In a society that dwells on the ‘me’ to a sinful degree, we have a deep longing for the ‘us’. We want to know that there is someone else who can share our pain and our joy. We seem to long for community but at the same time can resist it.
I’ve been thinking about this as I've been examining the Lord's Prayer. I'm stuck on the first word. OUR.
During Christmas something marvelous happened in Egypt that got my attention. Coptic Christians had been attacked by Muslim extemists. Some moderate Muslim leaders made a promise of solidarity with the weary Christian community. Thousands of Muslims showed up at Christmas Eve services to form a human shield to protect the followers of Christ from attack by terrorists as they worshipped.
“We either live together, or we die together,” was the slogan of those who came to protect worshipers. One student said that ‘this is about us and them”. We are one. The attacks were against Egypt as a whole and I am standing with the Christians because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”
The emphais on ‘me’ shifted for a moment in time. And we get a glimpse of something different and begin to believe that there might truly be a better way.
On Monday we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. Dr. King often talked about a ‘beloved community’ where people come together, pooling their differences in order to discover a God ordained community of healing and helping. And it feels right to us. But it’s hard work. I remember going on the Justice Journey a couple of years ago. Standing in front of a picture of a black man, hanging from a tree limb, with Klansmen smiling and posturing was a sobering experience. It was especially so, when a new friend, an African American, was weeping at my side. I had nothing to say. I could only stand there in solidarity allowing him to process what I couldn’t fully comprehend. I was understanding what the biblical notion of a ‘beloved community’ was all about. It was about embracing the pain as well as the joy. And how ironic it all is when one thinks that many of those murderous Klansmen were probably in church the Sunday before praying 'Our Father'.
In Africa many cultures practice a concept called Ubuntu which states that through our interactions with others, we discover what it means to be human. Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Bishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner once said that "Ubuntu is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others. They do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are." (from Albert Haase's book Living the Lord's Prayer)
It’s the same thing scripture teaches us. Romans says “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
And so when we say the Lord's prayer we are praying the way Jesus prays. It's in the spirit of Unbutu, of the Beloved Community, of the true meaning of the Body of Christ. It's a prayer that battles against the individualism, the meism, and the selfishness that ends up tearing us all apart.
Because Jesus was always in the community of the Trinity He can only teach us His profound reality. And in this time in history, where our country is being ripped apart at times by extreme partisanship and crippling anger and words …perhaps we need to live into the spirit of the prayer Jesus loved to pray. And really embrace it.
When we’re conscious of that first word in the prayer ‘ the our’ we are admitting that we are not praying alone. This is not a private prayer. Look at the text. How many times do you see the words “I” and “Me”. The words “I” and “me” are nowhere to be found. It’s a prayer about the us.
And when you pray it you are recognizing that you are not the only one in the world who has a concern to bring to God. To begin with the word “our” means that we understand that we are part of a community of God’s children all around the world. When we pray Our Father we are confessing that we are a community of people. A family. Formed and shaped by new birth and together being shaped by the Holy Spirit.
Thursday morning I was praying the Lord’s prayer. And I prayed ‘Our Father’ and I tried to have my mind picture believers that I knew …near and far. And I had a visual picture of a woman, named Margaret, who I met deep in the bush of Uganda. She was suffering from HIV, no one sure if she had long to live or not, and she was the spiritual leader of her village. And I had this mental picture of her standing in front of her hut …arms outraised, praying to her Father, my Father, Our Father …and I finally understood what Jesus was getting at. As I prayed …we were praying together …and that felt very right.