Thursday, May 5, 2016

Looking Up

The scripture referred to is Luke 11:1-4.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord back to his Father in heaven. You might wonder “Why?” If he came to redeem the world, to bring it back to what it was intended to be, why did he leave? Why come back later? Why did he not immediately make the kingdoms of this world into God's kingdom?

Earthly rulers do that. They extend their domains by conquering others. They invade and kill and subjugate people. You don't have to love such a ruler; you just have to obey him... or else. You really don't get a choice. But Jesus' kingdom is built on love. Love doesn't force itself on others. Love offers itself but lets the other person accept or reject it. Entrance into the Kingdom of God is voluntary and God has given us plenty of time to decide if we want to be included. But it isn't like joining Amazon or Sam's Club, where you simply pay your dues and you're in. God's kingdom is, Jesus said, within and among us. It is a matter of being in tune with God's Spirit, the Spirit of Divine Love. If you hate God or his creation or any of his human beings, who were made in his image, you cannot part of his kingdom, no more than you could be a part of Alcoholics Anonymous while simultaneously buying a liquor store and passing out coupons during the meetings.

One way in which we get ourselves in sync with God is by conversing with him in prayer. When his disciples asked him how to pray, Jesus gave us what we call the Lord's Prayer. It is not a magic formula to get God to act as our genie. It is a model for how we should approach God.

It starts by calling God “Father.” We are all created by God but not everyone is a child of God. A child will take after his father in some ways. We see a lot of people who call themselves Christian but are hardly Christlike. When we respond to the love shown us in Jesus, turn to God and offer ourselves to him, he adopts us as his child. He gives us his Spirit. Because of that we can call him Father. We are his and he loves us.

Then we hallow his name. We recognize that God is morally and spiritually on a very different plane than we are. He is holy. He is pure. He is perfect. We need to remember that when we approach him. You wouldn't come in the house from working on your car or digging in the garden and flop down on the couch or even give your spouse a big hug. You're dirty; they're not. You've got to get cleaned up first.

We next pray that God's kingdom come upon earth. We want everyone to stop fighting and cheating and robbing and harming themselves and one another. We want everyone to find the love and peace that we see in Jesus. Since his ascension, spreading that kingdom of love and peace is our task. We need to remember that.

We are not wholly spiritual beings like the angels. We are not merely physical beings like the other animals. We are, as C.S. Lewis put it, amphibians, beings at home in both the physical and spiritual realms. So it is appropriate to ask God for our physical needs, like our daily bread. God has not forgotten that we require food, sleep, shelter and all the rest. He does not resent us asking for them either, anymore than you would be upset if your child said he was hungry and ready for lunch.

We then ask for forgiveness. We spoke of how we need to get clean when approaching God. We can't undo all the evil we have done. Only Jesus can and on the cross he has taken upon himself the brunt of the spiritual damage we have done to this world. So we can boldly approach the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness.

But notice that there is a condition. We can only be forgiven our sins if we forgive those who sin against us. Why? Because whole point is that we become new creations in Christ. We are to become like him. We are to be merciful and forgiving like him. We are to be peacemakers like him and that's impossible if we bear grudges. If we don't forgive others then we really don't understand forgiveness or what it cost Jesus to forgive our sins.

Finally we ask God not to lead us into temptation. God tempts no one to do evil but we will find ourselves in times that test our faith and commitment to God. What we are really asking is for God to help us get through those times without succumbing. Remember that bad times not only bring out the worst in people but can bring out the best. War affords opportunity for cowardice, corruption and treachery but it also provides opportunity for courage, moral integrity and self-sacrifice. We pray that God will help us to reflect his love and character in all circumstances, both pleasant and trying.

Jesus has passed the baton to us. He has given us our mission: to spread his kingdom by inviting people to respond to the gospel, the good news of God's love, forgiveness and healing through his son Jesus Christ. But we don't have to do this on our own. God has given us his Spirit, the same Spirit which empowered Jesus during his earthly life. And because of that we have direct access to God in prayer. We can ask him for whatever we need and he will provide for us. We also know that he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us now and to the end of this age, when we will see his kingdom come on earth. And on that day, as it says in Revelation 21: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Lord, start by making us new. Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment