January 23, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“This then is how you ought to pray, [begin by saying] ‘Father, our Father, hallowed is Your name.” (Matthew 6.9)
We will often hear in the “evangelical” mindset the thrust of “relationship over religion.” While it makes me shudder because I believe there is a major lack of understanding concerning the word “religion,” I certainly understand the promotion of “relationship” when it comes to our faith and the practicing of our faith. When we fall out of or away from the necessary connectedness of our “deep” to God’s “deep” there is an enablement of needing a system to bridge the gap between ourselves and the wholeness we desire and seek. Even Jesus as the Christ has been promoted as that “bridging the gap” between humanity and God on a personal and corporate level of existence. The problem exists that no such bridge exists. I have hinted at this before in other writings but the concept of “bridging the gap” is not biblical. It may well have its roots in the problem-solving mentality of human beings as it is connected with the “chasm fixed between us” mentioned in the story told by Jesus of “Lazarus and the Rich Man.” In that story, Abraham responds to the desperate plea of the rich man for a drink of cooling water where he exists in torment after death. Abraham responds it is impossible to give you a drink because “there is a chasm fixed between us.” But, in reality, if we will be honest about the implications of what Jesus said the words of Abraham would be (we do not have to take the story as a literal event, but we can), the chasm is not between Abraham and the rich man. The chasm exists in us all because believing in sin causes us to stand apart from and against believing in faith. Sin is a reality. It is an awful reality. Left to itself, sin separates us from the love of God. It creates the space in which we can believe that there is an existence apart from God. We know, as mighty ones of God, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Sadly, the day will come when the manifestation of a place in which the transforming and saving power of love is no longer available. God will still be present but there will be no reaching out or in to that place. That will be an authentic hell. That day will come when what we know is true in ourselves because sin is in the world will become true in an eternal “unresting” place on the Day of Judgment. On that day the chasm will truly exist. But, we do not have to dwell in that place forever. What is the solution?
Jesus practiced that solution on a daily basis. His formula was found in the prayer He modeled for His disciples. Yes, Jesus lived the life of prayer. He revealed the key to His success of being human in a broken world with the framework of creating “a house of prayer” which was opposed to a den of thieves. We know the scripture found in the tenth chapter of John where Jesus says “I AM the gate of the sheep and whoever comes through me shall be saved [safe]. As opposed to the thief who seeks to enter by another way and promotes thievery, murder and destruction.” Jesus saw such transformation happening, as John recorded in the second chapter of his gospel, within the Temple courts itself. Jesus was not building bridges or mending fences with His cat o’nine tails torrent knocking over the tables of the money changers and scattering the empty sacrifices intended to enable salvation without the real power to save. Hear the words of Jesus as John remembers them, “Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace [for salvation].” What was the purpose of the Temple? It was, as Matthew remembered the words in that moment, “a house of prayer.” (Matthew 21.12ff) But, in John, Jesus goes on to say to the perpetrators of such evil practice, being thieves of faith themselves, that “they could tear down ‘this house’ but He would rebuild it in three days.” How would Jesus rebuild it? It would be rebuilt by putting a life of prayer into faithful action. Whatever He would ask the Father, the Father would provide for the good of the people and to His glory. His key to success which was best exhibited in “laying down His life so that He could pick it up again” or what we know as “resurrection” was to submit to God in prayer that His Father’s will be done on earth as it was in Heaven.
Interesting, and germane to this series of reflections, is the call to a religion (a practice of living life according to faith in something beyond themselves) which brought nearness to God and humanity. The religion of faithfulness to the Father of spirit and truth which was shaped and bounded by prayer was the key to success of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Obviously in Heaven, it was easy to see God the Father seated with God the Son at His right hand (as in the vision of Stephen before he was stoned to death) and God the Holy Spirit seated at His left hand (which was symbolic of wisdom and knowledge). But, on earth, it was only truly visible in the fervent belief of this right relationship espoused and exposed by prayer at the very intimate level of a good father to his children. When we pray, as when we live out that prayer in life, we should be focused on reflecting with and reflecting upon God as our Father.
Father, You are good and call us into goodness not by works or by privilege but by faithfulness to living in right relationship between us and You and one another through Jesus our Lord. AMEN.