“When you pray….”
Luke 11: 1-13
Chilmark Community Church
July 26, 2015
Jesus’ disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray” – – and Jesus gave them a prayer that has sustained and nurtured human beings for 2000 years. It is so much a part of the fiber of our being that we take it for granted. For many of us, it was the first prayer we were taught as young children. For many years it was part of the “morning exercises” in the schools that people of my generation attended. As I worked my way through it for this morning’s sermon, I discovered that each line is a powerful prayer all by itself, so that is how we’ll look at it together.
When Jesus prayed this prayer himself, he addressed God personally. He would have used the word “Avi” – – an intimate address which means “my father” – – we have received the prayer using the word “avinu” – – which means “our Father” – -so one of the things that we notice is that right from the first words, the Lord’s Prayer establishes incredibly intimate, spiritual relationships – not just between us and God, but between us as siblings –as children of God. When we pray “Our Father…. we acknowledge that we are beloved children of the Holy One – – and that we are beloved together in the sight of God. If we only focused this interrelatedness between us and God and between each other – – it would be enough of a prayer to change the world. As children of the Holy One we carry within us our Divine Parent’s attributes of compassion, justice, loving – kindness, forgiveness, grace and mercy as part of what it means to be most truly human. Life fully lived as children of God could transform creation.
“Which art in heaven”….. reminds us that while we do indeed embody the attributes of God in our physical nature, we are not all there is. While the Holy is immanent and dwells within us and among us, (God has pitched a tent in our midst) God is also transcendent – – un-nameable – – and un-tameable – – elusive – -often hidden – – a God who must be sought out. While God loves us as a parent loves a precious child, God cannot be domesticated.
So – when we pray “hallowed be thy name” – – we enter a kind of mystery.
Both the Old Testament and ancient Jewish literature indicate that God’s name is sanctified, made holy, by the way in which God’s people act. There is a story in the Book of Numbers where God instructs Moses to speak to the rock to provide water for the children of Israel because they are thirsty. Moses, however, struck the rock causing water to issue forth. The Lord responded to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me, you did not treat me as holy, before the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore, you will not enter with this assembly into the land that I gave to them.” Moses and Aaron by their lack of trust and their disobedience failed to sanctify God; we can assume, then, that their obedience would have sanctified the name of God. God’s name is sanctified, honored and made holy when we live out the command to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength – – and love our neighbor as ourselves. We either magnify God’s name – make it holy – or we profane it – make it unholy – by the way we live in the world.
All of the people who call upon the name of God, – – -Christians, – – Muslims, – – Jews and all the variations within those broad categories – -we all have a pretty spotty record when it comes to “hallowed be thy name” – – our history together has often been a history of suspicion, misunderstanding, hatred, violence, unwillingness to forgive – -all of which make the name of God unholy. If this were the only line of the prayer and we prayed it with the intention of fulfilling it – – this prayer too could change the world.
Just in case we do not yet get the point, Jesus adds another line – – “thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – – – John Dominic Crossan calls this a radically subversive prayer. At the time the prayer was recorded Rome was the kingdom and Caesar was god. The prayer undermines the power and authority of Caesar. It shifts the power and the glory to the One who transcends political power. The willingness to pray “thy kingdom come” sustained the Jewish community that evolved around Jesus and would eventually become the early church. It gave our ancestors hope. Caesars have come and gone in every age over the last 2000 years – – the prayer for God’s kingdom on earth continues….. and it must not stop….. The headlines remind us daily that the Caesars continue to demand allegiance and obedience. They usurp power over human life that belongs only to God. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done is a prayer of hope in the face of the worst that can happen. We continue to pray it because we still await the fullness of God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness and peace to prevail.
With the next line, it is as though Jesus knew that we, as his followers, might lose hope – – get discouraged – – maybe even lose our way – – trying to live faithfully in a world that is so challenging. On every side we are confronted by hunger, homelessness, violence, racism, destruction of human life, political discord, aggression – – – only if we are sound asleep can we escape from so much of what the world hands us every day. Often a sense of powerlessness and even hopelessness may creep in. And indeed, at times we really do simply need to turn it off – or at the very least turn down the volume. Jesus says “pray this way… Give us this day our daily bread…” the words are reminiscent of the near starvation of Israel in the wilderness – – and the Holy One’s grace in providing manna for them to eat. They were instructed that they should gather just enough for the needs of the day. They were not to gather any more than that because if they tried to keep it over night it would get moldy and rot. The idea is that Israel was to learn to trust that they would be given exactly what they needed to get through the day – no more – and no less.
This simple line may well be the most challenging one spiritually. Jesus invites us to be open to trusting that when we open ourselves in prayer, we will receive everything we need for the journey. It is challenging because it implies that we need to do something that we don’t always do very well – – – and that is that we have to LISTEN. This daily bread is what sustained Jesus during his own time in the wilderness. It is what he fed on in those quiet moments that he stole out of his busy days of teaching and healing. He made time for manna. He went into the quiet recesses of his inner sanctuary where he could listen for the Divine Flow of love and wisdom and power and direction and guidance and strength that sustained him. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we need to stop and spend time listening for the silent voice of God so that we can receive the bread as it comes.
And then we come to “forgive us our debts or our trespasses as we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us.” Two ancient verses from the Hebrew Scriptures inform this part of the prayer: “you shall love the Lord your God” and “you shall love your neighbor who is like you – -you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Early in Genesis, we learn that God created humankind in God’s own image. Whether we like it or not, we are all bearers of the image of God. When we wound each other, when our relationships are broken, we wound God. We cannot get any closer with God than we are with each other. It is as though God might be saying to us: ‘If you love your neighbor, I can be relied upon to be fully available and present to you. But if you do not love your neighbor, if you cannot forgive one another, then you will feel my absence and separation.’
Our ability to forgive one another is directly linked with our relationship with God. When we are not able to forgive one another, our relationship with God is fractured. God loves not only us, but also the person with whom we are in conflict. So – when we pray “forgive us as we forgive others” – – there is a lot more at stake than meets the eye.
Perhaps one of the more difficult parts of this prayer is the line “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – – – What are we to do with that?
I want to suggest that this line of the Lord’s Prayer is a powerful call to personal responsibility for how we conduct our lives. We humans embody and are energized by two conflicting centers in our personalities – we come into the world with them as basic equipment that carries a lifetime guarantee. Jesus knew them as “the inclination to evil” and the “inclination to good”. There is no moral judgment attached to either inclination –they simply are what is. We have the ability to think and speak and act from either center – either from the needs of our ego – or from the desires of the Spirit. Both are necessary for survival. Our job as followers of the Way is to keep them in balance and make the choice for the movement of the Holy Spirit as often as we can. When we are operating solely from our most self centered, selfish inclinations, we have the capacity to conceal the beauty of God. When we operate from our selfless, generous side – we have the capacity to reveal God. What Jesus is saying when he says “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is that we can pray that every choice and every action in our lives might reveal God rather than conceal God. I don’t know about you, but this is a part of the prayer that I have to pray not only every day – but from moment to moment every day. Just taking on the work of personal responsibility for every word that comes out of my mouth is a daunting endeavor. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil……
The prayer ends there. The doxology that was added on to the end of the prayer later is: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory – -forever – – – A kingdom that already is and a kingdom that is not yet. So – when we pray it together or individually we become co-creators with God. By joining ourselves to God through the prayer Jesus taught, by intentionally shaping our lives to conform to the prayer, we become participants in the building of God’s realm here on earth.
May The Holy One help us to be the prayer that we pray. AMEN