Ok, last time we looked at different ways that people might talk about spiritual practices, and then we honed in on the Lenten triptych of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Using the sermon on the mount we looked at Almsgiving and generalized it to acts of mercy. This time we are going to look at prayer through the lens of Matt 6:5-14 when Jesus teaches what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the past entries: Background, #1, #2, #3
First, whole books have been written about the Lord’s Prayer. I would not be surprised to find that whole books have been written about individual petitions. So, 500 words, you do the math.
Jesus prefaces the prayer itself with another warning similar to that about almsgiving which I labeled getting your heart right. If you are performing a spiritual practice, but the intention is in the horizontal dimension, that is you have an audience in your neighbor, it is not really a spiritual practice. The giving of alms to be seen giving alms might still be a good thing, but it is not a spiritual practice. Jesus says you’ve already received your reward. Likewise he says before prayer, don’t do it like the hypocrites. It might be harder today to imagine a reward attached to being seen praying which might actually help with the intent. The hypocritical part is not public prayer or praying with others. Too many Lutherans especially are uncomfortable with this. And I have heard these verses as the excuse. (We are also given to more formal prayer or collective prayer, so our evangelical friends bubbling prayer lives seem, well, so extroverted.) The hypocritical part is when the emphasis in prayer is not on communion with the Father, but upon some effect here. The reward of a spiritual practice for the practitioner is seeing God. If your eyes or your heart is looking elsewhere, that just isn’t going to happen.
Jesus then attaches a second warning about prayer – empty phrases and many words. He also attaches a note of pure gospel. Just thinking off the top of my head I’ve heard a Lutheran use this as a whip against “ramble-on-prayers”. I’ve also heard a Baptist use it as a scourge against “dry-as-dust” written prayers. Empty phrases and many words can be in the eye of the beholder. I was once a parishioner in a congregation where the prayers of the church took no less than 15 minutes. Every hangnail, birthday party and brother’s-sister’s-uncle’s-college-roomate’s passing wish was brought to the congregation in prayer. And each was prayed from the heart complete with “ahs”, “ohs”, “please Lord’s” and flowery phrases. Parson’s wife could tell you how that was just so not me. I was raised in a family where if you weren’t on your death bed, there is no reason to be bothering the whole congregation with your troubles. But a great Christian lady who I got to know at that congregation, without knowing my thoughts, once shared that the prayers were just so overwhelming to her. So what does this mean?
Look at the note of pure gospel. Your Father knows what you need before you ask. Prayer is not a quid-pro-quo. If I put in 10 mins of prayer, then I will get what I need. No! You are not looking for the perfect words that will sway God to give you what you desire. The outcome of prayer does not depend upon you at all. Prayer comes from the Gospel. You Father knows what you need and is not going to deny you that because you used a contraction or said too many “ahs” or mumbled on like an idiot. Instead, be at peace. You are entering the presence of the one who wishes you Shalom. You can be at peace recognizing like Moses you are standing on holy ground or Solomon at the Temple. You can be at peace with very formal planned prayer. You can be at peace wrestling or arguing with God, think Jacob and Abraham. You can be at peace being very expressive like David dancing. The warning is about prayer as a work. Prayer is not a work. It grows out of the core of the gospel. Prayer is one of the ways Christ promises his presence with us. It is that presence that we are seeking. Everything else our Father already knows and daily and richly provides.
I’ll continue next time with the Lord’s prayer itself.
This Sunday the Old Testament lesson is the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-20). As part of our Thursday morning bible study, for lent we agreed to study these lessons. We were coming off of a current book, so we wanted something more directly biblical. I usually preach from the Gospels, so studying the OT seemed better. But all of that is inside baseball. Here is the thing – I think the group this morning was good and important. It also crossed into other discussion that we’ve been having around these parts. So, I want to try and spin it out here.
The most simple starting point is just to recognize an old division of the law. I recognize it coming from Aquinas, but it might go back much earlier. Not the uses of the law, but the OT law itself, can be divided into three parts or purposes: Civil, Ceremonial and Moral.
The Civil Law would be that part that relates to the government, state or more biblical – kings. For the contextual examples of this look at Exodus 18:1-22 which is Jethro lecturing Moses. Also look at Exodus 21-22. You can read them in full or just look at the headings. One of the Key things to remember here is that in the OT Israel was both State and Church. These things were some of the bedrock of the ancient Israelite government and you could see them play out in Judges.
The second division of the law is the Ceremonial which relates to priests and purity codes. Look at Exodus 23:10-19 and Exodus 25ff. The Temple, the priestly garments, kosher foods, etc.
The last division is the moral law. I would associate this with the prophets. [Note the Prophet, Priest & King divisions]. The 10 commandments at the exemplar of the moral law. It should also be noted the Jesus gave overwhelming authority to the moral law, the role of the prophets. Read Matthew 12:7 and Matt 9:13 and the associated stories. When Jesus quotes the OT as desiring mercy and not sacrifice he is quoting the prophets complaint against a rote religion.
With those divisions in place, what I’m going to do next time is look at what Jesus does with each of those divisions. This will take us primarily into the sermon on the mount. And in the last movement, building on those, I’ll tie the 10 commandments into Sermon on the mount and the historic lenten practices of: prayer, fasting and Alms.
Here is the link to the actual story and the radio version.
This was a great news clip. One thing that kept running through my head was that the Mormon faith in the USA is roughly 3.2 Million people. For comparison the LCMS is roughly 2.5M, Methodist 11M, Baptist 36M, Roman Catholic 57M. How does a group of people who are roughly the same size as the LCMS have such a strong influence on the culture such that two representatives were running for President and their charity is widely known even in the relatively naked public square of NPR?
From the conclusion of the piece…
They would pay a full tithe on the profit when they sold a stock. Yet, if they dumped a stock for a loss, they wouldn’t use the loss to offset and lower the income they tithed on. Unlike taxpayers, the Mormons in the study weren’t big fans of taking deductions so they could send less money to the church.
“They’re worried about being petty with God,” Dahl says.
I asked a Mormon bishop in Salt Lake City if a few more rules defining income might make tithing easier on Mormons or bring in more money for the church. He said all this soul-searching about what you owe God is kind of the point
One of the old christian faith’s practices of lent was almsgiving. That was a practice beyond the tithe. It was direct charity to the less fortunate usually. Ultimately is was a practice that spoke to a recognition of the 10,000 talents. (Matt 18:24) There are plenty of people who would look at the mormon tithe and the question of being petty with God and scream legalism or works righteousness as if they were attempting to buy salvation. Instead it might not be a bad question for lent. In light of the cross, how are we being petty with God? Maybe the LDS are a mirror to our Christian practice. What we give to God doesn’t buy us salvation, but it is a first look at how we value that grace. It is cheap, or costly?