‘On earth as in heaven’

Luke 11.1–13

The hinge of the prayer is ‘as in heaven so on earth’ or, if you prefer the usual translation ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. That centrally key phrase insists on mutuality and reciprocity, on an interaction between the heavenly ‘Your’ of God’s name, kingdom, and will and the earthly ‘Our’ of bread, debt, and temptation. — John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friends, is what it really means to be a Christian. — Brendan Manning, The Furious Longing of God


Luke tells us,

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’

What is prayer? I remember being told ‘Prayer is talking to God’. Yes it is, but it’s so much more. It’s listening, too. It’s an openness to life. It’s an awareness of injustice. It’s a longing for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. 

In the film Shadowlands, the fictional CS Lewis says:

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me. 

I’m convinced we pray more often than we realise. Let me tell you a story. 

I used to have an atheist friend. We’d have coffee together regularly. My intention was to show him friendship; his stated intention was to hone up his skills for arguing his atheist case. But we had a mutual respect. He had to go into hospital for surgery, and before he did he asked me for this favour: he asked me not to pray for him. 

I was a bit taken aback, but I agreed. I agreed because I wanted to respect my friend’s wishes, and I believed God would care for him without my prayers. 

I learned something about prayer in those days, a bit like ‘CS Lewis’ (actually Anthony Hopkins) saying ‘I pray because I can’t help myself’. 

You see, while my friend was in hospital, he would just pop into my thoughts from time to time. And I realised that when that happened, I couldn’t help but connect him with God. I thought of him, and before I knew what was happening, I’d put him and God together in my thoughts. 

That was prayer. I couldn’t help but pray for him. I couldn’t stop myself. I kept one part of my promise—I didn’t pray for him in my regular prayer times—but I couldn’t stop myself praying for him. 

We pray the prayer that Jesus gave his disciples, the Lord’s Prayer, every week. Some people may think it’s just a rote thing, but it is the model prayer for the disciple of Jesus. 

Let’s talk about the Lord’s Prayer, the one we pray, not the version in Luke. It’s a prayer that is firmly grounded in God, the Origin and Wellspring of all things. That’s what ‘Father’ means. It doesn’t mean God is a boy, it means everything comes from our God, the Father-Mother-Source of all that is. 

The prayer is concerned with earth and heaven. Here’s heaven:

Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name…

And it’s concerned with earth:

Give us today our daily bread.

Help us to depend on you for our needs. Not for the luxuries of life. And that ‘us’ isn’t ‘just’ us—it’s everyone. So help us to make sure that others have the bread they need. 

And it says, 

Forgive us our sins
   as we forgive those who sin against us.

Stop the cycles of vengeance, Lord. Give us the power to forgive those who hurt us. And even more: stop nations from threatening to obliterate another nation, as Donald Trump threatened to make Afghanistan disappear just this last week. And Lord, stop groups and families from continuing feuds that should have stopped centuries ago. (I once told my dad I liked a girl whose surname was McDonald. Dad told me not to get too interested in her; our family was on the Campbell side. In a feud that had started by the days of Robert the Bruce, perhaps even before the 1200s. Seven hundred years earlier! I couldn’t believe my ears.) 

And in the Lord’s Prayer, we acknowledge our weakness and need of protection:

Save us from the time of trial
   and deliver us from evil.

We ask for help to withstand the difficulties of life. We pray for others in very dangerous places in the world. 

Yet not everyone is saved from trial, are they? So we as disciples of Jesus have a responsibility to act to relieve suffering, or to give a voice to the powerless. 

I’ve left something out of the prayer. Have you noticed? I’m not talking about ‘the kingdom, the power and the glory’ bit, that we add to give an ending of praise to the prayer. No, I left out the bit that says

your kingdom come,
   your will be done,
      on earth as in heaven.

‘On earth as in heaven’: in these words, the Lord’s Prayer links earth and heaven. And it links earthly beings like us to heaven in a sense of longing—a longing for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. 

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to long for God and for God to reign on earth. It teaches us to long for a time when 

  • Everyone will receive enough food
  • Wrongs, even ancient hatreds, shall be forgiven
  • All in need are safe and protected from evil

That time isn’t here yet. But Christ is risen indeed! A new creation is here and now among the crumbling ruins of the old. 

‘On earth as in heaven.’ When will it be? There are signs of it now. The Holy Meal that we shall share is one of these signs, as we share it together as a group of very different people. We break the bread and share the cup as an active sign of Jesus, present with us. With us, he is with all people to bring life and hope to us who still must say,

your kingdom come,
   your will be done,
      on earth as in heaven.

So as we share this meal, we must determine to share our food with those who hunger and to seek the justice of God for others. 

Let the longing for justice rise in your heart as you receive communion today: let that longing, that prayer, bubble up from within. 

The Lord’s Prayer is a pattern that teaches us the basics of prayer, particularly this: in prayer we long for God’s will to be done on earth. We long for a long time. We keep seeking, asking, knocking on the door. 

Prayer is continuing to actively hope for God to act. It is calling on God to show God’s love to the world. Prayer is seeking and asking and knocking on the door—and trusting that God will open it in God’s own way. 

And in the final analysis prayer is a change of heart, in which we trust in God whether we see God act or not. This is a change of heart that has the power to make us part of the answer to our own prayers, and to the prayers of others.

Your kingdom come,
   your will be done,
      on earth as in heaven.

This is our prayer, our longing, the cry of our heart, for all the days of our life.


West End Uniting Church, 28 July 2019

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Filed under Prayer, RCL, sermon

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