The Lord's Prayer is a short prayer. Jesus disciples asked him to teach them to pray and he gave them a prayer they could pray in about a minute! I expect they were looking for something a bit more comprehensive and profound. Most Christians are still looking. Some of us pray it together in church weekly and some of us may have heard a series of sermons on the "points" of the prayer. Do we use it as Jesus gave it to us, as a pattern for prayer? Do we dwell on the "points" of the prayer and let them suggest richly how we might pray? Have we learned how to pray so we have moved on to our own prayers? Do we ever get beyond praying the Lord's Prayer? I don't think so. I think it along with the Psalms remain our best and basic training in prayer.
So, does Telford Work in a 2007 book entitled, Ain't Too Proud to Beg. He called it a book about living the Lord's Prayer. Praying it in order to live it. And by reading this book I realized he covered a lot of ground. All of life.
This weekend are the funerals of the members of the Charleston AME church who were gunned down at their midweek Bible study in their church. It seems unbelievable to even write that. Died at a church Bible study...killed by someone who did not think Black Lives Matter. And he is not the only person who thinks that. He related to a organization that teaches that. He was only the latest link in a historical process that has systematically denied Black persons the right to live. This was not the first killing of Black people in their church. This was not the first time they had been deprived of their basic human rights, the right to live! This was not the first time they had been terrified that someone would harm them just because of their race. There is a deep history of racial violence in Charleston and in many other places. This was not a one time action by a rogue terrorist.
As I read Work's book this week and prayed the Lord's Prayer he helped me understand what I was praying. He wrote, "apocalyptic prophecy reveals a world so stubbornly evil, so thoroughly schooled in self - centeredness, that our only part in its conquest is the difficult work of perseverance. One must keep evil starved of its sources of power, or it is sure to grow back." I thought of the Confederate Flag debate. How have we let that symbol of oppression and suffering fly for so long? On the Diane Rehm show on NPR this week, Isabel Wilkerson, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, was asked about the debate to remove the flag and she said she knows of Black Americans who are terrified when they see that flag. Because of what it stands for. I thought of Work's words that we must keep evil starved of it's power. The day after I heard Wilkerson speak I was on my way to an early morning bike ride and I saw a pick up truck flying the largest Confederate flag the driver could find. I was angry. I thought about what I could say to him if I could catch up to him. Was he a racist, or just a Fool, or was he only thinking about himself, I will fly the flag if I feel like it! I thought of Work's words about how we are so thoroughly schooled in self-centeredness, that that's what it means to be an American, to be free to do whatever the hell I want to do. No matter who or what.
I thought of the difficult work of perseverance Work talked about. I saw the film, Selma, and read the book on which it was based (Selma, 1965 by Chuck Fager). The long fight for civil rights, and it isn't over by a long shot, is nothing if not about perseverance.
Jesus calls us to be ready. To pay attention. He gave us many signs of the kingdom (Matthew 24-25). Work writes the Church thinks we need revival - and churches are holding revivals all the time where I live - but Jesus wants us to wake up. Overcome evil with good. Be ready, vigilant, diligent, righteous and confident that God's grace has given us what we need. Pray, Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done.... Deliver us from evil. And live it.