The Greatest Prayer (Week 2)

Here are some questions to help you reflect on the reading (pp. 29-72) for next week. How’s your reading going? Are there any questions bubbling up for you? If so, share the questions in a comment below.

Discussion Questions

Chapter 2 – Our Father in Heaven

  1. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the use of a male-specific address for God. In your own spiritual journey how have you experienced the use of the title Father to address God? Are there other names for God you find compelling?
  2. In what ways do you understand our names for God such as Father, King, Judge, Shepherd, or Lord to be a metaphor?
  3. Crossan goes to great lengths to argue the term Father does not need to be understood in an exclusively male way, but rather could be read as shorthand for Father and Mother. Are you convinced by his argument? Why or why not?
  4. Crossan’s proposes that the term Our Father should be understood as calling God “Householder of the World.” How might the metaphor of Householder enlarge our understanding of God?

Chapter 3 – Hallowed Be Your Name

  1. Using the story of Moses’s encounter with God in the burning bush, Crossan illustrates the paradox of recognizing the fundamentally unnameable nature of God yet our need to try to name God. Why are our names for God important? What might the unnameable nature of God teach us?
  2. Crossan points out that the verbs in the first three lines are in the imperative mood (hallowed, come, done). (p. 57)The imperative mood is for orders or commands. What do you make of this observation? Crossan asks who is doing the ordering in the prayer–God, us, or both. How do you respond?
  3.  Hallowed means made holy or sanctified. Crossan takes his readers through an extended tour of holiness in the Old Testament, beginning with Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” How do you respond to Crossan’s connection between holiness and distributive justice? In what ways are God’s holiness, Sabbath holiness and our holiness related?
  4. Crossan asserts, “The Sabbath day has nothing to do with freedom from work so that one may go to some place of worship. It is about the distributive justice of rest from work for all who work as worship itself.” (p. 66) How does this view of Sabbath compare to your understanding of Sabbath?

The Greatest Prayer (Week 1)

As you read the Prologue and chapter 1 of Crossan’s book, The Greatest Prayer, feel free to use these questions as a guide.

Discussion Questions

Prologue

  1. Thinking about your own experiences with the Lord’s Prayer, what, if anything do you love about the prayer? Is there anything about the prayer that gives you pause?
  2. Crossan calls the Lord’s Prayer “Christianity’s greatest prayer…and strangest prayer.” (p. 1) Why does he think this? In what ways do you agree or disagree with his assessment?
  3. According to Crossan the Lord’s Prayer is both a “revolutionary manifesto” and a “hymn of hope.” (p. 1) In his view, what makes the prayer a manifesto? In what ways is the prayer a hymn? Do you find the prayer revolutionary? hopeful?
  4. Crossan draws a distinction between retributive justice and distributive justice. How does he define these terms?
  5. Crossan discusses parallelism, a common structure in Hebrew poetry. (pp. 3-6) Poetic parallelism includes synonymous, antithetical, and climactic parallelism. As you follow his examples, how might an awareness of parallelism inform one’s reading of Hebrew poetry? Do you see ways in which parallelism might enhance meditation on Scripture?

Chapter One

  1. Crossan suggests that prayer “must mature over time and through practice.” (p. 27) In what ways do you agree with his perspective?
  2. In search of maturity in prayer, Crossan invites us to consider two prominent types of prayer: prayers of request & gratitude and prayers involving empowerment by God. How do you understand these types of prayer? How do they relate to one another?
  3. Prophets in the Old Testament spoke on behalf of vulnerable members of their society, those without familial support: widows, orphans, resident aliens. Who are the vulnerable members in our communities?
  4. In this chapter, Crossan lays out his underlying premise in interpreting the Lord’s Prayer, namely the inherent connections between prayer and distributive justice. He uses the image of the two sides of a coin, each one distinguishable from the other, but not separable. (p. 20) At this point in the book, do you agree with Crossan’s assertion? Why or why not?
  5. Do you have questions or responses to what we’ve read so far? Are there any questions you’d like to pose to the author at this point?

2016 Lenten study

As our small group at Puyallup First Christian Church works through John Dominic Crossan‘s book, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord’s Prayerthis blog will offer discussion questions and occasional reflections on the readings.

Our reading schedule:

2/15  – Prologue, Chapter 1 (pp. 1-28)
2/22 – Ch. 2-3 (29-72)
2/29 – Ch. 4-5 (73-118)
3/07 – Ch. 6 (119-141)
3/14  – Ch. 7 (142-162)
3/21  – Ch. 8, Epilogue (163-189)

So, grab yourself a copy of Crossan’s book, pour a cup of your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and together let’s explore the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer for our time.

Taking Requests

This summer Pastor Nancy is offering sermons on topics chosen by the congregation in an “Everything You Always Wanted to Hear in a Sermon about but Were Afraid to Ask” series. Questions cover all types of issues: biblical texts, theological issues, Christian practices, and more.

On Sunday, June 6, we began exploring our first question, “What is the destiny of humanity?”

We watched the creation and destruction of a Buddhist mandala:

We considered the story of the call of Moses in Exodus 2:23-3:15. At the burning bush Moses encounters the God of compassion, a God who reaches out to be in relationship with humankind. And yet at the same time, Moses experiences God as holy other, powerful, awe-inspiring. The story is at its core the mystery of the God who is unknowable and yet seeks us out.

What is the destiny of humankind? To walk in the way of the God who saves and the God who calls.

Rather than offer stock answers to questions of faith, the hope is that this sermon series will facilitate more conversations among our folk.

Listen to the audio of the sermon here.

Summer 2008–Sermon on the Mount Intro

Welcome!

This summer we’re taking a close look at the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Rather than be understood as a single sermon delivered by Jesus, it is helpful to think of the Sermon on the Mount as a distillation of Jesus’ teachings, pulled together by the writer of Matthew’s gospel for a late first century (80-100 CE) Christian community. Here, in 3 short chapters, we find what a group of first century Christians felt was the core of Jesus’ teachings.

In Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount comes near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has called four disciples and has been making his way through Galilee. Along the way he has taught in the synagogues, healed the sick, and proclaimed the good news of the God’s kingdom.

Now, Jesus heads up the mountain; his disciples in tow. He sits down and begins to teach them.

For the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. This link has two versions of the passage; one from the English Standard Version and the second from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Take some time this week and read through them. Perhaps even read them out loud to yourself. Compare multiple versions with each other.

What stands out in the text for you?
Are these words comforting? disturbing?
What questions come to your mind as you read the passage?

Acts 25:23—26:33

Read the text here: Acts 25:23—26:33.

Before Paul makes the move to Rome, he first is brought before King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II, the last Judean king before the end of Jewish rule in 70 CE). Agrippa expresses curiosity about Paul, and thus Paul is given the chance to make one climatic speech defining his ministry in front of the Roman authorities. Paul the prisoner; Paul the itinerant preacher; Paul the part-time tentmaker makes the case for Christianity in front of the King, his wife, and the Roman governor. It is a full-blown speech, created by Luke as a model for believers in Luke’s time who might be facing difficult circumstances and hostile responses by the authorities.

Here Paul comes face-to-face with power and privilege. First, he is met with intellectual curiosity (Agrippa). Soon the response includes a concern about Paul’s sanity (Festus), and then finally turns to skepticism and aloofness from all three present.

Let me write a bit about Agrippa’s response to Paul’s question in verse 27, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa answers, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” The Greek is a bit ambiguous. Rather than a serious question, it’s more likely a witty retort, something along the lines of “You think you’re going to make a Christian out of me in such a short time?” (see L.T. Johnson, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 439-440 as well as Boring & Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, p. 458). The “to be a Christian” phrase has the connotation of “making” a Christian or “performing the role” of a Christian.

Paul takes Agrippa’s reference to “a short time” and builds upon them, “whether short or long…I pray that…all would ‘perform my role.'” Perhaps Paul is suggesting that he doesn’t want bystanders to the faith but active witnesses such as he is.

The exchange ends with the assessment that Paul might have indeed been set free had he not appealed to Caesar. If Paul is hoping for an open and fair hearing before Caesar, he might have checked out the reputation of Emperor Nero first. Nero was known for many things, but rationality and fairmindedness were not among them (for starters, rumors abound that Nero’s mother Agrippina poisoned his uncle Claudius so that Nero could take the throne at age 16; what goes around comes around as eventually Agrippina would be murdered reportedly upon order of her son, Nero.) Hmmm…maybe Jerusalem and Caesarea aren’t that bad of venues after all!

Acts 25:1-22

Read the text here: Acts 25:1-22.

Two years have passed, and Paul remains in prison in Caesarea. Within a few days of accepting the post the new governor, Festus, travels from Caesarea to Jerusalem and meets with the Jewish leaders there. The leaders ask a favor of Festus, that Paul should be moved to Jerusalem. At this point the narrator lets us know there is yet another plot against Paul’s life; this time not by a vigilante group, but by the chief priests and other key leaders themselves.

A move of the prisoner does not occur, but Festus does agree to reopen the case. We are given a summary account of the proceedings. Paul remains confident he has not transgressed Jewish law, and he insists that he is not disloyal to the emperor. Sitting in prison for two years may have convinced Paul that he has little chance for a fair trial in Caesarea or in Jerusalem, and so he plays his final card: an appeal to Caesar. Such an appeal may save him from illicit violence at the hands of his religious opponents in Jerusalem as well as remove him from the political maneuverings in Judea.

The next move in the story has Festus, a Gentile non-Christian, giving his understanding of the conflict and Paul’s role in it. There is no mention of any threat to Roman stability or peace, rather Festus describes the charges as being religious disagreements. Festus then relates a version of the early church’s kergyma , its proclamation or preaching, “…about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.

Here Festus serves to underscore the writer’s main point: this is an internal religious conflict between two Jewish factions. The followers of The Way, the members of those early Christian communities, are in no way a threat to the Roman Empire.