July 28, 2019


 “The Lord’s Prayer-Rescuing It from Rote Memory”

Luke 11:1-13

 

One of the most universally known prayers is the Lord’s Prayer. For Protestants and Catholics, it is at least a weekly ritual to repeat the Lord’s Prayer in worship, although we say different words. Even for those whose worship experiences are limited to weddings and funerals, they have often heard it read aloud. For me personally, this prayer is a profound and very real way of connecting with God and with others. I am reminded of that connection when I on occasion have the privilege of serving communion to the homebound members of our church body. Some of them may have lost a bit of their memory, and may not always know who I am, but as soon as I hold their hands and begin to pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud, I hear them join in. We are connected by this ancient prayer to each other, to God our heavenly parent and to Christ Jesus.

 

 I always use this prayer at memorial services, and it is interesting to note the different traditions as to how the prayer is spoken. Whenever we are about to pray together at one of those services, I invite folks to pray in whatever tradition they have learned the Lord’s prayer to do so. Trespasses, debts, and sins collide together, the doxology (In Greek, doxo-glory, logy-words) at the end, “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever” is either spoken, mumbled or not spoken, but we all end up together at the end of the prayer somehow.  Even scripture has two different versions of this prayer. Matthew’s is considerably longer, Matthew 6:9-13. And in some texts, the doxology at the end is added. In earlier versions, that phrase is missing.  That doxology, by the way, is most likely based upon David’s blessing on Solomon his son in 1 Chronicles 29 10-13, and it is uncertain if it was in Jesus’ original form of the prayer or quite possibly added later. We might not all agree on the form of Jesus’ prayer, but, we Christians pray this prayer often, at least every Sunday in worship together.

 

Unfortunately, when a prayer is repeated again and again, it often becomes rote and loses its significance. When I was a child, we said the same prayer every evening at mealtimes- “Bless O Lord this food to our use, and ourselves to thy service. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”   By the time I was about 9, I could say those words quite rapidly, so that I could get to the actual eating of my dinner faster, and remember clearly asking my mother once just what a “vootwaryooos” was... (food to our use...) Today’s gospel reading is about that deep, lasting connection through the vehicle of prayer, beginning with the Lord’s prayer, which needs to be rescued from rote memory!  Here Jesus gives us a wonderful blueprint for how to pray, followed by in which manner we are to pray, two examples of God’s character as a loving parent, and finally the result of our prayers.

 

 

At the beginning of today’s scene, Jesus is praying in a certain, (another words-likely favorite) place, and the disciples notice. They had apparently just seen John the Baptist teaching his disciples to pray, and they too desire to pray.  Jesus gives them a direct and simple way to pray, written as five imperatives. The first is about our relationship with God.  Now the version of prayer we pray regularly is closer to Matthew’s version rather than Luke’s, which shortens things a bit. In Matthew, Jesus begins- “Our Father”. Although Luke’s version does not begin with “our,” the prayer is still one based in community rather than the individual- Give us, forgive us, lead us not- throughout the body of Jesus’ prayer. We find strength in Christian community, as this prayer urges.

 

Luke begins with the word, Pater, or father in Greek. His use of “Father” reminds us that we can have a trusting and loving relationship with the Creator of the universe. Despite whatever your parental baggage may be (And mine is good, by the way!), God is a consistently loving parent, who cherishes us. Scripture reminds us of this-2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “I will welcome you and be your Father. You will be my sons and daughters, as surely as I am God.” So, whether you see God as Father, Mother, Maker, Creator- the first part of this prayer establishes both our identity as children of God, as well as the depth of connection available to God through prayer.

 

Once our relationship to God is established, we are reminded to revere, to keep sacred God’s name and our relationship.  Hallowed is God’s name-that is, -holy, set apart from all other things, revered. Scottish Evangelist Oswald Chambers said, “There is a danger of forgetting that the Bible reveals, not first the love of God, but the intense, blazing holiness of God, with God’s love at the center of that holiness.”

 

Next comes a petition for God to act to establish the kingdom on earth, or as I often refer to it, the *kindom, the rule of God’s peace and justice that is longed for by all of God’s children. This kindom is both the now and the not yet. In one sense, this petition is for the full establishment of God’s rule and Christ’s return at the end of times. On the other, it is about the present as well. Theologian Donald Coogan said, “Wherever the bounds of beauty, truth, and goodness are advanced, there the kingdom comes.” We see glimpses of the kindom every day and wait for its full reign in a day yet to come. This section of Jesus’ prayer is both for today and all the tomorrows that follow.

 

The next three petitions (vv. 3-4) cry out for God to provide for our most basic biological, interpersonal, and spiritual needs. Jesus asks for daily bread, the most basic element of the meal. Bread was the consistent staple for food in the first century. God is our great provider, whom we depend upon for the basic necessities in life. That is difficult for us to understand these days. We rarely grow our own food and raise and slaughter livestock. We go to the grocery store, buy our food and take it home, and put it in the fridge and freezer, thinking what good providers WE are. It is difficult to think of ourselves as dependent upon anyone, let alone God when it comes to food. Scripture can be of help here. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth and everything in it-the world and all who live in it- belong to God.” (New Egalitarian Version)

 

Then comes a request for mercy, for forgiveness from sin. Luke’s version differs from the prayer we typically recite- and forgive us our sins, for (instead of as) we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. This is a two-way request- one is dependent upon the other. We are to seek forgiveness from God, all the while extending that same forgiveness to others. “As” gives some room for interpretation. “…as I am going to someday forgive so and so…when I have time, or feel like it.” “For we are” does not. “For we are” states this is something we just do. Jesus himself says earlier in Luke’s gospel- “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) I would suggest that when you pray the Lord’s prayer, if there is someone in your heart whom you cannot forgive, then do not repeat this segment of the prayer until you mean it. This section of the prayer, we are reminded how central our relationships with others are to God.

 

The last petition is a request for strength to persevere in this confident trust in God in times of temptation. Both Matthew’s version of the prayer and some ancient manuscripts in Luke then include, “but deliver us from evil.” Jesus himself undergoes temptations and trials and knows disciples will get their share as well. God may test the faith of believers, as God did Abraham, Job, the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus. The same may be true for us. The request is for strength in those times of testing, as well as for deliverance from them. That ends the section on the Lord’s Prayer, but not Jesus’ instructions on prayer.

 

 

Next, comes the attitude one should have when we approach God in prayer. As parents- we are told by our peers to never give in when a child repeatedly asks for something. “If you do that, you are just rewarding bad behavior,” people say. As a young child, I used to ask for something, ending with “please?” If the answer was “no,” my first thought was to ask again, adding the letter “e” exponentially until my request sounded like “pleeease?” If the answer was still “no”, and I REALLY wanted something, I would ask a third time, with a few more “E’s” added in for emphasis- “pleeeeeeease?” When my own children did this to me when they were younger, I have to come clean, there were a couple (only a couple) of times when I caved under pressure, and said after their repeated, persistent pleas, “Oh all right already! You can have a snack or play a video game...!”

 

We all do this, even if it is not with children. We all have situations where it is just easier to give in and give the person what he or she wants so that we can have some peace and quiet. On the flip side, we no doubt have been the people at times who have whined and manipulated and cajoled to get our own way. When we find that it works especially well with one person or a group of people, we may continue to do it, being rewarded by persistent whining requests.

This parable of the friend at midnight is often misinterpreted as an illustration of how to get our own way with God. Since Luke often puts God in his parables as one of the main characters, if we’re not careful we will try to force God into the role of a reluctant, grumbling friend or caving parent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

In this illustration by Jesus, we hear of one friend going to another friend’s home at midnight, knocking on the door and asking for bread. The one who was woken up has no interest in even opening the door. “Don’t bother me! The door is locked and shut, my kids are asleep, and I cannot get up and give you anything!” Jesus goes on to say that, because of the first friend’s “importunity,” that is, his persistence, the second neighbor will finally get up, open the door and give his neighbor some bread.

 

 

 

This parable speaks of God’s nature, but not in the way it may appear. In this instance, with the tired grumbly neighbor, we may think this is how God is with us when we pray. Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus is setting up a contrast here. The sleepy neighbor showed his friend compassion by giving him bread for an unexpected guest, but only begrudgingly, and after repeated requests. By contrast, God is never begrudging with us. We are encouraged to ask, seek and knock, and do so enthusiastically! God LOVES us. God shows us mercy! God gives us more than we could ever ask for, and in return asks for our connection to God in prayer. God wants us to cry out and pray, and pray often, not because God is like some uncaring sleepy neighbor- on the contrary- God is the One who created us, who knows every hair upon our heads, listens to every beat of our heart, and loves us more than we can ever comprehend! This is a God of whom scripture says, - “Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.(Isaiah 65:24)

 

The last parable on prayer is also one of contrast and reminds us that if parents give good gifts to their children, rather than snakes or scorpions, how much more will God, our perfect heavenly parent give us? In this case, the gift is that of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit leads and empowers Jesus, so it will as a gift bestowed to Jesus’ followers. As we pray, continuously, persistently, we are shaped and moved by God’s Spirit.

 

The point of these parables is about being persistent in our prayer time, and knowing that God faithfully responds to our needs more than any earthly friend or parent will. So often we use prayer as our last hope, and we pray once and expect some kind of magical blessing to come pouring out upon us. The less we pray, the smaller our faith. Theologian Henri Nouwen said, “A spiritual life without prayer is like the gospel without Christ.” In less theological terms, it is like cake without the icing, popcorn without the butter, the mountains without the trees! Something in our faith is lacking when we don’t pray.

 

 

Prayer is faith’s lifeblood and an important part of our faith journey.  Prayer is in part about change within us, and in part about communication with God. God wants us to pray because prayer transforms us. In our time of prayer, we are changed, refined, molded and shaped as we get into a deeper relationship with the One who loves us. The more we communicate with our friends and family, the deeper the relationship becomes. The more we communicate with God, the more our prayers become God’s prayers for us, the more our desires become God’s desires for us, the more our will becomes God’s will for our lives. By praying continually, we enter into a deeper relationship with our God in heaven, rather than a cordial communication with a casual acquaintance, or last-ditch desperate plea to a relative stranger. The Lord’s Prayer, when rescued from rote memory, becomes an important and meaningful vessel for connection with our Creator.

 

Church reformer Martin Luther said, - “Prayer is the most important thing in my life. If I should neglect prayer for a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.” Through today’s passage, may we be reminded of the need to pray, persistently, continuously and confidently; of our deep connection with our loving Father, and of God’s enthusiastic, loving response. Alleluia! Amen.

 

* Regarding the word, ‘kindom’, Rev. Ginger Gaines Corelli writes, “At our church, we often use the word ‘kindom’ in place of ‘kingdom’ to reflect gender-neutral view of God’s community, the kinship we share with all of humanity, and the belief that God’s vision for creation is about loving, mutual relationship.”

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