Lord, teach us to pray!
Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Proper 12, Year C
The Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Free Episcopal Church
“Lord, teach us to pray!”
Lessons: Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19);
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.'
And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
Prayer was an important part of Our Lord’s life and ministry. The Gospels report that He spent a lot of time in prayer to God the Father. As we reflect on our Gospel lesson this morning, I believe it might be helpful to hear what some thoughtful and faithful Christians have said about prayer.
· “Prayer begins in silence, the silence of the heart…prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing the gift of Jesus.” - Mother Teresa
· “We need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we think.” - Brother Lawrence
· “To pray is to stand at attention in the presence of the King and to be prepared to take orders from Him.” - Donald Coggan
· “Repentance is the final goal of prayer.” - Martin Bell
· “I have so much to do that I must spend several hours in prayer before I am able to do it.” - John Wesley
In today’s Gospel lesson from Luke, we hear Jesus teaching his disciples a prayer or more accurately a way to pray. We recognize this prayer as a short version of The Lord’s Prayer.
As a very young boy, I learned, by heart, the prayer we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. It was the first prayer I can remember that my mother and I said together at bedtime. In the first grade I said it everyday in class and once a week when we went to chapel, then again on Sunday, twice, once at the morning service and again at Evensong on Sunday night. What could be so important about this prayer that my mother, my teachers, and my pastor all insisted that I learn it by heart and repeat it daily, twice on Sunday? The only explanation I ever got was that it was The Lord’s Prayer. Yes, we do indeed call it The Lord’s Prayer but I have come to believe that our Lord Jesus meant for it to be our prayer.
Let’s revisit the story we heard read from Luke’s Gospel just a few minutes ago. Jesus responded to the plea of His disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray…” by giving them and us this prayer. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives a slightly longer version than what we have in Luke but the essentials are in both versions.
First, Jesus tells the disciples and us that we can refer to God as ‘Abba’, ‘Father’, or more accurately, ‘Daddy’. In the religious communities of the first century and even today, it seemed a bit too familiar to refer to God as ‘Daddy’.
By encouraging this familiarity on the part of a praying community, Jesus was making an important and radical statement. He was saying that we are God’s children and we can address God as any loving child addresses a loving father, “Daddy’.
Nevertheless, “Hallowed be thy name…” Jesus is instructing us that familiarity and respect are not mutually exclusive. He is saying that we can address God as ‘Daddy’ and at the same time reverence God and God’s name.
From as early as I can remember, I referred to my mother as, ‘Mother’. It was both a term of endearment, respect, and familiarity. She was my mother who gave birth to me. She was my mother who loved and cared for me. She was my mother who disciplined and taught me.
She taught me many important life lessons. But one of the most important of those lessons was that God was my true parent and that I needed to both respect God and to establish a close personal relationship with the Creator. Jesus is telling us the same thing here in the 11th Chapter of Luke as He ‘teaches us to pray’.
Next, Jesus tells us to pray for the ‘kingdom’ to come, God’s Kingdom that is! The terms ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ or ‘Kingdom of God’ occur over 200 times in the New Testament. Jesus tells fifteen parables that concern the ‘kingdom’. Nothing that Jesus talks about in His earthly ministry has created more controversy than His comments and teachings on the ‘kingdom’. Is Jesus talking about some utopian social order? Is He talking about some ‘out-of-this-world’ kingdom that we experience after our death? Is it possible that Jesus is talking about an ‘inner kingdom’ and the possibility of that ‘kingdom’ being within our grasp in the here and now?
Consider that in Luke 17:21 Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Perhaps Jesus wants us to understand that God’s kingdom is within our reach but deep inside our spiritual being. Perhaps when we pray for the ‘kingdom’ to come, we are praying for our own awakening to the breath of God that lies within each of our lives. Perhaps when we pray for the ‘kingdom’ to come, we are praying for our own rebirth into a new reality where enemies are loved, where sins are forgiven, where peace abounds, and where love rules.
The Gospels all suggest that the ‘kingdom’ is an upside down kind of ‘kingdom’. The Gospels tell us the ‘kingdom’ is a ‘kingdom’ where you love your enemies, where sinners and the powerless are invited into full fellowship, where the meek run things, where peacemakers are honored, and where the poor in spirit are lifted up.
Is that the kind of ‘kingdom we really want? Well, it better be because that is what Christians have been praying for during the last 2000 years and that is the kind of ‘kingdom’ we are going to get because that is God’s kingdom.
Look around at the ‘kingdom’ we have built. This will pass away. This ‘kingdom’ that we have constructed is a ‘kingdom’ of vanity, violence, deceit, and decadence. It can and will be replaced by God’s kingdom, a ‘kingdom’ of selfless service, peace, truth, and justice.
Beloved, it is possible for any one of us to begin to live in that kind of ‘kingdom’. We don’t need to wait for some model utopian state to be established. We don’t need to wait for our death and the ‘kingdom’ beyond. We can choose to love our enemy today, we can choose to turn the other cheek today, and we can choose to be a people of forgiveness today. The ‘kingdom’ that Jesus says is ‘within us’ can be lived in today. Jesus says to pray for that ‘kingdom’ to come. I pray that it will come soon for you and for me.
In this world of low-carbohydrate, no-bread diets the next words of Jesus seem oddly out of place and out of touch. Jesus says we should pray for God to ‘give us our daily bread.’ The prayer has now shifted from God’s kingdom to our own hunger.
Walter Wink, a noted Methodist theologian, has mentioned in his lectures that the verb ‘give’ is in the indicative mood in Greek and that to say ‘give us…’ in the indicative mood is not really a prayerful request but an assertion that it will happen. Jesus appears to be telling us that our prayer to God should be a prayer prayed in the certainty that God will provide.
We remember too what Jesus said to Satan in the wilderness, “Man does not live by bread alone.” This bread that we pray for with all certainty is both physical and spiritual.
In the early life of the young Christian community, many of the scattered faithful celebrated communion daily and they prayed that God would continue to provide both the physical and spiritual bread to the fellowship. The daily activity of breaking bread together was something that Jesus understood to be very important, important enough to include in His response to the question, “Lord teach us to pray”. Just as daily physical bread is important for our proper nourishment and health, so too the daily spiritual bread of prayer, scripture reading, and selfless service is important for our spiritual and mental health. The noted clinical psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Menninger said that generous and selfless people are rarely mentally ill. Becoming a servant people and giving bread may just be more healthy than receiving bread.
All of the disciples of Jesus probably had learned to pray as small children. They likely prayed daily as faithful Jews. They almost certainly had heard their parents and the Synagogue Rabbi pray many times. But now they asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” Jesus wasn’t about to disappoint them. Say, “Forgive us our sins for we have forgiven others who are indebted to us,” Jesus instructs them.
Lord, treat me as I have treated my enemies. Turn the other cheek, Lord, as I have turned my cheek. Wait, what are we saying? What are we praying? Jesus meant to shock His disciples. He means to shock us.
This is a radical prayer for a radical new faith. This is a prayer for the new ‘kingdom’. This is a prayer to be prayed by those born again from the inside out. This is a prayer for a people who have repented and changed from being merely law-abiding citizens to being citizens of God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom we not only are to live according to a strict interpretation of the law, we are strive to live a life of love and forgiveness. This is a prayer of that new ‘kingdom’ and we need to think about it before we pray it. Jesus meant for this prayer to be hard to pray - not hard to say or sing - but hard to pray.
And finally, “Do not bring us to the test.” Jesus knew that life was hard, difficult, and sometimes overwhelming. He knew a lot about being brought to the test. He knew that Satan and ‘all the evil forces that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God’ were out and about in the land.
Jesus wants us to be aware of the evil that we and others create. He wants us to pray for this evil to be kept out of our lives and the lives of those in whose love we live.
Jesus himself was brought to a final test in the garden prior to his arrest and execution. He would sweat blood that night and even pray that ‘this cup might pass.’ He tells us to pray that we might not have to face such a test.
As people of faith who struggle against the many obstacles to a life in grace, we should not take the instructions of Our Lord Jesus lightly. We should not pray this prayer without reflection on what we are praying. It is a serious prayer and it is a powerful prayer. After the hymn of commitment, we will have an opportunity to pray the prayer together as printed in the bulletin.
If anyone here has not asked Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior, I invite you to come forward as we sing the commitment hymn. A deacon from this congregation will join you at the alter for prayer and explain how you may become a member of the faith community at Selma Church.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory this day and forevermore. Amen.
And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.