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Linda Conroy, 27 February: Hallowed by thy name
The meeting and 2004 series was opened by past president Tina Milne who read from Luke 11 & Romans 8 v 9.
Linda, as a Roman Catholic, greeted the assembled group with gratitude for the level of trust and warmth of welcome extended to her. She provided a clear preface to this first talk in the series by looking closely at the impact of the first words of the Lord's prayer.
"Father": at the beginning of the prayer we learn about our Father. Jesus says a great deal in response to those who asked how we should pray. The disciple wanted to know more about the one who Jesus was in love with. Jesus didn't respond by giving a profound discussion, nor saying that we were to follow certain steps, but he just started by living out that relationship by saying "Father, Abba". The society at the time had thundery images of God, so the contrast "Daddy" was new.
When you want to engage with God you're engaging in a loving relationship. Linda quoted Paul Tillage: "Faith is accepting that we are acceptable". We need to reflect on the one who is fully human - the model of how to be fully human - and wholly divine. Jesus was saying "Pray as I pray".
The purpose of spirituality is to fully engage, be fully alive; the glory of God is about being fully alive, fully in God's love. Without relationships none of us can come to understand what wholeness is about.
Linda Conroy brought a model (Frank Lake - physician turned theologian). She described how It describes the dynamic that Jesus lived out. The freedom in the relationship between us and God is illustrated by Jesus' own knowledge that he was accepted by his Father. His identity is a 'given' - our identity is a given, a gift, nothing to do with what we do or achieve. Resourced, sustained, innocence rather than doing things in my own strength.
When I am held in love, then the natural response to the kind of love that God gives us will be a deep moving - God's love will move us. Achievement is about involvement on the reign of God, not about what I do. Frustration comes when we work through things backwards, when we try to swim against the current and avoid doing things God's way.
So to "Hallowed be thy name". When you know what's been given then we respond with reverence "Hallowed, holy, revered be thy name."
Linda brought some insights from her study of Ignatious of Liola: the heart of the spiritual journey is gratitude in our hearts. We are to say "Holy" from a place of experience; be encouraged to allow God to bring that experience to you. A prayer of awareness from Ignatious helps us to stay awake, just as Jesus encouraged us: "Go out and set some time to notice what God is doing in your life". Socrates suggested that unreflected life is not worth living. Jesus didn't say "You'd better be sure you get it right" - he just showed us more about his loving relationship with his Father.
Linda brought a selection of prayers with her. The "With Prayer" keeps teaching Linda how to pray; it's a prayer with no condemnation, a prayer instead of real freedom, seeing how we are entrapped by God's love and freedom. Jesus lived an awareness that kept him free; he saw what relationships were life draining and which relationships were life-giving. Recognising things from Jesus' perspective brings such freedom; this prayer brings back God's peace in her life, pulling her back on track with God and back to being what God created me to be.
Tina Milne, 5 March: Thy will be done
Last week, Linda spoke of God as our Father and the incredible privilege we have as Christians of an intimate relationship with Him through Jesus living in us. The next phrase of the Lord's prayer leads us to consider God as King. I am taking the two parts of this phrase as one, for if God is reigning as king, then his will is being done.
Jesus spoke a lot about the kingdom of God. In one sense, when he came to earth, the Kingdom had already arrived. But it was also to come in its completeness like a mustard seed which grows into a huge tree, or the rock which fills the earth as referred to in Daniel, or in Habakkuk where the prophet speaks of a day when "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea". Daniel also says: "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all rulers will worship and adore Him" (Daniel 7 v27 & Habakkuk 2 v14).
As well as instructing us to pray for His kingdom to come on earth, Jesus said: "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is', because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17 v21). This is comforting when we come to pray, because a lot of what is accomplished through prayer is hidden from us and it is only occasionally that the veil is lifted and we see an answer to our prayers. I think this is to prevent us becoming from proud. God is at work in the hidden way a plant grows and Jesus also spoke of that and how it came silently. There is a lovely story for children about a cat called Jasper who planted a bean and kept digging it up to see if it was growing; when we pray, we have to have the faith and trust to leave the results in his hands.
If the kingdom is within us, we need first to look inwardly and say: "How far has the kingdom come in me?" "How much of my life is given over to the reign of Jesus?" The more we do this, the more we will realise our own failings and our total dependence on Him. God's word tells us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.(Romans 3 v23) and Jesus said in John 15 v5: "Without Me you can do nothing". Part of this is seen when Jesus prayed: "Your will, not mine be done" when Jesus was looking towards the cross.
Part of this surrender to Jesus involves our time. I am constantly being challenged about this. When I feel His prompting to set time aside to listen to Him and pray, there is always a mass of things crying out for my attention. We have to be disciplined and stick to our commitment. If the Queen were to phone us and give us an audience for half an hour, wouldn't we cancel other arrangements and drop everything else? And here we have the Ruler of the universe who is wanting to spend time with us, listening to us and wanting to give us His agenda for the day. If we are too busy to listen to Him, how are we going to obey Him? If it were us in his place how frustrated and impatient we would get and how hurt and rejected we would feel. Something of this is reflected in Jesus' words about Jerusalem: "How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks but you were not willing." When we take time out with Him and accept and follow His will for our lives, we experience that peace that the world cannot give.
Having looked inward, we ask forgiveness for our failings and accept His forgiveness. Then we can begin to pray for more of His will to be done in our homes and our families. We can pray for our churches and communities, our nation and the world. As churches, for example, are we really submitted to His rule and reign? Are we building with gold and silver or straw? Is what we are doing what he asks and wants for us? In our church on Sunday mornings at present we are looking at the letters to the churches in Revelation and they are a great challenge. How does Jesus see us? He knows what we are doing. What does he think about it?
At this point it's worth asking: What are the marks of His kingdom? I think they are nicely summed up in Galatians 5:22 as the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It is one fruit, like an orange with many segments, and it is dependant on the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us. True peace and joy come from Him alone.
To this, you might want to add, faith hope and freedom. It says, "Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3 17). As we think of these things, does it make us excited? Can we by praying for God's kingdom to come on earth , help to bring more love, joy peace etc. into our communities and world? I think we don't really believe in the power of prayer. If we did, we would take it more seriously.
There are some very encouraging examples of how united prayer has changed communities in the Transformations videos (available at Wesley Owen - formally Branchlines, Map).
We can also think of the fall of communism in Russia after seven years of prayer for the Communist world initiated by one missionary organisation.
We can either pray on or own, or with someone else, or in a small group. There are promises given about when two or three gather in his name. If you are an extrovert, you will find this easier than praying on your own. If an introvert, you will prefer going into your room, shutting the door, as Jesus described and praying on your own. It's good to try praying both ways and work on the one which comes less easily to you if you can.
As we pray, God will lead us in different ways and I am going to share a little of how the Lord has led me. Tina added several examples of the fruit of the work of local prayer groups, cathedrals, Belfast, Lebanon YFC, Cyprus.
Tina concluded by offering a few tools to help people pray, most of which will be familiar with many anyway:
One is prayer walking which Graham Kendrick has defined as "praying on site with insight". As you are walking your dog, pray for the school you pass or pray for more of God's kingdom to come in the lives of those who live in the houses you pass.
You can pray for the staff in the supermarket as you wait in the check out queue.
If you don't get out much, you can pray for the world using newspapers. When you watch the news on TV, the Holy Spirit may highlight events or people and you can find yourself moved to pray for them.
Missionary organisations or missionaries send out prayer letters to keep you in touch with what they are doing - if you have a computer, these can come in on your email and you can even receive texts on your phone.
Maps, magazines, photographs, even stamps and phone-cards can prompt you to pray and Operation World is a great resource.
The local prayer initiative is arranging a Day of Prayer for the Nations on a quarterly basis at St Andrew's, when different people with a connection abroad come to share and pray for that country. It's important to support in prayer those who have left our area to go and work overseas and it's good to do it together across the churches. Come and join us for half an hour or more on our next one - 30 April between 9am and 9pm (Map).
Rev Paul Hooper, 12 March: Our daily bread
Paul reminded us how to laughing at ourselves with the story of the visiting preacher who happened to be the bishop. This well to do gentleman was profusely thanked at the end of the service by everyone - except by the one kept butting into the lines of admiring parishioners; he said it was too boring, then he interjected that the sermon was too long, and then that he couldn't understand a word. Back in the vestry the bishop enquired why the little fellow was so direct, only to be told to ignore his comments - after all, he only repeats what other people say. So to today's segment of the Lord's prayer, read out by past president Rev Richard Kayes.
Jesus pattern of prayer is illustrated by the way the Lord's prayer begins with praise. Only when we have put God in his place do we turn to ask for ourselves. The prayer of a child is to ask first; as sons and daughters we are to thank God first and then offer our requests
What did Jesus mean by this daily bread? There are several interpretations.
The early saints showed how the "daily bread" was the bread of daily Holy Communion. An encouragement that we receive communion each day.
For others this bread is the Word of God - we shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Those on the Lent course at St Mark's are reading a book to help nourish them. We see this in the words of those hymns with the line "O living word". How regularly do we receive the word of life daily?
Is the "Bread" Jesus himself - he described himself as the Bread of life. On the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion the two disciples recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread. Do we receive Jesus by the Spirit in our daily prayer? Paul quoted Matthew Arnold's poem "East London":
T'was August, and the fierce sun overhead
Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green,
And the pale weaver, through his windows seen
In Spitalfields, look'd thrice dispirited.
I met a preacher there I knew, and said:
"Ill and o'erworked, how fare you in this scene?"
"Bravely!" said he; "for I of late have been
Much cheer'd by thoughts of Christ the living bread."
Commentators usually agree that the bread means the staple food of bread on our plates - be they great flat breads, long French flutes or the plastic wrapped ready sliced loaf. Paul believes that Jesus was referring to this actual bread.
The three petitions in the prayer could be to the Holy Trinity - to the Father, bread; to Jesus we pray "forgive us", and to the Spirit, "lead us not into temptation but deliver us…".
And in its corporate nature - "give us" - we recognise that there isn't enough to go around. Not just for us Christians, for us Brits, for us in the wealthy north. The prayer shows solidarity with everyone across the world, the needy as well as those of us with plenty. We cannot pray to the Father without recognising the needs - social, emotional, spiritual and physical needs of others. It's the simple bare necessities - not gateaux, not the luxuries - that we are praying for - for the things we need rather than what we want, what we'd like to have. Do we pray "Give us this day our daily cream cake"? Are we jealous of others or do we pray for what we need?
This prayer should be prayed every day - a requirement for the immediacy in our regular touch with God. Hoarding and storing up doesn't feature in this pattern of prayer, in the Christian life. Live now, trusting in God's provision.
God's generosity is illustrated in the prayer. The letter to the Ephesians shows this in the phrase "to God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly" - not just all we ask.
The prayer shows a reliance on God for everything. The bread illustrates the fertility of the grain, the warmth of the sun, a blueprint for a spirituality with God. It invites us to enter an interdependence - the soil and the sunshine had to work together to make the grain grow and become the flour, then fashioned by human hand. Each part of the creation of a loaf of bread is done in partnership, illustrating the community and interdependence desired by God. This shows us the kind of life that God wants Christians to live. It recognises that we need to work with God to do his will; we have to trust God, and it also shows that he trusts us to do our part.
This petition demands that we acknowledge our dependence on God. We are not self made people and we need to turn to God. My responsibility is to the hungry in the world; the prayer calls us to action top provide for the needs for others. And we need to recognise the place of bread - the word, the sacrament, but also a luxury reminding us of the many needs of others.
Luke's gospel continues with the story of the persistent neighbour who need bread; we need to carry on in prayer for all these things. And the feeding of the five thousand shows how Jesus is able to use the small endeavour of one small offering to feed the hungry.
David Henthorne, 19 March: Forgive as we forgive
The audience welcomed today's speaker - achieving the impossible by being in two places at the same time (a HYPeR training meeting); HYPeR is enjoying high attendance and, with 'the field being ripe unto harvest' the need for workers is all the more vital.
Following on from Paul Hooper's description of the representation of the Trinity in the Lord's Prayer - the request in this week's title is directed to Jesus. David told the light-hearted story of the lady who was asked by St Peter to spell out any word as the final challenge before entering the Pearly Gates. On spelling 'LOVE', St Peter congratulated her and welcomed her in, but then asked her to take his place for a moment. When her husband arrived shortly afterwards he asked what had happened - it turned out that he'd had an accident leaving her funeral. He was as astonished as his wife at being so close to heaven and asked her how he might enter the gates too. She replied with a smile saying that he only had to spell just one word. On being asked "which word", she grinned and asked him to spell 'Czechoslovakia'.
The phrase "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors" demands that we forgive others. In Greek& Aramaic the word "Debt" is used for transactional debt - money debt - and it was also used in everyday language for "sin". The gospel writer Matthew picks this up - "When you forgive men when they sin..". Debt also means trespass, wrong footing.
Ghandi once said that the weak can never forgive - forgiveness is for the strong; people with clenched fists can't shake hands. People find it hard to say sorry; some find it even harder to let go - it's very emotional. Forgiving with our hearts is very hard. Your heart is akin to your personality, your purpose. In English we tend to put our mind inside our brains - our heart is simply for emotion. Getting married is a decision following an emotional moment. Forgiveness is a decision.
Jesus spelt out in early Matthew that our forgiveness depends on us forgiving others.
This is developed in Luke 23 32: One of the two who were crucified with Jesus asked for forgiveness. The Mel Gibson film "The Passion" is gruesome because it is based on fact; the gospel writers knew that the people didn't need the gruesome facts of the event. Jesus was weak and bleeding, he was nailed to the cross and finding it impossible to breath - but he managed to haul himself up and say the most important thing to him - calling out to God to ask him to forgive them "for they knew not what they were doing". Forgiveness was the most important thing to him; it would have been sufficient to have died as the sacrificial lamb, but he still had to ask for forgiveness for others. Of course no-one had any idea that he was saving the people at that very moment, yet he still begged for forgiveness for others.
This prayer gets bigger the more we get into it. The audience at today's Lent Lunch were invited to think of something that has hurt or abused you and then to consider how Jesus' words of forgiveness apply. How much would we welcome the person who has harmed you? We need to forgive seventy times seven, including those who don't know they have done us wrong - and those who are unrepentant.
The book 'Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness' by Catherine Marshall describes forgiveness as releasing someone from your personal judgement. God's forgiveness is like him releasing us from his personal judgement. Doesn't that make your concern or injury comparatively small? And what impact would that have on us if we were standing in for St Peter at the Pearly Gates as in David's story at the start of the talk?
If somebody offends another - who cannot do anything about it and cannot get the anger out of their system, then a third party is likely to bear the brunt of the vindictiveness or injury. The cycle has to be broken and forgiveness is the only key. Ever deeper pain and injuries follow a lack of forgiveness. The gnarling impact of an unforgiving, bitter heart can result in physical manifestations, not just in an unhappy heart and life. When we declare forgiveness in a situation it can achieve a miracle.
David concluded with an encouragement to everyone. The language of the Lord's prayer is plural: the congregation is asking for corporate forgiveness when saying the Lord's prayer. A congregation may need to repent together as well as rejoice.
Rev Martin Soar, 26 March: Lead us not into temptation; Deliver us from evil
Today's speaker started with an anecdote: An atheist once said to God as he introduced his speech from the dais: "God, if you're real then, knock me off this platform before I finish in fifteen minutes. There was no intervention even after ten minutes. A further two minutes passed and suddenly a soldier appeared, just released from active duty, and knocked the speaker to the floor. "What did you do that for?" he shouted, whereupon the soldier replied that "God was rather busy so he sent me".
God cannot be tempted and neither does he tempt anyone. He does allow us to be tempted. God does allow us to face times of trial; we're still commanded to pray "Do not bring us to the time of trial". The letter of James shows as that times of testing are to be welcomed, but we don't need to go looking for them. Due to our vulnerability we are not to seek temptation out. Our dependence on God causes us to pray "But deliver us from evil - or the evil one".
The Lord's prayer is easily seen as a pattern of prayer for the disciples and also as an insight into Jesus' own relationship with his Father. If we imagine Jesus praying the prayer in person then we see much of his relationship; 'forgive us our sins' is the only element which is only for the benefit of the disciples, but everything else expresses the love of the Son to Father. So we see how Jesus was to face times of trial and his need to be delivered from evil. As a human we need to depend on God, so Jesus needed to depend on God. If Jesus was vulnerable, how much more so are we?
Remembering that the prayer starts "Father", then each element can be so prefaced. Jesus went into the wilderness with the words at his baptism ringing in his ears. Jesus faced his trials with these words: "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." When the evil one honed in on "If you are the Son of God..." Jesus knew his relationship, and could not deny that central pillar in his saving life and death - that he was God's son. We should not be hungry for bread, but for approval as, in Christ, God's true sons and daughters.
As our true identity we will withhold or give approval to others in the same way as we see our relationship with the Father. The French philosopher Descartes offered this on approval: "I think therefore I am" - but it makes no sense when we know that, because I am loved, therefore I am ... a saved and precious son or daughter of our Father, in relationship with Jesus as brother.
As Jesus headed into the wilderness we note that he was led by the Spirit. Because he knew who he was, he was led out by the Spirit in faith, not in fear. His dependence was clear - he knew it was safe to go where the Spirit was leading. He knew he would be strengthened and refined, despite how difficult and testing the time would be. He used the weapons of the Spirit - the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit. Do we read and know God's word, the Bible? Are we eating our daily bread? That affects our minds; it affects our plans, anxieties and schemes. Our destiny and experience is dependant on our relationship with God. When we pray deliver us from evil God pouts the Sword of the Spirit in our hands. When we depend on the Spirit of God it's as though we have God's compass bearing before us. We need to live by the power of the spirit.
What didn't Jesus mean? "Let this cup pas from me" was overridden by "But not my will but yours". How feeble are we when temptation and trial comes along? In the fullest sense the prayer was answered when, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead. In Christ is our resurrection, overcoming evil.
Martin concluded with some insights from Brother Yun's book "The Heavenly Man" (he was a leader in the Chinese church). His times in prison did not diminish his deep desire to share God's love with others in prison. But he became aware that God was telling him that he was too arrogant and the only place God could get hold of him was in prison. Are we ready to listen to God? Since the time when this Chinese pastor had been saved as a teenager he has found the Christian life a rollercoaster; he exhorted others to keep up the good work rather than give him any attention. Any love others had felt from him was simply that love that he had received from the Lord Jesus.
Rev Garry Feasey, 26 March: the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory
Today's conclusion to the series on the Lord's prayer was delivered with rich enthusiasm, emulating the elements of the last phrases of the prayer. As an introduction the audience were asked whop had already seen the film "The Passion" currently been shown at the Odeon cinema, noting the place and importance of the cross, and God's kingdom and power as seen at Easter. To further illustrate the place of the cross, Garry Feasey described how when Billy Graham was asked what he would have preached differently if he were to start all over again, he said that he would still have preached the blood of Christ and the power of the cross. The film by Mel Gibson "The Passion" illustrates, if nothing else, that it was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. The devil has so many films about his world but when just one film comes out about the Cross and there's chaos. Garry Feasey encouraged all to see the film.
So to understanding what the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are about. Caesar was the man who ruled the known world; he had an invincible army and spent his life in devotion to building his kingdom. The current film "The Gladiator" has been a best seller. Caesar taxed the whole world to this end. What power he must have had to do just that! Everyone obeyed the word of the king; yet in this environment came the Christ child, Jesus, born in Bethlehem. It was the kingdom of God at work in that Roman empire. Rome was one kind of power; that sort of selfish, worldly power and kingdom building is still happening today - the kind of kingdom where worth is power and wealth, but God's kingdom is based and built on his ways.
We have a kingdom problem in today's world and perhaps even in the church. The so-called children's book, Yurtle the Turtle, is about political science theory; in order to extend his kingdom, Yurtle the Turtle built a throne out of turtles and the view from the top was of the whole world. But when he burped he fell and ended up just seeing "the kingdom of mud"! Pastor Garry used this story at various points in today's talk to illustrate the place of power and the downfall which follows building a kingdom without doing it God's way.
Jesus taught us to pray "Your kingdom, your power, your glory". The phrase isn't in the ancient manuscripts; the early church used them from the early days, recognising that they wanted God's kingdom above everything. We must learn to do the same, rather than our career, our life, our glory. The Christians then must have struggled with this issue, and that struggle continues to this day. As Christians we are kingdom builders, not "our ministry" builders, not protecting our work. Garry offered that many Christians struggle inwardly and secretly with this and find it hard or even impossible to overcome the desire to satisfy their own desires, But what would happen if we built our own kingdom and then we "burp" - we'll fall in the mud.
Jesus teaches us to pray "Your kingdom". Where in our lives do we need to let God build his kingdom in our lives? Jesus wants us to live in God's power, not our own. Not to live under our worries and concerns, but to let God's power to shine through. To give rather than receive.
Acts 12 v4 shows how God's power overcomes so gloriously that it is way beyond our understanding. Peter had been put in prison; God's power intervened, overcoming sixteen soldiers. The church prayed earnestly for Peter; then an angel appeared and woke Peter up and, despite him thinking he was dreaming, he and the angel leave the prison - even with 'automatic gates' opening up to let him go. Not only is it astonishing - something beyond our comprehension that he could have walked past strong, burly guards, but the facts of the escape are so extraordinary that the next past of the escape perfectly illustrates how so many, even today, find it impossible to cope with God's extreme power. As an escaped convict Peter is wandering the streets until he finds a safe house. Then the servant girl left him standing outside the door where he could be arrested again! [The servant girl's name is quoted as Rhoda which translates as 'blonde'] The disciples were astonished when eventually they let him in - they couldn't believe that God's power could truly intervene so powerfully. When we ask for God's power to intervene, what do we expect?
Pastor Garry urged us to pray earnestly for God's power - in whatever area of our lives where God still wants us to let him be in full control. The group spent a some time in silent prayer and reflection.
One day we know that Jesus will raised up. On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Thrones that seem secure in this world will fall; knees will bend under duress, some stifly, some will bend with hearts full of love and worship. Even now, this is our day, our moment to practice, to love and to cherish. A moment to pray not my power, but your power.
Our Father, who art in heaven - Hallowed by thy name;
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven;
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, for ever and ever