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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 6 - "Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven"

In the first study in this series, we already talked about the petition "Thy Will Be Done," and how it is what Guardini calls the "gateway" to the whole prayer.  Reviewing that briefly, remember on page 4 of Guardini's text when he said: "So, this will must be something that is worth asking for; somethng precious for which we have to petition with all the earnestness and ardor of prayer; something holy and salutary." (Romano Guardini, The Lord's Prayer, page 4).  Guardini then goes on in the next paragraph to explain that God's will is that which He demands of us and binds us in conscience.  Further, it is His holy intention for the world and for us as individuals - God's will is universal in application, yet also personal for those who respond to Him.  Yet, as we begin the current chapter, Guardini notes in page 45 that there is a paradox in regard to God's will, an odd way to open the chapter, yet appropriate to the theme of the overall book.

The paradox Guardini talks about is one in which the will of God is the mightiest of powers (including the fact that it was the driving force in the creation of all things) but at the same time it seems so weak in the world it created.  What does that mean???  Guardini goes on to elaborate it this way - it is the highest object of meaning, yet is continually in danger of being lost, but by whom?   Is it the natural forces of the earth itself?  Not at all - as we have seen, God's will has allowed for man, being created in His image, to be a creature of free will, and at the Fall unfortunately man made the wrong choice, bringing into the world a sin and destruction that sometimes obstructs man's vision and makes the will of God conflict with his own.  As Christians therefore, being renewed by the waters of baptism and the Holy Spirit, we are urged to be the custodians of that unseen phenomenon called "the will of God" in this world, and we enter into an understanding with God Himself in order to do this.  That is why this petition, "Thy will be done," is a passionate plea on our part to realize the fulfillment of His holy will.

How is God's will in danger of being lost?  All one has to do is look around at our current society, which is driven by the force of what Scripture calls "the way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12 NKJV).   A few verses earlier in that same passage of Scripture, the writer also notes that "He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is perverse in his ways despises Him." (Proverbs 14:2 NKJV).  This is why we as Christians, when we are adopted into the promise of salvation, must struggle against these things, and at times our stand on that is not going to be popular - this current "debate" over the abomination of "gay marriage," for instance, is a case in point.  But, God's will is far superior to any wisdom man has, and therefore even when a lot is stacked against us by what is appearing to be an increasingly wicked society, we must become even more impassioned with praying to our God that "thy will be done."

Now, in reviewing the gateway petition "Thy will be done," we now look to the second part - "on earth as it is in heaven."  On page 45, Guardini notes that this petition is stretched between what he phrases as the divine "above" and the human "below," but I need to clarify here what he is saying, as that wording can carry some misunderstanding.  Warren Smith is an Evangelical Protestant apologist who, before his conversion, was heavily involved in the New Age movement,  In recent years Smith has been monitoring some current trends in Christian circles, notably this whole "Emerging Church" movement (which I believe is heretical), and one thing he notes is the popularity of a recent translation of Scripture called The Message by this guy Eugene Peterson.   Although apparently seeking to "modernize" archaic language in Scripture to supposedly make it more readable to a contemporary audience, Peterson treads on some dangerous ground when he renders some questionable wording in the Lord's Prayer in regard to the petition "on earth as it is in heaven."  Peterson's The Message translates this as "as above, so below," and on the surface it appears as if he is affirming what Guardini is writing in our focal text for this study, but as we shall see he really is not, and I am about to explain why.  When the invocation "as above, so below" is traditionally understood, it has a what is called a monistic connotation.  Monism is a system that underlies the whole of occultic/New Age thinking, and it goes back to ancient Eastern religious texts which assert a belief that all things are God - God is all, and all is God, in other words.  The phrase therefore "as above so below" actually embodies this principle by saying as all in the cosmos is actually God, so all on earth is likewise.  Another word for this is pantheism (Warren Smith, Deceived on Purpose.  Margalia, CA: Mountain Stream Press, 2004.  pp. 32-35).  A variation of this principle, panentheism, asserts too that God is within everything, a view that was Christianized by such liberal theologians as Jurgen Moltmann who incorporated into his "Theology of Hope."   It is therefore important to understand better what this petition is saying, free of some potentially heretical language.

As for what heaven is, I first want to say that many concepts and perceptions of heaven we get from the media are often wrong -  the definition of what heaven is needs to be drawn from Holy Scripture and the Fidei Depositum containing what the Church historically has taught.  Jim Garlow and Keith Wall, both Evangelical Protestant ministers, co-authored an excellent book a few years back entitled Heaven and the Afterlife (Minneanapolis:  Bethany House, 2009), and in it they note that the Bible actually talks about three heavens, of which two - the temporal and permanent - are pointed to in Scripture (Garlow and Wall, pp. 137-139).  Guardini concurs with some of that when he begins to unpack this in his text by saying that although heaven is the place where celestial bodies move (traditionally called "the second heaven" in Scripture) this is not the right context for the petition in the Lord's Prayer.  The reason for this, Guardini notes, is that the cosmos cannot be the reference because the will of God is not fulfilled any differently "out there" than it is anywhere else, and that the "second heaven" is still subject to natural forces - planets after all orbit stars, stars burn, supernova, and burn out over the course of time, and asteroids and comets still shoot through space.   Also, heaven is not merely "up there," and here Guardini also elaborates as to why the phrasing of "as above so below" is also incorrect - simply put, there is not an "above" or "below" in that context to where we can simply point our fingers.  And, although noting heaven as "the place where God lives" is getting closer, it too is inadequate because it arises from different sources - much of that perception is based, as Guardini notes, on the speculation of natural science, fairy tales and mythology, and the limited understanding of man to make things tangible to fit into his own reason.  What heaven is arises from its source in faith, not in man's trying to "figure things out."  And, because of that, we must ask Revelation (meaning Holy Scripture in general) to satisfy our need to know what heaven is. Therefore, we go to the source, Jesus Christ, who came to earth to us from heaven, and then returned back. So, how does Christ reveal this to us?  That is where our discussion goes next.

When we seek out Christ for these answers, we quickly find out that perhaps we ask the wrong questions!   For one thing, upon reading the Gospels and what Jesus taught, we see that heaven is not something set apart, but is rather bound up with the living existence of God himself.  When Jesus speaks of the Father, for instance, he always adds the preposition "in heaven."  It is Christ who connects heaven with man, and in so doing we are taught that it is man's blessed goal and final condition.  We are also urged to "lay up treasure in heaven" (Matthew 6:20).  What that means is that we, as Christians, plae in heaven the goal and standard of our thoughts and actions.  As we do so, the fruits and forms of the final perfection of our lives begin to show outwardly and transform inwardly.  Remember those "fruits of the Spirit" we read about in Galatians 5:22-23?  Also, let's look at Phillipians 3:20 - "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."  In other words, remember the study on "Thy kingdom come" last time?   The kingdom of God (which is in its perfection in heaven) is "now but not yet."  If we recall the parables of Jesus, He told us that the kingdom of God is embodied in the parable of a mustard seed - it seems small and insignificant, but it grows.  And, furthermore, Jesus told us that if we receive Him into our lives and trust Him for our salvation, then the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21).  At this time, we cannot point and say that heaven is here, or there, or yonder - that physical manifestation of heaven may not be possible for us until either our individual repose or the communal rapture of us all on the last day.  Yet, we manifest it in our lives, and instead of a location at this point it may be more feasible to even speak of heaven as a dimension, a "mystery of faith" that we participate in yet cannot define.

Heaven, of course, is the dwelling-place of God, but again, what does that mean?  First, it must be understood as that place in which God is with himself.  That means not necessarily a place existing in itself "in" which God is, but rather, as I Timothy 6:16 tells us, it is "the inaccessible light in which God dwells."  In finite human language, heaven then signifies God insofar as He dwells with Himself, and as such it is not a tangibility, but is freely and completely reserved to Himself alone.  The mystery of this can never be fully comprehended in this life and our limited human understanding, but when we enter into our eternal reward one day we will experience heaven as its fulness in God Himself.

So, now that we have dealt with what heaven is (although as a question that cannot be given a full answer in this life) we now ask that if the will of God is to be done in heaven, by whom is it to be done?  The answer to that is God Himself!   In essence, Guardini notes, the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of the will of God.  In the Holy Spirit, God fulfills His will of ceaseless self-giving, in that the Father gives Himself to the Son, and the Son gives Himself back to the Father (John 1:1, 10:38).  The Holy Spirit (and Jesus) are "with Him" as divinely self-surrendered, yet eternally preserved and sheltered.  The very root and essence of heaven therefore is the inpenetrable mystery of blessed unity of self-giving and self-knowing.  This, of course, is the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit.

On earth, then, the will of God is done by the creature (specifically, us).  God's will in creating the world was that he might be in it, and that the world in giving itself back to him should reach up to Him and become one with Him in love (not in a pantheistic sense either).  In the created order, there are two groups of created beings in whom this will finds perfect fulfillment:

1.  the angels
2. The Church Expectant

Both are with Him there by the grace of the Holy Spirit, as we established earlier.  The Holy Spirit, again, shares divine presence with the Son, who giving back to Himself is reunited with the Father.  The will of God in creation, by result, is fulfilled by life in the Spirit (Psalm 39:4).  In heaven, the divine will is done fully and completely.  On earth though, if we do not fulfill the will of God, it is because we don't recognize His holy truth.  Or, His will seems unimportant or is misunderstood on our part.  In heaven however, the Church Expectant (the saints and those who died in Christ) and the angels are penetrated fully by the Holy Spirit, and therefore can do nothing else but fulfill God's will!  In Greek, we note a phraseology that is used in Ephesians 4:15 - it is aleqeun ev agape, which we translate as "the truth in love," but it is much more than that.  There is a an accusative tense here that denotes "to do" or "to be," and when it is rendered in its full literal translation, the idea communicated here is "to do the truth in love" or 'to be the truth in love."  The indication here is that we are to take on an attribute of God in that regard in order to more perfectly fulfill His will in our lives, and it is the Holy Spirit that makes this possible.  In this world, we (the Church Militant, those of the Church currently living) often fail and fall short in this due to the fact that the reality of the world often seems to us stronger and more attractive.  We have to remember that although we have been cleansed and transformed by Christ at baptism from original sin, we still bear the effect of something called concupiscence, which is an effect of our fallen nature.  Concupiscence simply means that we have a propensity in our flesh to commit sin, and oftentimes the world we live in entices the flesh to give into this concupiscent attribute of our nature - Satan also utilizes the things of the world to appeal to that propensity through temptation, and we struggle with that daily on this earth.  This is why we are told first in Ephesians 6:12 that we battle against "powers and principalities" (arcon) and in order to do this, we are also admonished in James 4:7 to "resist the devil, and he will flee from you," because Satan is described as "our adversary the devil, who walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."  This is a battle we face on a continual basis, and even Jesus was tempted of Satan in the Gospels in the wilderness, but the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus at that time with the ability to resist, as we should as well.  These things we face on this earth, however, are not faced by our brethren of the Church Expectant in heaven, because they are flooded with the divine perfection which no power on earth can wrest away.  Therefore, without the burden of concupiscence, they cannot do anything but fulfill the eternal will of God, and in that characteristic there consists their blessedness.  Also, being perfected by Christ, they are no longer capable of sin, because the desire to sin is now gone, and instead this inundation of the power of divine love propels their very being.  

Now that we have talked at length about heaven, what of the earth?   We know that it is this planet upon which we live, but as previously discussed, it also encompasses time of man's struggle with concupiscence to sin and the pilgrimage of faith.  By nature, man knows little of God - there is this inward thing that man has which tells him somehow there is a supreme being who is the source of all that is, but over the years either it has been corrupted or suppressed.  Also, as a result and effect of the Fall, man's heart is not inundated with the power of divine love as the saints in heaven are - concupiscence and temptation of the things of this world cloud that possibility, even for the most faithful sons and daughters of the Church (although as we walk closer with Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, we grow in it). Therefore, man can (and does!) forget, overlook, and lose sight of God with the mind and intellect - science and reason even attempt to rule out God's existence, although as established in earlier chapters we studied, there is this inward sense which is even reflected in the languages of mankind that came with man at his creation as part of his speect (note Guardini, page 31).  Therefore, we need to examine what it means for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The mystery of creation affirms that God created the whole universe, including our world - we, despite some who seem to think otherwise, didn't come "from the goo to the zoo to me and you," but rather were literally and specifically created by God in that we come from two common ancestors called Adam and Eve.  By a thought, God made the non-existent exist. And, the earth and all that he created upon it were made to stand and last.  God gives each of us the freedom to live in accordance with its true being, and we can choose not to or joyfully embrace He who will restore us to the fullness of being qua being, meaning restored to being by virtue of what we were created to be.  This choice, for man, is called free will.  In his very excellent text The Physics of Christianity (New York:  Doubleday, 2007) Frank J. Tipler, a professor of mathematics at Tulane University in New Orleans as well as a committed Christian himself, wrote that free will and God's omniscience ("all-knowing") are possible and mutually consistent because reality is a multiverse that is subject by what is called the quantum theory of identity - what that means is that God is unique in who He is, and we are created by Him as being unique in the metaphysical sense of being qua being - it is by virtue we are created as we are.  Reality is a creation of God as well though, in that it was constructed, as Tipler notes, so that He can be both known as well as yielding free will for His creatures in this reality (Tipler, p. 264).  Therefore, as Guardini notes in his text, the very mastery in which God has created the world gives occasion to risk, namely the risk that the world will misunderstand itself and think it can do without God (a type of idolatry).  Although we are given the latitude for that risk, taking it still leads to a sin, and unfortunately it occurs quite frequently in human history.  

The "anxiety of the Christian," as Guardini denotes it, is constructed of several things.  First, it is a fear for his (or her) own salvation and that of the world.  Second, man is prone (and frequently does) misinterpret creation's masterful perfection and thus abuse it by sin.  As Acts 17:28 affirms, essential nature and existence only exist in God!  Man's being in the world really and truly is possible only from God, and in God.   Because of the effects of the Fall, man unfortunately doesn't exist as a perfect and complete being, but rather in a state of movement toward God - given, sometimes that movement takes wrong turns however, as false religious systems attest.  However, the closer to God one gets, the more complete and real one becomes.  This movement then is nothing other than the fulfillment of the will of God, and our positive response to it.  Therefore, to do God's will is to come nearer to Him, and in doing so, one becomes more real.  Furthermore, in doing so, the creature (us) is meant to reach his (or her) place with God, being we have donned His holy self-indwelling (the Holy Spirit) by grace.  Guardini, on pages 51-52 of his text, illustrates this with the imagery of the mother, and his point is that it is more terrible than a child rejecting the mother who nurtured and gave life to it when creation turns away from God by sin.  And, God is sorrowful at that choice (Genesis 6:6).  At this point, it is important to mention that God doesn't take some sadistic glee at dealing out judgement on his creation for their inquity - it breaks his heart.  Also, despite some popular theologies that misinterpret God as a wrathful, vengeful demiurge who wants to barbecue people in hell, the reality is that hell is a real place, and it wasn't originally created for us - therefore, God is not the one that sends us there; we send ourselves by choices we make to reject Him, and it grieves Him.  Even Lucifer, despite the fact he is a being now of indescribable evil and contempt, was originally created by God and in being was good, but Lucifer chose his fate and fell as a result of his own error, not because God wanted it to happen.  So, as a mother can never reject the life she has brought into the world and nurtured, God doesn't reject His creation.  Rather, His creation often rejects Him, and therefore chooses its fate.  
In conclusion, Christ came "to save that which was lost" (Luke 19;10 NKJV).   Therefore, He Himself teaches us to pray "Thy will be done on earht as it is in heaven."   We are to pray this so that God may grant man the impulse to turn back to Him in this life, as there will be no further opportunities in the next.  We also do not literally see His light on earth, but we pray by faith as if we did - remember, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV), and "by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God" (Hebrews 11;3), and in that we also must understand that this "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17).   Therefore, one of those "works" is the unceasing prayer that "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," and in doing so we must also let the Holy Spirit animate us to do our part to participate in doing the will of the Lord in this life, so that we may live in the will of God in the next.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 5 - "Thy Kingdom Come"

In this study we begin to actually examine the petitions of the "Our Father" themselves in depth, being that they are short but say much.  The petition "Thy kingdom come" is devoted an entire chapter in Guardini's book, and it is so because of the fact that it embodies the eschatological hope of all Christians. We always need to anticipate the coming of the Kingdom, but as we shall see, in some ways it is in us as individuals but also manifest in the Church.  However, as I will be saying throughout this study, the kingdom of God is "now but not yet," and therefore what we see within us as individuals and as a Church is only one aspect of the kingdom.

On page 37 of Guardini's text, he notes that the words "Thy kingdom come" are not an exact translation.  There is, of course, no harm in praying that way, but the problem he identifies here could be summarized in the fact that often we pray these words without understanding their significance.  A more accurate translation of this petition, Guardini notes, would be "May thy kingdom arrive," and even then, it doesn't express the full dimensions of the prayer.  As we have established, the kingdom has already come in a couple of aspects, but what we need to pray is the hope of the fulness of its coming.  The petition itself should communicate to us an expectation, a yearning.   This petition is for Christians the same desire that Jewish families pray every Shabbat when they conclude the evening meal with the petition "Next year in Jerusalem."  This expectation then is driven by a desire to be in union with our Creator, the Bridegroom, and it demands a readiness on our part for the immanency of the kingdom's coming.

To establish why Jesus included this in the prayer He taught us to pray, we need to take a look at Mark 1;15.  In the previous verses, we note that Jesus began His earthly ministry after two events - one was His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, which we see happening in verses 9-11, and the second was His temptation in the wilderness for 40 days as recorded in verse 13.  The story of the Temptation is not given a lot of detail in Mark's Gospel, but rather is more detailed as to what happened in Luke 4 and Matthew 4.  First off, we are presented with an issue here - why on earth would Jesus have to be baptized and then tested by the devil in the wilderness??  St. Jerome gives us three reasons for the Baptism, and they are as follows:

1.  He was born a man, so that He might fulfill all justice and humility of the Law.
2. By His baptism He confirmed John's baptism.
3. By sanctifying the waters of the Jordan through the descent of the dove (the Holy Spirit), He might show the Holy Spirit's advent in the baptism of believers.  (Manlio Simonetti, ed. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Vol 1a - Matthew 1-13 {Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2001} p. 51)

St. Chrysostom notes as well that although John was baptizing for repentance, that was not Jesus's reason for being baptized (p. 51), but rather as Chromatius notes Jesus was baptized for us, to fulfill all righteousness - after all, as Chromatius continues, isn't it only right that the command He gave us should be first demonstrated by its giver?  Jesus was trying to teach by His example what must be done for disciples to follow their Master.  Therefore, Jesus in a sense sacramentalizes the baptism of John, and in it's execution now a picture of His own death and resurrection is presented to us - in the fount of Holy Baptism, our sins are buried with Christ, and we are resurrected in a sense as a new creature, restored to that which God created us to be.  Baptism, then, is a way of fulfilling the petition "Thy kingdom come" because it brings the kingdom to us.

Then there was the Temptation - why was that needed?  Again, we consult St. Chrysostom, who notes in his Homily 13.1 that Jesus endured this for us - He was "led up by the Spirit" because He does whatever is necessary for our salvation by acting and being acted upon.  He submitted Himself to being led up there (to the wilderness) to wrestle agains the devil (Simonetti, p. 56).  How this ties into the petition "Thy kingdom come" is found for us in Ephesians 6, as we are told that we are to take up the armor of God in verses 10-17 because of what it says in verse 12 when it tells that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places," (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV).  And, the reason for that is this - "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come." (II Timothy 3;1, NKJV).  We are no longer, as Christians sealed by the font of Holy Baptism, wholly of this world - we have become part of God's kingdom now in Christ, and therefore we are in direct conflict with the "god of this world" and his kingdom, which although not equal to God in any way is still formidable.  Jesus anticipated this struggle and by example showed us how to overcome it when He was "led by the Spirit" to be tempted Himself, and He prevailed.  Now that He has prevailed over the enemy, He offers hope to us, provided we follow Him.  And this is what initiated His earthly ministry.

As we go back to Mark 1;15, we see that Jesus begins His earthly ministry by doing what - in verse 14, He came "preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God."  That Gospel had two aspects:

1.  Repentance
2. The nearness of the kingdom.

The Gospel therefore, as Guardini notes, announces to the world the nearness of the kingdom of God.  It was originally distant, but now near.  However, for one to receive it, we must be aware and perceive it - there is communicated a narrow window of opportunity to respond and an anxiety over the immanence of the kingdom's arrival.  In other words, this reminds us of the dire reality of human mortality, and that at any moment our lives could end, and therefore the time for anticipating and receiving the kingdom is now - this is why the petition is included, "Thy kingdom come," for the kingdom comes first to us imwardly (now) but will be fully realized at the Second Coming (not yet).

The kingdom was the primary message of Jesus during His earthly ministry, and no one talked more about it than He did.  The parables in particular communicate a lot about the kingdom of God, as to what it is, what it entails, etc.  The reason why Jesus spent so much time talking about the kingdom was because the kingdom of God cannot be reduced to a single concept.  First, it is something mightly, pervasive, penetrating, and operative - the kingdom operates now, especially in the vocation of Christ's Church, but its fullest expression hasn't been realized yet.  Also, the kingdom is multiform, and can only be grasped by contemplation.  Prayer and study of the Holy Scriptures help us, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to understand more of it as we grow in our own Christian life, but at the same time our thought must be able to endure the complexity of the kingdom as well as coming to the place where we can grasp its manifold richness as a whole.  The various parables aid in this, and many of them are found in Matthew 13.

Without going into the whole spectrum of the parables, I want to focus on those which Guardini, on pages 38-39 of his text, keys in on.  Jesus utilized in His pedagogy many symbolisms that His hearers were familiar with to communicate His message, and the medium of choice He used was the parable.  Here are some parables that contain the imagery of the kingdom He wished to communicate to His hearers, and even to us today:

1.  A treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44)  - The imagery portrayed in this is that the kingdom of God is a precious thing that is of more value than can be calculated, and for those that desire it, it must be obtained at any cost.
2.  The Pearl (Matthew 13:45-46) - The same message is conveyed here as it was with the treasure.
3. The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) - The kingdom looks small and insignificant, even foolish, but will one day encompass the whole earth and everything in it, permeating all and uprooting evil.  The mustard seed reminds us of other passages in Scripture as well where Jesus uses the insignificant to communicate the significant - in I Corinthians 1:21, it says "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe," because in verse 25 we are reminded that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men," which is why in verse 27, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty."  Nothing is weaker and more absurd than a tiny mustard seed - if you have seen mustard grains, they are tiny!  Yet, from them a huge plant grows.  Also, there is the foolishness of the babe in the manger, which screwed up the expectations of royalty many people were expecting, yet that Babe saved countless souls.
4. The Leaven (Matthew 13:33) - In like fashion, Jesus uses a microscopic fungus called yeast to illustrate the kingdom, in that a microscopic bit of leaven in some wheat dough can produce enough bread to sustain a family.
5. The Fishing Net (Matthew 13:47-48) - This is one of a series of parables Jesus uses to say that there will be those who supposedly are in the kingdom but are not, but that like fish, often you net good, edible, and kosher (remember, this was a Jewish cultural context!) fish along with non-kosher fish that are unfit to eat.  The message of the kingdom appeals to many, but at the same time, many also do not understand or want to commit to Jesus's teaching and are therefore not part of the kingdom.  This is communicated in the Parable of the Sower as well, when if you will recall in Matthew 13:3-9 that the "seed" (message of the Gospel) is received by some but not by others, but in some it takes deeper root, while in others when the trials of life beat down, they easily abandon the kingdom.  It is also seen in the latter-day Church too, as we note in I Timothy 4 about the "great apostasy" that is to come - many will fall away, it says, because deceptive spirits will deceive them (this correlates with the Parable of the Sower too - those that "fall away" are like the seed Jesus said was plucked up by birds - birds are always a classic imagery in this case for evil spirits).  However, unless we have a sharp sense of discernment, only when the net is gathered (a picture of the Last Judgement) will the bad be separated from the good.
6. The Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) - This parable bears the same message as both the Parable of the Sower, and the Parable of the Fishing Net.  It communicates one of a series of contrasting images (good fish/bad fish, sheep/goats, etc.) that tell us that there will be people in the kingdom of God who are not of God, and likewise, only a discerning eye and the Last Judgement will sort them out.

These images that Jesus gives in the parables tell us that the kingdom is a complex thing - it is insignficant by appearance, yet great, for one.  It is also more valuable than anything this earth can offer.  And, there are people who will masquerade as being part of the kingdom, but they are in reality not - they are in a sense "illegal aliens" because they don't know God and haven't received the grace Jesus died for us to have.  But, still, the kingdom is beyond a brief statement of description, and Guardini spends much of the chapter talking about this as well.

What the kingdom means first of all is that God rules, directly and powerfully.  And, God, in the freedom of His love, has forgiven sin and allowed us to choose to participate in it - we become sanctified by the holiness of Christ only, something that belongs entirely to God alone.  It also means that His truth illumines the mind, meaning we no longer have to waste energy in a futile search for it - it is an openly shining plenitude, without patchiness or ambiguity.  God is therefore felt in his holiness, as well as perceived in his majesty.  By choosing to participate in the kingdom, therefore, man has surrendered his freedom to God and God now reigns with man's joyful consent.  With man's joyful submission to God, he can now experience the intimacy and preciousness of the things of God - this ineffable bliss is a sweet taste to the heart and is felt at the depth of man's being.   It also means that God in his Trinitarian wholeness as our Father, our Brother, and our Friend, is now near to us - He is in the depths of our spirit and at the core of our hearts.  As a result, love (as a fruit of the Holy Spirit cultivated in us - see Galatians 4) rules now perceptively in our goings and comings and the whole of our existence is transformed by it.  And, it means that God now becaome distinct to us in His reality in fulness in two ways.  First, He rules in all things.  Second, we as believers are now in Him, and free to be what God intended and created us for.  In the coming of Jesus, the kingdom was so near as a matter of fact that it was ready to burst forth everywhere, to draw all things to Himself and the freedom now of our community with God.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI talks about this as well when he wrote that "the kingdom of Jesus, Son of David, knows no end because in Him God himself is reigning, in him God's kingdom erupts into this world." (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth - The Infancy Narratives.  New York:  Image, 2012. p. 33).    Therefore, Jesus is the kingdom of God in a sense manifested, and by reigning on the throne of our hearts He brings the kingdom within us, as He promised Himself when He declared that "for indeed, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).

So, what is the message of the kingdom then, that we are to anticipate and pray for to come?  First, we note that the kingdom of God is the crux of Jesus's earthly ministry, and entailed two parts according to Mark 1;15.  First, we are urged to repent ('do penance"), turn away from our depravation and toward God who calls out to us.  Secondly, the nearness of the kingdom of God - Isaiah prophesied that "when the time was fulfilled" the kingdom would come, and indeed when Jesus came, He fulfilled Isaiah's words but not in the way in which many expected. We as individuals are appointed a time to which we are invited to respond to the call that we are to repent and receive the kingdom of God that is at hand even now, and in a response of "yes" we receive that kingdom within us, thus in a sense "the time is fulfilled" on a personal level.  This means then something very important - the kingdom is in a continual state of "coming,' or in the vernacular, it is "now but not yet."  And, that is what we now want to focus on.

The kingdom of God is directed to us both as individuals and communally (via the Church).  However, it must be accepted, and will not force its arrival.  For one, it can only come in freedom, in that man must open himself to it.  To do so, one must first believe, and then prepare himself.  Then, it must be strained toward with eternal longing.  Further, one must be courageous with the kingdom of God and let it in - this is why we are admonished in Hebrews 4:16 to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  It also requires a surrender of self too - rebellion and resistance drives the kingdom of God away, which is why we are admonished in Ephesians 4;30 to "not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."  The paradox here is that if we continue to rebel and resist, the kingdom of God will be driven away, and by our own action we render the power of God powerless by giving place to sin and rebellion.

Therefore, we are to pray to Him that His kingdom may come, and when the kingdom is joyfully welcomed and received by us, St. Francis notes that we become in a special way an interpreter of the Gospel by our life being transformed by it.  And, it streams continually in us as we open ourselves to it.  How do we do that?  First, by prayer and personal devotion.  Second, by full participation in the sacramental life of the Church - the sacraments nourish us.  Therefore, if we actively live out our faith - James 2:26 reminds us that "faith without works is dead," and although works are not salvific, they do make our faith active and vibrant - the kingdom will indeed be manifested in us.  So, when we pray "thy Kingdom come," we do so with the desire that the kingdom comes in us, as well as being an eschatological hope and reality.


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Lords Prayer Part 4 - "Hallowed Be Thy Name"

In this part of the study, we are going to be starting off with a word study, in particular a study of names.  I am sure that many have read the passages in Scripture with those long genealogies - so-and-so "begat" this one, who "begat" that one, etc.  Two striking areas where we see these are in Matthew 1, and I Chronicles 1-9.  Many people look at these passages, often on the verge of pulling their hair out after reading only a few verses of them, and in their exasperation ask "Why on earth is THIS in Scripture???"  We seem to be perfectly fine with the Parables of Jesus in the Gospels, or even the vivid eschatological/prophetic imagery of Daniel and Revelation, but oh, those long genealogies!!   However, we must remember that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV).  And, that of course even includes genealogies!  Lest one thinks otherwise, I came across something in some research that illustrates this well.  One day, I was reading a book on the present phenomenon of UFO's, and how they are demonic deceptions, by an Evangelical author by the name of Chuck Missler.  Missler's book has in its 11th chapter a sort of evangelistic approach to those who are into all this UFO stuff, and one thing he expounds upon is the "hidden message in the family tree," which focuses on those "begat" passages and genealogies in Scripture, and what he writes blew my mind.  Missler focuses on the first ten generations of mankind, and notes that there is a significance to the meaning of their names.  Here is the synopsis in the following table below:

HEBREW NAME                                                                 ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Adam                                                                                      "Man"

Seth                                                                                         "Appointed"

Enosh                                                                                      "Mortal"

Kenan                                                                                      "Sorrow"

Mahalel                                                                                   "The Blessed God"

Jared                                                                                       "Shall Come Down"

Enoch                                                                                      "Teaching"

Methuselah                                                                              "His Death Shall Bring"

Lamech                                                                                    "The Despairing"

Noah                                                                                        "Rest, Comfort"

When all of that is put together, and some English grammatical mechanics are applied, it composes the following message: "Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the blessed God shall come down teaching (that) his death shall bring (the) despairing comfort" (Chuck Missler, Alien Encounters {Coir d'Alene, Idaho:  Koinonia House, 1997} p. 220).  In Hebraic tradition, which is the context that all of Scripture basically is written from the perspective of, the name bears a special meaning to its bearer, and therefore these are what are called by Benedict XVI, in his excellent study Jesus of Nazareth - the Infancy Narratives (New York:  Image, 2012) "words in waiting," that may not be recognizable to their "owner" or to his audience at the time, but they later have their fulfillment (p. 17).  A lot of Messianic prophecies in the OT have that relationship with the NT.  Therefore, even hidden in those tedious genealogies can be profound spiritual truth.

Likewise, the name of God, which is the opening invocation of the Lord's Prayer, has significance.  The petition "hallowed be Thy name" as noted by Guardini in his text, is concerned with the name of God, a word.  A word is of course something formed by sound, a vibration of the lips and throat, and is in that respect an external aspect.  However words have multi-layered significance in Scripture.  First, each word has a "mind" of its own - it has a meaning carried by the sound that comes from the mouth of the person uttering it. But, it also has a "soul" - the response the word strikes in the heart.  Therefore, every word, by this union of "soul" and "mind," contains a general meaning of universal application, something special which is more closely restricted to the speaker and the object to which the word is spoken and directed to, and final, ultimate refinement of meaning that makes it the property of one individual only - this individual may not necessarily be the person saying the word, or the person hearing it, but rather the object of reference.  Words, therefore, are living symbols in and of themselves - we form them, and they form us.  We don't just speak words, but we also think in them.  The analogy Guradini uses in his text on the Lord's Prayer (on which these lessons are based) is that of a railroad - the words are the "rails" upon which our lives run.  And as such, they carry a power of their own.

The interesting thing about all languages of mankind is that they each have a word that designates a "Supreme Being" of some sort, from which all things come, and to whom all things refer back.  Of course, false religious systems over the course of human history have corrupted that, but it is still inherent to the nature of man nonetheless.  To see where that comes from, all we have to do is look at the fact that all human language, like all human origins, come from one source.  That source is referred to in Genesis 11:1 - "Now the whole earth had one language and one speech."  However, as the post-diluvian settlement of Noah's descendants took place in one location - the Plain of Shinar in Mesopotamia, near where the ancient city of Babylon would rise - they began to have an inflated sense of self-importance, and therefore God had to scatter them, as we read later in verses 7-8 of the same chapter.  With this scattering the nations of the earth, and their languages, had their origin.  Also, with that, many vestigial elements of the origins of mankind went with each culture, and in the course of time they were re-interpreted and corrupted.  One of those things was the concept of God - it came with man from the Garden of Eden and was integrated into his speech.  And, the word God has special significance, as we will now see.

There are some facts to note here.  First, God called upon man and revealed Himself.  In doing so, he also made a covenant with man - man was able to take possession of the word God and utilize it when referring to the Supreme Being, the Creator.  God however is not what the proper name of God really is - God rather denotes nature (what He is) rather than His person (who He is).  Therefore,  "name" in the original sense embodies the essential nature of the person bearing the name - the name stands for its bearer.  Therefore, although God's name is not God in all reality and probability, He allows man to use this name God, and therefore by doing so God Himself has entered into the name. That simply means then that He dwells in its power, and by man's own inherent nature it stands in the midst of human history, even when some segments of our race as humanity seek to remove it (problem is, they can't!).  Therefore, when man enters into a covenant with God, the name enters man and works within, even down to the roots of one's individual being.

However, God's own commandments order that this name God should not be used in vain.  It is not something that we can flippantly throw around, nor is it to be used as a projectile of our own violence and hatred.  Remember those little things called the Ten Commandments?  Well, in Exodus 20:7, we see that this command not to take the Lord's name in vain is the third and pivotal commandment of the Decalogue - judgment is promised for those who defy the commandment too.  The Jews invested such awe into God's name that to this day many devout Jews refuse to even write it out - in many Jewish texts, you see the name written as G-d, which is their expression of keeping this command. Other words though are used for God's name, one being YHWH, which simply translates as "I AM."  Another name from old is the plural Elohim, which literally translates as "Lords" although we tend to contextualize the singular "Lord"  The latter is based on some places in the account of Creation in Genesis where you hear God dialoguing as He engages in the act of creation by saying "Let us..." This is an early affirmation of the fact that God is triune - three persons, yet one nature - and although many Jews don't accept that fact, it forms an important cornerstone for orthodox Christian theology for us.

There are reasons we reverence the name of God, and those are included in the attributes of His name.  First, the name of God is transient, meaning that it is at the mercy of the fluctuation of existence (bearing on humanity's endowed free will, in other words).   Second, it is mighty, meaning it is to be held in honor.  However, the propensity to misuse it is also a reality, as it can be desecrated in this context as an object of cursing.  Third, it is to be addressed by prayer and adoration.  However, at times, it is also spoken thoughtlessly, blasphemously, in doubt, and destructively, even if unintentional.  At the risk of sounding politically-incorrect and judgmental here, I want to include a personal observation about regarding certain groups.  In the US, the large African-American population is often marked in its speech by religious jargon, so much so that at times it can lose its meaning.  I know there are many fine African-American Christians, and like all Christians they are brethren and I know many of them well and highly respect them - what I am about to say doesn't apply to them in any way or fashion.  However ,I have noted among many African-American people this tendency to drop religious jargon, including a "thank ya Jezuz!" into practically everything - in many cases, it is sometimes used flippantly, and in inappropriate context.  I would challenge the church leadership of this community to address and educate these people about the holiness of the name of God, and to be more careful about how it is used as well as the context, because a great risk is entailed with not taking seriously the name of God  - it is in a sense taking the name of the Lord in vain, which as we see does carry consequences.  Therefore, the name should be used in reverence, and not blasphemously either - it is a cliche statement, but very true, that "God's last name is not damn."  Also, the name of God should be "hallowed."  "Hallow" is an Old English word that simply means "holy," and unlike the humorous story of the young boy from Sunday School who ran home to his mother, "Hallow" is not a proper name.  In that amusing little story, the boy runs home excited and tells his dad, "Daddy, we learned God's first name today!"  The father replies "Really Timmy?  What did you learn."  Timmy replies, "The pastor kept praying 'Our Father who are in heaven, Howard be thy name!"  As cute as that little tale is, it illustrates unfortunately an ignorance in our society today - we have moved so far away from God and his commands that we don't even realize what a simple prayer says.  The name of God is holy - it can only be felt, consented to, drank from, or if hostile to it, resisted.   It stands for a special quality of his living being, all that is proper to him alone.  Therefore, we are inwardly to embrace the name of God, which can permeate and transform us.  And, we can do it in a more profound way, which I will discuss in closing.

John 1:1 tells us in the original Greek that Jesus was "the Word from the beginning, and that from the beginning the Word was with God and the Word Was God."  The word here is Logos, and what it denotes is a "word of authority."  This "Word" has a name, and it is Y'shua, meaning "YHWH (I AM) the salvation."  Jesus is the name of God that we are inwardly to embrace by allowing Him to enter into us, both through a personal confession and through the sacramental life of the Church, and as we do so, He will permeate and transform us.  Therefore, we understand then that the ultimate Word of God is Himself now a person - Jesus Christ - and as a person He indwells us and restores the true meaning of the fact that all refers back to Him, and all comes from Him - He is, therefore the "Alpha and Omega," (Revelation 1;7 NKJV) as well as being the "Author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:12 NKJV).   And, Jesus, being fully God and fully man, is holy, and is due the reverence we pray in the petition "Hallowed be Thy name."  God bless each of you until next time. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 3 - "Our Father Who Art In Heaven 2"

When Romano Guardini wrote the book on the Lord's Prayer that is the basis of this study, he devoted 2 chapters of it to just the invocation of it - "Our Father, Who art in heaven."  This study deals with the third chapter of the Guardini book as it relates to our recent parish Bible study on it.  Many have remarked how this has helped them to look somewhat differently at the way they pray the Lord's Prayer, and indeed it has also helped me understand it personally in a new way as well.  So, with that being in the way of introduction, I wanted to share the thoughts as I presented them in our parish Bible study on Palm Sunday this year (2015).

In the third chapter, Guardini emphasizes that first of all it doesn't matter where it starts from, but the movement of the heart can rise to God. It is not constrained by time, condition, or circumstance, as there is always a way leading to God.  The way, of course, is through the Holy Spirit, who via our relationship with Christ indwells us and convicts us to communicate with God directly, as by the shed Blood of Jesus Christ we now can, as Scripture proclaims to us, "boldly approach the throne" (Hebrews 4:16).  It is in Christ that we are made righteous before the Father, and thus we now can address Him as "Father."  Hence, the prayer Jesus taught us.  Being that through Jesus is the only and right way (John 14:6), it stands to reason then that there are wrong ways too, which Guardini also talks about in this chapter.  However, I have simplified what Guardini says in the form of certain wrong approaches with which man tries to approach God.

We begin first with the ancient Greeks.  After studying a lot of philosophy, I have come to the conclusion that God led the Greeks in such a way as to prepare the world for the spread of the Gospel utilizing their culture and language - it was God's purpose, therefore, to allow Alexander of Macedon to conquer the known world, and later for the Romans to adopt much of Hellenistic culture in their hinterlands - after the Romans were Christianized under Constantine, as a matter of fact, the Roman Empire in the East essentially became Greek!  Indeed, my own spiritual mentor, the Greek Orthodox priest and herald of renewal, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, once remarked that the Greeks too were in a sense a "Chosen people," much like the Jews, in that God used them by equipping them with a philosophy and language best suited for expressing ultimate, metaphysical reality (Eusebius Stephanou, "The Orthodox Church and Israel," published 2014 by St. Symeon Orthodox Renewal Center and accessed 1/2/2015 at stsymeon.org/28-the-orthodox-church-and-israel.html.).  The problem with the Greeks however was the same as with most non-Christian religions - they have a certain amount of the truth (or, in the case of philosophers such as Plato, they ask the right questions) but the truth they have has been corrupted and obscured in many cases.  As Guardini points out on page 18 of his text, there is something in our nature which leads us to seek God, and we are often compelled to ask the right questions, but often it is our human reasoning that gets in the way and corrupts it.  Fortunately for the Greeks, the light of Christianity eventually illumined their people, and thankfully most of the Greek people are Christianized.  And, in a big way, they have Aristotle and Plato to thank for asking those questions, as well as the Apostle St. Paul, who in Acts 17:19-34 used this Greek propensity to witness Christ to them, and many believed there including St. Dionysius the Areopagite (verse 34).   It goes back to Romans 8:28 - "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."

The "heavenly father" concept was also something believed as a vestige of truth among pagan nations, although the idea of who or what this was ended up falling into corrupted understanding.  What ancient pagan religions understood as a "heavenly father" was something quite different from what Christ taught, and their faulty understanding came to be manifest in two forms.  The first, which we know as pantheism, saw this "heavenly father" as an all-embracing, all-pervading, powerful "goodness."  Plato's Republic has one of the most vivid examples of this, because Plato spoke of it in Book VII, when he said "...it's useful to search for the beautiful and the good."   Guardini would rightly say that this "Good" Plato talked about had a core, and that would be Zeus, and he notes on page 21 that other cultures have different names for this too.  However, the error made by these pagan religions was one in which they saw this "good" or "heavenly father" as something pervasive and powerful, yet lacking personal interest in the human condition; he describes this attitude as a "cold indifference."  In other words, to cultures like this and the religious systems that define them, the "heavenly father" is to be found in oneself, in a rock, a tree, a dog, etc.   It is also not some dualistic force, as we see many early Indo-Iranian religious systems believing in (deities such as Ahura-Mazda among the ancient Persians, and the Shiva/Krishna deity among Hindus).  This is the first error of those who have not come to know Christ and His teachings.

The second error is one of mere "deism," which is something that became quite popular during the Enlightenment era of American history, as many of the Founding Fathers of the US subscribed to it.  the "deist" version of the "heavenly father" amounts to a deadbeat dad essentially - like a turtle or snake, he lays the egg and his offspring have to fend for themselves.  This has often been also called "Clockwinder Theology" because it asserts that God set the universe in motion and then stepped back to basically let it run itself.  This fallacy is also as heretical as the pantheism of the pagans, and neither is what Christ means.

What Jesus means essentially when He addresses God as "Our Father" is this - it pleases God to make mankind, the crowning glory of His creation, His children.  If we look on page 20 of Guardini's text, we see it there - He with whom Jesus speaks is who God is, His Father.   And, when we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:9) because God is as Jesus, in being and in actions. God is then our Father through a gracious decree - starting with Jesus, Psalm 2:7 prophetically tells us that "the Lord has said to Me, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten You..."  And, we call him "Father" because of what Christ said to us - Galatians 4:7 tells us that once we receive Christ in baptism, we "are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir of God through Christ."  And John 1:12 - "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."  That last phrase is what Guardini is talking about on page 22 when he says "it does not belong in our nature and our being that we can say 'Father' to God; it is by His grace that He has made us so." (Guardini, The Lord's Prayer, p. 22). It is therefore imperative that we understand that the mystery of the Fatherhood of God is not to be confused with human reasoning, because we do not become children of God via integration with the natural world, but it is by our faith in God's grace, as personified in Christ.  Therefore, it is important to also remember that faith is not only a blessed certainty, but it is something we learn through practice - confessing God as "our Father" rather than "my Father," for instance, in our petitions.  We learn, therefore, from the attitude of Christ to speak to God as "Father." and by praying the "gateway" - Thy will be done - with this, we learn to conform the attitude of our heart to the teaching of Christ, and growth results.  Our faith is a living faith, and must be practiced on a daily basis to keep it vibrant - the Apostle St. James said it when he wrote that "faith without works is dead," (James 2:20) and it produces fruit (see Galatians 5:22-23).  Therefore, it is not possible to call the non-Christian our "brother," because they are not of the same Father we are until they are reborn through the confession of faith in Jesus Christ and the waters of baptism.

Note too that we pray "Our Father," and not "my Father."  If we put too much stock in the "sovereign individual," as contemporary society (even some forms of Christianity - noting the "positive/affirmation theology" of people like the late Robert Schuller and the current superstar of the megachurch world, Joel Osteen) and this over-emphasis on the importance of one's uniqueness can lead to a type of paganism which makes the self an idol.  Once we decide to follow Christ, the "sovereign individual" ceases to exist - that is the "old man" it speaks of in Scripture being put to death in the waters of baptism (Colossians 3:9).  The only real "sovereign individual" is God Himself.  Now, does that mean we deny our individual identity?  Not at all - the dignity of the human person is something that is inherent to Christianity more than it is in any other religion, but that dignity is realized and perfected in Christ alone, who becomes the Lord of our lives.  Also, it doesn't mean that we cannot have a personal faith either, but rather that we as persons are part of a greater plan of God's kingdom as a community, and as a community we are not just part of some random crowd that Jesus sweepingly called "His children" - we become His children through sacramental grace, and that can only be dispensed through the office of His Holy Church.  That also doesn't mean that God looks upon us en masse either - He created us as individuals, is concerned about us as individuals, and addresses us as individuals.  And, we approach Him as our unique selves, the way He created us, but also in sincerity and humility.  But, at the same time, we are a communion of brethren, and have an integral part as individuals in that communion (Romans 12:4-5).  That being said, the "Christian plural," as understood in this context is not us as part and parcel of an indiscriminate multitude, but rather it is a balance of unity and differentiation, fellowship and individual dignity, and both the close association with others in the Body as well as the privacy of reserve in personal relationship with Christ.  So, while God is indeed my Father, it is not up to me to arrogantly address Him in the singular, but rather understanding that I am part of a Body, and as part of that Body I address God as "Our Father!"  May God, Our Father, bless each and every one  of you this Paschal season.