May only truth be spoken, and only truth be heard. Amen.
This morning I want to focus on the Lord’s prayer text. Also known as the Abba prayer. And by Abba, we mean Householder, the one who makes sure that all in the household have enough.
And then I want to take it beyond the prayer itself into the next section, where Jesus talks in the parable about “brash asking”.
The brilliant Jesus historian John Dominic Crossan, has done immense research on this prayer and about who and what Jesus was about historically. I will be using him as an influence during this whole reflection.
Most of us in this room come from a white settler background. So, many of us have what’s called a pioneer spirit, or work ethic, formed in part by necessity, and also be the ethos of former American presidents, like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, who believed that “God helps those who help themselves.” Sometimes, even today, people still believe this saying is actual scripture.
It is not.
We see this belief in self sufficiency, in terribly sad situations like what happened to old age pensioners in the 2008 recession. In the United States, the rate of seniors who experience hunger on a daily basis has risen by 45% due to the ’08 recession, and… that demographic is often the least likely to ask for help. We’ve all grown up in a culture that judges us for needing any help, and where we are always praised for our self sufficiency.
I think our pride in this area is in part what caused our white settler ancestors not to ask for more wisdom from the people who were already here by at least 10,000 years. How different things would have been if our ancestors had sought wisdom and welcome, from indigenous people.
Prior to Jesus’ time by a couple hundred years, there was a really interesting group of philosophers called the Cynics. Some historians speculate whether Jesus may have even heard of the Cynics and what they were about, even in his little peasant farming village of Nazareth.
The most famous of all stories about the Cynics is the story of Diogenes and Alexander the Great in Corinth. Alexander comes by on his large war horse and offers Diogenes, who is sitting on the side of the road basking in the sunlight, anything his heart desires, and Diogenes asks Alexander to move over, because he’s blocking the sun.
The Cynic was known for their look. They carried a staff and a wallet, which was really something to tie their few belongings into. They wore sandals and a tunic wrapped off of one shoulder.
You remember in the texts in Mark and Luke, where Jesus instructs his disciples to go from village to village offering healing and tells them to take nothing with them… no staff, no purse or wallet, no extra tunic and no sandals”? Well, some historians speculate that this was Jesus’ way of saying, the Cynics were pretty close in their philosophy, but they were more about self sufficiency - whereas the Kingdom of God is about interdependency. The Cynics were minimalists and they were certainly making a statement about Empire, but their statement was more insulated. So long as they had their daily bread and carried what they needed with them, they could have the gall to tell the victorious Alexander the Great to move along. The similar cynic philosophy that we find in Jesus takes a different turn. It asks for total vulnerability, not for total self sufficiency. The disciple’s surrendered state as they travel, heal, and eat with these over-worked, occupied peasant people, is paving the way for the Spirit of God to flow through them and heal.
Jesus takes the cynic philosophy goes a step further and tells them to keep going, not to stay in one place for too long. Most of us today read that simply as “don’t overstay your welcome” because, again, we’re all about self-sufficiency. But for Jesus, you’ll see him moving from place to place, away from where the crowds begin to gather, because he doesn’t want to turn these places of healing into places of brokerage. “For a mere paltry payment, you will be healed.”
Jesus was certainly interested in exchange, but it was not in the realm of dollars and cents. It was in the realm of mercy which has its roots in the word mercantile. He was about unblocking the flow of divine love that often gets forgotten either in an occupied people, and certainly in the occupiers.
In the gospel reading today, we see Jesus teaching this prayer that we’ve all prayed a million times. The Lord’s Prayer. And if we look at it and measure it up to this saying we’ve often taken as scripture, “God helps those who helps themselves”… this Lord’s prayer is in direct opposition to that statement.
So when Jesus starts the prayer, he calls out: Abba, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
If we’re ever at a loss for what the Kingdom and the will of God looks like on earth, for Christians, we look at the person of Jesus. For Jesus, it isn’t just the rich who get adequate health care, housing or water and food. He didn’t just heal the elite and he certainly doesn’t perform the fish and bread miracles for the well-fed and the wealthy. In fact, John Dominic Crossan’s research is showing us that Jesus performed these miracles of food sovereignty and abundance, in direct, nonviolent rebellion to the Roman occupied Sea of Galilee, which had been renamed Lake Tiberius, after Caeser Tiberius, where urban, commercial fisheries had overrun the peasant fishers, ie, some of whom were Jesus’ best friends.
Then Jesus says “give US this day OUR daily bread”, not “give ME this day My daily bread”. This is a prayer of balance and interdependency. It is trusting in the Source of all life even in the face of their Roman occupied world, where Rome would have them grovelling in scarcity.
Then, the prayer says “forgive us our trespasses or debts as we forgive”. The very earliest texts all say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, and that it could be interpreted quite literally. The farming and fishing peasants in Jesus’ world were overworked and overtaxed for their resources. Most of the archeological digs and studies of remains from that time and place indicate that a man lived on average to the age of 29-35 and that most of the bodies found were suffering from malnutrition when alive. These people had been forced into monoculture farming to serve the elite in urban centres. This was a brutally occupied place and time and the more the peasants could support each other by forgiving debt, and by sharing, the more likely they were to survive.
It reminds me of how the potlatch, or the potluck was outlawed, here on Turtle Island. The more an occupied people can be controlled from being interdependent with each other, and the more dependent on the occupier they can be, the easier they are to control. I’ll put it this way, if we’re looking for an example of what an occupied people look like in our time, we need not look outside of Canada. We all come from a heritage of our indigenous homeland being invaded by an outside power, and if we are Canadian white settlers, we also have the heritage of being the invader. Which reminds me of a quick story.
In the summer of 2010, I was living in Gimli, Manitoba and the closest church with a liturgical service was the Lutheran Church, so I found myself there most Sundays. The minister was a very clever, funny guy. The first words I heard him say were these: “ so before we start the morning off, I’d just like to say something… if you can’t bend your knees, don’t kneel! God loves your knees just as they are.” Then, he went on to encourage people to attend the Truth and Reconciliation gathering in Winnipeg and said “we Lutherans, we weren’t so blind as to play mercenary for the government by running residential schools… you wanna know why? We couldn’t speak good enough English! This was about assimilation!” So he was funny, but he was also very clever. I see so many of us, whether in or out of the church, avoiding our complicity in the story of Canada. Even right here by Riding Mountain National Park, we have folks decidedly not church going, who are pretty uncomfortable with mentioning the history of how indigenous people were forcibly removed to establish the national park.
That story leads me into the next line in the Lord’s prayer… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil or from the Adversary.
If we’re thinking or feeling anything when we say this line, it is more often than not the default to think of individual temptations.
But let’s look at the temptation Jesus experienced in the desert where he was led by the Spirit after his initiation rite, his baptism in the Jordan. First, the temptation to turn the stones into bread, to break his fast. Then to throw himself from the top of the temple, to be caught by angels. And then being offered all the kingdoms of this world that had been handed over to Satan, or the Adversary. John Dominic Crossan has looked and looked at these texts, and he has come to believe at many different levels that the temptation Jesus is speaking about in the Lord’s prayer, is the temptation to overcome his oppressors through the use of violence. This is a direct quote of Crossan’s:
“Notice that, actually, the tempter never speaks of “creation” or “the world” or “the earth”, but of “all the kingdoms of of the world” along with their “glory” and “power”. That is the violent world of civilization - rather than the nonviolent world of creation. The tempter cannot offer to anyone the world that God so loved.”
Then Crossan goes on to say:
“What, then, is the difference in precise content between worshiping God and worshiping Satan? To obtain and possess the kingdoms of the world, with their power and glory, by violent injustice is to worship Satan. To obtain and possess the kingdom, the power and the glory by nonviolent justice is to worship God. The last and climactic temptation for Jesus is to use violence in establishing the kingdom of God on earth, and there-by to receive it as the kingdom of Satan. And so also for us.”
I would add, that there is also the temptation in believing in the lie of occupying Rome, that this system is the only kind of power there is. This has been the great sin of the whole church no matter what denomination, really, since the 3rd century. We have been more often than not, on the side of power, trade, oppression and colonization. It might be the greatest irony in the whole world’s history. And I am glad I can see that irony, or I couldn’t be a Christian anymore.
Because then look at what Jesus teaches us to pray next: for thine is the Kingdom, thine is the power, thine is the glory. Forever and ever.
This prayer is first, a prayer for an occupied people. Imagine the many prayers prayed by indigenous people as we Europeans pillaged their family web, Creator’s sacred land. And took their children. I don’t say this out of some contrived guilt trip… I say it because I think praying the Lord’s Prayer ought to instil in us, a deep compassion for what it it must have felt like… and for what it still feels like. This is not something we can easily sweep under the rug. We have to wrestle with it and we have to grieve it.
And it is second, a prayer for all of us who are tempted to believe the lie that we can be self sufficient and to believe the lie of scarcity, that our current culture of power is asking us to play along with. These two lies and the power-over others that is allowed through them, I believe, is why the world is so thrown out of balance.
After teaching the Lord’s prayer, look at the story Jesus goes on to tell. The person knocking at the other person’s door in the middle of the night, is asking for bread because they’re out of bread, and they have had a friend on a long journey arrive, hungry and tired. This story wouldn’t exist if the person on the long journey was too proud to knock on their friend’s door. And it wouldn’t exist if the host was too proud to ask the neighbour for help. In other words this is a story about interdependence. So unlike the saying that passes for scripture “God helps those who help themselves”, it appears as though this teaching is about how God is in and about interdependence, not independence.
Then Jesus goes on to say how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. And compares the man’s knocking on the door in the middle of the night, to our brash asking for the Holy Spirit. Again and again, this whole passage is about interdependency. Not about being independent or self sufficient. Asking for the Holy Spirit is not being independent because we are also taught that the very act of prayer is the Holy Spirit working in us, so even asking for the Holy Spirit, is really a coming to consciousness of the deep asking that has always been there. It is our true self, one with God, that is doing the asking deep down in there, where we can sense that holy longing in our hearts.
So what does this look like in community? What does this brash asking look like in practice? Why bother asking for the Holy Spirit in the first place? What does that even mean? If anyone has ever had one small glimpse of the oneness at the heart of all things, they have encountered the Holy Spirit. No one can experience the Holy Spirit and not see the interconnectedness of each other, and of all of life. No one can bear witness to the veil being lifted for just a moment, and not see that what is true is that there is enough. That living in scarcity and fear, is to be led into temptation… and scarcity and fear will never produce anything but division and hoarding, and more violence.
There is this now often overused saying of Einstein’s, that a problem can never be solved with the same thinking that created it… I think Jesus was practicing something very similar when he said, “lead us not into temptation” … that the use of violence can never beget the Kingdom of God.
What if praying thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, is trusting in enoughness? What happens when that is our footing, for the font of the Spirit to flow out from us, here… into this physical world?
May we never pray this prayer again, without remembering who it was, that taught us to pray it, and who also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Let us sing in the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the Kingdom
the power and the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.