Marginalia: Hope in a Time of Mass Shootings

 October 14, 2019
Posted by Michael Woolf
The sermon Hope in a Time of Mass Shootings was delivered
October 13, 2019.

Click here to listen.

Plenty of theology was in my sermon on October 13th, “Hope in a Time of Mass Shootings,” but I want to explore some of the things that I only referenced briefly in that space. Chiefly, I talked a little bit about the Lord’s Prayer indicating “heaven’s invasion of earth” – what did I mean by that phrase? Let’s consider the traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

While the traditional language will not work for many at Lake Street (for a great adaptation of the language please see the “further reading” section below), the words are radical. First, take note of Jesus’ use of “kingdom” language in the prayer. Some may say that this is just an achaic first-century reference, but I want to make it clear that Jesus is also mirroring and subverting the language of the Roman Empire. He does the same with the titles that he adopts. Take for instance John Dominic Crossan’s analysis of these titles:

Imagine this question. There was a human being in the first century who was called ‘Divine,’ ‘Son of God,’ ‘God,’ and ‘God from God,’ whose titles were ‘Lord,’ ‘Redeemer,’ ‘Liberator,’ and ‘Saviour of the World.’” Who was that person? Most people who know the Western tradition would probably answer, unless alerted by the question’s too obviousness, Jesus of Nazareth.

And most Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus.”[1]

Jesus uses this Kingdom language in a similarly radical way, in my opinion, and he does it to invite our participation. In praying that God’s reign would inhabit earth, we are invited to consider what it would be like if God were in charge. Equity, justice, forgiveness, and mercy would certainly be more prevalent than they are today. In praying this way, Jesus invites us to participate in God’s in-breaking into this world, so that our current society might be ordered according to God’s economy of justice and peace.

In addition, we ought to consider what practical elements make their way into this prayer. Particularly striking are the references to bread and debt. In a society that knew and experienced hunger, asking God for daily bread was not a spiritualization that 21stcentury Americans might be attempted to adopt. Instead, it is a reference to a real condition, a bodily desire, and, when coupled with the imagination called for in the previous paragraphs, it invites the hearer to imagine what the world would be like if God’s economy were practiced. In effect, it invites the 1st century hearer to imagine a world where there was enough food, and where all received their daily bread.

Jesus’ use of the word “debts” is also no accident, for the first century Palestinian would be well accustomed to debt. 30 years after Jesus, the First Jewish Revolt is inaugurated by the burning of debt records, demonstrating the extent to which Jewish peasants knew and experienced debt as part of their daily lives. In his history of the conflict, which began in 64 CE, Josephus recounts: “[The rebels] next carried their combustibles to the public archives, eager to destroy the money-lender’s bonds and to prevent the recovery of debts.” Coupled with that first imaginative thought – the world with God’s will perfectly implemented as in heaven – we are invited to imagine the forgiveness of debts in a new way. Instead of spiritually referring to sin, the prayer is fundamentally about this present world and what we should be fighting for – the abolition of debts, the freedom of debtors, people free to pursue lives of flourishing.

All of this is too in-depth to have a place in a sermon fundamentally about hope, but it is important. It invites imagination. Many Christians have not read the words of the Lord’s Prayer in a long time – they may recite it weekly, but they have not studied it. They may be surprised what they found if they did.

Further Reading:

The Lord’s Prayer In The New Zealand Book of Prayer (Anglican)

[1] John Dominic Crossan’s God and Empire, 28.

In MARGINALIA, Rev. Michael Woolf takes a deeper dive into
material that didn’t get its due credit from the pulpit.

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