"Praying Against The Grain"
Scripture:  Matthew 6:1-16

Automaticity

While I was going to college, I spent one summer working for Del Monte, and my job title was what they called a “Bug Scout.”  Basically, what that means is that I drove throughout Eastern Washington, going from corn field to corn field, looking for evidence of insect damage in the fields.  Every morning, I’d get in a truck and drive 253 miles – the exact same 253 miles – 7 days per week, for the entire summer.  As you can imagine, I got to know those 253 miles of road quite well.

A strange thing happens to you when you drive the same stretch of road day after day.  You get to the point where you know exactly what’s coming up, you know every little turn and dip in the road.  You start driving, and when you arrive at your destination an hour later, you realize that you have no recollection of the last 45 minutes of the drive.  You’ve arrived at the right place…  But you’re really not sure how.

Maybe some of you have experienced this?  It’s a bit unnerving, and it has an official name – Highway Hypnosis.

Highway Hypnosis is an example of the broader phenomenon known in psychology as automaticity, which is the “ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit.”[1]  You may have experienced automaticity while vacuuming, riding a bike, or speaking.  I think of it being sort of like your body being set on cruise control while your mind does other things.

I’ve got one more example to share with you, which I think that you will all be able to relate to.  Something that probably already happened earlier in this worship service, and you didn’t even know it.  Are you ready for the example?  Okay.  It begins like this:  “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

The Lord’s Prayer

We all know it’s true, don’t we?  The Lord’s Prayer has become so common for us to recite that we don’t really think about what we’re actually praying for most of the time.  I know that as soon as I say, “Our Father,” my muscle memory takes over and my brain works to make sure that I’m saying the words at the right pace and volume.  All too often, I find myself more worried about the possibility of slipping up than I am about making sure that my heart is truly meaning the words that I’m offering to God.

I’ve studied the prayer before and walked through it, word for word, a few times in my life.  I know what’s in there, and I know that I generally agree with the content.  After all – Jesus taught it to us and told us to pray that way, so that makes it pretty hard to argue with.  But most of the time, I’m not thinking about the words as they roll off my tongue. 

So I enjoyed having the opportunity to revisit the meaning of this prayer as I prepared my sermon this week.  We take it for granted, but there’s a lot of really good stuff in there!  A lot of really deep stuff, really tough stuff, really challenging stuff.  In the translation found in the New Revised Standard Version, the prayer is just 58 words long…  But it has enough content packed in there to fill up an entire sermon series in itself.  …Which I hope that I have the opportunity to share with you all sometime!

But for now, I’m just giving one sermon on this passage.  So I’m going to focus on just one verse – verse 10 – for the rest of this sermon.  If you’re interested in further exploration, I encourage you to check out this book, which is available in the church library.  (Lord, Teach Us, by Willimon & Hauerwas)

Your Kingdom Come.  Your Will Be Done.

Anyway.  Verse 10.  “Your Kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

When I really think about these words, I grow really concerned over the fact that this prayer is often taken so lightly.  “Your Kingdom come.  Your will be done.”  It’s concerning because these aren’t words that we can simply offer to God, that we can wait for God to act upon.  We don’t just ask these things of God, as if they are things that God simply bestows upon the world.  Instead, at the root of these petitions is the promise that we make to God, a promise to be deeply involved with and to participate in what God is doing in our lives and world.  And if we want this prayer to be answered, then we need to be prepared for some pretty radical transformation and reorganization of our priorities.           

Lets take a closer look at the two parts of verse 10.

Your Kingdom Come:  Radical Transformation

The first part reads, “Your Kingdom come.”  If the two pieces of verse 10 form a cohesive request to God, then this part is the “what” of the request.  What is it that we are seeking for God to do in response to our petition?  Bring about the Kingdom of God.

It sounds innocent enough – we’ve heard about God’s Kingdom before.  In his notes on the verse, John Wesley said this:

May the kingdom of grace come quickly, and swallow up all the kingdoms of the earth: may all mankind, receiving you, O Christ, for their king, truly believing in you name, be filled with righteousness, and peace, and joy; with holiness and happiness, until they are removed hence into your kingdom of glory, to reign with you forever and ever.

When we ask for God’s kingdom to come, we aren’t asking for God to just make the world a better, happier place to live.  We aren’t asking for less pain, or more flowers, of bluer skies.  We are asking God to unveil an entirely new world, a new reality, a new reign that pushes aside every kingdom that humanity has created.

Praying for God’s Kingdom to come is an acknowledgement that this world isn’t complete yet.  While we catch glimpses of the Kingdom, we don’t yet see the full impact of what God has in store for all of creation…  So we acknowledge before God our discontent with the status quo of this world.    “The Christian faith is not satisfied with things as they are, now, today.”[2]  We are always looking to the big picture, “always leaning into the future, standing on our tiptoes, eager to see what God is bringing to birth among us.”[3]

So we come before God as people fed up with seeing God’s beloved people broken and oppressed.  We come before God as people ready to see the world radically transformed by the grace of God.

Your Will Be Done:  Reorganization of Priorities

The second part of verse 10 is the “how” part of the request that we make to God.  “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is the harder part to fully buy into, isn’t it?  This is the part that should really make us nervous when we utter the Lord’s Prayer. 

Asking that God’s will be done on earth sounds really great in theory.  But if you think about it…  It has some pretty major implications for our lives.  We’re all for doing the will of God, so long as God wills for us the things that we also desire for ourselves.  And if you think of the ways that we so often pray in our culture – for situations to turn out to our own benefit, for help to come at the right moment, for success and happiness.  It is much easier to ask God to bless our will than for us to seek God’s will.

But in order for us to be a part of what God is doing in the world – to be a part of the unveiling of God’s coming kingdom – we need to allow our hearts to be changed to desire God’s will rather than our own.  We need to be willing to stray from our cultural norms as we allow God to orient us toward peace, justice, and hope rather than selfishness, fear, and complacenty.  We must be able to trust that, no matter how great the plans are that we have made for our own lives, God’s plans always have to take precedent.  It’s no mistake that there are echoes of Jesus’ final prayer to God in the Garden of Gethsemene, where he prayed, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, then not my will, but your will be done.”  We, too, are called to seek God’s will ahead of our own.

To pray, “Your will be done,” is to pray not for what we want, but rather to beg to have our lives caught up in a project that is bigger and better than our own lives – that is, the adventure of what God is doing in the world.[4]  It is to acknowledge that God is God and that we are not – no matter how hard the voices in our world may be trying to convince us otherwise. 

If we really mean what we pray, then we have to be willing to completely rearrange our priorities.

Conclusion

My hope and prayer for each of us is that we no longer pray this prayer simply from memory, letting our minds and our hearts wander as our voices go through the motions.  I hope that you’ll be willing to let your voice fall out of step with the chorus of voices praying the prayer together in order to truly offer the words from your heart.

My deep desire is that praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer will continue to make us uncomfortable and anxious.  May those words prod us to be vigilant, constantly looking over our shoulders and watching with eagerness and expectation for the ways in which God is calling and using each of us to be a part of the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.



[1] “Automaticity” on Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Accessed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automaticity

[2] William Willimon & Stanley Hauerwas, Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & The Christian Life (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 57.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Willimon & Hauerwas, 66.

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