fill in the content of “F-A-T-H-E-R” as he leads us to pray?  From the sermon that surrounds the prayer we learn that: “F-A-T-H-E-R—God,” so big yet so near, gives reliably and indiscriminately.  “F-A-T-H-E-R” causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall upon all, whatever their moral character and whether they know it, acknowledge it, or appreciate it (Matt. 5:45).  Which implies that “F-A-T-H-E-R” is good to all.  At least, to all who value growing and harvesting things, and eating from time to time, or every day.

“F-A-T-H-E-R—God” cares (see Matt. 6:8; 6:26, 30).  Your “F-A-T-H-E-R” knows what you need; you don’t have to convince God that your needs are legitimate and pressing, or that you are worthy to have them met.  Jesus makes clear it’s not about being worthy or establishing enough credit to merit care.  In fact, there’s nothing we could do to make “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” care more or less than the “F-A-T-H-E-R” ever and always cares.

Jesus assures: “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” knows, hears, and responds to the needs of the children.  Period.  Who of you gives a stone when the children ask for bread, or a snake when they ask for fish (Matt. 7:9-10)?  How much more reliably and consistently your “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” gives out of goodness and generosity because “F-A-T-H-E-R” cares?

Indeed, Jesus teaches and demonstrates throughout his ministry that “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” is merciful and compassionate, understanding and gracious, as well as patient and forbearing.  In this sermon he sums up by saying “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” is “perfect,” by which he meant boundless and limitless in lovingkindness and mercy (Matt. 5:48).  “F-A-T-H-E-R” is perfect as in “prodigal,” which means lavish to a fault, prone to spend as if there were no tomorrow and no end to resources.

Finally, we learn that “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” spends all to love the beloved—the world and its peoples, all the way to the cross, and then beyond.  The “F-A-T-H-E-R” we call on in our Jesus-led praying loves and cherishes the children so much, caring so much, that the children are free to live care-free lives, because they know and trust their “F-A-T-H-E-R.”

As I’ve noted, for many it is off-putting and a non-starter to call God “F-A-T-H-E-R.”  That the supreme being in the universe should be compared to a father inspires dread, even terror.  Their painful human experiences have taught them to expect fathers to disappoint, abandon, and abuse them.  Sadly, such lessons have been common throughout human history, including Jesus’ day.  Even so, Jesus names God “F-A-T-H-E-R” and then lives a life through word and deed that reveals who “F-A-T-H-E-R” is, how “F-A-T-H-E-R” relates to the children, and why.  And through the lens of Jesus’ word and deed, “F-A-T-H-E-R” turns out to be the ultimate provider and protector, and the consummate caregiver.  “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” in the heavens draws as near to us as the air we breathe with kindness, care, generosity, mercy, and love.

Jesus reveals “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” as the model and mentor for all others with responsibility for little ones, not just for the men we call father, also for the women we call mother.  God is not male or female.  “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” is the source and center for everything the children need for the life they were made to live, participating in and contributing to the Kingdom of their “F-A-T-H-E-R—God.”

Likewise, I suggest that Jesus also reveals “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” as the model and mentor for all others with responsibility for governing.  Indeed, according to Jesus, “the Governance of the Heavens” has been inaugurated on earth.  Its population consists of “the children” who call God “F-A-T-H-E-R,” whatever their chronological age, and are learning to live in F-A-T-H-E-R—God’s realm in a “F-A-T-H-E-R—God way.”  And, from now on, “the Governance of the Heavens” becomes the measure and standard against which all other governments are to be understood and appreciated, assessed and critiqued, altered and amended, and thus affirmed or judged.

In my view, the political weight of all of this is massive.  We pray for a Kingdom whose King is the world’s ultimate Caregiver, without rival or peer.  This King gives reliably and indiscriminately what is good; indeed, the King gives all … to the cross and beyond.  The platform of this King and the culture of this Kingdom prioritizes and provides for such caregiving.  This is the governance humans need and “Heaven” establishes on earth!

Of course, no government functions this way, not in the past and not now.  Arguably, no merely human government could function this way.  Even so, how human governments do and can function must not diminish the political point and impact of the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray.  The prayer reveals what we most desperately need: The Government that traces its origins and essential operations not to earth but to Heaven.  The Government NOT of earth YET on earth, as in the Heavens. On earth because in Jesus “F-A-T-H-E-R—God” has come to stay, and to rule!

We can make government an idol and expect from it what it cannot give.  That would be an overt form of idolatry.  Or we can seek for a government that seems best to approximate the government we truly need and then seek to improve it.  That can be a noble undertaking, but often leads to covert forms of idolatry.  Or we can be the community of Jesus-followers who pray for the Government of God, of “F-A-T-H-E-R—God,” to indwell them and through them to effect change in their world.

In posts to follow, as we continue to pray with Jesus, I will draw out the nature of this change and its political impact.


“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This urgent invitation of Jesus is the focus of Lent, and the reason I confess my need of it.

I need Lent.

That time of year when the mind’s eye and the heart’s ear give acute attention to the sin that necessitated the cross of Jesus, to the diabolical stratagems of denial and dismissal that would minimize my own and paradoxically maximize other’s complicity in that sin, to the continuing need I have of remembering the sacred story and, in remembering, reenacting it, and to confess the desperate, never-ending need I have for mercy and grace.

I need Lent.

I need it even when I do not feel the need. Centuries of faithful following of my spiritual forebears convince me that “not feeling” the need often only signals the depth of my need. How foolish to allow my present insensibility to trump the persistent witness of countless brothers and sisters who have “felt better,” more accurately than I sometimes do.

I need Lent.

The reasons are not unique, but common to all who desire the company of Jesus.

I forget the way of the cross that Christ walked for me, or at least I allow that way to recede into the background, even though the call is to take up the cross daily. Forgetting almost always leads to diminishing, diminishing the cost of cross-bearing for Jesus, and therefore the grace of assuming that cost for me. Diminishing can even lead to trivializing, so that the cross becomes a trinket — whether a literal piece of jewelry to wear or figuratively — a familiar concept with which I am conversant. In both forms, cross-as-trinket “proves” my orthodoxy even as it imperils my soul. So, I need this time to recall, to re-envision Jesus’ painful path, to let His torturous way for me sink into my soul, and to lay me low in my unworthiness only to lift me into the arms of Love! Once lifted, great gratitude displaces conquered pride and the energy of new resolve joins with spiritual power for the next steps on my journey.

I need Lent.

I truly long to walk in closer and unhindered fellowship with the Living Lord. He has invited me to walk with, as well as follow after, Him. We have a relationship, the two of us, though it is not exclusive and private, rather reaching out to others who would join us. Because we’re all bound by blood- bought and love-laced relationship, rather than some sort of legal contract, our interaction becomes close, inevitably leading to irritation and offense. I do not normally intend to hurt people, certainly not our Lord, nor others, and God’s grace and Spirit have restored much within me that has often hindered my expression of loving intention. Still, within these relationships I sometimes hurt others. And, since I usually do not intend to hurt, I easily rationalize, minimize, or even deny the hurt. But hurt is hurt, and hurt hurts! If I am involved in hurting anyone in any way, I must own it, confess it, repent of it, and seek restoration and deepening of the relationship with the other person and my Lord. The weeks of Lent provide special opportunities to consider the hurting that may be part of my relationships. And the season is long enough that this consideration could become an embedded holy habit.

I need Lent.

I need to be centered because I am so eager to get past — and bypass — the cross to experience glory. I am keen to take up my cross once for all and be done with it. I am often dull to the fact that this call is daily, on going, and simply the Way of all Christ-followers. I am charmed into thinking that glory somehow exists independently from, or at least beyond, the cross. When, in fact, cross and glory always go hand-in-glove. In fact, the victory and power I’ve imagined as somehow beyond cross-bearing finds its normal and supernatural habitat precisely in cross-bearing, in denying the idolatry of self, in a death to the lust of flesh, pride of life, and lure of the devil. How am I to know victory over these enemies of God’s kingship in my life? Only as the Spirit of God frees me and empowers me to take up the cross in the particulars of my daily life. What are those particulars? Where am I most vulnerable? Where have I compromised, given in to the seduction of an easier way? How have I made peace with some rival to the pre-eminence of Christ? What needs to be nailed to the cross, to the glory and good of His Kingdom? Ah, this is the season when such questions press for answers. Shouldn’t they always? Of course, but again, the season encourages habits that are helpful and holy.

I need Lent.

Although I have some sense of recurring need, I cannot know fully and finally all that I need. What grace I find in seasons of the year when I allow Another to diagnose my needs! How often the Spirit addresses needs I knew about, only to uncover and point to things that had escaped my notice. Indeed, the latter are sometimes the most important.

Jesus solemnly declared that those who seek to save themselves will lose themselves, and He promised that those who lose themselves will find their true selves and real life. Implicit in the declaration and promise is the truth that I do not know what I need without help, which comes only by relinquishing myself to the care of Another. Perhaps that relinquishment is itself my most basic need!

I need Lent.

The Politics of The Lord’s Prayer I

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come.
  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

(Matt. 6:9-13 KJV)

Overview: How Political?

When you read the title, perhaps you wondered how the prayer Jesus taught his disciples could ever be “political?”  Wouldn’t “politics” (certainly “politics” as usual!) corrupt the prayer?  And, even if the prayer has “political” implications, how could we take the prayer and “go political” with it?  Wouldn’t this violate the spiritual intent of Jesus who taught us to pray in this way?

I understand the questions and share some of the concerns behind them.  Given our current moment in the U.S., I share the sensitivity of many when scripture and prayer are put to partisan use and thus, in my view, profaned.  As, for example, using this prayer to support a political party and its platform.  Our sensitivities, however, could cause us to miss important facets of Jesus’ guidance for prayer, as rooted in His message and ministry as our Messiah and Lord. 

So, let’s start there.  Jesus offers what came to be called “The Lord’s Prayer” as a model or pattern for our praying as His disciples.  It was not a random teaching on prayer.  It was a vital expression of worship and daily life-response for those who had begun walking with Jesus.  And, of course, their worship and life-responses were to be rooted in His message and ministry.  When viewed in this way, I note that the pattern for prayer Jesus gave does indeed reflect a certain kind of “politics.”  In several posts, I want to explain what I mean and what kind of “politics” I see.

To begin, by “politics” I refer to the functions and structures associated with governing a country or realm, with special focus on power and status and the roles they play in governance.  I am not a political scientist and certainly no expert in forms of government or political process.  But in my lay understanding politics always speaks to how the life of a people is ordered and organized, by whom and for whom it is ordered and organized, and how power and people interact within that order.  

Reading this pattern for prayer for Jesus’ students (apprentices who are walking with the Master learning a way of life—his way), he identifies the God to whom we pray as “our Father” who is “in the heavens,” whose “name” we seek to “hallow,” and whose “Kingdom” we pray would come!  At the end of the prayer, in the traditional form of the prayer we use, we ascribe to God, our Father in the heavens, “the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever,” (vv. 10, 13 respectively).

Each of these phrases draws our attention and invites reflection, which I will share in coming posts.  But for now, note this: In teaching us how to pray, Jesus leads us to pray for the Kingdom of God to come, and for the kind of life that is normative for people who live in God’s Kingdom.  We will see what that kind of life entails, but I want first to note the “political” nature of praying in this way.

Simply to say or think about a “kingdom,” of whatever kind, draws us into a political-space. Kingdoms are governments that are organized under a king who orders life in the realm to be a certain way.  (The italics reflect the general definition of “politics” above).  Thus, to pray for kingdom-come is to pray for a political reality, and at least implicitly it is sometimes to pray against other political realities.

In the model Jesus has given us we pray for the Kingdom where God is King, as the alternate to other kingdoms and kings.  In fact, we are praying that God’s Kingdom would be established within the present world that is filled with and dominated by those other kingdoms and power structures. In Jesus’ day that included the “kingdoms” of Herod and his family, of the Jewish Temple authorities, and, above all, of Caesar’s Household.   

It is important that we appreciate this prayer for kingdom-come properly.  It is common to assume Jesus is guiding us to pray for a kingdom that is “spiritual,” unlike the governments around his disciples that are “secular” or merely “this worldly.”  But to put it this way is misleading.  God’s kingdom is indeed spiritual, but that does not mean it is other-worldly.  Rather, it means that God’s Kingdom (the ultimately spiritual one) is coming to this-worldly expression.  Which, in turn, suggests that what God wants, the way God organizes life in the realm, is to be the same on earth as it is in the heavens.  In other words, following the pattern, Jesus’ disciples pray for God to organize God’s Government in their world—at least among them—as an alternative to the other governments around them.   

When disciples of Jesus pray as their Lord taught them, they are seeking to bring the whole of their lives, individually and communally, into line with the very Kingdom Jesus regularly preached, taught, and demonstrated.  Within Matthew’s gospel, where the traditional form of this prayer appears, Jesus began his public ministry by announcing the presence of the Kingdom of the Heavens (Matt. 4:17).  In some sense, God’s Government was being uniquely established in Jesus’ ministry.  Therefore, he called people to turn (repent) from other ways of life, including allegiances that rival the King and the Kingdom of the Heavens, and to follow a new life in companionship with Jesus.    

Here’s the point: The Kingdom of the Heavens for which Jesus teaches us to pray is established and functioning in this world.  It is “other-worldly” in terms of its origin and nature, but not in terms of its presence and operation.  It is “other-worldly” in terms of its strategies, methods, and goals, but not in terms of its benefits and blessings.  The Kingdom for which we pray anticipates a way of life that corresponds to the King’s wisdom and power in ordering our lives as individuals, as friends and family, and as clans, tribes, and people-groups.  And to varying degrees the King’s wisdom and power to live in such ways contrast and conflict with all other forms of government. 

This was how people in Jesus’ day understood Jesus and his movement.  When Jesus fed the thousands, some wanted to make him King.  When Jesus cast out the demons, some realized God’s Kingdom stood before them in liberating power.  When Jesus insisted on understanding Sabbath in unorthodox ways the teachers and leaders of the people bristled at the authority he assumed and felt threatened.  And when Jesus forgave people their sins, welcomed strangers and outcasts to his table, and offered mercy instead of judgment, many got the message: Jesus was acting as though he were some kind of … Messiah or King, as the Lord their God was King!

And when Jesus was betrayed, tried, condemned and executed on a cross the official charge was that Jesus himself claimed to be King of the Jews.  This was a serious charge.  Rome reserved crucifixion for people who rebelled against the Empire.  Would-be Messiahs and their followers had died on crosses by the thousands in recent memory.  The Roman Governor and the Jewish Sanhedrim did not believe the claim that Jesus was Messiah or King, at least not as they understood those titles.  But they both recognized Jesus’ movement was threatening to their respective status quos.  Thus, that Friday afternoon by-passers who saw the three crosses on the hill just outside Jerusalem understood clearly that one kingdom was demonstrating its superiority over another.  For, as everyone knew, the one who dies is not king, despite all claims to the contrary.  Unless, they and we are wrong about the government we most need, the only One who offers it, and the only way to receive it.

The Lord’s Prayer presupposes the Kingdom Jesus has already established in the history of our world.  A Kingdom from Heaven; and from the one true Lord and God of all.  A Kingdom that rivals all others, that calls for one and all to stop short and turn its way, to the King’s way, and embrace a life under the King’s authority and, as we find out, generosity.

All of this is fraught with political dynamic and consequence.  Jesus teaches us to pray that the Kingdom whose coming he inaugurated would, in fact, become more and more the way life is organized in this here and now world.  It is to pray the gap between how it is in the heavens and how it is on earth would close, particularly in the place on earth where we are.  And, as we will see, Jesus leads us to pray that his understanding of the most high God’s ordering of life, his provisions of life (economy), his way of righting the wrongs of the world (righteousness and justice), and his way of protecting and promoting the wellbeing of us all (protection and defense) would prevail over all people everywhere.

Whatever form of government we may have, whatever its leadership structure, however economies are organized, however citizens find provision and protection—Jesus’ followers are learning a way of life in the Father’s Kingdom that claims their full and final allegiance, that shapes their identity, signals their vocation, and assures their destiny.  And all of it begins in the present world and ends only when the heavens and the earth are new again.  


Questions for Reflection

What do you think of these “political” aspects or features of the Lord’s Prayer?


How might the Kingdom of God—present and active now—clarify, limit, and guide our participation and responses to the other governing authorities where we live?


What connections do you see between praying for Kingdom-come and living from day to day as disciples of Jesus, our Messiah-King?