Praying it is what we as Christians are asked to do on a daily basis, in good times, and bad times. Prayer is suppose to be as precious to us as breathing. Why then is it so intimidating to do? Why do people balk at praying? Why does everybody look to the pastor as the person who is the prayer professional? I think we are very much in the same boat as the people of the 1st century for whom this text was written. We feel that God only listens to the right language. The prayers we hear on television, on the internet, and in church seem to be full of flowery, theological (church language), and polished rhetoric. How can we as people who don't have reverend in our name hope to get God's attention?
This is where Jesus steps in today and shows us how to pray. Some interesting things about the prayer he teaches: (1) it is in Aramaic instead of Hebrew which is the language of most folks at the time where Jesus was at; (2) it is direct, in that it starts out "Our Father...", no fluffy language; and (3) it is for all, Jesus says anybody can do it, meaning you don't need any initials behind your name to pray. What Jesus was concerned with is what is on people's hearts. He wanted to give us a frame work so that we would feel at ease when we talked to God.
Now the prayer we hear Jesus pray in this text is not the Lord's prayer, which is a remix of some text from the Gospel of Matthew as well as the Gospel of Luke. However both of these prayers the one that Jesus uses and the Lord's prayer both help us do the same thing, which is to give us words and a frame work to use when we want to pray.
So what is holding you back from praying? Can't find the right words? Don't know how to begin? Jesus says God knows what is in your heart. God doesn't care whether you prayer is perfect. God just wants to hear from you, talk to you, and listen to you. This week, take some time, five minutes and just pray. Don't worry what to say, don't worry that it isn't "the right thing to pray about", and don't worry if it is too short. Give it a try. Then try it again, the next day and the next. When we do this, we begin to go from just believing in God to believing God. Then we can begin to see how God wants us to live, which is in relationship with God and that changes our lives.
This week, we are looking at the Beatitudes, which is one of Jesus' most famous teaching. In it he tells groups of people that they are blessed for the mess that they are going through. More specifically he says stuff like Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth or blessed are those who mourn for they for they will be comforted. As we saw last week, translating New Testament Greek into English is not a perfect science. This is the same this week, when we look at the Greek word makarios the NRSV translates this verb as blessing. A better translation would be happy or happier. So if we look a the two verses I have previously quoted we would read Happy are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth, or Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted. So what gives? How are we to be happy in the midst of our suffering?
I think there are two points for us to consider, with this teaching. The first is that we as God's people need to take the long view on the sufferings in our life. We are suffering, but this suffering is not the final note or final chapter but that God's Grace, Mercy, and Love win in the end. So this knowledge helps us to move through our suffering knowing that it may be long but it is not final. The second is best explained by Gerald Liu Assistant Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary "As peculiar as the promises of happiness seem in the Beatitudes, they seem to rest in part upon the ability of the followers of Jesus to attend to the wounds of the world with the saltiness of God, to illuminate a way forward in impossible circumstances with divine light, and to do those things as if it’s just us being who we are. Like it’s second nature." So we don't let others suffer alone, we come and walk alongside them, because that is what we are called to do.
So how do you feel about this call to be Happy in the midst of your suffering? What does that look like in your life? Is it helping out a friend or family member who is struggling right now? Is it getting other Christians to help alongside you? What does the grace, love, and mercy of God look like when it is stretched over your suffering?
The video I am including this week is the song Happy. How do you feel this fits the Message from Jesus? How do you think it misses the mark? Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.
As you can see from the various blog entries so far, we are going to be studying the book of Matthew for a while. Today's text is often referred to as the tempting of Christ. In this text, Jesus has just been brought up out of the river Jordan newly baptized and then wanders in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. It is at this point that Satan shows up on the scene and begins to test Jesus. When we look at the Greek, the original language for the New Testament, we see that the word used is test not tempt. So Satan was not tempting Jesus but instead testing Jesus. What he is testing Jesus about or on? It wasn't mathematics, social studies or science but instead was how Jesus would relate to God. This is all approved by God, because we see that the Spirit was what led Jesus here. So what do we do with this? How do you feel about a God who tests us? Is it fair? Is God just being a jerk?
This story reminds me when I was a student in Nuclear Medicine a the University of Iowa. It was the first week, where we learned to do venipuncture, where we put a needle into the patient so we can give them medicine. Our professor took a few moments and demonstrated the technique on one of my classmates and then it was my turn to try on one of my classmates. I was scared beyond belief when I thought of putting that needle into my friend's arm. After several minutes I finally got the nerve and put the needle very slowly into my friend's Mark arm. No Luck, no blood came back into the needle telling me that I wasn't in. I then twisted the needle around to try again and my instructor came over and told me to take the needle out. I had tears in my eyes, I think it hurt me more than Mark. "Paul, what did I tell you to do? Go in quickly. The longer you take the more it hurts. Don't redirect, unless you know you can hit it again. Sometimes it is better to pull it out and get another needle to try again." I shook my head through my tears. "Remember Paul, you are doing this because you care about somebody else. This test can save their life. So it might hurt a little a first but what comes out in the end more than makes up for the pin prick of the needle." I have lived by these words every since both during my time as Nuclear Medicine technologist and also as a Pastor.
When God tests us, God does it because God cares about us. God is helping us grow closer in relationship to God. Does testing hurt, yes but it doesn't compare where we come out in the end which is a healthier and a closer relationship with God. Where might God be testing you right now? How do you feel about it? How does it feel knowing that even though God is testing you, God is also walking with you through the test?
Repenting is one of those church words that makes for great movie dialogue like "You must repent or suffer the consequences!!" than a common word that we use in our everyday vocabulary. It might even seem to make less sense, when I tell you that January 13, 2019 is the Sunday, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. What does Water and Repentance have anything to do with each other and more importantly what does it have to do with me?
Repentance is about admitting our mistakes and then making the best possible actions to fix our mistakes, ask forgiveness, and not to make that mistake again. Repentance is about going in the opposite direction than where you were going. It is like if you stoled something, you give back the item and then help other people not to make the same mistake you did. I know for many of us, talking like this causes us to break out in a sweat, our pulse quickens, and our stomachs get upset. Admitting our faults is hard to do, especially in our culture today, where it seems like everybody is ready to pounce on you if you have one toe out of line. It takes a lot of courage to admit when we are wrong. It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing. So how do we do this?
This is where that water comes in. Baptism is a sacrament which is a fancy way of saying that we see God's presence come into the world through the physical element of water. Baptism is a time where we are covered in water which represents the part of ourselves that rebels against God and what is right and we break the water as a new creation. Our baptism reminds us that we are not perfect yet God still claims us by name. God promises to be with us in spite of our mistakes and because of God's love we are given the courage to admit our mistakes and make amends. God loves us even when we make mistakes. God never gives up on us. So during this new year what would it look like to admit your mistakes? Pretty scary stuff right? Remember that God is with you in the midst of your mistakes and also in the midst of you "saying your sorry" and through it all God loves you!
Pastor Paul. I hope you find these reflections insightful and help you in your faith journey!