Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: It’s All About the Kingdom (Part 8)

Over the last eight weeks, I have explored the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I have proposed that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. This week, I will conclude the series by looking at the final piece of this prayer: “For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Most versions of the biblical text do not include this doxology at the end of the prayer. But if you are a fan of the New American Standard Bible, like I am, or even the King James Version, you will notice that it is there. While it is widely accepted that this piece is a late addition to the text, it resonates with the entirety of this prayer and brings it back to what matters most: God’s Kingdom. Everything that Jesus has encouraged us to pray up until this point directs us back to this central truth. Art Simon’s book on the Lord’s Prayer underscores this point:

Rediscovering

In referring back to the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His coming kingdom, Roman Catholics remind us that this is what the prayer is all about in the first place. It is all about what God is doing in the moment to bring about a future reality where our bodies are redeemed, our relationship with God and each other are reconciled and every other component of God’s creation – from the sun, the moon and the stars, to the earth, the land, and the sea, to the fish, the birds, and every other creature – are just the way He had always planned them to be. This is our hope, this is our eternity.

Over the last few weeks of this series, one thing that I hope I have made consistently clear is that the Lord’s Prayer is a great model for crafting a biblically-based social justice theology. This prayer is important because it centers Jesus’ life, ministry, and purpose. It also gives prominence to the Kingdom of God, thereby giving us a glimpse of what justice looks like in light of the kingdom. Any social justice theology, or any theology for that matter, that neglects the kingdom is itself incomplete as it has the potential to place too much emphasis on the now and not enough emphasis on what is to come. The reality is that God’s kingdom is here among us now and is coming, too. What are we doing to bring others into it? How do our actions of love, justice, and hospitality, signal to the world around us that this Word we have been preaching for more than 2,000 years is real and should be taken seriously?

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We do it by acknowledging God as our Father. The creator of the universe belongs to each and every 7 billion of us, and we to him. Having this big picture view of God’s creation helps us to understand that everyone belongs to the human family, and that we have a responsibility to each and every member of this family.

We do it by declaring God’s holiness throughout the earth. Worshipping God like this keeps us from exploiting others, and also gives us the ability to challenge systems of oppression that normalize injustice.

We do it by proclaiming God’s present and coming kingdom and asking God for his will to be done in the context of His kingdom. Doing so helps us understand that we are not building our own kingdoms, but are invited to play a role in God’s kingdom –  not a role where we dominate and rule over others, and not a role where we bully others into believing and thinking that way that we do.

We do it by asking God simply for our daily bread. Asking God for only what we need and no more, is an act of rejecting, rejecting our tendency to hoard, to consume, to amass wealth and resources at the expense of others.

We do it by petitioning for God’s forgiveness while we simultaneously offer it to others. Because we live in a moment of transition, in between the inauguration of God’s kingdom and the fullness of it, we will continue to betray God’s trust while those around us will betray ours – in spite of our best efforts to do otherwise. And when we do, we need to be forgiven and also offer forgiveness to others.

We do it by asking God to deliver us from temptation and the devises of the evil one. While we have to be careful that we do not draw unnecessary attention to the enemy, we also cannot be ignorant of the devil’s schemes. His very nature is to steal, kill and destroy, and he accomplishes this goal by enticing people like you and me to play along.

As we do these things, we tell ourselves and those around us, that we do not belong to the systems of this world. While others may get by mistreating and exploiting others, driven by pride, greed, and fear, we as a people of God, submit ourselves to a different standard. In doing so, we testify that we are not only living for the present but for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the near future.

I believe that it is fitting to conclude this series reading and reciting the Lord’s prayer. In light of what we have explored, we now pray this prayer in a new way and are subsequently released into the world to live in a new way with God, self and others.

Our Father,
Hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,
lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one
For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever amen.

Thanks for taking the time to read and follow this series on the Lord’s Prayer. Now is my time to hear from you! What do you think are the strengths of this series? The weaknesses? What other passages of scripture do you see either serving as a basis for or complement to a social justice theology. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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(1)https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenmelkisethian/12394651115

Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Don’t Tempt Us, Deliver Us

Over the last few weeks, I have been discussing how the Lord’s Prayer can be a model to form a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I have proposed that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 are not only meant to show believers how to pray but also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying.

We have uncovered how prone we are to oppress and exploit one another. When we are faced with the opportunity to prosper at someone else’s expense, we will often choose to betray our conscience and do what it takes to secure our own future. This we know! But the question remains: what drives this? What drives our tendency to exploit rather than to extend a helping hand? What drives our urge to disinvest individuals, communities and nations rather than offer life and meaning and beauty.

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Jesus’ admonition for us to pray that we would not enter into temptation but be delivered from the evil one gives us a clue. In this segment of the prayer, Jesus clues us in to another reality, another force that often drives our poor decisions: Satan. While I think that we have to be careful that we do not draw unnecessary attention to the enemy, we also cannot be ignorant of the devil’s devises. His very nature is to steal, kill and destroy, and he accomplishes this goal by enticing people like you and me to play along.

We see this in Jesus’ own temptation experience when after an intense 40 day fasting period, Satan paid him a little visit. But what exactly does Satan tempt Jesus with? First, he tempts Jesus with mammon – turn these stones into bread if you are the son of God. After a 40 day fast, Jesus is hungry. Will He wait for God to provide for Him, and trust Him in that provision? Or will Jesus impose upon His position as the Son and take matters into His own hands?

Satan also tempts Jesus with forsaking trust in His heavenly father. Satan argues that if Jesus is the Son of God, God will protect Him – even if He does something as foolish as throwing Himself down from off of a mountain. Ultimately, Satan is hoping that this scenario will cause Jesus to question whether or not He can truly trust God. Does God have his best interests in mind? Does God want the best for His life? Will God protect, cover and deliver His own Son?

When Jesus resists Satan’s lure for the second time, he moves on to tempting Jesus with power. Satan offers to Jesus the kingdoms of the world if He would only bow down to Him. He is essentially trying to convince Jesus to abandon His plan of saving the world in exchange for having the world – all of the kingdoms he could have if He were to simply worship Him.

These temptations play off of Jesus’ own vulnerabilities otherwise they would not be temptations. Food was a real need for Jesus. He needed to eat otherwise He would eventually die. How would God provide? Being secure in His relationship with His Father was a real need for Jesus. He understood that He was about to give up His life – would God the Father truly sacrifice His Son? Or would God keep Him safe? And power over the kingdoms of this world was also a need, but still Jesus wondered and hoped that it might be accomplished in any other way but the cross.

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We are also tempted with the same things on a minute by minute basis. We are constantly fed the lie that God won’t provide for us and subsequently start to believe that there are not enough resources to go around for us all. Our anxiety over the matter leads us to commit all sorts of atrocities because in the absence of trust we end up confusing our lustful wants with our actual needs. This is what caused early settlers in the United States to steal land from the Indigenous people, engaging in acts of genocide in the process. And it was this same temptation that led these settlers to steal the bodies and labor of Africans, instituting chattel slavery for hundreds of years. And it is this temptation that causes the continual disinvestment of black and brown people in this nation – the rhetoric that is subtly communicated is that black and brown people are taking all of the jobs and eating up all of the opportunity, so we must be put in our place to ensure that there are enough resources for whites. As he did with Jesus, Satan tries to get us to believe that we must take our need for provision into our own hands – even when our needs are not needs at all but are nothing more than selfish rants of childish adults.

In the same way that we are tempted with provision, we are also lured by promises of power, fortune, and fame. It is not that these things are inherently evil – power can be good, fortune can be good, and even fame can be good. These things cross the line from good to evil depending on how we get them and what we do with them. Satan tries to get us to believe that we can have instant access to these things, and so we go after them by any means necessary which often causes us to oppress others in the process. We want instant fame, so we will drag someone else’s name through the mud or say the most ridiculous things simply for shock value. We want instant riches, so we rip others off, create pyramid schemes, devise shady business plans, and outrightly steal simply to make a quick dollar. We want power, so we go after it by taking power, autonomy and agency from others. We want it all, with little or no cost to us – instead, we want others to pay the cost for our own comfort. And then when we get the power, fortune and fame that we are after, we go through great lengths to maintain it. This essentially explains mass incarceration and police brutality in our country, both which prop up an existing system of white supremacy and Jim Crow.

All too often we fall for the devil’s devises but the good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus is our model here – in the same way that He was victorious in His temptation experience, we can be victorious in ours. We don’t have to respond to Satan’s lure to exploit others just so that we can get ours. We don’t have to sell our souls to him in order to get ahead. Instead, we can resist his pull toward the promises of this world. Jesus’ brother James gives us the prescription here: “Submit therefore to God, Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4.7). And Satan will indeed flee, in the same way that he went away from Jesus as He countered the devil’s misappropriation of the Word of God with the truth.

Jesus resisted Satan by standing in the truth of the Word. This is important. If we want to likewise withstand temptation, we have to know the Word – the whole Word. The apostle Paul reminds us this in Ephesians 6:

Ephesians 6

If we want to resist the lure of powers and principalities in high places, Paul shows us that the Word of God is key. The whole Word. We can’t string together a slew of scriptures to craft a political agenda and hope to have any power in resisting pure evil. No, we need the entirety of God’s Word to fight the onslaughts of the evil one.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that we have been been doing theology wrong. Oftentimes we craft a theology to justify the selfish needs and desires that Satan keeps trying to convince us are genuine. Such is the case with the entirety of the prosperity gospel, a theology designed to essentially delude people into thinking that the endless pursuit of stuff is a godly thing. And it was the case with the doctrine of manifest destiny, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and so many ideologies and theories based on one scripture uplifted from its place and taken out of context. We won’t resist evil this way, we will only perpetuate it. At it core, this approach to theology and understanding God’s Word often has more to do with our twisted desire to manipulate God rather than our genuine desire to know Him.

Essentially, this is what Satan was trying to do with Jesus. Satan was hoping that he could twist God’s word in such a way that Jesus would subsequently try to manipulate and control God. It worked with Adam and Eve, right? Why not Him? It didn’t happen because Jesus knew the Word and He knew God, and He knew that no matter how things looked or how He felt, He could ultimately trust God. And that is the only way that we will be able to withstand, too!

Be sure to join me next week for the final part of the Lord’s Prayer Series. Follow me on Twitter to be sure that you don’t miss it!

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(1) https://www.flickr.com/photos/shotsofashooter/4446776785
(2) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/5125871296

Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Forgive Us as We Forgive (Part 6)

Over the last few weeks, (with the exception of last week because, um, Ferguson) I have been discussing how the Lord’s Prayer can be a model to form a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I have proposed that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 are not only meant to show believers how to pray but how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying.

In the last segment, I looked at how asking God simply for our daily bread is an act of rejection, and particularly rejecting our tendency to hoard, to consume, to amass wealth and resources at the expense of others. But the prayer is also an act of admission, to self, God and the world around us that we have enough and that we trust in God to provide for our needs – both which keep us from exploiting others.

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But God knows who we are. He knows that most often we won’t reject the temptation of consumerism and that we won’t believe that he is enough. He knows that when we grow weak, take our eyes off of him, or confuse our wants for our needs, we will undoubtedly start to pursue more and more in attempt to satisfy our selfish desires. Knowing our frailty, Jesus also teaches us to ask for forgiveness. Lord, forgive us when we start acting like greedy little children. Lord, forgive us when we stop thinking about the other 7 billion people on this planet and act as if we are the center of the universe. Forgive us, have mercy on us, because while we are waiting for the fullness of your kingdom, we won’t get it right. We will blow it every time. We will pursue the things that we don’t need and in the process, we will hurt and exploit others. Forgive us.

However, we need to be advised that our requests for forgiveness should not be halfhearted. You know what I mean, when we say we are sorry but aren’t really sorry, and only say such to cover our butts or to be politically correct. Case in point: back in 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives issued an apology for centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow laws that have negatively affected black people. However, this act did not actually change the situation of black people in this country, in fact, disinvestment of our people has continued if not intensified in recent years. This is not a true act of repentance. If the apology issue by House, proceeded by the Senate, were genuine, at the very least, there would have been intentional efforts at making sure the lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow were addressed. But they weren’t. Of course, there is an occasional policy thrown around here or there to fool people into thinking that our nation is really doing something about its racist heritage. But most often it’s just a clever ruse.

True repentance looks radically different. Take Zaccheus in Luke 19 who not only was a tax collector but got rich by exploiting the poor. When he came to Jesus, he offered half of his possessions to the poor and promised to pay back those he had wronged four times as much. His actions did not merely resemble a move to get closer to Jesus, gain more clout, or wield more authority. His actions signified that he was sorry and that he actually meant it. When we ask Jesus for forgiveness in the way that we have treated others, there has got to be something that comes with that. We cannot ask God for forgiveness and persist in our patterns of exploitation and oppression. Those ideas are simply incongruent with the other!

If we are truly sorry and repentant for our acts of transgression, our actions would more so resemble the actions of Zaccheus and would look nothing like the actions of the United States Congress and other branches of government. If the United States is and ever was truly was sorry for the crimes it has committed against black people, the war on drugs would have never commenced, Mike Brown would have made it to college, Trayvon Martin would have eaten his skittles, black men would be gainfully employed, there would be no achievement gap, and the housing bubble would have never burst because blacks would have been sold homes with interest rates similar to our white peers.

While we can’t undo the past, we can address the sins of the past in the present in order to move forward in the future. This is what Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent piece in the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” suggests. Quoting from his article:

Coates

What Coates says here is so important. Reparations, or a reconciling of America’s self image with the facts on ground – systemic disinvestment, is necessary in the process of repentance and requesting forgiveness. And the same is true of every other action that we have committed against God or the world – we have to come to grips with the fact that we are fallible humans, who make mistakes, who are in constant need of God’s mercy, but who will also not see our limitations as an excuse to do evil but rather an opportunity to do good.

In addition to asking for forgiveness, we offer it to others. Because in the same way that we are not perfect, and fall short of the glory of God, others are not perfect either. Because we live in a moment of transition, in between the inauguration of God’s kingdom and the fullness of it, we need to know that everyone will not treat us right. In fact, most won’t even with their sincerest motives. So we forgive, and as Jesus said to Peter, seventy times seven times if that is what it takes.

For people who have been victimized and oppressed, this is something that is hard to do. Those who have experienced oppression in any way often feel like they have the right to avenge and exact justice on those who have stolen lands, lives, family, and resources – and rightly so. Esau, for all intents and purposes, had a right to get his brother Jacob for tricking him out of his birthright and later his blessing. And so after their father Isaac dies, Jacob understandbly thinks that Esau will kill him. This fear causes Jacob to strategize ways in which he could possibly pacify his brother’s anger.

As Esau approaches Jacob, surrounded by an army of 400 men, he fears the worst. But Esau, the one who many commentators and theologians are quick to scorn, does something that is absolutely unprecedented and amazing. He runs to meet Jacob, embraces him and falls on his neck and kisses him proving that he had forgiven him for all of the evil that his brother had done to him. In that one act, he stops would could have been a cycle of violence and retribution between the two brother’s families for generations. Instead, he paves the way forward for healing and reconciliation.

As amazing as this story is, take note that Jacob did not demand Esau to forgive him. He did not twist his brother’s arm and make him forgive and forget all of his years of deceit and trickery. Esau, on his own volition and as a result of his own healing, offered it to his brother. Likewise, those who have oppressed and victimized others, cannot demand forgiveness from those whom they have hurt. The oppressor has no right to go to the oppressed and force them to look beyond their exploitative actions, especially if they are still going on, and coerce them into blindly forgiving them.

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Through Twitter, protests and other acts of solidarity, African Americans have significantly raised the profile of the execution of Michael Brown to an international level. For many of us, this is not an isolated incident of police brutality but an incident that reflects our nation’s longstanding policing and devaluing of black bodies. However, white Christians and other whites in our society, have called on blacks to get over racism because of, um, Jesus. To them, we should put slavery, Jim Crow and other acts of racism behind us and just forgive those who have done us wrong in the name of brotherly kindness. Reacting to this sentiment, In Search of His Face’s Tracey M Lewis writes this:

Forgiveness, and all the good it facilitates, is NOT the equivalent of blind allowance. Forgiveness does not mandate that I be silent. Forgiveness does not mean neutrality. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t rally around those who are the victims of violence or demand justice from the same people I know I must forgive. At some point, I have to think that a demand for compassion and forgiveness for those who hurt me or my children must somehow meet up with the demand for repentance and justice. While a demand for peace is certainly right, every action has a reaction. There are consequences–some of which will be meted out by those being commanded to be peaceful. This is especially true in a world that increasingly refuses God and His grace.

What Lewis says here is so important. In light of what has been happening in Ferguson, MO, those who have been complicit in our continual suffering cannot expect us to just get over it and most certainly are in no position to demand that of us. Forgiveness does not look like that. It must be freely given, in the same way that Jesus freely gave. Remember that no one took His life from Him, but He laid it down of His own accord so that whoever would believe in him would receive forgiveness and have everlasting life. But there is also an element of accountability here. In the same way that Christ expects us to do different when he extends forgiveness to us, I also expect a change. 

All of this is a process. Since Adam and Eve sinned, all of humanity has been engaged in this very long process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Sacrificing goats here and there weren’t doing anything for us, but as a result of Christ, we are getting closer to a place of reconciliation – where the oppressor and the oppressed embrace. It will take time, a lot of confession, a lot of vulnerability, and a whole lot of swallowing of one’s pride, but ultimately, God’s desire is that the victim and the victimizer sit down with one another and heal each other’s wounds, understanding that each party has lost their humanness, their very goodness because of violence. Forgiveness paves the way for this – and so we pray, all the more adamantly, forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

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Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Give Us Our Daily Bread (Part 5)

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. This week, we will look at how asking God for our daily bread can exponentially move us in the direction of biblical justice.

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Looking at things from a global or universal perspective, will help us to be less selfish. It will help us to realize that the sun really does not rise and fall at our command and that the world really doesn’t revolve around our selfish needs. Living in America, you would never know, or rather hardly care that this world consists of nearly 7 billion people – each in every one who needs to be fed, have a roof over their head, and a job to go to so that they can provide for both.

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These things are essential human rights, and to deny them of anyone is to deny their humanity. However, the way that we consume resources in this part of the world affects the way the rest of the world can live and share in our mutual humanity. Here are a few stats from research out of Washington State University that could perhaps put things in perspective for us:

  • Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day – that’s roughly 200 billion more than needed–enough to feed 80 million people
  • Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily.
  • The average American generates 52 tons of garbage by age 75.
  • The average individual daily consumption of water is 159 gallons, while more than half of the world’s population lives on 25 gallons.
  • Fifty percent of the wetlands, 90% of the northwestern old-growth forests, and 99% of the tall-grass prairies have been destroyed in the last 200 years
  • Eighty percent of the corn grown and 95% of the oats are fed to livestock.
  • Fifty-six percent of available farmland is used for beef production.
  • Every day an estimated nine square miles of rural land are lost to development.
  • There are more shopping malls than high schools.*

Hearing this, the troubles around the world really start to add up because we start to realize that we are causing them all. People are starving and doing without the basic necessities that they need to survive because of our consumption habits. Making this already horrible situation even worse is the fact that we insist on paying very little for what we take in. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are making a deal by paying less for more, but let’s call a spade a spade here: it’s exploitation.

Our policies force farmers to sell their product with hardly a profit so that grocery stores like Super Wal-Mart can keep their prices low. Many of our goods and clothing are manufactured overseas in sweat shops with horrible working conditions. Workers make very little so that the retailer can turn a profit without charging too much, otherwise they fear that consumers won’t buy. Our trade policies give us permission to sell our food in places like Mexico at rates lower than the local farmers, putting them out of business. No wonder people are fighting tooth and nail to get here, our consumerism has taken away their jobs. And no wonder we have enemies across the world, our greed has robbed them of their homeland, polluted their water, stolen their children and killed their fathers.

Jesus’ admonition to us to ask God simply for our daily bread is a direct rejection of all of these things. Asking God for only what we need and no more, is an act of rejecting, rejecting our tendency to hoard, to consume, to amass wealth and resources at the expense of others.

It also signifies that we have enough as bread, in the Bible, is a recurring sign of divine generosity. According to Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Theologian and author of Journey Toward the Common Good, bread is the concrete indispensable resource for life in this world, breaking the pattern of violence that is rooted in the fear that there is not enough.** Contrary to what Pharaoh and world powers would have us to believe, the world is not as we had imagined it. There is enough to go around, we are just hoarding it all!

Such adherence to patterns of scarcity undoubtedly produces a world where the generosity of God is nullified and where the desire to pursue the common good goes out the window. Dwight Hopkins, in Being Human: Race, Culture and Religion, describes the common good as being where all community members have access to adequate shelter, food, clothing but also peace, freedom, respect, dignity, security and satisfaction, and a feeling of belonging to something greater than the individual self and an individual determined self-identity.***

As we begin to pray and ask God simply for our daily bread, and release everything that we have been hoarding, we open our hands to those who have been starving because of us. All of a sudden their continual prayer for God to also give them their daily bread is also met because at last, we have taken our grimy hands off of it.

And all of a sudden, we’ve solved the world’s problems overnight. Honestly. When we remain content with what we have and stop chasing after stuff, we inevitably stop oppressing the world around us. War, slavery, colonization, genocide, infighting, and so many other things take place because of our incessant desire for more. This is what James, the brother of Jesus knows so well – “You lust and you do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain so you fight and quarrel.” There is a solution: be content with what you have.

Asking God for what we need for today is also a matter of trust in God. This is what God tried to teach the Israelites when they first escaped slavery in Egypt. When they were enslaved, exploited and abused, they had ready access to all kinds of meat, bread, vegetables, and fish – all at their expense mind you, but it was there. Now, all of a sudden, those things are gone and in its place: manna. Now the Israelites were instructed to take only what they needed on a daily basis to feed themselves and their family – no more and no less. And when they got greedy and took more than what they needed, it spoiled. God wanted them to utterly depend on Him and wanted them to stop buying the lie that Pharaoh fed them for 400 years of consumption without cost.

When you live in a consumer driven society, its always hard to renounce the lie. So often, we end up confusing our needs with our wants because we see what everyone else has and start to believe that it is the norm. But it’s not. God has really taught me that over the last year. After the birth of my youngest, about 13 months ago, my family and I went through a rough hard time financially. Our landlord at the time gave us less than 60 days to move, and we had absolutely no clue where we were going to go because we had very little resources with me being on maternity leave and my husband still looking for a full time job.

We eventually found a place and moved in less than a week after I had a c-section because baby boy decided to take his sweet time coming. And thereafter, it seemed like there was bill on top of bill on top of bill on top of another bill. Oh, but for manna! We only made it through because of the manna that God gave, not all at once, but little by little to let us know that he was in charge. All of the things that I thought I needed with a growing family went out the window as I impatiently learned to embrace this principle of absolute trust in God’s, not Pharaoh’s provision.

Now that we are on the other side of this situation, and things have somewhat improved, I find the need to come back to this place. I find the need to remind myself, remind my head that I really don’t need another pair of jeans. I don’t need to keep up on the latest fashion trends, my kids don’t need every toy that is put on the market, and that my family really doesn’t need to consume all of the resources that we have access to. We don’t need to keep fighting hard for the American Nightmare and we certainly don’t need to keep up with the theoretical ‘Jones.’ At the risk of sounding minimalist, which brings it’s own set of issues, all anyone really needs is the daily bread that God so willingly provides.

I will end with this oft quoted passage in Matthew 6:

Matthew 6

It’s all about trusting God for what he willingly provides, recognizing that He alone gives us enough to fill us and satisfy our hungry souls. And it’s about rejecting, consistently and persistently rejecting the lie that God isn’t enough and that we need to go out and provide for ourselves to get more. Once we accept this, and walk in this, we have really begun to do biblical justice.

Come back next week for part III of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it

Read last week’s post – The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done (Part 4)

Read other posts in the series – The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology


References:

*Washington State University. Consumption by the United States. Website: http://public.wsu.edu/~mreed/380American%20Consumption.htm accessed June 20, 2014

**Walter Brueggemann. Journey to the Common Good. (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press) p. 18

***Dwight N. Hopkins. Being Human: Race, Culture and Religion. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press) p. 86

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo/5058816448/

The Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Your Kingdom Come and Will Be Done (Part 4)

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. So far, we have explored the statements of God as ‘Our Father‘ and “Holy” which can help us form a social justice theology. This week, we will look at the declaration of God’s Kingdom and the petition for His will in the same vein.

In the days of John the Baptist’s ministry, John went about preaching and admonishing those who were within earshot of his words to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand. John understood that in the coming of Jesus, the way that the world worked was fundamentally changing. The sovereign rule and reign of God was once again being established in the way that it was in the beginning.  medium_4385681932

In the early days of his ministry, Jesus told his followers to repent in light of the present kingdom. And then he went about exercising the rule of this kingdom – healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. He begins to right the wrongs of the world, ultimately challenging the stronghold that sin has had upon all of creation. But then he asks for his disciples, and us, to pray for His kingdom of come. He is signifying that the fullness of God’s kingdom has not yet been realized. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God in His first coming, He will complete it in His Second. In between these two realities, Jesus invites us to be a part of the larger work of God in bringing it to pass.

God chooses to use completely inept human beings to carry out His will. He chooses to use people like us, who often get confused about whose kingdom we are building, to actively pursue and usher in His kingdom. He invites us to play a role in that kingdom, not a role where we dominate and rule over others, and not a role where we bully others into believing and thinking that way that we do. Says Soong-Chan Rah in his book, Many Colors: “We are called to pursue God’s kingdom together in partnership and not under the duress of paternalism.”*

As theologian N.T. Wright suggests, God is asking us to begin to imagine what this kingdom might look like and celebrate that redemption, that healing and transformation in the present and anticipate God’s final intention.** Presently, war, famine, genocide, rape, trafficking racism, acts of rage, destruction, sickness, and death, exist in every society throughout the world. As humans, we simply have never experienced life without these realities. We don’t know what it is to live in peace, to live free of pain, to live without fear of someone doing us in simply because of the color of our skin, who we associate with or our political agenda. But imagine living in a world, where none of these things are possibilities.

Imagine a world where we will never feel the need to arm ourselves, and therefore, are more than willing to relinquish any gun rights that we ever thought we had claim to. Imagine a place where children go to school and come back home in the evening, a world where women and girls are not treated like commodities to be bought and sold, but are respected, loved, and cherished. Imagine a world, where there is no competition, no need to fight over resources because there is plenty to go around and no one is hoarding, a place where people let go of offenses, and at the same time, people are not offending. These things seem so out of reach and are so unlike our present circumstances that we face on a daily basis. They seem like some utopic vision, not rooted in reality. But the fact of the matter is, this is God’s reality. This is what He is bringing the world into. This is what His kingdom will look like. This is what we are praying for and inviting others to be a part of as they begin to see through us glimpses of this reality being realized.  medium_352470821

Which really fits nicely with the next piece of this prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But what is God’s will? It is certainly not this. It is not imperialism and empire building under the guise of Christianity. It is not bigotry, not revenge, not greed, not even tolerance and cultural relativism in the name of political correctness. This has never been God’s will. We are a far cry from it. Far! Do we not remember that there was a garden and in that garden an act of unfaith and rebellion took place that changed the entire narrative of human history from that moment on?

Prior to this act, we enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. We were naked and vulnerable before God and before each other and were not ashamed because we had nothing to hide. Everything about God’s creation, including us, was right and pure. This was God’s will. God desired that we live in this holy relationship with Him, each other and even the environment around us. And then the unthinkable happened. We decided to disobey God. We became full of pride and felt that we could no longer trust what God had to say, and so we did our own thing. Ever since then, we’ve been walking backwards, trying to get back to that original point before we acted out of unfaith. And we’ve failed miserably. But God, in spite of our arrogance and quite frankly, ignorance, is in the redeeming business and is in the process of bringing all of creation back to where we need to be in God and with each other. This is God’s will. This is what we are praying for, that his perfect will be accomplished in the earth.

God’s will is bigger than our little lives. So often we pray these prayers that are so focused on us, and our needs, and we miss what God is doing in the world. We’ve been taught to ask God what His will is for our lives, and on the surface that sounds really good, godly in fact. But I believe we are missing something big. Here we are asking God to reveal His will for us, meanwhile, our world is being torn a part by injustice. Is God really that into us, our individual needs and circumstances? Does He really design His will around our individual passions and gifts? Or are we just that narcisstic?

Or perhaps we are apathetic to the needs of those around us. Unless we feel our Christian liberties (or American liberties) are being violated or we think we are being persecuted in some way, we are mute and turn a deaf ear to the suffering around us. Why? I point at the inept and sometimes altogether bad theology that has forced its way into church history. This has led to a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God, the will of God, and our role in bringing both to pass. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Steve Kang and Gary Parrett, in their book A Many Colored Kingdom, explains it this way:

ManyColoredQuote

While what Conde-Frazier and her colleagues describe has been characteristic of church history, God is able to redeem this colored past and bring about a new reality through us. In spite of our flaws, He continues to invite us to take part in proclaiming His eternal kingdom. He invites us to imagine and to proclaim:

  • Peace between Israelis and Palestinians including the sharing of resources and land
  • An end to the Syria conflict including a stable government
  • The complete eradication of racial injustice
  • The toppling of the sex trafficking trade
  • The salvation of those who don’t yet know Jesus as their personal savior
  • The end to crony capitalization and other economic structures that disinvest communities
  • The reconciliation of peoples who have once been divided
  • A people of God who are prophetic and in tune to what the Spirit of God is doing in our churches, community and world

In a society and world that is so dysfunctional, God’s reality will always seem unattainable and unrealistic. Fortunately for us, He has called us to be in this world, but not of this world. If we are of this world, we will get lost in the rules and customs of the ruling elite. We allow their stipulations to dictate our actions and their fears to keep us from hoping, dreaming, and imagining something different. But being a people not of this world, we are constantly proclaiming the reality, the fullness of the Kingdom of God unafraid of the consequences that sometimes come with speaking truth to power. And it all starts with one little prayer – Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Come back next week for part V of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it.

References:
*Soong-Chan Rah. Many Colors (Chicago: Moody Publishers) p. 121
**N.T. Wright. Surprised by Hope (HarperOne) p. 201

Photo credit: (1)https://www.flickr.com/photos/reallynuts/4385681932/
(2)https://www.flickr.com/photos/difusa/352470821

Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Holy is Your Name (Part 3)

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 show believers how to pray and also how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. Last week, we looked at how the concept of God as ‘Our Father‘ as illustrated in the Lord’s Prayer can help us form a social justice theology. This week, we will explore the statement “Hallowed/holy be your name” in the same vein.medium_116256525

So God is our father. And He is a holy father at that. The words “Hallowed/holy be your name” affirms this, acknowledging the very essence of who God is which also establishes his authority. God is ontologically and completely holy. That is just who He is. He is set apart and he is unique and there is none like him in all of the earth. And certainly no one has the authority that he possesses.

Angels understand this well. In fact, night and day, they never cease to declare before God his holiness. We get glimpses of this activity in Isaiah 6, when the prophet Isaiah has a vision of God after the death of his uncle, King Uzziah. In his vision, he says that he sees the Lord in His temple and Seraphim fly about the Lord saying: Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. In Revelations 4, the apostle John has as a similar vision where the angels cry out: Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD GOD almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. And they don’t stop. They keep declaring God’s holiness, they keep worshipping God in this way day and night.

There has got to be something to this. If Jesus is pointing this out as something that is fundamental to our prayer life as believers and if in the few glimpses of heavenly activity we see angels, mind you, worshipping God in this way, how much more us? How much more should we make a space in our daily lives to proclaim God’s holiness, not just in our lives, but in the whole earth?

The whole earth is full of God’s glory, God’s holiness. Think about how the sun magically lights up the sky every day. We count on it, in fact, we don’t even worry about it because we know that the sun will rise again every day. Think about how majestic a newborn baby’s cry is – we expect it right? Otherwise, we know something is wrong with that baby. Or how the flowers bloom in the spring? Every year after all of the snow melts, and flowers start to grow after a few April showers, I get absolutely anxious waiting for the lilacs to blossom, filling my nostrils with the fragrance of God’s goodness. Creation reflects God’s holiness every single day.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there are times when we don’t sense or feel God’s holiness. Every time a tsunami or earthquake tears apart a community, we start to quiver and question God’s majesty. When we hear about disappearing planes and terror attacks, we surely start to wonder if God is really as good as He says he is. When innocent children starve day in and day out, and our communities get smaller because of gun violence and racial profiling, we certainly have a hard time believing the truth about God’s nature.

But does the onus lie with God or with ourselves? Are we declaring before God and before the earth God’s holiness in the way that Jesus instructed us? Have we declared before the problems of the world God’s holiness? Have we proclaimed God’s goodness?

I would like to suggest that to a large extent we have not. And in the absence of worship of this magnitude, racism, oppression, sexism, colonization, and imperialism exists, even within our churches. Because if we really worshipped God in the way that Jesus said we should, there is simply no way that we could treat each other the way that we do. We cannot authentically and truly proclaim God’s holiness and still habitually exploit one another. These ideas are simply not in agreement with one another. Because if God is holy and good to the extent that we say he is, and we honestly believe that, we will be less inclined to respond to our environment from a place of unfaith, mistrust and hubris as Adam and Eve did.

As we worship in the way that Jesus invites us to do, we will also be less inclined to respond to our environment from a place of fear, and specifically fear of potential consequences for challenging the status quo which normalizes injustice. This is what the Isaiah 6 passage also teaches us. As God’s holiness is proclaimed, Isaiah gets a more accurate vision of who God is – lofty, exalted, and full of majesty and might. Isaiah’s vision of God is followed by a better assessment of himself – a man full of sin and utterly ruined by that sin. From these two visions – that of God and of himself, he gets a better understanding of the situation around him and then, and only then, is fully equipped to go forth and prophecy against the systems of oppression in his day.

Isaiah wasn’t able to do this more complete prophetic, justice-oriented work before because King Uzziah was in the way. Uzziah represented the status quo, and a system unwilling to imagine a different reality. In his book, Prophetic Witness, Walter Brueggemann diagrams this royal consciousness as such:*

Diagram Brueggemann

In an economics of affluence we are so well off that pain is not noticed and we can eat our way around it.

In a politics of oppression we do not hear the cries of the marginalized or we dismiss them as the noises of traitors.

In a religion of immanence and accessibility, God is so present to us that his abrasiveness, his absence, his banishment (and even his wrath) are not noticed.**

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry after his encounter with God challenged all of this. And as we get a glimpse of God’s holiness, proclaiming the majesty of his name before ourselves and the systems of this world, we too can enter into this sacred space of the prophetic and call others to join us. Together, we lament over the way oppression has played out in our nation, in our church and around the world. And together, we call on the world to imagine a whole new way of being and consciousness.

Hallowed be God’s name!

Come back next week for part IV of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it.

References
*Walter Brueggmann, Prophetic Witness (Fortress Press) p. 36
**Brueggemann, page 41

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/john/116256525/

Lord’s Prayer as Social Justice Theology: Our Father (Part 2)

Over the next several weeks, I will be exploring the Lord’s Prayer as a model for forming a social justice theology. Throughout this series, I will be proposing that Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 are not only meant to show believers how to pray but how we should reorient our lives and relationships with one another in light of what we are praying. To read more about the beginnings of this endeavor, read last week’s post. 

From the very beginning, the Lord’s Prayer starts out with a bold statement about who God is: Our Father. What does this mean? Our first clue lies in the word ‘our’ – meaning something or someone who belongs, is accessible, or is identified by a collective group of individuals. To put it simply, God is accessible to all of us, and likewise we to God. Picture a parent that has many children – that’s who God is and according to current estimates, His total number of living children approximate 7 billion people.

Why is this important? If we can understand that God isn’t just for us, but is holding it down for billions of other people across the globe, we will start to do life differently. All of a sudden, we stop seeing life in terms of ‘me’ but ‘we.’ That alone will transform our behavior and how we act towards one another. That alone will help us understand that we are all brothers and sisters, and like brothers and sisters, we must share and not hoard the resources that God gives us.

medium_11839033964 Let’s move on to the word ‘father’ which acknowledges who God is in relation to us. He is our father, and like a father, we can come to him boldly in our time of need and ask what we need from him and trust that he hears us. In fact, like many fathers, God already knows what we need before we come to him as affirmed in verse 8 of the text. But unlike earthly fathers, this is a relationship that we can trust because God won’t take advantage of our absolute dependence on Him. He won’t exploit us. He won’t mistreat us. He won’t wound us like some of our earthly fathers have.

Neither will He abandon us. “Never will I leave you or forsake you.” And He will be an ever present help in time of trouble. We can rest assured that whatever we go through and for that matter wherever we may go, God is right there. He is not removed from us. While He is our heavenly father, he also dwells with his people and suffers/ grieves right along with us. We can rest in this relationship. We can be confident in this relationship. We don’t have to jostle for position with God, and we surely don’t have to prove anything to God.

But this is something Cain, the son of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis 3, didn’t understand. He was threatened by his brother Abel’s pleasing offering to God because it challenged his own insecurities and relationship with God i.e. if God is not pleased with me, there must be something wrong with me. So what did Cain do? He eliminated the competition and killed his own brother. Sound familiar? We do not need to operate this way with God – we can be secure in who we are before Him faults and blemishes in all. He is our father, and we are his sons and daughters.

The words “Our Father,” don’t just acknowledge our intimacy with God. They are also packed with expectation of our coming future in God’s Kingdom. Art Simon, founder of Bread for the World and author of Rediscovering the Lord’s Prayer writes this:

Lord's Prayer Simon In joining the kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ, we make a decision to leave the ways of this world and the manner in which we previously lived behind. We forsake the old nature that was consumed with covetousness, bitterness and all other forms of malice and adopt a new disposition of love for God, self and others. As the Apostle Paul declares in Romans 8, we no longer live by the flesh but by the Spirit – for all who are being led by the Spirit are the sons and daughters of God and fellow heirs with Christ in God’s kingdom.

As fellow heirs with Christ and children of God, the question that remains is how we will treat God’s other children. Will we treat them as if they don’t belong to God and don’t belong to the human race? Or will we welcome them in – providing food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and refuge for those whose very lives are in danger?

Cain had it very wrong! He was his brother’s keeper and as children of God, we have a collective responsibility to and for one another. We have a responsibility to the nearly 50,000 children fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, seeking safety and shelter as a result of violence in their home countries. We have a responsibility to our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, just as much as we have a responsibility to our siblings in Israel. We have a responsibility to the 200 plus girls still missing in Nigeria, to the Jada’s in our country and in our world who have been sexually exploited, and to the black men and women trapped inside of our justice system due to institutional racism.

We have a responsibility to them and they to us, because we all belong to God. He is our father and each and every one of us are God’s children. And he loves each and every 7 billion of us equally.



Come back next week for part III of this series! Be sure to subscribe at the top right of the blog or follow me on Twitter so that you don’t miss it

Photo Credits
Father and daughter:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmitryzhkov/11839033964/