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Friday, June 26, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 11 - "Amen"

We have now come to the end of our official study on the Lord's Prayer, based on the great Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini's 1932 text, and what I am going to do for this last study is talk about the word "Amen" and then summarize what was discussed over the past several lessons.  Although the official study is finished, please continue to meditate on this great collection of petitions that Jesus Himself gave us as a pattern for our own prayer life, and utilize the wisdom of the prayer as you walk in your daily pilgrimage of life.

To start today, I want us to revisit what Guardini calls the "gateway" petition of the whole Lord's Prayer - "Thy will be done."  There are several things that this particular petition does.  First, it joins us in concern with the will of the Father.  Second, it is the heart of the whole prayer in that it joins the Christian in union with the Father in heaven via submission to God's will. This is very important, because the whole key to our own salvation of course is Jesus Christ and His atoning death for our sins on the Cross, and the ultimate will of the Father is that in His love we might be restored to the fulness of being in which He created us.  However, due to the free will factor, it is something we must desire as well, which is why it is important that the sovereign will of God is something that we desire to follow, and we must do so willingly.   Understanding the Lord's Prayer in that light helps make sense of the other petitions contained within it.

The first petitions of the Lord's Prayer, you will recall, do several things.  First, they initiate us into the mystery of the name of God.   Secondly, they initiate us into the mystery of His kingdom.  And third, they initiate us into the mystery of His divine will and its significance in heaven and on this earth.  Like the Ten Commandments, several Pauline epistles in Scripture, and other pillars of our faith, they embody the first of two components - how we relate to and serve God.

The remaining petitions of the Lord's Prayer remind us of the fact we need God in our everyday lives too.  They can only be integrated though into our lives in lieu of the first three or four petitions though, as they reflect the simplicity of the child of God who draws life from the first mysteries and only by acknowledging and understanding the first can we live the second.  Remember what Jesus told us?   In our Anglican liturgy, we recite it during our Masses as what is called the "Summary of the Law," and here is what that says from the Book of Common Prayer:

"Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith.  Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets."

For some of my Evangelical brethren reading this who may not be as familiar with Anglican liturgy, you will recognize this right out of Scripture.  Remember Jesus, when He was being harassed by the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 22:37-40, and that He used that to answer the "zinger" one of them threw at Him in verse 36 about what the greatest commandment was.  It is indeed something that the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and even the theme of Scripture hangs upon - the book of Ephesians, for instance, deals a lot with these two themes, which I have identified as 1) how we relate to God, and 2) how we relate to one another.  With that in mind, the idea conveyed is this - submission to God's will is transformative, and will be reflected in how we interact on a daily basis with others.  Hence, the "glue" that holds these two commandments on which all the Law and Prophets (as well as Apostolic teaching) hang is the sovereign will of God, simple as that.

Now that we have summarized the Lord's Prayer by seeing that it is the will of God, and our willful submission to it, which makes the petitions of the prayer possible, I want to now discuss the closing lines of the Lord's Prayer.  Many Anglicans, Protestants, and even some post-Vatican II Roman Catholics may think it somewhat perplexing that Guardini leaves out the common close of the prayer which we know as the words "for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen."   The "Amen" is what Guardini, in traditional Roman Catholic fashion prior to Vatican II, focuses on, and I want to discuss that a bit to help people understand why he does what he does.  In reading what Fr. William Saunders wrote about this, the whole closing phrase is a traditional doxology that was not included in the original Scriptural rendering of the Lord's Prayer we find in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  The doxology was a Hebraic practice that was utilized at the conclusion of a prayer in order to bring the focus back to worship of the one true God.  It was originally part of the Lord's Prayer in early liturgies, although it was later omitted due to focus on the Christological focus of the Eucharist, prior to which the Lord's Prayer was said before partaking.  It appears too, according to Fr. Saunders, that the doxology may have been reintroduced during the reign of Elizabeth I as part of the traditional Anglican liturgy, which is why traditional Anglicans say it (Fr. William Saunders, "Who Added the Doxology?" at http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/DOXOLOG.HTM - accessed 6/26/2015).   Personally, I don't think it does any harm omitting or adding it, as the focus of the prayer and its powerful message are not affected regardless, but it will explain why Guardini doesn't lend any discussion to it in his text.  Rather, Guardini focuses on the "Amen," which as we know means from the Hebrew tongue either "So be it" or "Let it be."  The "Amen" is to remind us, Guardini notes, that the right prayer (meaning a prayer said in the right spirit) is also an action, be it interior or exterior.  And, as an action, it demands a genuine transformation within the whole person must take place.  The heart yearns and tends toward God, but there must be a stoutness of character to avoid the temptation to shirk our responsibility to respond to that calling of God to Himself.  And, it is to be a consistent attitude, rather than a passive feeling of the "warm fuzzies," and therefore requires a solid frame of mind that also finds expression of this attitude in everyday action.  Therefore, our "amen" to the petitions of the Lord's Prayer sort of acts like the signature on a contract, and focuses us back on the kingdom, which we will now discuss.

The kingdom of heaven is not something that just falls out of the blue at us, and it doesn't evolve from the nature of man, as some modern liberal theologians like Jurgen Moltmann seem to mistakenly think.  The kingdom comes from God Himself, and is also in a continual state of coming - the kingdom, to use a cliche, is "now but not yet," in other words.  The most visible demonstration of this is in the reception of the Holy Eucharist, which we will get into next study.  And, although the kingdom of heaven is in a "continual state of coming," it must be seized by us and drawn to us.  It demands that we risk making a commitment, which unfortunately much in our own human nature due to concupiscence (we talked about that before - the propensity to sin which we inherently received as a race at the Fall), and it means that we must keep the "passions" (see our last study) in check if the kingdom is to have scope within us.  And, that leads to an interesting insight Guardini talked about in his text that I never thought of before, but it makes a lot of sense.

If we look in Matthew 11:12, we are told that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence from opposing forces on earth, and that the "violent" take the kingdom by force?  What does that mean?   If we go to Ephesians 6, we have a clue - it is a form of spiritual warfare that we must fight on a daily basis against the self, as well as against Satan and his minions.  We are also told to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3, NKJV), and regarding Satan, we are to "resist the devil" by "submitting to God" and the devil himself will flee from us (James 4:7, NKJV).  It is a struggle to live for God, as many things come against us to derail us from what God wants us to be, and Scripture from Jesus' own words even to Revelation itself constantly reminds us of that struggle we have.  We cannot therefore afford to be timid, and must break through ourselves via submission to God's will and our own self-discipline to follow His will at any cost.  The "amen" signifies that determination to break through, and it is our pledge to commit to follow what we confess with our mouths.

In case you haven't gotten the idea yet, it is apparent that the whole of the "Our Father" revolves around the kingdom of God.  It expresses the hope of its coming ("not yet," anagogical/eschatological) and the consciousness of its nearness ("now," practical).  When we say "Amen," therefore, we say in effect "I want the kingdom to come!"  And, this is what Jesus came to tell us, as is marked by the beginning of His earthly ministry when His first recorded words in the Gospels were "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" (Mark 1:15, NKJV)   Repentance, therefore, is a prerequisite for entry into the kingdom, and the Cross is the sole means of that repentance.  So, how then does the kingdom come (or not) to us?

First, the kingdom doesn't just fall out of the sky into our laps, but rather calls to us as the heart of the Gospel message.  We are compelled to believe this message, but in order to do so, it requires a change - we are to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, repent of our sins and allow His shed blood to cleanse them, and then we must bow our own will beneath His.  The latter part is an easy thing to say but not so easy to do, as our free will can make us stubborn, shutting itself up to the invitation of God to receive His salvation.  Also, our "passions" are resolute and cling to us, with our inner nature being fastened to those old ways by many roots.  Do you remember what the Apostle Saint Paul said we had to do also?   In Colossians 3:9 we are told to "put off the old man with his deeds," which also hearkens back to something said earlier in another epistles when we are reminded that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41, NKJV).  The concupiscence we all have is something that we must constantly contend with in this life, for although we may desire to follow Christ and His commands, and submit to His will, we also have base desires that seek gratification - this is "the flesh" it talks about in Scripture so much.  Many of those base desires are not in our best interest, and indeed they can imperil our very souls if we indulge them.  This is another reason why submission to the will of God is vital to our faith, because only with God in control of our lives can be subdue those propensities and keep them in check.  And, the simple word "Amen" has a bigger role than we realize in that, because that little four-letter word draws a line for us to our endless questioning and wavering, and it sets the necessary boundaries to make us take our commitment to God seriously, even at all costs.  Therefore, the "Amen" does some things for us.

First, it changes the instability of creature into fidelity to God.  Secondly, it brings our flight from God in sin to a standstill.  However, due to our limited nature on this earth, this is a commitment we must continually renew, and on a daily basis.  We renew that commitment by studying God's word, talking to Him in prayer (using the Lord's Prayer either directly or as a model), and regular fellowship with our brethren in the Church via the sacramental bond of the Lord's table (the Eucharist).  And, every "Amen" lies valueless unless God Himself pronounces it - what on earth does that mean???  It means that God honors our contract to Him when we pray it with the right attitude of heart and in a contrite and humble spirit which desires to submit to His will and overcome the stubbornness of our own limited flesh.  And, finally, the "Amen" expresses God's determination to see His kingdom realized in us as His servants but ultimately on this earth literally when Jesus returns.  And, as Guardini notes on page 101 of his text, the "Amen" itself turns into its own petition - a petition which declares "Lord, do Thou say Amen!"   What this all means in more basic terms is this - if we approach God honestly and humbly, and willingly accept that "His will be done" as a desire of our own, God will pronounce the "Be it so!" upon us and He will see our faithfulness.  It is not a big mystery either, nor does it require any special ritual - Jesus already did all that upon Calvary, and God pronounced the "Amen" on that as well when Jesus utttered the last words on the Cross, "IT IS FINISHED!"   And, for us, when we submit to God's will and commit ourselves to follow Christ, it is indeed a finished work for us that we can, provided we keep the commitment ourselves, have solid hope.  God bless you all until next time.