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Matthew 6: 9-13
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
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This week marks our fifth week of studying The Lord’s Prayer and this is our final week! So far, we have discovered that at the very depths of this prayer, it captures almost completely the complexity of our relationship with the living God; a relationship that includes acknowledgements, wants, needs and desires. It captures all of this complexity in simple words and a prayer, like the disciples, we can say over and over again.
We have prayed that God’s kingdom will come, that God’s will be done. We have prayed to have daily bread and for forgiveness of ourselves and others, and this week the final request in this prayer is asking God to protect us and deliver us; protect us from anything and everything that separates us from God’s loving presence and deliver us that which turns us away from God. The Lord’s Prayer says it like this, “And do not bring us to a time of trial but rescue us from the evil one.” Now talking about evil is a broad topic and this morning we will be focusing on the understanding of evil that looks at you and me, addressing our personal experiences not systemic implications. What does this part of the prayer really mean for us? We know the very character of God and that God would not put us in harm’s way, we know that God is all about love, I think we forget that as there are times we might indeed feel like our faith is being put on trial, that we are being tested in one way or another. There are times when we question and doubt, feel abandoned and alone, there are times when we suffer, truly suffer, times when we experience pain and loss….and these life events can feel like we are on trial, that evil is all around us, within us, weighing down on us.
Is it God’s will for us to suffer? What a question to be asking this morning? If it is not God’s will for us to suffer and yet we suffer, where is God when the darkness around us is so great, when we cannot see anything ahead or find a way out? Gerald May, a psychiatrist who is familiar with the heavy burdens some people carry, wrote a book, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” This book is a collection of thoughts from some of the early mystics and in particular John of the Cross. These deeply religious men and women suffered greatly but in their suffering they found a way to God. It’s interesting that May’s own search for answers for his suffering patients took him into the world of spirituality and the search for God too.
May writes this, “I have come to understand that suffering does not result from some divine purgation designed for a spiritual elite. (He’s really talking about God causing our suffering as a way of cleansing our souls) He goes on to say, Instead, if believing suffering is punishment, suffering arises from the simple circumstances of life itself. Sometimes human suffering is dramatic and horrifying. (we know that don’t we, we read about it, we see pictures verifying this) More often it is ordinary, humble, and quiet. But neither way is it “God’s Will.” The divine presence (God) doesn’t intend us to suffer, but is instead in all the experiences of life, in both suffering and joy. God’s very presence is always inviting us toward greater freedom and love. He is saying here that our trials, our sufferings can lead us into a new way to see and experience God. But this new way to see and experience God, means we need to have a different focus. When reflecting on the experiences of his patients, May says this, “All too often, the preoccupation with finding relief left little opportunity to look for meaning.” I’d like to add this search for relief can also be searching for ways to get out, ways to escape rather than live in the present moment searching for meaning right where we are, experiencing everything we are experiencing.
Instead of asking “why” maybe we can simply ask “what am I to learn from this?” Perhaps when we pray, “Do not bring us to a time of trial but rescue us from the evil one”, Jesus is helping us to see that what we are really praying for and what we must learn over and over again is that when all else fails us, when we are at the end of our rope, given up, can’t find a way forward…when the darkness is so great that we can’t even take a step forward…right there at that place of forsakenness…may we learn that God is there waiting for us, and God’s presence will break into our feeble hearts again and again and again and remind us that the only thing really important in life is this amazing love that binds us forever to the living God. Nothing can separate us from this love. And this love can be found not only in abstract ways but in tangible ways too. Friends who reach out to help us, a phone call, a card, or maybe a sudden insight that gives us hope, an unknown strength that surfaces, a hymn that speaks to our hearts, a scripture verse that brings comfort, our own resolve to survive and overcome…there are many, many ways that God breaks into our lives. God can and will deliver us from all that separates us from this love, this perfect love that is found in God. Scripture ends the Lord’s Prayer with this call for relief and deliverance, but we all know that we add one final closing phrase.
We add a final doxology which is really a hymn of praise. “For thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory forever”. This was added to the prayer after Jesus’ death and resurrection, by the early church. it really is a statement of the fulfilment of scripture…that even death cannot separate us from the kingdom of God!
We have spent five weeks now looking at the Lord’s prayer. There is so much depth in what we say, when we recite this prayer, so much that lies under the words. Whenever you simply don’t know how to pray or you don’t know what to say to God who is always listening. I hope you will find comfort and peace in saying this prayer, the very prayer the disciples said again and again.
I’d like to end with this writing by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, writer, theologian and mystic. I think it gives a profound summary of our heart’s desire when we connect with God in prayer. The poem is titled, “Thoughts in Solitude.”
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Amen