Thursday, May 2, 2024

Prayer 101

Rabbi Jesus, I am so overwhelmed by Your teachings, and yet I find myself stirred in my heart.  I have heard so many amazing things from You, I cannot take it all in, but I am trying.

This Kingdom of God seems to be a kind of upside world from the one I know.  All these people, sitting here on this hillside, have come to hear You teach on what we have heard from the Law and the Prophets. We have heard that, and more.  You say that You are not abolishing the Law, but fulfilling it-- using Your words. We didn't know that the Law needed fulfilling and yet we did.  Our Law had become a series of just rules and regulations, yet it also provided us with a community--a community of people, sustained by traditions, waiting for the Messiah, and trying to get meaning out of every day life's routine. 

Then You come along and tell us there is more. More to life.  More to loving our heavenly Father. More to loving one another. 

Yes, it is true...we often do the minimum to get by--we feel poor in spirit, but we relished retaliating against others and reviling those who we consider our enemies, or at least those who anger us.   

We want to be peacemakers, but it's far too easy to lash back--to stay angry.  The, with our hardened heart, we go and make offerings, all the while harboring hatred--this is not an acceptable thing in Your kingdom.  

We tell ourselves that marital fidelity is enough.  Lust is what other people do.  Looking is what I do.  You say that infidelity begins in the mind and that sin isn't worth being cast into hell over; we must get rid of whatever causes us to sin.

You want us to stay married and honor our wives; just sending her away due to disappointment is not reason enough; how often have I disappointed my wife?  She should have sent me away a long time ago.

You tell us to say "yes" or "no" to whatever we are swearing to do--no fancy words and no using God's name as a kind of seal to the deal--God is to be honored, not used as insurance. 

Love my enemies. Whew. That is a tough one.  But if the Kingdom opens its door to others--our enemies--then we must love them as well as those who are easy to love.  Go the extra mile.  Turn our cheeks when they lash out. Show, by our love, how God loves. 

Then, whatever we do on behalf of this Kingdom, we do it for God and for Him alone, and not for the praise from others.  If we give or we pray, it's in front of the Father, in a quiet place and in adoration of who He is and what He has done for us. 

Now You are telling us how to pray.  Oh, Rabbi, we know how to do that--yet, I guess we don't. We babble on and on, assuming that the more we say, the more the Father will listen.  We would hate to have our wives and children to prattle on and on, and yet we think the heavenly Father is honored by this seemingly pious behavior.  

You are giving us a model, aren't You?  It zeroes in very quickly to the essentials.  I guess I spend a lot of time distracted, trying to get my bearings before the Lord, but You, Rabbi, have given us a way in: quickly, reverentially and adoringly.

Thank you for not just saying how we are not to pray; thank you for showing us.

"Our Father in heaven"--Yes, that is where He is and we, even if we think mightily of ourselves, we dwell here. We are divine dirt. We are molded clay.  It was only God's breath that brought us to life.   

"Hallowed be Your name"--Yes, His name is above all others. We recite the Shema, declaring every day, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." His name is above all, mighty and merciful, ruling over His creation with truth and justice.

"Your kingdom come"--Yes, may it be so.  We so look to the day when there will be no more tears, sorrow or suffering. In fact, I wonder if this Kingdom of God You are teaching us about is that day already beginning...

"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"--Yes, I want to see God's will be done, for it is righteous and has our best interests at heart. The earth needs Your touch, God.  Is Rabbi Jesus doing this?

"Give us this day our daily bread"--Yes.  Just as the children of Israel gathered manna in the desert each day and double for the Sabbath, we must humbly ask for Your provision and trust You not only hear us, but You will act on it. God wants us to ask, not because He doesn't know, (or, perish the thought!) He doesn't care, but because He wants to commune with us.  Isn't that the meaning of prayer, after all?

"Forgive us our debts"--Yes!  Please do!  They are many and we need forgiveness every day!

"As we also have forgiven our debtors"--Uh-oh...You mean I have to forgive to be forgiven?  Whoa.  That's that "love your enemy" thing again, isn't it?  I know God desires to forgive us, but a lot of the time our sin is in response to someone else. So, it's a kind of yoke, isn't it?  One part of the yoke is over the shoulders of the transgressor, and one part is over the shoulders of the transgressee.  Hmmm.  But together, we can face the challenge and make something beautiful come out of it. Hmmm. 

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one"--Yes!  I don't want to be tested, like our brother Job, but if that happens, I trust You will deliver me, and then I have some forgiving to do,  right, Rabbi?  I must forgive myself, and anyone who is involved. 

You are now repeating the point that our forgiveness comes from our Father based on our forgiveness of others. I know when rabbis repeat something, it's really important. 

I guess this while kingdom thing is not just another way to do life--it's a world turned upside down, with love and forgiveness being the air we breathe, and our love for God is as joyful as a child running down a hill.  Maybe the Kingdom of God is for the children of God--who laugh, smile, forgive and adore.

I like this, Rabbi.  But, it's a challenge.  I guess it not just another man-made system of piety, but a parting of the Red Sea, where the former slaves walk on dry ground, with heads held high and hearts filled with joy.

Wow. I am glad I am sitting on this hillside today. 

I am glad You are here on this hillside as well. 

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