The Olympian gods, along with the Olympian societies, cultures, and personalities which they dominate, regard words strictly as means to an end and that end is always power: keeping it and increasing it. To Olympians, then, words are not true or false. They are useful, effective, successful, or not. In conformity to these gods, our Olympian personalities find words useful if they increase our political power, for example, or justify war, express our delirium over the latest technological gadget, improve our sexual attractiveness, get us a promotion at work, or increase the monetary value of the gifts we receive at Christmas. The gods are happy, we’re happy, it’s all good.
Oddly enough, Jesus takes a different view. To him, words are true or false. True words are words which express our core identity as faithful witnesses to Jesus as well as the core identity of Jesus as the one true god and human of freedom, truth, love, and vitality. Words which do not do this are false.
Through the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew quoted above, Jesus reminds us today that he listens very closely to every word we speak. Worse, he tells us he will hold us accountable for every false word we speak. That’s enough to keep one quiet, or not writing, for a bit.
If this is true for all our words, we may rest assure it is especially true of those words which we speak to Abba in prayer. When we pray to Abba, then, we want to speak meaningful words or words which are true to us and to Abba. We want to avoid sharing with Abba words which the Olympian gods might find useful in their terms but which Abba would find meaningless in terms of his core identity and ours.
Today I want to highlight one way that we, as Christians and churches, commonly pray useless words to Abba. We do this when we are indifferent to the content of our prayers, We do this, in other words, when a gap in meaning exists between the words we say and who we are.
This gap always exists between who the Olympian gods are and what they say. Jesus told us that Satan, the power of evil who stands behind all six of the gods, is nothing more than a murderer disguised by lies (John 8:44).
In happy contrast, this gap never exists between what Yahweh says and what he does. In the beginning, for example, he said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3). So too with Jesus. When he told the dead Lazarus, already four days in a tomb, to come out, he came out (John 11:43-44). The words he spoke were true to himself and to Abba who would soon raise him from the dead as well.
It is our useless Olympian personality doing the praying, and mistakenly thinking that in doing so it is praying to Abba, when we are indifferent to the content of the words we speak, when there is a gap between who we are and what we are saying. We speak false words when we fail to line up who we are behind what we say to Abba.
We do this in many ways. Our Olympian personality is busy doing it when we pray words too quickly to comprehend their meaning. We do it when we repeat formal prayers without remaining mindful of their meaning. We do it when we utter spontaneous prayers careless of their meaning. We do it, as Christians and churches, when we actually don’t care about the people we are praying for.
Don’t care? Caring for others is usually rather difficult to do. Love in reality, as Dostoyevsky noted, is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.
Here’s a test we may use to discern whether we care about those for whom we pray. Jesus once told a rich man to sell everything and then join him (Mark 10:21). The man wouldn’t and didn’t. When we pray meaningfully for someone, in truth we are saying to Jesus that, if he wants us to be part of his response to our request, we are willing to sell everything to join him in doing so. Do we want peace in the Middle East? Comfort for families of the victims of some mass murderer? Shelter for the homeless? We are serious about these requests if, when making them, we are committing all we are to ministry with them. If we’re not, then it’s better not to bother Abba with our meaningless words.
Through today’s words from the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus, our one true liberator, frees us from the indifferent Olympian gods and our own Olympian personality which adores them. Today, Jesus frees us anew to pray meaningfully to Abba: his loving father and ours. By doing so, he calls and enables us to mean everything we pray, to fully commit our Christian selves to his fulfillment of our requests, because it is meaningful for us to do so.
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