BIBLE READINGS: Colossians 2:6-15 Luke 11:1-13
Kierkegaard once said “Most of us read the Bible the way a mouse tries to remove cheese from the trap without getting caught!” We try to pick out the good parts for ourselves, and hope the hard, painful parts don't catch us. We convince ourselves that when the Bible talks about carrying crosses, praying all the time, or giving away our possessions, it's talking about someone else. Those parts are for saints and martyrs . . . or at least for lay ministry workers, deacons, and ministers, but certainly not for us. We'll just pick at the good stuff and run.
Today there's some good stuff for everyone: The Lord's Prayer. It's ‘user friendly.`` Jesus tells us to address the Almighty God as "Abba." Our Gospel uses this familiar childish Aramaic word rather than the more proper Greek word for "Father." We might better translate it "Daddy." This is the loving parent that would never give us a snake or a scorpion. Jesus tries to make this clear, asking which of you would give your child bad stuff when your child asked for something good and reminding us that our heavenly Parent would certainly be more generous.
Yet not every parent is this kind ... some have fathers who do give snakes or scorpions or other hurtful things when all that was asked for is love. In that case praying to God as "Father" can be scary. But here Jesus is telling us that's not what God is like.
So, then pray with the image that fits the reality of a loving and generous parent, we might try "Abba" or even "Mama" because Jesus is telling us that God wants to be approached as a loving parent who gives us good things.
The Lord's Prayer. It's familiar. It's safe. It's good: The cheese without the trap.
"Our Father who art in heaven....."
Don't interrupt me. I'm praying.
But you called me.
Who? God with a woman's voice?
I am neither male nor female and I am both and more. You are enough of a biblical scholar to know that. Now what did you call me for?
Called you? I didn't call you. I'm praying. "Our Father who art in heaven....."
There you did it again.
Called me. You said, "Our Father who art in heaven." Here I am.....What's on your mind?
But I didn't mean anything by it. I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day. I always say the Lord's Prayer. We’re supposed to say the Lord's Prayer. It makes me feel good, kind of like getting a duty done.
All right. Go on.
"Hallowed be thy name....."
Hold it. What do you mean by that?
By "hallowed be thy name"?
It means.....it means.....Good grief, I don't know what it means. How should I know? It's just a part of the prayer. By the way, what does it mean?
It means honoured, holy, wonderful.
Hey, that makes sense. I never thought about what "hallowed" meant before. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Do you really mean that?
Sure, why not?
What are you doing about it?
Doing? Nothing, I guess. I just think it would be great if you got control of everything down here like you have up there.
Have I got control of you?
Well, I go to church.
That isn't what I asked you. What about your bad temper? You've really got a problem there, you know. And then there's the way you try to handle everything by yourself. Sometimes I think you think you are me!
Stop picking on me! I'm just as good as some of the rest of these people at the church.
Excuse me. I thought you were praying for my will to be done. If that is to happen, it will have to start with the ones who are praying for it. Like you, for example.
Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups. Now that you mention it, I could probably name some others.
So could I.
I haven't thought about it very much until now, but I really would like to cut out some of those things. I would like, you know, to be really free.
Good. Now we're getting somewhere. We'll work together, you and I. With me, anything is possible. I'm proud of you.
Look, God, I need to finish up here. This is taking a lot longer than it usually does. "Give us this day, our daily bread."
You need to cut back on the bread. Your pants are getting a bit tight.
Hey, wait a minute! What is this, "Criticize Martin Day"? Here I was doing my religious duty, and all of a sudden you break in and remind me of all my hang-ups.
Praying is a dangerous thing. You could wind up changed, you know. That's what I'm trying to get across to you. You called me, and here I am. It's too late to stop now. Keep praying, I'm interested in the next part of your prayer..... (pause) Go on.
I'm scared to.
Scared? Of what?
I know what you'll say.
Try me and see.
"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."
What about Jane?
See? I knew it! I knew you would bring her up! Why God, she's told lies about me, spread stories about my family. She betrayed my trust. And she loves it when I fail!
But your prayer? What about your prayer?
I didn't mean it.
Well, at least you're honest. But it's not much fun carrying that load of bitterness around inside, is it?
No. Sometimes I would really like to get even!!!
You won't feel any better. You'll feel worse. Revenge isn't sweet. Think of how unhappy you already are. But I can change all that.
You can? How?
Forgive Jane. Then you will be able to accept my forgiveness of you. Then the hate and sin will be Jane's problem and not yours. You will be free.
Oh, you're right. You always are. And more than I want to get even with Jane, I want to be right with you. ..... (pause) ..... (sigh). All right! All right! I forgive her. Help her, God. She's bound to be awfully miserable now that I think about it. Anybody who goes around doing the things she does to others has to be hurting. Someway, somehow, show her the right way.
There now! Wonderful! How do you feel?
Hmm. Well, not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, I feel pretty great! Like free.
You're not through with your prayer. Go on.
Oh, all right. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Good! Good! I'll do that. Just don't put yourself in a place where you can be tempted.
What do you mean by that?
Well, there's all the time you spend with your computer surfing the net -- do you really need all that information? How about a little more time with your family and friends? . . . And don't just turn to me when you are in trouble.
I don't understand the last part.
Sure you do. You've done it a lot of times. You get caught in a bad situation. You get into trouble and then you come running to me, "God, help me out of this mess, and I promise you I'll never do it again." You remember some of those bargains you tried to make with me?
Yes and I'm ashamed. I really am.
Which bargain are you remembering?
Well, there was that time I didn't get started on the sermon till 2 am on Sunday morning ... so I ask for help and I promise to stay close to you, to spend more time in study and prayer ....
I help and guide you, but you didn't keep your promise, did you?
Yeah. Guess I blew it. I'm sorry, God, I really am. Up until now I thought that if I just prayed the Lord's Prayer every day, then I could do what I liked. I didn't expect anything to happen like it did.
Go ahead and finish your prayer.
"For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever."
Do you know what brings me glory? What really makes me happy?
No, but I'd like to know. I want to know how to please you. I can see what a mess I've made of my life. And now I can see how great it would be to really follow you.
You just answered the question.
Yes. It brings me glory when people truly love and follow me. You and I have got a good start. Now that some of these old sins are exposed and out of the way, well, there is no telling what we can do together.
God, let's see what we can make of me, O.K.?
Yes, let's see.....
So, God, what about Rockdale. . . . Do you have anything in mind to help things along?
Say "Amen" Martin.
(Variations on "If God Talked Out Loud" by Clyde Lee Herring, Boardman Press, 1977)
So it's not only the Bible, but also our prayer that catches us in God's trap. But this is more than a simple mouse trap. A mouse trap is like the cross was before Jesus -- an instrument of pain and death. But with Jesus God changes things -- changes the basic things, like changing sin with forgiveness and changing death into life.
God's "trap" is a different sort. There's an ancient spiritual tradition, primarily Jewish, but also in the Christian tradition in medieval times, of God playing hide and seek with the people God loves. This is God calling us to search for God in our lives. "Ask and you will receive; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened." Imagine God waiting for you just around the corner, hiding hopefully, gleefully waiting for the surprise of discovery.
Have you ever played sardines? Each person that finds the hider hides with them, whispering and giggling, until everyone is finds and joins them. The kingdom of God is like a game of sardines.
It's not your usual picture of God with the community of saints & the heavenly host, is it?
But this is a God of surprises. Abraham searches God out, expecting to confront the hard stuff. Abraham knows that Sodom and Gomorrah have sinned in their brutal inhospitality to God's own messengers; but still Abraham argues for their salvation on account of even a little goodness among them. Abraham dares to argue with God and -- Surprise! -- God listens.
Prayers are heard and answered in surprising ways. We try to get the goodies and avoid facing the hard stuff; but when God catches us -- in the Bible or in prayer -- and confronts us with that hard stuff, our sins are forgiven and we are set free. SURPRISE! God's sets a trap that sets us free. Just search for God and the surprise is yours.