Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Lord's Prayer - Model for Prayer, Model for Life

10th Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 12 (Year C)
Genesis 18.20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2.6-15(16-19); Luke 11.1-13
Sunday, July 24, 2016 – St. Paul’s Emmanuel, Santa Paula

There are many things that various Christian denominations don’t agree on. Theological positions, liturgical practices, church polity, to name a few. But one of the thing we can all agree on is the centrality of the Lord’s Prayer. Nearly every worship service, regardless of denomination, includes the public recitation of this same prayer in some form. Now just to be clear, today’s Gospel contains a more scaled-down version than in Matthew’s Gospel, which is the version commonly used. Luke just gives us the basics, the most important parts. The parts he leaves out merely provide further explanation.

The first utterance of this prayer is by Jesus in response to his disciples’ request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The prayer Jesus offers not only provides a model for how to pray, it also incorporates key defining points in our life of faith. For Christians, this prayer helps define who we are as followers of Jesus. It becomes an integral part of who we are.

While at St. Alban’s, I used to periodically take communion to Elizabeth, one of our shut-ins. She had suffered a stroke a number of years before, which left her partially paralyzed and scrambled the speech center of her brain. She would try to talk but the words came out as unintelligible gibberish. But when we celebrated the Eucharist and got to the point of saying the Lord’s Prayer, Elizabeth was able to say the words with perfect clarity. They were so ingrained in her mind, in who she was, that even infirmity and stroke-induced impediments could not prevent their clear expression.

On another occasion, I was called to the hospital to perform Last Rites for Ron. His body was rejecting the transplanted lung he had received a number of weeks before. As a result, his whole system was shutting down. When I went to see him, Ron was unconscious. He had not been responsive for several days. But when we got to the Lord’s Prayer, his wife and I watched in amazement as his lips started moving, silently mouthing the words of the prayer he knew so well. Even the lack of consciousness, even imminent death, could not hold back the expression of the profound faith he had internalized in the words of that prayer.

We say the Lord’s Prayer so often in the course of worship and private devotions that these words are permanently ingrained in our hearts and minds. But do we get to the point that when it comes to saying the Lord’s Prayer, we just go on auto-pilot? Where the words just flow out without us really thinking about them, about what they truly mean?

Most of us probably spent some time studying the Lord’s Prayer and its meaning as part of our Christian formation, as part of preparing for Confirmation. But that was probably many years ago. This prayer is so important to who we are as followers of Christ that it’s worth a refresher. Awhile back I came across an anonymous poem entitled “A Few Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer.” A copy is contained in your bulletin. This poem prompted me to take a fresh look at this foundational prayer. So, I thought it would be a good entry point for taking a fresh look at our understanding of this simple yet profound prayer.

I cannot pray Our, if my faith has no room for others and their need. – In this prayer, we recognize and reaffirm that we are part of a greater whole that is the Body of Christ. And beyond that, that we are part of the even larger human family. We are not alone. It is not just about us, but something greater.

I cannot pray Father, if I do not demonstrate this relationship to God in my daily living. – In this prayer, Jesus invites the disciples and us into an even deeper relationship with him and with his father. He instructs us to address God as “Abba, Father,” just as he does, and to approach God with trust and confidence as a child would ask a loving parent for provision and protection. This is a deeply intimate relationship that is beyond any other we have.

I cannot pray who art in heaven, if all of my interests and pursuits are in earthly things. – In this prayer, we recognize that God made all of creation, that God is ruler of all creation. That God watches over all he has made and is concerned with the safety, wellbeing, and nurture of all creation.

I cannot pray hallowed be thy name, if I am not striving, with God’s help, to be holy. – In this prayer, we offer praise and glorify to God. We recognize God’s transcendence and otherness, that God’s name is to be honored as holy and recognized as sovereign in the here and now. And that in our relationship with God, we are invited to share in that holiness in our own lives.

I cannot pray thy kingdom come, if I am unwilling to accept God’s rule in my life. – In this prayer, we express our wish and desire that God's kingdom break into this world, setting things right and making all things new. We ask for preparedness for the eschatological end time. This is primarily a prayer characterized by hope and assurance in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises.

I cannot pray thy will be done, if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life. – In this prayer, we recognize that we have our own desires, and that we have choice and free-will. At the same time, we acknowledge our dependence on God’s grace and our own responsibility to follow God’s commands and to live as he wishes us to. To truly live as God’s holy people.

I cannot pray on earth as it is in Heaven, unless I am truly ready to give myself to God’s service here and now. – In this prayer, we recognize that we have our part to play in God’s divine plan. Our highest calling is to work for the coming of his kingdom on earth.

I cannot pray give us this day our daily bread, without expending honest effort for it, or if I would withhold from my neighbor the bread that I receive. – In this prayer, we acknowledge the security of God's provision for those things that are necessary for existence and the assurance that he will provide what we need. But not just for us individually. We have confidence that with God there is no scarcity, that there is sufficiency for all.

I cannot pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone. – In this prayer, we recognize our sinfulness and unworthiness for forgiveness, that it is only by God’s grace that we receive it. The reign of God brings forgiveness of our own sin. And that in so doing, we also have our own responsibility. God's forgiveness serves as a stimulus, as a motivation, for us to recognize our own need to forgive those who have sinned against us. How can we ask God to forgive us if we are not willing or able to forgive others?

I cannot pray lead us not into temptation, if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted. – In this prayer, we recognize that there are those things that seek to draw us away from God’s love. To be sure, many people have a problem with this petition – with the notion that God would lead us into temptation. “Save us from the time of trial,” as stated in the contemporary English translation of the Lord’s Prayer, is far truer to the original meaning of asking God to help us be faithful and to resist those things that might cause us to doubt God or his faithfulness to us.

I cannot pray deliver us from evil, if I am not prepared to fight evil with my life and my prayer. – In this prayer, we recognize that we are in need of God’s help, particularly in times of adversity. That God delivers us from all kinds of evil – those affecting body and soul. And that in our final hour, God will grant us a blessed end and take us to himself.

I cannot pray thine is the kingdom, if I am unwilling to obey the King. – In this prayer, we recognize that in our faithfulness to God, God is also faithful to us. The petitions we make are heard and accepted by God, and we trust that in his divine economy, they will be answered.

I cannot pray thine is the power and the glory, if I am seeking power for myself and my own glory first. – In this prayer, we seek not prestige, power, and riches for ourselves, but to show forth God’s power, his love and mercy, in our thoughts, words, and actions. We seek to focus on God’s coming reign, God’s mercy, and the strengthening of the community of faith. It is with humility that we come before God asking these petitions – petitions that it is God’s ultimate desire and power to fulfill.

I cannot pray for ever and ever, if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs. – In this prayer, we recognize that we sometimes become focused, even obsessed, with the minutia of our lives, losing sight of the big picture. Losing sight of where God is in all of this. We trust that God is with us, now and always. And we trust in God’s timing for the answering of our prayers. That God will provide for us in the fullness of time.

I cannot pray Amen, unless I can honestly say, “Cost what it may, this is my prayer.” – In this prayer, we make our solemn pledge to not only mean what we have prayed, but to live into these words with our whole being.

This is a deeply human kind of prayer. It recognizes that we are dependent – “give us.” It recognizes that we are sinful – “forgive us.” It recognizes that we are lost – “lead us.” And it recognizes that we are vulnerable – “deliver us.”

In recognition of our own need, the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer name what is essential to life. What is essential for the life of our physical bodies – our daily bread. What is essential for our communal life – our forgiveness of others. What is essential for our relationship with God – recognition of God’s sovereignty and our dependence on God not just in this life, but for eternal life. The petitions of this prayer are addressed to a Lord for whom salvation is defined by abundant provision of life's needs, forgiveness of sin, and economic and social justice. In this prayer, we see that our weakness is occasion for encounter with the divine, the source of our own strength.

We are called to follow Jesus as our guide. The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of Jesus’ approach to life: love of God and of others, a willingness to embrace what God has in store for us, trust in God to provide for our needs, the hope and promise of forgiveness, and to live rooted in God through times of trial and adversity. In this, the Lord’s Prayer is not primarily about getting things from God, but rather about affirming and seeking to strengthen the relationship we have with God our Father, through Jesus Christ.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, they got so much more than a simple model for prayer. Jesus gave them a blueprint for how to live their lives of faith. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer in our own times of worship and devotion, may we be profoundly aware of the words we are saying, of the deep meaning of these simple yet beautiful petitions, of the power that they carry, and see them for what they are – not just a prayer, but a way of being.

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