Sermon – July 28, 2019 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost


The Lord’s Prayer

Looks to me like people are still having hard time figuring out how to pray. I did a little check of available resources. I found “five tips on how to pray”, ‘nine steps on how to pray (with pictures)”, “six tips for praying”, “six easy steps to prayer,” “five steps to effective prayers”, “prayer for dummies”, “50 power prayers”, “the correct way to righteous and effective prayer”,  my favorite is, send me some money and I’ll send you a prayer rag to help you pray.

Seems like there’s some notion or the other that we have to get it right, use the right words, strike the right attitude, use the most flattering address, whatever. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t all sorts of ways to pray, but if we start that conversation with the fear that we’ll get it so wrong God will not hear us, well then, we get it wrong.

I am pretty sure that the disciples had heard all sorts of prayers in their lives. They had been to the synagogue. They had been to Sabbath gatherings. They had no doubt attended funerals of loved ones. It is not like they lived in a prayer vacuum, but somehow they saw that this Rabbi that they had chosen to follow, who took so often the time to pray, that this guy seemed to have something special going on.

So, they asked, teach us to pray,  and Jesus gave them what we know as the Lord’s prayer. If you look at this prayer closely, it is actually a simple thing. It doesn’t start with a long flattering address to God,  “oh holy, merciful, kind, omniscient, wonderful Yahweh, ruler of the universe, maker of all things, etc., etc.”  Nope. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Of all the choices Jesus had, he chose the most intimate, the most familiar, the one that identifies God in personal terms. The Aramaic word that might very well have been used by Jesus was Abba,  a term of endearment for one’s father. From the beginning, the disciples are being brought into a personal encounter with the God they seek to know. Recognizing the tradition of God’s holy name, Jesus instructs them to address the Lord’s name as holy.

This personal address as Father, Abba puts to rest any notion of deism, of a disinterested God brooding aloof above the universe, having wound  the clock of material existence, who now sits back in the divine easy chair to watch it play out and  practice making black holes. Nope, this is a departure from the prayers that locates God far away from humanity and draws them close.

That intimacy continues in the next line as Jesus instructs them to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will. One of the chief lessons that the disciples were learning was that Jesus is the one who is ushering in the kingdom of God, fulfilling the will of God, and in this part of the prayer Jesus reveals himself as the actor and draws the disciples to partnership with the fulfilling of his mission.

This prayer has become so familiar to us as we recite it week to week that the petitions, the requests of the prayer might not speak to us quite as clearly as it may have. This part of the prayer reveals our humanity and our need, but also helps direct our prayers – and not just this prayer, but the conversation we have with God drawn more broadly – to those things we and our neighbors need. Give us that which is sufficient for this day, our daily bread. This  Luther calls all the things that we need to live and sustain a healthy life . . . .food and shelter, family and friends. You will find no evidence of the lottery, of wealth, of power, of special prerogative. We’ll come back to that.

Forgive us, save us in the times we struggle with our faith and protect us from evil and darkness predatory powers. The implication of these petitions is that we are in need, that we are vulnerable, that we are sinners, and that God has in God’s hands the capacity to hear and to respond. Here too, we are being equipped for faithful following.   The implication of forgiving as we have been forgiven,  I believe can be read  into the other petitions as an opportunity to share that which we have received, encouragement and  protection and solidarity with others with whom we share this planet.

Note that the prayer does not require of us to become something that we are not, anything that we are not already. Any transformation that is ours comes from the goodness and grace and power of God. And as we participate in this kingdom coming and the ethics it ushers in, we, through this prayer and the places it leads us cause us to become more Christlike. Sometimes this prayer has been called the prayer of the disciples, a prayer through which we are formed and which serves as a mark of our identity. I think that’s absolutely true.

Every day this prayer is shared among believers and as individuals around the world. Every day because Jesus saw in it the opportunity for us to share our hearts with God, to encounter the ways of God to which we have been invited, to give us the peace in the hope that is ours when know we are heard.

As I spoke of a few weeks ago, the words we share, the hymns we sing, the prayers we pray, the stories that we tell, time and again are foundational. They helpe to form us as individuals and people. We take seriously rite and ritual as a way of learning and relearning in proclaiming our faith and our dependence on God. This prayer is one of those formative tools, one of those formative gifts that has been shared for centuries.

But, what about the silence? What about those times when we feel we have not been heard? What about those times when our legs ache from kneeling and our throats are sore from crying out and we have not, we believe, heard from God?  What about then?   What about the silence.  Those are good and fair questions and Jesus seemed to address them as he told this parable immediately after he taught the disciples of the Lord’s prayer.

Just as we are invited to pray “give us, forgive us, lead us, and deliver us,” so too we are invited to “ask, and search, and knock.”  Because we know that God has not chosen to remain unknown, unmoved, and uninterested, Jesus says persist. Actually, a better translation of that word is not persistence but shamelessness. Do not let up on God. Continue to ask. Continue to pray, be bold be persistent. Now, don’t you think that God knows what we need? Don’t you think that God knows the yearnings in the hearts?  Of course. So what then is the purpose of our prayers when they appear to be unanswered? Well, if I knew the answer to that I would have had to pull off some part of the mask of God and I have no power or prerogative to do such a thing.   But I think sometimes our prayers, fervently prayed, but seemingly unanswered continue to form us as disciples, as believers. Because, God is not absent. God has not chosen to remain in the shadows. God has not opted for anonymity. In fact, he plops himself right down in the middle of us in person of Jesus Christ.  So, if God is not responding, in our view, then what in the world is happening? There are some easy answers to that. I mentioned the Lotto, and wealth, and power and, also several other things that serve our  greed and  not our need. As for the lottery, you have a better chance of walking out the door of this church today and being struck dead by a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky then you have of winning the lottery. Even God doesn’t play those odds.  So get over that.   These things might be the various scorpions and snakes that Jesus  remarks that a faithful parent would not give to a child.  The things of excess and indulgence.

No, the tougher stuff is when our fervent prayers speak to our deepest yearnings, and my only, faithful response is that the prayers themselves are helping to continue to form and make us in the image of God.   That somehow the integrity of our prayers and the integrity of God will reveal to us something, something healing, something unexpected, something new.  And let’s remember  promise of this parable, that the Holy Spirit accompanies the faithful. As Paul writes, that same spirit intercedes with us with sighs too deep for words.

No, there is no secret code, there is no secret formula, no five-step, six step or nine step with pictures shortcut to an authentic encounter with God through prayer..  But there is this: There is Jesus’s very spirit, and there is God’s abiding promise. We are invited as part of the teaching of this prayer is to come to God as we are, tell the truth, remember whose we are and know that God is listening.

The rest is up to Jesus.  And I think he’s up to it.

Thanks Be to God   Amen