June 25, 2017/ Summer NL Lord’s Prayer 3// First Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // “Teach Us To Pray: First Person Plural”: excerpt from She Who Is, by Elizabeth Johnson; Luke 11:1-13; Boston College IREPM version of Lord’s Prayer

Intro

Last summer, as we rode together the spiritual roller coaster of the Psalms, I invited people to write their own. I began changing the pronouns of the Psalms back in college, sometimes using feminine pronouns for God, sometimes shifting to the second person “You” to retain intimacy beyond gender. Little thrills me more than inviting everyday people to play with sacred text and prayer, to write and interpret and translate these texts into their lives here and now. So, of course I geeked out researching alternative versions of the Lord’s Prayer… also known as the Prayer of Jesus… for this series. A favorite written by some Scottish youth in 1998 goes like this:

The man upstairs

You are the master – Ace

I’ll see you when I get there

Have it your way down here as it is up there

Feed us when we are hungry

Cut us some slack – as we cut it to our brothers

Don’t tempt me mate; keep me on the straight and narrow

This is your ‘hood and it’s really rockin’

Always

Cheers![1]

There are a lot more like this. It’s really interesting to see how people have appropriated this ancient prayer, how people have made it their own. But I began to notice something else about these alternative Lord’s Prayers, though. As creative as they get, as playful and wise as people can be with slang and metaphor, very few of the contemporary versions of this ancient prayer retain its grammatical particularity: the first person plural. (Pause)

Tran.

Our Mother, Our Father” the prayer begins. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins… Lead us not into temptation… Unlike many contemporary prayers, this is a prayer for “we.”

I.

We’ve wrestled these past two weeks with other challenges in this prayer of Jesus’. This week we have the problem of the pronouns. Depending on your perspective, the “our” of Jesus’ Prayer might sound more offensive even than the “Father” because it gives this prayer “unmistakable social implications.”[2] This prayer, writes Leonard Ragaz,

Is not an egotistic religious prayer but a social Kingdom prayer. It is not an I prayer but a We prayer. It is not a prayer for me but a prayer for us. If we come before God in true prayer, we do not simply come before God who is our private God but before God who is the God of us all. […] the God who gathers us together with all [God’s] children, with our brothers and sisters. Thus the Lord’s Prayer is the profoundest basis of true socialism.[3]

[Gasp.] The “s” word. In some circles, that might be a bad word or a bad name someone may have called you this past election cycle. It’s not just the prayer, though; the problem lies with the God who inspires the prayer to begin with. This is a prayer for “we.” This prayer is inspired by a God who is “we.” (Pause).

I.

One of the most peculiar claims Christians make is that God is one… but also three. “Let us make humankind in our image,” God says in Genesis, the story of Beginnings. “So in the image of God, God created them, male and female, God created them.” For followers of Jesus, who came along much later, this “us” indicates more than a simple “royal we” – it illustrates something foundational we’ve come to understand about the holy. One God, as we say, known in three persons. It’s the doctrine of the Trinity. And while attempts to explain this experience of God or make it understandable have resulted in all manner of creative theological and linguistic gymnastics these past 2,000 years, this particular piece of Christian orthodoxy is one that some are not ready to release, and for reasons that may surprise us. We heard Elizabeth Johnson reclaim the Trinity in those excerpts from She Who Is a little bit ago. The author I referenced last week, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, also finds within the early Christian movement’s articulation of Trinity as something of a beachhead effort to dismantle the hierarchy of Empire. Another theologian who has really provoked and shaped my theology, Rita Nakashima Brock, tackled trinity in a recent post on social media. “Theologically speaking, even though Christians say the trinity is 3 equal parts, it really [has been] a hierarchy with the Spirit in a nearly invisible, lowly third space behind God as Lord and Jesus as Son,” wrote Nakashima Brock. “I think this subordinationism is because the third person is about the spirit incarnate in all creation. Spirit in the ancient church made the community bound in love a powerful manifestation of the third person, equal to the other two, so also politically significant–a baptized emperor was under the moral authority of his bishop, not the boss of his bishop.” Later theo-political propaganda, she argues, reduced the Spirit to a private transaction that bound father and son in dying. Medieval art illustrates this profoundly. “In some depictions the Spirit is just plain missing, and it’s a dyad.”[4] Trinity dismantles that dyad, which is why feminist theologians are loathe to let it go. The mutual indwelling, the weaving in and out in this idea of Trinity, which the Eastern theologians tried to capture with the word perichoresis, a word that evokes dance, describes a God whose very structure is dynamic, a relationship of mutuality: Spirit-Sophia-Source – each one sharing equally in the other. If this does not make any more sense than it did for you a week ago, fear not. We’ve never had dogmatic test for participation in this place, and you are in good company. Trinity is not one of those things that makes perfect sense in our faith. Just know that one of the odd things about us as Christians is that our God is one, but our God is a “we.” Praying Jesus’ prayer in the radical first person plural is one of the ways we reflect the image of that God, a God known to us as God-in-community. (Pause)

I.

(That’s the heavy theological stuff. But it’s not just heavy theological stuff that stays in those heavy books on my shelf, the ones that are really good at smashing spiders.) As a congregation, we might be a little bit better able to understand Trinity this year than last year. We have danced a few steps in the pattern of this God-in-relationship. During the 100 Days of Discernment, people met in groups of three – little trinities. Even if you did not meet in one of these little trinities, you know that, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, three is very different than two or four. You can see things change when it’s three. What happens to two lovers welcome a child into the home? Or two siblings when a third appears? How does the relationship of two best friends change when one more gets drawn into their favorite [pastime]? Three persons – whether three close friends, or three siblings, or three members of a family — three becomes a dance. During these 100 Days, some of our little trinities often spanned different generations, some linked professional church folk with others who have felt themselves on the religious fringe. In almost every case, people who related one way to the Holy found themselves connected with someone really different from themselves and yet also, in some places, the same. In the awkward intimacy of seeking after Holy Wisdom’s word to us as a group of three, we experienced God. We lived just a little bit more fully, for these 10 weeks, in the image of the God who lives only in relationship. And yes, all of us introverts freaked out about that at least once. We also realized we navigate different identities: sister, neighbor, friend, daughter, boss, client, church officer, youth. In our life together, we navigate these different identities all the time, but the Holy Spirit speaks in a unique way when we intentionally get together and dance those differences in faith, share them in a way that blesses each one. (Pause)

I.

With its problematic pronouns, Jesus’ prayer puts us in the position of that same dance of community that is divine, that we call “God.” With its problematic pronouns, Jesus’ prayer connects us, whether we want to be connected with all the other people who pray it or not. Our prayers here are necessarily connected to the Christians in Chechnya, to the men who have been kidnapped and abused there for being gay, the families who are trying to love and keep them safe. Praying this prayer connects us to the young person walking into Planned Parenthood for the first time, and it connects us to the staff who are trying to care for them, and it connects us to the teenager picketing on the sidewalk outside. We are connected in the radical first person plural of Jesus’ prayer. When we pray this prayer, we are connected to the girlfriend of Philando Castille who, after watching her partner shot and begin to bleed to death, was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car. We are connected to the 4-year-old child who watched the whole thing and pleaded, “Mommy, please don’t cuss, I don’t want you to get shooted, too.” When we pray this prayer, it connects us, too, to the police officer who murdered Philando out of fear that day. A community that prays this prayer, prays in the radical 1st person plural: “Our Abba, who art in heaven… forgive us our sins…” A community that prays this prayer is a community that risks living every day in that radical first person plural. (Pause)

And lest we get overwhelmed by the weight of that connection to all the other people and other pain on this planet, the good news, the succor, the sustenance is in this prayer, too. Because we do not pray this prayer alone. It is always, always “we.”

Concl.

I hope you’ll go home this summer and write your own version of Jesus’ prayer. Change the pronouns. Use other images. Call God “Ace” if you need to. Use words that make sense to you, that come alive for you. But then – I double dog dare you – come back into a community like this and pray this prayer so we can together proclaim that we live by faith in the radical first person plural. Every day. (Pause)

[1] Julie Woods Rennick and Marci Glass, “Narrative Lectionary Summer Series: The Lord’s Prayer,” revgalblogpals.org, 8/2/2016

[2] Jan Milic Lochman, “The Lord’s Prayer in Our Time: Praying and Drumming,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Supplementary Issue #2.

[3] Leonhard Ragaz, as qtd. in Lochman, p. 13-14.

[4] Rita Nakashima Brock, in Facebook post referencing her book, with Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise.