Beginning with God
By Clifford Green
June 22, 2016
I often wonder about beginning our worship with the confession of sin. Not that we shouldn’t, but right at the beginning of the service? Is sin what God is most interested in? Surely God is more interested in faith and loving our neighbors. Or maybe it’s not even about us in the first place, but about God and God’s purposes.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the first words were not about us, but about God: “hallowed be thy name.” And what does that old-fashioned word “hallowed” mean? It means to honor and respect, to revere, to glorify and worship. Of course, that’s very different from the casual, mindless way the name of God is mentioned countless times every day – not “hallowed be thy name” but “oh my God” or simply “OMG” in Twitterspeak. Anyway, the second thing Jesus taught us, after honoring and glorifying God, is to pray “thy kingdom come.” Another old-fashioned word, not used much in a democratic republic. But the meaning is clear – we are praying for the reign of God, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not praying that God will sanctify our status quo, even a much improved status quo. We are praying for the fulfillment of all human history, for the kingdom of Jesus the Messiah, the kingdom of ultimate shalom, the kingdom of God’s perfect justice and peace, God’s love and truth.
Then, once we have focused our thoughts on God’s glory and goodness, and God’s loving kingdom, we should indeed pray “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Churches don’t change liturgies quickly, and rightly so. But perhaps we could begin with a reminder that Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, as in this verse from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
Clifford Green joined St. Paul two years ago after a twenty-year membership at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Roxbury. He edited several volumes of the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works English Edition and currently serves as Bonhoeffer Chair Scholar at Union Theological Seminary, New York.