Finding Our Way Again—Prayer.3

by admin on March 5, 2010

Reflection for Sunday 28 February 2010

Was Jesus smart? Not a usual sentence in out thinking. For many of us Jesus is disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. His role, we are content to say, is being a sacrificial lamb, an alienated social critic, holy. It’s just that he’s not brilliant. Do you think Jesus lived on the margins of his society? Or did he actually live immersed in it?

How do you picture “smart people?” Aren’t those the folks who are good at managing life as it really is? I’ll have to admit that I, too, didn’t think of Jesus as an intellectually capable man…..the idea just never got on my radar. It certainly wasn’t considered in seminary. It was Dallas Willard, in an essay entitled “Jesus the Logician,” who actually laid out this proposition: Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. WOW. Just let that sink in for a minute. Certainly Einstein was there…maybe even Dante…how about Jim Tressel…hey, what about me?

Yes I believe that Jesus was and still is the smartest man alive. This is my take on him and this is why he speaks with absolute credibility. What is really at stake here is this idea: did Jesus know what he was talking about? There are lots of people out there who don’t. We say, “So and so doesn’t have a clue.” I believe that Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about. He knew first hand about the Kingdom of God. His teaching, his preaching, his living—they all have credibility.

Tonight I want to wrap up our discussion on prayer, which we have been doing for the last couple of weeks. Daily prayer. So let’s look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Tonight we will consider 6:5-15.

Much of my thinking here has been heavily influenced by Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy, which will be an eye-opening experience for everyone who does the hard work of actually reading it. I call Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount “the talk on the hill.” It’s about the rightness of a kingdom heart. It begins with the Beatitudes, then salt and light, then in verse 20-48 a major challenge to the way the world works. In these verses Jesus moves from the deepest roots of human evil—burning anger and obsessive desires to the height of human fulfillment in divine love. Again and again—theosis.

Dallas says, “The entire edifice of human corruption is undermined by eliminating its foundation in the human personality.” This is the true meaning of the Jesus movement. When was the last time organized church talked about this, much less even helped any of us get it?

Here’s a real kicker; from Dietrich Bonheoffer no less: “The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it.” The light bulb goes off—duh! Isn’t that profound? Just do it. Notice that he doesn’t say, “believe it; make it a doctrine, pass it down as rules… just do it.”

Doing—not merely just hearing—is how we know the reality of the Kingdom of God and are able to integrate our life into it. Notice that move our life into it; not vice versa.

[At this juncture someone in our group made the observation that this “doing” business wasn’t about getting it altogether in one full swoop; the Kingdom is a process. This provided the perfect segue for my following comments. No, it wasn’t planned this way.]

The various scenes and situations which Jesus discusses in the Talk on the Hill are actually stages in progressing toward a life of God’s kind of loving. Now we know where our well-being really lies. Jesus provides a foundation for a practical strategy for becoming the beings God created us to be. Again, just think of the implications herefoundation; practical; strategy; becoming; God’s vision for us. It all speaks of a life long process which is quite a counter intuitive message in our instant gratification world; no sound bites for Jesus.

OK…time to look at Matthew 6:5-15 in light of all this stuff which I just said. This is the literal core, the very middle, of the Sermon on the Mount. Everything prior leads up to this teaching, and everything after, is built up it. At the center is the Lord’s Prayer. It is the model for the praying of the Jesus movement.

First off—don’t be like the hypocrites. Who are they? What is one? Hypocrite is a Greek word from the theater—it’s literally the face mask actors wear to become the persona of their stage character. A mask hides the real person; it’s for show, for the production. You get the picture of how Jesus is using it. Hypocrites are big into impression management. Contrary to their religious views God is not the object of concern, impression of others is. The ego swells, the soul shrivels. Ego = edging God out.

But—there is a big word; a major conjunction in the words of Jesus. But when the children of light pray—they disappear from sight. Pray in secretthe hidden reality of God at work in us.

Here’s a caution against senseless repetition; yet thoughtfully used liturgical prayer is what Jesus has in mind. Three times a day, seven times a day, five times a day, morning, noon night; there is a rhythm to one’s prayer life. It is a move beyond the “in case of emergency break glass” mentality that so many of us have allowed out prayer-theology to be.

Kingdom prayer, then, is saying with our whole being, moving with resolute intent and clarity of mind into the flow of God’s action. Here is well thought out liturgical prayer. This is a category of thought to which Jesus in inviting, encouraging and actually empowering us to be doing. Remember againrepent is to change your mind. Metanoia— meta + nous.

Here is where the Lord’s Prayer comes in. Again…right in the very middle of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the work of prayer, if I can use that idea.

I’ve been reading Jon Krakauer’s Into This Air. It’s his hair-raising narrative of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy where many climbers died due their lack of due diligence. Scott Fisher and Rob Hall, both very experienced climbers and guides—been to the summit many time—were the leaders of two ill fated expeditions. Krakauer’s book is an eye witness account of failed leadership. But here is why I find this story helpful.

It takes two months to climb Everest. In the preceding six months you’re there just to prepare acclimatization—allowing the body to adjust to the low oxygen content in the atmosphere. This gets at our previous question a few minutes ago about “all at once” or “a gradual movement.”

During this acclimatization time you build a series of camps that go up the trail to the top. Base camp is at 17,000 feet; the summit is 29,000+ feet. So it looks like thisbase camp, then one day you hike up to and establish camp one; you return to base the same day; next day you do the same thing….several days later you stay up there all night then return to base. Then starts the hike to establish camp two a little further up the mountain. Same idea…go up for the day…return to base on the same day. You do this sequence—remember you’ve got two months of a window—so you have a goal and a time frame.

From camp four you’ll make the final assault to the summit. That hike must be done in one single day of 18 hours. You begin in the middle of the night, conquer the top around noon and get back down before it gets dark. You do not want to descend in the dark. You get the picture here? Gradual acclimatization. That’s the way the kingdom of God works. These small steps into eternity. We must get used to God’s ways in our lives, otherwise we run away.

Now Krakauer’s story tells us about everything going wrong in the end. Both Hall and Fisher relied on their own savvy, daring, experience of victory, to lay aside the rules of the final ascent. Many of their group did not reach Everest’s top until 4pm; much too late for a safe return. What happened that day was that a large blizzard raged on Everest…something that neither leader took into account or much considered possible.

Our day in and day out prayer life can literally save us when the blizzard rages. Thoughtful liturgical prayer. That’s what is called “the rule of prayer” and we will finish up tonight with that, looking at that other hand-out you have. The blank at the top of the page is for your namee.g. Bill’s rule of prayer. The idea here is to make this uniquely yours.

[The remaining few minutes were devoted to reviewing the aforementioned worksheet, with the encouragement of developing one’s own rule. We will report back next time.]

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