Bishop Devadhar: Notes, reflections on The Lord’s Prayer
A familiar face came home to lead Bible Study on a familiar piece of scripture.
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England Conference gave the first part of his Bible Study on The Lord’s Prayer found in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
In his introduction of Bishop Devadhar, Upper New York Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb recounted Bishop Devadhar’s lineage to the episcopal post in Boston, from Ontario district superintendent in the former North Central New York Conference, to episcopal leader in New Jersey to his current assignment.
“Because Upper New York is a new creation of four predecessor conferences, … Bishop Devadhar, we are delighted to say that you are one of us,” Bishop Webb said.
“I have this whole bio on Bishop Devadhar, and it is extensive. His accomplishments academically, his accomplishments ecumenically, his accomplishments in the life of the Church are numerous. He is a leader who influences others and equips others to live out their gifts that God has given to them.”
Before digging into the scriptures, Bishop Devadhar acknowledged those who have both influenced and nurtured him.
Among the names he lifted up, Bishop Devadhar said he was “grateful for the Rev. Russ Lee, who had the courage of a prophet and the heart of a mentor and a pastor in working with a pastor who spoke with an accent that was a unique combination of Indian and Franklin County,” a nod to Bishop Devadhar’s earliest roots as a pastor serving in a local church in Northern New York.
Teaching The Lord’s Prayer
Bishop Devadhar began by reading aloud Luke’s version of The Lord’s Prayer, and sharing at the outset that he wasn’t planning to do a traditional Bible study, instead a study with his notes and reflections on scripture.
“I have decided to do this because what I am today is not due to my own merits, but purely because of God's grace and my utter dependence on prayer,” he said.
Why is prayer so important in his life? It comes from a moment of healing that he said can only be attributed to Christ.
“Early in my life I became a strong believer in prayer because as I was growing up I was suffering from bad headaches. Often these headaches were so bad that I could not even look at the sunlight. However, one day an evangelist came by the house and I remember my mother asking him to lay his hands upon me and to pray for my headache. Thanks to Jesus Christ my headaches were gone after the prayer,” he said.
Christ’s first disciples saw Jesus healing the sick, comforting the marginalized, and challenging the religious leaders of the day, and more than likely they wanted to know what the secret to Jesus’ energy when they approached Jesus with the request, “Lord teach us to pray.”
“They did not ask him to show them how to preach, how to do miracles, or how to do ministry, instead, they asked him to teach them how to pray. Having been with Jesus, having seen Him perform miracles, and having watched Him take time to pray, they might have realized it was the power of Jesus' prayer that enabled Him to do what He did. So they asked Jesus to show them how to pray,” Bishop Devadhar said.
A relationship through The Lord’s Prayer
What’s important, he said, is that the prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples wasn’t a prayer only for Christians, but a prayer for people of all faith walks.
“The Lord’s Prayer was taught to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we can say without saying the name of Jesus. The Lord’s Prayer can be said by a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or a Hindu, because it is a prayer said without using the Jesus’ name, but to our Creator God, who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but may have eternal life,” he said, referring to one of the Bible’s most recognized scriptures from the third chapter of the Gospel of John.
Bishop Devadhar said the best summary of the Christian faith has been offered by Archbishop Rowan Williams. When asked to give a summary of Christian faith on the back of an envelope, Archbishop Williams said the best thing to pen is The Lord’s Prayer.
Many of us know the prayer, Bishop Devadhar said, but do we know God? In the prayer, Jesus challenges Christians to demonstrate who is God: Is He only a possession of Christians, or does God belong to the whole world?
“Many a time the energy of church-going people is spent in arguing the gender of God. The Bible, after all, refers to God as ‘Father’ in this incident. Kindly do not misunderstand me. I am not challenging that. What I am saying is, in this prayer Jesus is trying to refer to God as a personal God with whom we have a personal relationship,” Bishop Devadhar said.
“Someone said to me after a worship service one day, ‘Suda, do you know how difficult it is for some to call God a Father when that person has had the pain of dealing with a father who was abusive or controlling?’ Friends, when Jesus used this word, he was addressing God in the Aramaic language. It is not about the language or how do we address God; it is about the relationship. It is the relationship of a loving child to a loving parent. … It is not about the gender, it is all about the relationship.”
The phrase from The Lord’s Prayer “Thou art in Heaven” is not a hindrance to that relationship. The Rev. Adam Hamilton has helped Bishop Devadhar to understand that phrase, he said.
Bishop Devadhar recounted that Rev. Hamilton has written: “The Greek word here is ouranos – a word that means the sky, the realm of the stars where God dwells. Heaven is the invisible realm where God and the angels dwell. It is the realm, writes Adam Hamilton, where God’s will is perfectly done. But ouranos also can mean the air or atmosphere we are surrounded by. I’m reminded of the refrain of a contemporary praise song that is sung in some churches, ‘This is the air I breathe, your holy Presence, living in me.’ Heaven is not merely some realm where God dwells – we are surrounded by ouranos.
“In this single praise and single word we remember both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence – God’s reign over all creation and God’s nearness – His presence filling every void. God goes before us, he reigns over us, God is behind us – this is, writes Hamilton, what we acknowledge when we pray, ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven.”
During Saturday’s Bible study, Bishop Devadhar said he will focus on the “kingdom of God.”
“When the extension of God’s kingdom is a top priority, our priority as a church, everything will fall into place naturally,” he said. “Friends, sadly, many people confuse the kingdom of God to the ‘church.’ Church is not the kingdom of God, it is part of the kingdom of God. The goal of the Church is not to maintain a building or an institution, but to join others in extending the kingdom of God.”