The Subversiveness of the Lord's Prayer
Over the course of Lent, and leading into Easter, I have been preaching a series of sermons exploring the Lord's Prayer. My understanding of this prayer was challenged when I picked up a book by Michael Crosby called The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us (Orbis, 2002). I found the book lying a table of resources for our congregation's Advent prayer vigil. I'd not seen the book before, so I picked up during my chosen prayer time, and began to skim through it. I decided to take it home and read through it as I made my way through the prayer, and it became my guide. I appreciated the author's interpretation because it highlighted the subversive nature of Jesus' ministry. It reminded me that Jesus came bearing a message very different from that being promulgated in the society of the day. It was a message that had deep roots in the prophetic tradition, which called for justice and a new society.
Crosby notes that it is important that we hear this subversive message in our own day.
In the first-century world, to worship another god as "Father" -- rather than worshiping the ultimate householder in Rome -- was subversive to the whole imperial system. That subversive nature of Jesus' Prayer has been silenced today. I believe there are good reasons to resuscitate it. (p. 18).
He warns us to be careful about simply making the prayer a formula, which can be repeated without any thought as to its meaning. He continues by asking whether the way we pray supports the status quo. Consider:
Whereas our ancestors in faith worshiped in ways that resisted their surroundings of entrenched religion and empire, we have become embedded in religious ritual and sold out to the prevailing economy. To the degree we "buy into" such cultures we have "sold out" Jesus' prayer. (p. 19).
I will look at this prayer in a very different way following this series of sermons, sermons that may have been directed as much at me as at the congregation. I went into the series thinking about what it is we're asking for in this prayer, and I came out with a challenging answer. It challenged my own sense of comfortableness with my cultural situation. God, not Caesar, is my patron, my guide, my provider, my Lord. This prayer stands as a reminder that as I enter the public square, engaging in ministry that I believe will make a difference, I must always be wary of getting too close to power.
Come Sunday, I will conclude the series with a sermon lifting up the doxological response to the prayer Jesus taught the disciples. The doxology isn't present in the earliest texts, but its addition is appropriate. It appears that this doxology, which seems to be drawn from 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, was typical of synagogue worship. Being that this is Easter, it is appropriate that we give thanks to the one who reigns over all and who offers us a different way of living in the world.
Yes, "for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen."