Monday, 28 January 2008

The Lord's Prayer (5)

A series of talks given on retreat, January 2008

In many ways this could have been one of the first talks.

One of the things that happens when we shut the door and take time out is that the demons come. We are in a spiritual battle, and the enemy, the evil one, does not like it when we mean business with God.

I remember as a parish assistant in London keeping Wednesday as a day of fasting. I used to expect that I would feel very spiritual. In fact what happened was that I would find myself becoming very very angry. It was almost as if, because I was letting down the physical defences, some of the other stuff that I was very good at pushing down came to the surface.

And when we close the door, and shut off other voices, sometimes those voices that we are very good at suppressing grow louder. You may have seen the programme, Extreme Pilgrim, in which an Anglican vicar goes off to spend 3 weeks in the Egyptian desert alone in a cave. And when you are alone in the desert, in the silence, it is very hard to hide from yourself.

Well we are not in the desert, we are spending under 48 hours away, and there are distractions. But it is as we are on our own that the temptations can come.

And it may be that one of the consequences of this weekend is that you know you have to deal with something.

Which leads me to this, the final clause in the Lord's prayer.

'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'

We need to be careful how we understand this prayer.

James 1:13-15 states, 'Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God', for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire'.

My suspicion is that James is challenging the person who says: "I prayed the Lord's prayer, 'Lead us not into temptation', but I found myself in a place of temptation. Therefore God is to blame because I fell"

It doesn't work like that, says James. We are tempted by our own sinful desires. It is not God who is tempting us.

In fact God has promised (1 Corinthians 10:13) that 'No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.'

So 1 Corinthians 10 needs to be taken together with our prayer, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil'. When we pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation ..’, we are saying, ‘God you promised not to allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear. So I am asking you to do what you promise’.

Of course, there is a flip side to this. It is not wrong to be tempted - Jesus was tempted, just as we are, but he did not sin. But if God answers the Lord's prayer as we believe that he does, and if 1 Corinthians 10 is true, and if what James says about temptation is true, then when we do give way to temptation, we have no excuse whatsoever. There was a way out, but we chose not to take it.

Throughout the Lord's Prayer, we have seen this double dimension

It is all about God: God's name, kingdom, will
He is the one we look to who provides our daily bread
He is the one who forgives
He is the one who is ultimately in control

But we need to pray for his kingdom and submit to his will
We need to pray for daily bread, and still work for it
We need to pray for forgiveness, but we also need to live forgiveness
We need to pray we won't be led into temptation beyond that which we can bear - but when temptation comes, we need to resist it.

Our prayer is that we will not be led into temptation, but we still need to watch and pray, to be aware of our weaknesses, to guard ourselves.

Our prayer is for deliverance from the evil one, who would wish to separate us from God, but we still need to work not to give him a foothold in our life.

Of course that means cutting out the stuff that is not helpful.

There is the story of the girl who used to stop by the river on her way back from school to have a swim. Her mother, when she found out, told her that she must not do it. The girl agreed, but mum decided to check her school bag before she left for school. She found in it her swimming costume. The girl explained, 'I just put it in, in case I was tempted'.

“Long ago, Tertullian told the story of a Christian woman who persisted in attending the gladiatorial shows. The word of the Church meant nothing to her. On one of her visits, she became possessed of a devil. When she returned home, the exorcist had to be sent for. With all the elaborate and impressive ritual of his craft, he began to question the devil: ‘How dare you enter the soul of a Chrisitan woman?’ ‘I had every right,’ came the reply, ‘I found her on my ground” (Rita Snowden, The Lord’s Prayer, p58)

We don’t need to go to the circus. We have the circus brought to us – to our living rooms and monitors. I read something recently, commenting on one of the latest murder mysteries, why the murders on TV are becoming more and more graphic.

I had a battle with my wireless enabled PDA. I was unaccountable on it, and it was too easy to go to inappropriate web sites. So I had to take Jesus' talking on 'If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out', by taking out the wireless card and destroying it.

We need to make ourselves accountable to each other. We need to pray and watch.

Notice we are not praying for deliverance from unfortunate events. Because we live in this world unfortunate events will happen. Rather it is praying that when unfortunate events happen, we will still stand.

Psalm 112.7 says of the righteous, “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord”

We are praying for deliverance from temptation
- for strength to resist when our lusts are so strong,
- for perseverance and courage when the bad things do happen,
- for faithfulness so that we continue to trust in God - his goodness (cf Job), his promises, his mercy and his love.
- for vision to live for his kingdom, even when it is unseen

We are praying for deliverance from evil: walking from the light into darkness, from calling good evil and evil good, from turning our back on God’s ways and on God.

It is the prayer to pray when we are going through it;
It is the prayer to pray to keep going;
It is the prayer that God will keep his promises and not take us beyond what we can endure.

Sometimes we look and see people who have to carry awful burdens. We wonder how they can cope. But Jesus never never never allows us to go through more than we can bear.

This prayer is always answered. There is only one time in history when this prayer was not answered. That was when Jesus prayed it on the cross. He was delivered into the hands of 'evil' on the cross (not in being crucified, although physical pain and shame was part of it), but Jesus went into evil in order to overcome evil, he dropped into the pit of hell in order to rescue us from hell.

So we do give thanks to God for his love and faithfulness in giving us this very special prayer.

I do hope that as we have explored these familiar words, they have come to us with a new freshness.

It is God-centred
It invites us into intimacy
It breaks open our self-centredness
It calls us to submit to him
It expresses our dependence on him
It asks us to examine ourselves
It covers our daily needs
It covers us with his protection
It shapes our life

And so, when we pray it, the prayer ends with the doxology (a declaration of praise): expressing our confidence in the one to whom we pray, 'For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory; For ever and ever. Amen'.

The Lord's Prayer (4)

A series of talks given on retreat, January 2008

Having spoken of physical bread, our relationship with the physical world, the Lord's prayer moves us on to consider our relationship with others.

At the heart of that relationship is forgiveness.
Forgiveness received from God, and forgiveness shown towards those who have taken from, offended or hurt us.

'Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us'

This is all wrong! It should be 'Forgive us our sins, so that we forgive those who sin against us'. God’s forgiveness comes first, and our forgiveness of others comes next.

That certainly is the logic of Matthew 18. In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the story of a ruler who has a servant who owes him about £10000. In those time it was Northern Rock kind of figures. The servant cannot pay, begs the master to have mercy on him and the debt is forgiven. The servant goes away and meets someone who owes him £5. But when the someone can't pay the £5 and begs for mercy, the servant does not show any mercy. He has him thrown into prison until he can pay. Of course the other servants see this and tell the ruler - who is furious. "I forgave you such a great debt. You were forgiven. But because you would not offer forgiveness to another, I now call in every single debt that you owe me".

So should not God's forgiveness come first, and then our forgiveness of others?

But in fact the Lord's prayer is not a denial of that. It is the case that divine forgiveness comes first. We are calling on God our Father. We are praying this prayer as believers. We are praying this prayer as forgiven sinners. We cannot pray to God without prior forgiveness. We have been forgiven, we stand in a state of forgiveness.

So it is as forgiven sinners that we are asking God to continue to have mercy, to continue to forgive us our sins, just as we forgive others.

We ask God to forgive us our large debts - our lack of trust, our ungratitude, our willful disobedience, our misplacing of faith, our fear driven decisions, our hunger for things, our submission to our demons and our lusts, our cold-heartedness and self-centredness (the list goes on!). We ask God to forgive us our large debts, just as we forgive others their small debts - the slight on our character, the person who misunderstands us, the questioning of our integrity, the one who stands in our way or who hurts us, who lets us down or takes advantage of us, who takes us for granted, who does not say thank you (the list goes on!)

The Kingdom of God, for which we have prayed, is about forgiveness. If we are not interested in forgiveness, in either receiving or offering forgiveness, then we have no part in the Kingdom of God. There is no place for us in God's kingdom if we are seeking revenge.

The Kingdom of God is about relationships built on forgiveness and mercy rather than on revenge.


Revenge says, 'What you do to me, I do to you'.

Last week, our daily readings were from the first chapters of Genesis. Cain kills Abel. He is sent out to wander the earth. He pleads with God, 'They will kill me'. God says, 'No. I will put my mark on you and if anyone kills you, veangence will be taken sevenfold on them'. Cain has a son, who has a son, who has a son, and so on until Lamech is born. Lamech is wounded by someone. Lamech kills him. Lamech boasts, 'If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold'.

That is revenge, in its brutal nakedness.

Later, when God gave the law to Moses, revenge is limited to reciprocity. It was severely qualified. If, before the law came, it was, 'You hurt me, I hurt you seven times over', in the law code it became: 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'.

Because of our nature however, it is difficult to build relationships or society on reciprocity justice. As one poster put it, 'If we lived eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, then the whole world would be blind and toothless'.


Jesus came to establish relationships and build a society on a different basis - forgiveness. He tells the story about the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, in response to a question. Peter has asked him, "Lord, how often shall I forgive my brother? Seven times?" Jesus replies, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy seven times"

Lamech stands for the revenge society. If someone hurts him, he will hurt him 77 times over. Jesus stands for the society that is based on forgiveness. He asks us to forgive 77 times.

Of course, this prayer is not saying that forgiveness is easy.
It was not easy for Father God. It cost him everything - his Son

It is not easy for us.

When we have been hurt badly, when trust has been betrayed, when people have ruined opportunites for us, or made life very difficult - it is so easy to dwell on those things - to let them eat away inside of us.

Nursed grudges are very satisfying. They make us focus inwards. Who are they to do this to me? Do they realise how much they have hurt me? Grudges nursed allow us to think of ourselves as superior, as the martyr, that the world or God owes us something. And we nurse them and feed them, and they grow, and they in turn feed the hunger for revenge: I'll show them that they don't mess with me.

The problem is that when we feed grudges they end up feeding on us. They destroy us. I often use the illustration of the grandfather of one of the girls murdered by Myra Hindley. She was up on the moors, showing the police where the bodies were buried. There was tight security and a strict cordon round the area. The grandfather was stopped trying to get through into the restricted area. He had with him a long knife. The interviewer asked him, 'What were you going to do?' He replied, 'What the f.. hell do you think I was going to do?' You saw his face, and it was twisted with hate.

25 years earlier she had destroyed his life. But for the last 25 years he had allowed her to go on destroying his life.

Few of us, thankfully, have to learn to forgive at that level. But if we can begin to learn to forgive the lesser things, maybe we will be more ready to forgive the greater things.

Forgiveness is not easy. Even small debts niggle. I remember the person who I lent £50, probably about 12 years ago. He was someone I knew well. He really needed the money, and he said he would repay. But he didn't.

My guess is that he simply and genuinely forgot. But I didn't, I hadn't, and I needed to let it go.

So how do we forgive, especially when we have been hurt very badly? It is not easy, but it is about an act of will. It is about saying to God: ‘God, I cannot forgive, and I do not even think that I wish to forgive; but I know I have to forgive, so I ask you to help me to forgive. Give me the will to forgive’. It may be a prayer that we have to pray many times.

During the war Corrie Ten Boon and her sister were imprisoned in Ravensbruch concentration camp. Life was hell and her sister died. She tells of the occasion when, many years later, she was preaching about forgiveness. At the end of the service a man was walking out of church and put out his hand. ‘Thank you for talking about forgiveness. I was one of the guards at Ravensbruck, and I am very sorry and I am asking for your forgiveness.’ She said, ‘I could not forgive him. I prayed, and as an act of will chose to raise my hand to touch his. As my hand met his hand, I suddenly knew that I had forgiven him’.

Forgiveness, by the way, does not mean letting go of justice. It does however mean the handing over of justice to others and to God. That is what Jesus means in Romans 12:19-21. God alone sees the whole situation. He alone knows what is going on in the heart and mind of others.

The secret of forgiveness is the fatherhood of God. It is the mercy and love of God. As I, through the work of the Holy Spirit, begin to grow to understand just how weak and sinful and messed up I am, and just how much I am dependent day by day on the mercy of God - for forgiveness, for second chances, for life; and as I begin to understand just how beloved I am in God's eyes, then I am set free, released from the self centredness of unforgiveness.

Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.

The Lord's Prayer (3)

THE LORD'S PRAYER (Matthew 6:6-15)
A series of talks given on retreat, January 2008

Not sure we fully appreciate this part of the Lord's prayer, until we learn to pray this prayer as if our lives depend on it. This is the prayer of a person who is totally dependent on God.

It seems a totally unnecessary prayer for someone who lives in our society, and who can safely presume that there will be three square meals a day. But it is not unnecessary

This is a prayer that

1. Expresses our total dependence on God

Having prayed for God's kingdom to come and his will to be done, we now pray that God will give us what we need here and now.

I had a friend who lived in East Germany, and who I met when he was allowed to study for one term at the theological college where I was. It was before the fall of the Berlin wall. He told us about one day in his school, when the philosophy teacher took the children to the dining room and said, 'Today we are going to ask God for our food'. She prayed a prayer. Nothing happened. The plates remained empty. 'See', she said, 'Prayer does nothing. Now, if we ask the dinner ladies for food', she clapped her hands and the dinner ladies came in bringing the food. 'This food', she continued, 'comes from so and so farm, has been prepared by so and so factory and cooked by the kitchen here. We thank them and not God’.

She completely misses the point. Of course we should thank them, but we should also thank God. It is God who gives us the gift of life, of hunger, of grain, of sun, of rain, of human wisdom and skills. It is God who ultimately gives us our daily bread.

When we pray this prayer, even if we think we know where our next meal is coming from, we are acknowledging that everything depends on him.

For Jesus and his followers, it really was a prayer that would have been prayed from the heart. My guess is that often they would not have known from where the next meal was coming. That would also be true for many of the people who Jesus was teaching, and it is still true for many people in our world today.

And then there are the people like Francis Assisi or George Muller; people who have literally taken Jesus at his word and sold all that they have and given to the poor. Sometimes George Muller, who set up and ran an orphanage, found that he literally had no food to feed the children. His graces were as every bit as dramatic as that of the atheist philosophy teacher: the difference was that his life depended on it. For him, this part of the Lord’s prayer took on a new dimension.

For us, it is a challenge. Every time we pray this prayer we need to ask ourselves if God is calling us to move out. But it is also a call to reflect on our dependence on him for the very basic substance of life.

2. This prayer reminds us that the physical matters.

Most of the Lord's prayer is about the invisible stuff, unseen things - about heaven, God's name, God's kingdom (working at the moment underground, like a mustard seed), relationships, temptation, protection from evil and the evil one
But this is about bread. It is hard to get more physical than bread. It touches 4 of the 5 senses: taste, touch, smell, sight (it is quite hard to hear bread).

And the physical does matter.

One of the things that many of us struggle with, is how it is possible to be a Christian in such a wealthy country as Britain. Is it right to be surrounded with so much affluence? Should we be trying to get more, or newer, or better? Should we be following the desert fathers - renouncing everything and walking off into the desert?

I guess it comes back to the question: How should we handle things?

But this prayer teaches that things are OK. Jeremiah urges the exiles in Babylon to pray for the welfare of the city in which they dwell. The desire to make things more attractive, more convenient, more effective, more simple is a good desire - so long as it does not become our overriding desire. According to 1 Timothy 6, it is not money that is the root of all evil. It is 'the love of money' that is a root of all kinds of evil.

So we do not all need to give up business, or to sell everything we have and go and live in a monastery, or become like Francis Assisi or George Muller. (Having said that, I suspect that God is calling many more of us to that kind of absolute freedom than wish to hear!)

We can pray for and work for the welfare of the city in which we dwell, so long as we realize that this city is not the ultimate city, and is not really our home.

The physical does matter. We are physical beings. And we need to be dependent on God not just for forgiveness and protection from evil and heaven, but for our body here and now. And we need to care for our body.

How we are physically, does affect us spiritually. One spiritual director I know always asks people who come to him when they are spiritually depressed, 'Are you eating your greens?' To that could be added: are you drinking enough (water - although a little bit of wine helps), are you eating enough or too much; are you taking exercise; are you breathing right; do you have a balanced life, do you say 'yes' to the things you should be saying 'yes' to, and 'no' to the things you should be saying 'no' to (even if it is the vicar asking you!).

I confess that I prefer to ask those questions about lifestyle rather than answer them. But they are questions that are very good to ask ourselves when we are on retreat.

It is right to pray about our 'daily bread'. Of course this can be spiritualised: Jesus teaches that he is the true bread. Many commentators on the Lord's prayer have done that, and the very fact that we say the Lord’s Prayer just before communion is significant.

But Jesus was human. He knew that physical food was important. He fasted, but at the end of the 40 days 'angels came and ministered to him': he needed food and they provided him with food.

And it is right to pray about physical needs. 1 Timothy 4:3-5 is key in this. We pray with thanksgiving, recognising that the source of all bread, of all life, is God.

3. This prayer reminds us of our corporate responsibility.

We cannot pray this prayer just for ourselves or for those around us. It is not about praying that there will be food on my plate.

We have privatised this prayer.

The prayer actually says, 'Give us today our daily bread'. The 'us' in this prayer is the whole Christian community, all who follow Jesus and call on God as Father.

(In saying 'the whole Christian community', I am not suggesting that we should not pray for the material benefit of unbelievers. The emphasis of the New Testamtent is that Christians have an overriding responsibility for our brothers and sisters who are Christians. But it also teaches that we are to love our neighbour as ourself: and our neighbour clearly includes unbelievers.)

So this clause, 'Give us today our daily bread' is a challenge to us to lift our eyes above our own plates, to look for the needs of others and to do something.

I have often wondered how people cope with this part of the prayer in, say, Zimbabwe, when they are watching their children die of starvation. Is it meaningless? Where is God? Why is he not answering the most basic of prayers?

But it is not just their problem. Because this is our prayer as well as their prayer, the fact that believers are starving today in the Sudan or wherever, becomes quite literally as much an issue for us as it is for them.

And so I do believe that this prayer - as with all the Lord's prayer - is not only an expression of dependence on God, but also a call to do something. When prayers are not answered, there are two things we need to do. We need to examine whether the prayer is valid. In this case there is no question about that. We then need to see whether there are obvious human obstacles that are preventing it from being answered. In this case there are very obvious reasons. There is quite sufficient food to go round everyone, believer or unbeliever.

So this is a prayer which should shake us out of complacency. God's kingdom, for which we have prayed, is a kingdom in which the poor are satisfied. God's good will, for which we have prayed, is not that some should starve. So having prayed for it, we should be willing to roll up our sleeves and do something about it.

John writes, 'How can the love of God be in you if you see your brother or sister in need and do nothing?' And in our global society we have no excuse. We may not like TV or the internet; we may hate the way that the media turns humanitarian crises into 'stories' or media events, but it does mean that we, quite literally, see our brothers and sisters in need. We have no excuse for sticking our head in the sand.

So as part of this prayer, we do have a role to play: whether that is supporting Tearfund, the work in Tanzania, Water Aid, or whatever. We are interconnected.

One final thing on this clause.

I began by saying that because this line is here, it is important to pray for the physical.

But it is only one line. One line on material needs, one line on the 'seen' things. The rest of the Lord's prayer is about 'unseen' things. In the Kingdom of God, while the seen things are not unimportant, the unseen things come first and take priority. That certainly is the message of the first of Jesus' temptations, when the devil urges him to turn stones into bread. Maybe that is a corrective we need in our praying: maybe we dwell too long on the seen things, asking for material blessings, for stuff, resources and healing, and not realizing that the real battle ground is in the realm of the unseen.

The Lord's Prayer (2)

THE LORD'S PRAYER (Matthew 6:7-15)
A series of talks given on parish retreat, January 2008

Hallowed be Your name

There are two versions of Christianity
In the first version God exists to make me happy. It is centred on me.
In the second version we exist to make God happy.

The first begins with how I can be blessed.
The second begins with how God can be blessed

The Lord's Prayer falls into the second category.

The first thing for which we pray is 'Hallowed be your name'. We pray that God's name will be shown to be holy, set apart, honoured, glorified.

God’s name: His name is the embodiment of who He is. To honour his name is to honour him. YAHWEH, ‘I am who I am’. It was so holy that the Jews would not and do not even now speak it. And yet it sums up the complete uniqueness and the absolute divine freedom of God, the power of God, the otherness of God

And as Christians, we have another name, JESUS CHRIST. It sums up the intimacy and closeness of God - the prophet says, ‘He will be called Immanuel – God with us; the purpose of God – he is Jesus, the Saviour, and Christ, the messiah; the nature and power and love of God.

We should wince every time people say, 'O God' or ‘Jesus Christ’. Sadly ‘God’ is now a standard swear word. I’ve been told of a child in reception class who was in floods of tears at the end of one of her first assemblies. The vicar had taken the assembly. 'That man', she said, 'Kept on saying a rude word, which my mummy told me I must never say. He kept on saying 'God'. Or the story Noel Edwards tells of the time he was involved in a car rally accident and was thrown through the windscreen onto the ground. People ran to him, and as the first person got to him he groaned, ‘Jesus Christ’. ‘No’, said the man, ‘Not him, but one of his faithful followers’.

We should weep every time God's name is dishonoured because of those who profess to be his children. Having said that, I notice that often the most scandalised are those who are not all that keen on bringing glory to God's name, and who are looking for some excuse to shame God and his people.

We need to guard that we are not using God's name as a pretext for seeking our own glory – whether that is in terms of roles that we play, positions that we are given. Jesus was particularly fierce in his condemnation of those who used their religious role to gain wealth, to puff themselves up or to exploit others.

When we pray, 'Hallowed be your name', we are praying for is that people will recognized the ‘otherness’ of God’s name; that they will come to love and to revere the name of God. When we pray 'Hallowed be your name', we seek the honour of God's name, and of the name of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 115 begins with those great lines, “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness”

And that seeking of God’s honour is tied in with the next two clauses

Your kingdom come

It is for God's kingdom that we pray - not this Kingdom (in which we live), not the King or the Queen’s dom (house), and certainly not my kingdom.

My kingdom is centred on me and includes the people who I perceive to rotate around me, or who I think should rotate around me. It is about the people who can meet my needs or carry out my desires.

God’s kingdom is centred on Him. To pray, 'Your Kingdom come', is an act of submission and an act of rebellion.
It is an act of rebellion because we are saying to others who claim jurisdiction over us, that we have a higher authority.
It is an act of submission because we are saying that what is important is not my business, my success, my reputation, my health or happiness - but God's business: his righteousness, his rule, his mercy, his peace, his justice and love.

To pray, 'Your kingdom come', is to stand the world on its head.

It really is a Copernican revolution. Before Copernicus, they thought that the earth was the centre of the solar system, just as I think that I am the centre of the universe.

When we knew we were moving from Islington to Bury, people asked if I would miss being somewhere where so much was going on. I used to answer, and the tragedy is that I believed it, by saying, 'I wasn't too worried because I was arrogant enough to believe that wherever I lived would be the centre of the universe'.

But it is not true. When I pray, ‘Your Kingdom come’, I am declaring that I am not the centre of the universe, just as the earth is not the centre of the solar system. It was only when they realised that the sun was the centre of the solar system, and that the planets rotated around the sun, that it all began to make sense - and it is when I realise that it is me who needs to go round God rather than God who is going around me, that life makes sense.

This is a prayer for kingdom values - for the values of the cross and resurrection: we are praying that God's wisdom and strength will be seen - even if it means that I will be shown to be foolish and weak; we are praying that love and self sacrifice and self giving will triumph. We are praying for those values to be seen in my own life, to be seen in our society.

This is a prayer for the lifestyle of the kingdom. We cannot in integrity pray 'Your Kingdom come', if at the same time we are not willing to change areas in our life where we know that things are not right. There are no no-go areas for God's kingdom.

When we pray, 'Your Kingdom Come', we are obeying Jesus' command to 'Seek first his kingdom and righteousness'.

But this is also a prayer that the ruler of this Kingdom will come, that God's king will come.

At the moment the Kingdom comes invisibly when people submit to Jesus Christ; This is mustard seed stuff. A mustard seed is so small, but it grows to become something so big. At the moment it comes when we submit to him, when we renew our submission before him. It comes when a person receives Christ; when they submit to him, when they trust him and live by faith in him.

But the prayer, 'Your Kingdom come' is also a prayer that looks forward to the time when the promised Kingdom of God will break into this world visibly and in power, when what is unseen will be seen. It is a prayer for the return of Jesus. It is an echoe of the prayer of the penultimate verse of the bible: 'He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.' It is a prayer that Jesus Christ will come

Your Kingdom come

Your will be done on earth as in heaven

I used to read these words as if they were saying, 'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven - with absolute obedience'. And that is a valid reading. It certainly ties in with Jesus' words in the garden of Gethsemane, 'not my will but yours'.

However, they have taken on for me an additional meaning: 'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven - with great joy'.

The angels delight to do the will of God.

And we are praying for God’s will to be done here on earth, by me, by others, not only with great obedience, but with great delight and joy.

There are times when it is easy to do the will of God. In fact Jesus promised that his yoke was ‘light and easy’. But there will be times for us, as there were for Jesus, when we struggle to do his will. At those times we need to remember that God’s will really is good, perfect and pleasing (Romans 12:2 cf Psalm 119:97, ‘Oh, how I love your law!’)

Hebrews tells us that Jesus went through with the pain and the shame of the cross because of 'the joy set before him'.

I spoke earlier about two versions of Christianity:

The version that says that God exists to make me happy
And the version that says that I exist to make God happy

So many of our prayers belong to the first version. God do this for me. God do that for me. We treat him as the genii in the bottle.

The beginning of the Lord’s prayer belongs to the second version. We pray that God’s name will be honoured, that his kingdom will come and that his will be done.

But when we do that we discover something surprising. It is in seeking God’s blessing that we discover our own blessing.

The Lord's Prayer (1)

THE LORD’S PRAYER (Matthew 6:7-15)

A series of talks given on Retreat, January 2008


Coming on retreat is about doing what Matthew 6 urges us: it is about shutting the door and praying unseen to the unseen God who answers our prayers touching an unseen world.

1. We shut the door in order to remove distractions

CS Lewis writes, "The real problem .. of the Christian life comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning is just shoving them all back; just listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind". Beyond Personality, p42

Other voices are some of those distractions, and on a silent retreat we seek to silence some of them so that we can listen to that other voice.

Silence can be difficult, especially when we know that we are meant to be silent. When we are told that we must not do something, the very first thing we wish to do is the thing we've been told not to.

Story of visitor to monastery: do not look through that window.

And silence on a retreat takes time to get used to. You will walk out of here and you will want to to talk. Breakfast will seem very odd, a bit like a party game. Not absolute - can ask for butter if people are not noticing.

But silence is the gift that we give each other. We give the other the space to be with their own thoughts, without intruding in on them.

Opportunities to talk: Sat afternoon - go for walk; also, if you wish, you can sign up.

One warning: often in the silence, the demons can emerge. Lusts and desires, lonliness, fears, despair. Most of the time routine and activity push them away - but when that activity and routine changes, they can errupt with a veangeance. Sometimes they can be driven out by disciplined thought, through prayer and bible reading, but sometimes we need to talk things through.

So there are opportunities to talk. You might choose to go for a walk with someone; or you may wish to speak with myself.

2. We shut the door because what is going on here is between me and God.

In order to guide us through this weekend, I will be sharing some reflections on the Lord's prayer.


The Lord's prayer is an invitation to intimacy. It is the invitation to call God, Father, and to share in the relationship that Jesus had with his Father.

We might wonder at that relationship. What was going on when Jesus prayed? That is why the disciples, having watched Jesus pray, go to him (in Luke 11), and say, 'Teach us how to pray'.

And the relationship begins with intimacy.

When Jesus gets left behind as a 12 year old child, he says to Mary, ‘Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house’. At his baptism, the beginning of his public ministry, the voice from heaven says, 'This is my son, whom I love'. And Jesus knew God as Father. It is the title that he uses for God. Even when he is in the garden of Gethsemane, he prays, 'My Father ..' (Matt 39, 42); on the cross he prays 'Father into your hands I commit my Spirit' (Luke 23:46).

And Jesus invites his disciples, his followers, to share this relationship of intimacy with God. He invites us to call God 'Father'.

For some, the word 'Father' is difficult. Some of us will have had bad experiences of fathers; some of us may look back at our own attempts to be fathers, or for that matter, mothers, and be very aware of how far we have fallen short. But at the beginning of this prayer we are invited to put that to one side, and to meet Jesus' father. He is the model for human fatherhood and, for that matter, human motherhood.

But we are invited into something that is intimate. That is why we are called to shut the door. This is between God and you.

There are times when I struggle with not the idea, but the reality of intimacy with God. At times there is the intimacy, but much of the time there seems to be nothing. Henri Nouwen writes of how he expected, as he grew older, that he would enjoy greater and greater intimacy with God. In fact, he said, for him, the opposite happened. God seemed to become more and more distant. But, he added, God was not more distant. It was just that he had to live more and more by faith in the unseen God who would be called Father.

I know when I lose this. It is when I am most tempted to rely on works rather than grace. I angst about whether what I am doing is pleasing to him. It is when I try and take things into my own hands. I seek approval from others as a substitute to approval from God. And yet, of course, he is not distant. And I am, and we are, called to live by faith in the God who invites us to call him Father.

I need to add one more thing.

Although this prayer is very personal, it is not an individual prayer. Jesus says, 'When you pray, say, 'Our Father in heaven'


It is about you and God, but it is not about 'you and the God who is only your God'. God has not been privatised. That is how many people treat God. They say, 'But I don't need other Christians to pray'. Of course that is true at one level, but it is not really true. It is saying, 'The God I pray to is my God. So I can do with him what I wish. I can make him or her or it into my image.'

That is why we do things together.

As one of the early church fathers said, ‘We cannot have God as our father, if we are not prepared to have other Christians as our brothers and sisters’. So on retreat, although most of our time is time on our own, we do come together - for meals, the talks and communion – and for those who wish, the Jesus Prayer, the time of intercession (based on the litany), the talk on prayer. Of course if you sleep through the whole weekend, that is fine – but please let Sylvia or me know if you plan to miss meals – so the house doesn’t need to prepare, and so that we know that you are OK.

It is significant that while religion is based on a whole list of physical things that people need to do, Jesus only told his disciples to do three physical things. The first is to be baptised. The second is to meet together to break bread in remembrance of him. The third – is to wash each others feet! We cannot do any of them on your own.

We pray to our Father in heaven

3. We shut the door to pray to our Father in heaven.

God is unseen. We pray unseen to the unseen God whose kingdom is as yet unseen (Matthew 6:6). Our prayers are answered at an unseen level, our reward is in heaven.

Jesus contrasts this unseen prayer with those who pray in order to be seen. They 'pray' in order to get a visible reward: respect in this world. Jesus says, those who pray in order to get visible rewards in this visible world will get what they want - in this world. But those who pray in secret to the unseen God in heaven will receive rewards in heaven. Matthew 6:5-6

So there are three reasons for shutting the door.
1. Practical - removing of distractions
2. Intimacy. We are praying to 'Father’. But we do not forget that in this intimacy there is also unity. He is 'our' Father
3. We pray unseen to our unseen Father in heaven

I do hope that as we shut the door, each one of us will learn more of the intimacy that comes from calling God Father, and that we will be able, by faith, to encounter again the unseen God.

Saturday, 5 January 2008


MATTHEW 2:1-12

It all seems very sudden this year.

We’ve celebrated the new year, the schools have already been back 2 days, and in case you hadn’t realised, Easter is only two and a half months away.

This is the Sunday that the church calls Epiphany. Epiphany means literally ‘concerning the light’, and we remember the wise men who travelled to Jesus by the light of the star. Please turn to Matthew 2:1-12

It is a significant passage for us at the beginning of the year, because it is about worship.


It is about an act of worship. The wise men bow down before the child.

But it also tells us about worship as lifestyle.

In Romans 12:2, Paul tells the Roman Christians, ‘in view of God’s mercy .. present your bodies as living sacrifices, which is their spiritual (or reasonable) worship”.

And it is appropriate to start the year looking at worship, because worship is what we are about.

The Westminster catechism states that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Worship is about glorifying God. It is about having special moments when we glorify God, and it is about glorifying God with all of our lives.

Our own vision statement says that we seek ‘to worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit’

And we try to do this in acts of worship on Sundays, in homegroups and in our daily prayer times. But we also seek to do it in the rest of our lives, 24/7, what I would call lifestyle worship.

So we are going to look at what it meant for the wise men to worship
1. Their worship was focussed on Jesus

In this passage he is described as the King of the Jews (v1), as the ruler and shepherd of Israel (v6). And yet non-Jews, non-Israelites come to worship him. And we have already been told in Matthew that this child is Immanuel, God with us, and we very quickly learn that he is the Son of God.

The wise men go to where Jesus is.

Of course, for us, since the cross and resurrection, we do not need to go to a special place to meet with Jesus.

But the picture of a journey is a useful picture for lifestyle worship.

We are on a journey through life. The direction has been set by Jesus. He is the one who travels with us. The goal of the journey is to see him better. Eventually it is to meet him face to face.

It involves speaking of Jesus. Notice how the wise men naturally go to Jerusalem and say, “Where is the one who is the King of the Jews?”. Witness is not simply about arguing or proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. It can be as little as going on holiday and asking the people who own the bed and breakfast, “Where is the nearest church which has services, because we would like to go to worship”.

Interestingly, it involves uncertainty, and times of doubt. Obviously the star disappears from the sight of the wise men. (v10 tells us that they were overjoyed when they saw the star, so it must have disappeared at some point). They have found guidance from the bible, and from those who knew their bible. And there are many times in our Christian life when we live by faith in what God has said, and not by experience.

So, their worship was focussed on Jesus

2. Their worship involved submission to Jesus.

It begins with the recognition that Jesus is a king, that he is in fact the king of the Jews, but that he is more than that.

That is why they bow down before him.

One of the things that I greatly valued from our time in the Orthodox seminary was discovering the use of the body in worship. It seems slightly strange that we worship God with our bodies for the whole of the week, in the way we live, but when we come to church we only use the top half of our head.

And so there is a great deal of bowing. Bowing before the scriptures, bowing before the image of the cross. bowing before the icons representing Christ.

I remember remarking to one lady, that I had a problem bowing before an icon. She replied, “Yes Malcolm, I suspect that you would have a problem bowing to anything or anyone”. It was one of those comments that make you think!

Of course, the challenge is to ensure that my bowing before the cross is imaged or reflected in my lifestyle. But I guess that is true of my words just as much as of my actions. I state in church that ‘Jesus is Lord’. The challenge is whether I actually live those words. Am I someone who bows before Christ in my daily life.

When Malcolm Rogers wants to do this …
But Jesus Christ wants me to do that (and it usually is quite clear)
Who wins?

Herod of course saw the idea of another king, and submission to another king, as profoundly threatening. He could not cope with the idea of submitting to a higher authority. And as a result, he does what many people do: he tries to deny it and to smash it.

I don’t know who has seen the film the Golden Compass. It is the film version of the first of Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy. It is a very good and well worth going to see. I am not really giving anything away when I say that it is about a child who sets out to smash the higher authority, the magisterium – which in the novels, at least, becomes more and more explicitly the church. But Pullman has made this higher authority a real aunt sally, an organisation which wishes to rule for the sake of ruling, even if it means suppressing the truth, and destroying people in the process of suppressing the truth. It is backed up by God, who turns out in the last book to be a feeble old man, who is being kept alive by the magisterium and who needs to be allowed to die so that there can be freedom.

The teaching of the bible is that Jesus is king, and that we do, like the wise men, need to bow before him. But paradoxically – and this is something that Herod had not realised – it is as we worship him, as we bow before him, that we are set free. The wise men are wise precisely because they came and bowed before Jesus.

That is why the second of the main questions that we are asked at baptism is the question: “Do you submit to Christ as Lord?” Do you bow before him.

3. Their worship involves surrender to Jesus

The wise men give gifts to Jesus

We often focus on the gifts, and what they tell us about Jesus, but here I would have us focus on the givers. v11 tells us, ‘They opened their treasures’.

These were things that they valued, they were precious to them. And yet they gave them to Jesus.

Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. They left something of themselves with Jesus.

That is why bringing the collection forward is an integral part of our act of worship. We are offering our treasure to him.

We will be talking about giving later this year. Partly we have to! We have a deficit budget of £26k! But it is not just because of that. It is because what we surrender to Jesus is a sure way of revealing where our heart is.

Think what you put in the collection plate (or give through standing order or however) – not the amount, but rather what it cost you. £10 might seem a great deal to give. But £10 of a weekly income of £250? Is that really giving of your treasure? Is that what Jesus Christ means to us?

And it is not just money. The first time the word ‘worship’ is sued in the bible is in Genesis 22. Abraham has been told to sacrifice his son in a particular place. He sets out there with his son and his servants, but he hasn’t told anyone what he is going to do. As he gets close to the place, he says to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you”.

Worship for Abraham means the giving up of the son who God had promised him and for whom he had waited many many years.
Worship for Isaac, the son, meant the giving up of his life.

That story is revealing, because God gives Abraham his son back, and God gives Isaac his life back. But we must not assume that God will give us back what we give to him.

Worship involves the giving of our treasure, the surrender of our treasure to our King.

At the beginning of this new year, we need to learn to bow

Not necessarily to symbols – although sometimes it can be helpful

But certainly, inwardly, in spirit and in truth, in heart and in mind we need to learn to bow before Jesus Christ, the king, the Son of God

We need to learn to submit to him, to do what he wants and not we want.
We need to learn to surrender to him, to give him of our treasure.

For it is in that, we find true worship.