7.25.10 sermon notes

Luke 11: 1-13/Psalm 85 Lord’s Prayer/Kingdom of God

On a Sunday afternoon a few months ago, our daughter, Julia, came with me to take communion to some of our homebound members.  When we got to the part of the prayer when we recited the Lord’s Prayer, all of a sudden I noticed that Julia was saying it with us.  Of course, by then we were at our third stop, so she had had plenty of exposure that morning.  But I was struck by how beautiful and meaningful that was to me.  Obviously, she has grown up in the church and like all of us, she has been claimed by God from the beginning.  But in that moment, I sensed in a new way her participation in the great cloud of witnesses that is the Church of Jesus Christ.  I know that the Lord’s Prayer is not the secret handshake for some club we call Christianity.  But it is the common prayer of our faith – one thing that unites us as brothers and sisters in Christ across our various denominational expressions (albeit with some word changes here and there).

And because we know it so well, perhaps we don’t think about this prayer as often as we should.  No matter how long or short of a time we have been in the church.  No matter how easily we could recite the words in our sleep, we would do well to spend some time reflecting on why we pray and what it means that Jesus taught his disciples (and us) this prayer.

Most of my life, one of the surest ways to make my anxiety-level rise was to ask me to pray in public.  I never thought I knew the right words. It felt like too much was at stake for me to take a chance on it.  I left the praying to the pastor-types in my life, assuming that they had a more direct line to God, so their prayers carried more power anyway.  As I think back on that, I realize that my understanding of prayer was a little skewed.  Think about it – I was afraid to say the wrong words: as if prayers were some kind of incantations that hold power over God and whose results rest squarely on the ability of the one praying.  And I acted as if there were magic powers ministers held that somehow made their prayers louder in the ears of God.  So as I have thought about this I realize that I clearly thought that prayers were primarily for the purpose of making God do something for me.  Because if I didn’t say it right or if I wasn’t qualified, God would not do what I wanted.

But that does not square with the God I believe in.  God is not sitting in some distant realm, watching terrible things happen in the world, just waiting for the right people to say the right words in their prayers in order to fix it all.  And God is not waiting to bestow wealth and health and peace on only those who ask for it the right way.  That is dangerous theology.  Because with that line of thinking, we are setting ourselves up to be continually disappointed in God for not being like Santa Claus.  Or worse, we question ourselves and assume that we just didn’t pray hard enough or that our faith wasn’t strong enough.  But that isn’t what prayer is about.  So why do we pray? And why this one we call the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus was frequently going off to pray.  Communication with God was important for him, and the disciples picked up on this.  It seemed to strengthen him and provide him with peace and wisdom, so they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.

So Jesus models prayer as an intimate conversation with God.  He tells the disciples–including us–that we should talk with God as we would to a loving Father, a loving parent, a parent-figure who listens to us, cares for us, forgives us, provides for us, protects us. Jesus doesn’t talk obscure, intellectual theology, but brings the reality of God’s love home to the people in terms we can understand.  So at its essence, prayer is part of a regular ongoing conversation with God.  Jesus is telling us how to be disciples.  A life that involves loving one’s unlovable neighbor and listening and serving with our focus on God also requires regular chats with God.  It is in this sharing our deepest joys and fears and laments with God that we find our faith strengthened for the journey.

The prayer that Jesus offers in this text seems simple (in fact, as you noticed, it is even a more simplified version than the one we usually say in worship).  But there is depth to this prayer that deserves a closer look.  Jesus is not just giving us some words to say, he is further equipping us for the path of discipleship.  If we stop and listen to what we are praying, we may well be brought up short.  This is not something to be rattled off.  It is a prayer we say boldly, with the conviction that God hears us.

Father, hallowed be your name.

We praise God as the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

Your kingdom come.

We acknowledge that as disciples of Christ, God’s kingdom is our goal here on earth.  We know that there are many other claims to power in this world (economic, military, even denominational/church powers), but it is the reign of God’s righteousness and peace that we seek to embody in our lives. Give us each day our daily bread.

We understand that there are basic things necessary for life and trust that God will provide it.  And we will speak out and act when we see that some of God’s children are not being granted access to these same necessities.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And though we are imperfect and continue to make mistakes, we will remember how gracious God is with us and seek to offer that same forgiveness to others.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.

And lastly, we pray that God would not put our faith to the test, because we probably aren’t ready for that yet.  Jesus knew that.  This prayer beautifully acknowledges that we are always disciples in process – not perfect, but limping along on this journey of faith.

Did you also notice the importance of community in Jesus’ words here.  This is not a “me” prayer, but an “us” prayer.  As one scholar notes, “Jesus teaches us that spending time with God in prayer, in regular, intimate conversation, and opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit, will lead us on the way of compassion, and to transformation, not just as individuals but as a community. Because this prayer is the prayer of our community and not just a private one, it reminds us, challenges us, urges and inspires us as a community not only to form this prayer with our lips but to be formed ourselves by this prayer, shaped into a community of compassion and justice that makes sure that all of God’s children have “their daily bread”–and all that that implies today, all that they need from the abundance with which God has blessed us. The prayer calls us to join in the building of God’s kingdom not up in heaven, but here, on earth, a reign of justice, healing, mercy, and love” (Huey). That is why we pray this prayer together as a community each week.

So I have said much about prayer here this morning, but ultimately, I can’t say with certainty that I know how it works (or why sometimes it feels like it doesn’t).  But there is one thing I believe: God wants us to pray with joyful abandon.  The word many Bibles translate as “persistent” in Jesus’ parable on prayer here would actually be better translated as “shameless.” Like annoying knock-knock jokes, our petitions to God, Jesus says, should be bold, audacious, shameless, because we know and trust that God hears us, because God loves us.

Anne Lamott writes in her book, Traveling Mercies that our two best prayers are, “help me, help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you, thank you” (p. 82). I think Jesus might agree, as there rests in Jesus’ words an invitation, above all else, to honesty, not fancy prayers.  The candor that comes from intimacy, where oversensitivity to each other’s feelings is put to the side not out of contempt but from trust.  And the more frequent your conversations with God, the more honest you will find you can be.

Jesus invite us into a deeper, more honest, and more trusting relationship with the God who desires to be known chiefly as loving parent, provider of all that is good and protector of all in need. While this may not give us everything we want, it at least gives us what we most need.  Amen.

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