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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Every Sunday we pray together the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that reveals the bare bones of Jesus’ teaching. The bare essentials of what we bring to God in prayer.

This prayer reveals what it looks like when heaven comes to earth. When kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. The reign of God shows itself in things like daily bread, forgiveness and being delivered from evil.

It reveals an emphasis on loving God AND loving others. The first part is what we might pray if we love God. The second part is what we might pray if we love others. The prayer reminds us, we cannot pray one part without the other.

This prayer is prayed with knowledge of a new reality. We cannot pray this as a mere habit or a simple recital from memory. When we utter these words – we pray for nothing less than a revolution.

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“My God, My God…” (Matthew 27.46; Mark 15.34)

The only words Matthew and Mark report to us from the cross are “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Both report them in Aramaic so we cannot miss them. The fact they come to us in Jesus’ native language may suggest some emotion. Jesus is not the first to know about being forsaken, he is quoting a psalm. Surely this is not a coincidence; the psalms are part of a collection of songs and prayers that travel a long journey of presence and absence. Just as Good Friday happens as part of a larger story, this “word” occurs as part of the practice of singing and praying the psalms. Old Israel knew about feeling abandoned by God. Some still feel it.

The cross is not for safe religion. In fact, pop religion will try to convince us that a scene like this is not possible. The cross goes against the way we think the world is supposed to work. The cross leaves the holiness of God raw in the world. This is evidenced as the temple curtain is torn and as the Son of God hangs exposed on the cross. Here is a cry for the abandoned. It exposes a holy God whose plan is victory by weakness.

The Gospel writers do not report the crucifixion in the same way. This reminds us there is more than one explanation for what happened on this day. For some of us, Good Friday and the place called skull is a good match for what we feel. It tells us the truth about suffering and the high cost that comes with the ways of God.

Mark writes after both Peter and Paul had been executed. He writes as other Christians were in danger of execution. It is difficult to know exactly how this would have affected Christians in Rome but we can be certain that they lived in fear.  They may have felt forsaken. In this context, Mark writes to help the church get through the suffering without losing hope for the future or forgetting the Jesus story.  This is a dark Gospel intended to help readers navigate dark days.  The Gospel wants us to know how far God is willing to go.

Raymond Brown talks about crucifixion as gruesome on account of the “screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of the unhappy victims.”  Brown goes on, “Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry.”  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries out to “My God.”

During Lent we follow one who knows what it means to feel forsaken. We follow one who experienced unimaginable pain. We follow one who knows how to navigate dark days. We follow one who has traveled the paths of presence and absence. This is good news. We cannot go where he has not already been.

A prayer of response by Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Father in Heaven, when the time of suffering and darkness come to my life let my mouth speak your name just as Jesus did. Let my eyes be fixed on you and let my hope be in your perfect will, not my circumstance. Even if I feel forsaken let my obedience and your name on my lips be my guide. My feelings may fail me, but you, oh Lord, will never fail me. Even in suffering and humiliation, you will never fail. Place in me a steadfast heart that will obey.”

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The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus came preaching “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Later he preaches a longer sermon that we call the Sermon on the Mount. It is also about the Kingdom of heaven. In fact, it is safe to say that Matthew has some kind of obsession with the Kingdom of heaven.

Early in that sermon we are told “heaven is the throne of God.” Later we are told to pray “Your Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer comes right in the middle of the sermon and we have already been told to take anger seriously, to be generous even with evil people, to make friends with our opponents, and to love our enemies. Now we are praying to be forgiven as we forgive others. We are getting an idea of what it is like for God to rule on earth as in heaven.

Gary W. Burnett labels this a prayer for revolutionaries. At the very least we should be willing to ask the question “what do we expect when we pray for Kingdom come?” After all we are praying for a kingdom different than the one ruled by Herods or Caesars or Pharaohs or Presidents. We are praying for a Kingdom ruled by God. We are praying for God to invade the land and challenge the rule of corrupted humans. We are praying for what God wants, not for humans to continue what they are already doing.

When we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” we acknowledge that God is back in charge and rules through King Jesus. When we pray for Kingdom come we pray that we will live under the rule of King Jesus. When we pray for Kingdom come we acknowledge the certainty that the Kingdom is at hand.

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The Gospel of Mark makes it clear that disciples have been slow to understand who Jesus is and what He is up to.  When we get to chapter 8, they make their biggest step in understanding when Peter says “You are the Christ.”  We do not want to ignore the movement in the text as Jesus immediately begins to bring the cross into the conversation.  Mark says that he taught them plainly that He would suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again.  Peter disagrees with this plan and may be suggesting that there are other ways to build a kingdom.  It is easy for us to point fingers at Peter from where we are.  Yet, the fact is, we are still not comfortable with a cross as part of the plan.

The posture of followers seems to matter in this text.  For example, Jesus turns around to see disciples behind Him.  Jesus then tells Peter to get behind Him (in rather strong language).  Jesus points out the difference between human plans and the plan of God.  For sure, trying to influence Jesus away from the cross does not fit under God’s plan.  Jesus says, “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”  The text leaves no question as to where disciples belong.  Disciples belong behind Jesus.  We are a collection of people in relationship to a crucified Jesus who are following behind Him.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, there is a breathless effort to keep up with Jesus.  Disciples continue to find it difficult to follow Jesus.  Like Peter in chapter 8, I am reminded that my plan may not be God’s plan.  Instead, I simply must get behind him – and follow.  Whether we are able to catch our breath during our reading or not, one thing is for sure.  We know where we are to be: behind Jesus.  Where Peter belongs, where all disciples belong.  To be anywhere else, to offer Him any advice, is to be in league with Satan.

Leading up to this scene we find a series of questions, “What is this?”  “Who can do that?”  “Why does he do that?”  “Why do his followers do that?”  “Who is this?”  “Where did he learn this?”  But, after chapter eight the narrative changes dramatically.  As if Mark is suggesting that once you discover who Jesus is, then you may begin to understand the role of the cross.  From this point forward, we are reading a dangerous narrative.

It is risky to serve in another Kingdom where others may not take us seriously.  Others still have confidence in the empire that appears to have all the goodies, the power, and the answers.  Yet, we know that this way of life is temporary.  We do not have confidence in the strategies of this world.  Neither our best science nor our best social programs can fix it.  The established systems and the old certainties are no longer certain.  Still, we have a great hope.  We believe that another Kingdom is in play and we are called to utilize the strategies of this Kingdom.  A Kingdom that takes shape in out-of-the-way places, in unexpected ways, and through unexpected people.

We are an unexpected collection of people who will appear strange to the world at large.  We line up behind our King and embrace suffering and rejection.  Our desire to serve may take us on forays, rendezvous, and on reconnaissance into dangerous territory.  There, we participate in work that is good, work that builds the kingdom and glorifies the King.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that no matter how uncomfortable things become, our place is behind Jesus where we join others who follow a crucified King.

A prayer of response by Susan Vigliano,“Lord, with every longing in my heart I want to line up behind you and follow you in the Kingdom of God that has been established through Christ on earth.  I struggle with the selflessness, suffering, and forgiving, but I am willing.  I call upon your power to make me able to follow Christ for the sake of your glory.”

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It is striking that at his own execution Jesus prays for his executioners.  The crowds called for him to be crucified.  Rulers and priests mocked him.  Soldiers hit him.  Still, Jesus prays they will be forgiven.  This is a radical word.  But this is what Jesus does.  This is his trademark move.  If there were doubts, we can now be certain that he meant it when he said we should forgive up to seventy times seven times.  We can be sure that he was serious when he taught us that we should love our enemies.  Even on the cross, his move is forgiveness.

The movement of Luke’s narrative is interesting.  Jesus’ first words from the cross are “Father forgive them…”  This is His trademark move, even on the cross.  However, it is not the natural move for others.  The rulers speak: “Let him save himself…”  The soldiers taunt him: “Save yourself!”  The first criminal speaks: “Save yourself and us!”  Jesus does not respond to any of these words.  But when the second criminal replies to the first criminal “Do you not even fear God…” and then speaks to Jesus “Remember me…”  Jesus speaks to him “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”  Three times, others hostile to Jesus tell him to save himself.  Instead, Jesus saves an undeserving criminal.

Luke is inviting us to participate on a journey. Throughout the Gospel we find that not everyone receives the news in the same way. Some are favorable to the Good News, others reject the same news. All the way to the cross we are faced with the question of how we will deal with this Jesus.  We are reminded that not everyone agreed with the kind of people Jesus spent time with. This one who “receives sinners and eats with them,” also dies with them and for them.  It is possible Jesus is crucified not because he claimed to save people, but because he would not stop saving the wrong people.

Luke wants us to know that political intervention is weak and short-lived in comparison to the intervention of God. In fact, these things appear to take place in order to halt the work of God in history. Instead, they become part of a series of events that are deemed powerless in comparison to the Gospel news.

Luke wants to make sure that we know Jesus continues his business of forgiveness.  This forgiveness theme of Luke just does not stop, not even while Jesus is dying.  There may be numerous implications.  But at the very least, we are reminded that Jesus keeps inviting the most unlikely people into his kingdom.  And we get a picture of the way that we ought to forgive others.

Without mentioning the word, this text teaches us something about grace. We are not exempt from its lessons. The crowds involved in crucifixion do not deserve grace.  The sympathetic criminal does not deserve grace. We learn much about grace from the crucified Jesus.  Not even a cross can stop him from his move “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

A Look at the Cross reminds us that God never stops forgiving.  This is what He does.  No matter how disappointing our behavior, no matter how undeserving, forgiveness is His next move.

Prayer of response by Susan Vigliano; “Father, I am overwhelmed by the power of your forgiveness.  There is no other way to the freedom of forgiveness than through the Cross of Christ.  Sometimes I find it difficult to receive the weight of your forgiveness in my own life.  When I try to forgive others in my own power, I fall woefully short.  I ask today for your power and grace to receive your forgiveness in deeper places of my heart.  I seek you today for your grace that I do not possess to forgive those who have hurt me and my loved ones.  I have called people a fool in my heart and I need your power and grace to turn to you for me to forgive them.”

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Both Peter and Paul had been executed.  Other Christians were in danger of being lit on fire to serve as living torches to light Nero’s night time games.  It is difficult to guess how devastating this would have been for Christians in Rome.  We can be certain that they lived in fear.  They probably felt forsaken.  In this context, Mark wrote his Gospel to help the church get through the suffering without losing hope for the future or forgetting the Jesus story.  This is a dark Gospel intended to help readers navigate dark days.  Mark wanted to be sure to write down the story of Jesus before all eyewitnesses were gone.  It is possible that Mark included stories he remembered when the church used to meet at his mother’s house in Jerusalem.

The Gospel is full of questions about Jesus.  Perhaps we can summarize them with one from the crowd, “what is this… He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”  One from the scribes, “why does this man speak this way… who can forgive sins but God alone?”  And another asked by disciples, “who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”  Reading Mark should prompt questions about Jesus.  Perhaps we should be asking, “Who is this on the cross?”

We learn that Jesus arrived at Golgotha in Mark 15.22, however he does not speak until v.34.  Jesus has been abandoned by disciples and mocked by those at the cross.  Darkness has covered the earth.  Raymond Brown says “There is nothing that shows God acting on Jesus’ side.”  Then Jesus speaks “My God, my God…”  These are the only words in Mark that Jesus speaks from the cross.

Then in v.37 he takes his last breath.  Jesus expires, seemingly vanquished by his enemies.  But then the Father acts, the God who appeared to not answer Jesus’ prayers and had forsaken him; and we learn that he was not absent at all.  In v.38 the veil of the temple is torn from top to bottom.  In v.39 a Roman centurion says “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  Roman citizens would not find crucifixion an honorable way to die, in fact, a crucified messiah would be an oxymoron.  This could be the reason that Mark included the public statement of the Roman centurion.  Could Mark be trying to tell readers that a Roman was the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God?  Could Mark be implying that it is only at the cross where we are able to recognize who Jesus really is?

Crucifixion was gruesome on account of the “screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of the unhappy victims.”  Brown goes on, “Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry.”  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries to “My God.”  Jesus prays on the cross, even in his last words (interestingly at 3:00pm, the hour for afternoon prayer).  Mark wants us to know that this silent God is not absent, because he rends the sanctuary veil and causes a pagan to publicly acknowledge the identity of Jesus.  Mark wants us to know who is being executed on this Friday afternoon.  It is none other than the Son of God.

Some may have been convinced that he was a failed messiah, a misunderstood prophet, or a guilty criminal.  No one was saying that maybe this was the Son of God.  But the words of the centurion cause us to rethink the reality of this situation.  Readers of Mark have been waiting for someone to speak these words for a long time.  We may come to the cross as a curious observer, as a heckler, or as a seeker.  We may come hoping to do something or to perform ritual.  And then, the words we have been waiting on.  It seems the Gospel has been leading to this moment from the start.  For those who thought that a criminal was crucified, here hangs the Son of God.

While the world goes about its business God continues to go about His.  People are going on with their lives, but the Gospel reveals the news we have been waiting for.  And then, God, who we thought was absent, who we thought had forsaken this place and our situation, God makes Himself known.

A Look at the Cross reminds us that we do not walk in pain, darkness, and feelings of forsakenness alone.  God has already been there.

A prayer by Pastor of Prayer Susan Vigliano; “‘My God, My God’ is the cry of my heart in times of struggle.  Lord, there is agony as I wrestle with the darkness in this world and in my own life.  I know that your faithfulness is there, and yet, I do not always perceive it.  Lord, open my spiritual eyes and ears this week to perceive you working in my life.  Let me experience the torn curtain that made a way for me to come into your presence.”

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Raymond Brown makes the observation that Mark frames the passion with two prayers.  At the beginning in Gethsemane Jesus prays in Aramaic and Greek to his Father to let the cup pass from him.  At the end on Golgotha Jesus prays a second time in Aramaic and Greek but this time simply to “My God” asking why he has been forsaken.

Brown suggests that Mark calls attention to these prayers by reporting them in Jesus’ own language.  Abba and Eloi giving us the impression that these words are coming directly from the heart of Jesus.

In between the two prayers we find betrayal, trial, denial, more trial, call for crucifixion, scourging, and the act of crucifixion.  None of these are the answers to prayer that I would be looking for.  Yet Jesus prays even on the cross, even in his last words (interestingly at 3:00pm, the hour for afternoon prayer).

Part of what made crucifixion particularly gruesome was the screams of rage, pain, and curses.  Yet, when Jesus screams his loud cry, it is in prayer.  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries to “My God.”

Then finally Mark says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.”  Jesus expires, seemingly vanquished by his enemies.  But then the Father acts, the God who appeared to not answer Jesus’ prayers and had forsaken him; and we learn that he was not absent at all.  As He tore open the heavens at baptism to proclaim that He was pleased with Jesus, His beloved Son.  He now tears open the veil in the temple and prompts a centurion to proclaim that Jesus was truly the Son of God.

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