Monday, June 19

The Lord's Prayer and the Great Commission: Parallels of Spirituality and Action

It struck me as I was preparing for this sermon that Jesus’ commission to the twelve parallels the Lord’s prayer. Christ tells us to pray for a thing in the Lord’s prayer and then commissions us to act on it in tonight’s Gospel.

Pray for God’s kingdom come, Jesus says, and I commission you to proclaim that it has become near.

Recent translations have used the reign of God rather than kingdom since the word kingdom has lost that meaning since the Bible was written. Kingdom in the Bible often refers to the time in which a particular ruler was in power, rather than the land or people who are ruled over.

The Israelites rejected God as their King, asking for a human one. Through Samuel, God warned them how a human king would be: He will send your children to war, make them build his weapons, make them work for him, take your best possessions and give it to his servants, he will take portions of your harvest, and you will become his slaves.

Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that they are not to be rulers. You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

Jesus, who is now our king, the person of God who has taken on our humanity, who still bears our wounds, tells us over and over that wealth, power and status do not belong in the kingdom of God.

Jesus tells us again and again is that God cares about our suffering. Jesus in fact identifies with the suffering. What you have done for the least you have done for Jesus. Which leads us to…

Pray for God’s will to be done, I commission you to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

God’s will is for us to ease suffering. Theodicy is a whole branch of theology that deals with why an all-powerful all-good God would allow evil and suffering. But I’m not going to get into that, because suffering is here, like it or not, whether it makes theological sense or not. There is suffering and we are called upon to ease it.

And if we are to live like Christ, then we shouldn’t consider if someone deserves suffering or if they brought it on themselves. As Paul reminds us in Romans, “For a good person someone might actually dare to die. God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” 

Pray for God to forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven. You received without payment; give without payment, I commission you to respond to rejection of peace you’ve given, by letting your peace return to you. Shake it off.

Actually to shake the dust from your feet is a rejection back, but I believe letting your peace return to you isn’t. Even as you shake the dust off your sandals, do it with a peaceful heart. Does that sound contradictory? Perhaps but not any more than “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

That reminds me of a story about a traveling sage who comes across a village terrorized by a great serpent. The sage convinces the serpent of the value of peace, and to stop harming the villagers. The sage on his return journey comes across the serpent who has been attacked and wounded by the villagers seeking revenge. The sage tells her, “I said not to harm them; I didn’t say not to hiss at them.” The way of peace is not a way without conflict. It is a way that includes acknowledging you’re capable of doing harm. We are not commissioned to be doormats.

And not all the places you visit will reject you, laborers deserve their food. Pray for God to give us our daily bread, yet like mana from heaven, only what we need today. I commission you to take nothing with you, depend on the hospitality of others. 

I’ve often run into what seems to me a very odd (and I think very American) definition of self-sufficient. Somehow it’s thought that receiving money from employers or clients is somehow self-sufficient, while receiving money from family, the government, or charitable organizations is not. To my mind, all of the above reflects dependence on others. The labor we deem legitimate still puts us in a position of dependence on employers or clients. 

And of course, we’re all dependent on God for our very lives. The air that we breathe, in fact all that sustains us comes from God. I even believe our very strength to endure the trials of this world is strength we receive from God.

Pray for God to not bring us to the time of trial, yet I commission you to be sheep among wolves. This all starts with Jesus having compassion for the harassed and helpless, who are like sheep without a shepherd. The commission is to remind the sheep that the Lord is their shepherd.  But there are wolves. The wolves want sheep to remain helpless and harassed. Suffering benefits the wolves. The wolves will in fact do everything in their power to stop you from tending to them, easing their suffering and reminding them of their Lord.

In tending to the suffering, you will have to endure suffering yourself. Jesus certainly didn’t avoid it. And God can and will give you the strength to endure. And like Jesus, you will be vindicated. And it will be Jesus whose suffering you ease. Whatever you do for the least of these… The mourning will be comforted, the hungry will be filled, and the pure in heart will see God. And there are emotional rewards. Think of those whose suffering you relieve. Many will bubble over with Joy like Sarah did. "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me."