Henry David Thoreau, tucked away in his Walden cabin, famously said that most of us lead lives of quiet desperation. That was in 1845. Today, things are not so quiet. Anxiety and depression are regular rites of passage from which millions never graduate. Civility meanwhile has long been dropped from our national discourse. It’s a sad indictment of a country where so many pride themselves in a Christian heritage. We have the highest levels of church attendance in the world. Almost eighty percent of us say that we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, where is our joy? Where is our vitality? Where is our peace of mind?
The Son comes to complete our happiness in this life, (1) yet it’s clear not many are receiving “the good news”. Instead, we are sold a gospel that forsakes the living hour for a future heavenly reward: a spiritual reckoning that asks for little and receives even less in return. Simply accept Jesus Christ as your savior, we are told, and you’ll be hanging out with the good Lord for eternity. If it were only so easy. (2)
Jesus of Nazareth didn’t teach the idler’s path to God. He said that because much has been given us, much is expected. (3) He described the kingdom of heaven as a place that doesn’t suffer fools. (4) And he asked that his followers become as perfect as their Father in heaven (5)—a seemingly impossible task, if it were not for the fact that all things are possible with the help of God. (6)
The first step toward perfection, according to Jesus, is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. (7) The mind gets short shrift from many Christians today. We forget that Jesus amazed people with both his miracles and his wits. (8) He was a man, we are told, whose wisdom grew as he grew in years. (9) Only after reaching maturity did his intellect surpass that of the legendary King Solomon. (10)
Clear thinking is essential for Christians because Jesus asks that we decide for ourselves what is right. (11) Making those correct choices requires intelligence and learning, as well as faith and a loving heart. God did not bless us with extra-ordinary minds, whose complexity dwarfs that of any computer, only to have us park them in storage. Instead, we are called to develop our logic and reason—to transform our minds into Christ’s “winnowing fans.” So that the chaff might be removed from the wheat: (12) the dead teachings from the living Word.
Like Jesus, we are asked to sweep away the dictates of the billy-club faithful, the literalists whose passion for scripture (13) is but another form of idolatry. The Pharisees and Sadducees may be historical footnotes, but their modern day equiv-alents litter the airwaves and pulpits of America—preachers of wealth and brimstone who chop up Biblical passages to feed prosperity theologies and end-time prophecy. And who bludgeon the confused with decrees on personal behavior, sexual orientation, and the evils of science. Like the “hypocrite” teachers before them, they turn the kingdom of heaven in our faces—refusing to enter that realm themselves, while barring entrance to those who try to do so. (14)
Christ comes bringing both love and truth, (15) but discerning the truth has never been easy. Jesus’s first followers failed rather dramatically. Instead of pouring his “new wine” into fresh bottles, (16) they insisted on dumping it into the old casks of scripture. They refused to give up their Old Testament belief system that the Father plays favorites: that the people of Israel were God’s chosen, and that they would soon be rewarded with an earthly kingdom ruled by Christ, the Son of David. (17)
Jesus didn’t buy into their narrative. He was all about breaking Israel’s religious traditions, not preserving them. (18) Rather than toe the Mosaic line, he replaced the law of an “an eye for an eye” with turn the other cheek, and “honor thy father and mother” with honor only thy Father in heaven. (19) He revealed the hypocrisy of sin-based laws and punish-ments. (20) And most importantly, Jesus taught that God’s kingdom was no longer a future reward for the race of Abraham; but the divine birthright of all mankind, since the beginning of the world. (21) If we had the eyes to see and the faith to believe, Christ would reveal the kingdom of heaven that exists within us (22) and around us, right now, at this very moment. (23)
Jesus’s disciples found this hard to accept. Nothing could persuade them from seeing their teacher in any way other than Israel’s earthly Messiah. (24) Or dissuade the gospel writers from retelling stories about Jesus that are completely out of character: such as when he is said to initially refuse help to a woman with a sick child because of her race, (25) or when he is quoted as saying that carnival acts like speaking in tongues and juggling snakes (26) are signs of Christ in action.
Fortunately, such passages are easily rendered false by juxtaposing them against Jesus’s true gospel: that Christ, the Son of God, is not the son of David; (27) that none who seek the Son are ever turned away; (28) and that those who seek physical “signs” of the Christ are woefully misguided. (29)
That we must take a critical eye to what appears in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John should come as no surprise, considering how Jesus’s closest confi-dants rarely could make heads or tails of what he said. (30) In their confusion, the 12 apostles (like everyone else) filtered their master’s words through the spectacles of old prophecy, making absurd suggestions to Jesus like: Hey, you want us to burn down that village because its people didn’t welcome you? (31) We can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes and hear his sigh, as he is forced to rebuke his disciples once again.
By the time of the Last Supper, we hope for Jesus’s sake that his hand-picked students have finally learned something. But instead we find the apostles petty and ego-driven, arguing over who among them will be greatest in the coming kingdom. (32) After dinner, they can’t even stay awake for a few hours while Jesus prays in the garden. (33) Then, when soldiers arrive and Jesus is seized, one apostle turns violent and cuts off somebody’s ear. (34) It couldn’t get much worse, but Peter gives it a shot. Even after witnessing his Lord’s miracles first hand, this trusty disciple (the so called “rock” (35) on which the Roman Catholic Church is built) can’t even bring himself to mumble, “Yeah, I know that guy.” (36)
The idea that these twelve men held the keys to the “mysteries” of God’s kingdom (37) is as believable as Jesus’s alleged racism or the idea that the Nazarene rose from the dead so that he could tell this ragtag bunch to conquer the world as missionaries. (38) The gospel book that ends on the most realistic note is Luke, where we find the risen Christ telling the now 11 apostles (minus Judas) that they better stay home and hang out in Jerusalem until they are worthy of the power from on high. (39) This band of players clearly was not yet ready for prime time.
Which leads us to the subject of this book: how to work with Christ in prime time; how to prepare ourselves for God’s kingdom. For far too long, we have turned solely to church leaders for these answers. But as children of God, each one of us is called by the Holy Spirit to interpret the gospel for ourselves, (40) not hand that football off to the clergy. Christ is revealed through our personal relationship with the Father, not through middle-men in colorful robes or public hallelujas. (41) Jesus didn’t pray in temples but in secret, (42) retiring to “lonely” places (43) like deserts, gardens, or moun-taintops to commune with God.
It is through the power of prayer that we prepare our seat at the Father’s table. And no prayer is more powerful than The Lord’s Prayer: the Rosetta stone of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With it we can transform our lives, and the lives of those around us. With it we can turn the lock on the doors to the kingdom of heaven and a life more abundant. (44) With it we can grow closer to God and our true selves. But before we begin, we must first understand the prayer’s meaning. So that when we do pray, our hearts, minds, and souls are united, making a welcome home for the Holy Spirit.
In the coming pages, we will walk together through The Lord’s Prayer: word by word, thought by thought, and line by line. We will take the prayer off the page and into the living hour. We will walk together to the water’s edge and let you decide what’s next.
The introduction to the book The Living Hour: The Lord’s Prayer for Daily Life (with New Testament Gospels). A faith book especially suited for Progressive Christians, Bible Study Groups, Unitarian Christians, and all who seek a richer life. Available in eBook and trade paperback. For more information, please visit: LivingHour.org.
Note: The citations to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that accompany The Living Hour are not exhaustive. They are simply meant to be touchstones from which the reader can begin to engage (or reacquaint themselves with) the gospel of Jesus the Christ.
1 John 15:11
2 Matthew 7:21
3 Luke 12:48
4 Matthew 25:1-10
5 Matthew 5:48, 7:21
6 Matthew 19:25, Mark 10:27, John 6:38-39
7 Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:29
8 Mark 6:2
9 Luke 2:52
10 Luke 11:31
11 Luke 12:57
12 Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17
13 Matthew 16:1-4, 5:25 Mark 7:5-7, Luke 6:1-5
14 Matthew 23:13
15 John 1:14
16 Luke 5:37-39, Mark 7:3
17 Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:10, Luke 1:32
18 Matthew 15:2
19 Luke 14:26
20 John 8:4-9
21 Matthew 25:34
22 Luke 17:21
23 Luke 23:14-16
24 Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:10, Luke 1:32, 2:31, 2:38,
John: 1:49, 18:36
25 Matthew 15:21-27
26 Mark 16:17-18
27 Matthew 22:42, Mark 12:35
28 Matthew 7:8, Luke 11:10, John 6:37
29 Matthew 12:39, 16:4, Luke 11:29
30 Matthew 13:36, 15:16 Mark 6:52, 7:17, Luke 9:45, 18:34, John 4:32
31 Luke 9:54
32 Mark 9:34, Luke 9:46, Luke 22:24
33 Mark 14:32-41, Luke 22 42-46
34 Mark 14:47, Luke 22 47-51
35 Matthew 16:18
36 Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22 55:62
37 Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:11
38 Matthew 20:18-20, Mark 16:15
39 Luke 24:49
40 Matthew 6:45, 16:17
41 Matthew 6:1-5
42 Matthew 6:6
43 Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16
44 John 10:10