Lord, Teach Us How to Pray, Proper 12 (C)

[RCL] Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11: 1-13

Lord, teach us how to pray.

“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.”

This is the Lord’s Prayer as found in the gospel of Luke.

Prayer.

What can one find to say about prayer in an environment where it can be used as a cover for hypocrisy, an easy mantra to fool the vulnerable?  “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” politicians say to bereaved parents whose children were gunned down because these same politicians failed to do what is just and good. Even the ancients understood that empty prayers meant nothing. There was a saying in ancient Greece: “Together with Athena, move your own hands also.” Do something, don’t just pray!

The disciples had witnessed that whenever their teacher, the one they called “Master,” had exhausted himself doing good, he would withdraw from the crowd in order to pray. And they had seen the results of those prayers in his life-transforming deeds and in his unfathomable peace. “Lord, teach us how to pray!” They too wanted that peace and strength, the utter assurance that Jesus had in doing the will of his Father. “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

The simple and profound words that were the response to that request have become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Throughout the centuries countless faithful have uttered them together, are uttering them still. They are words that rise up and blend into an endless prayer of praise, of supplication, of doxology.

Jesus showed them that first they must know whom they are addressing. The Greek word for prayer used in the gospels means “a wish, a request toward” someone. Luke’s version is pared down, simpler than the prayer found in Matthew’s gospel. The familiar one has been developed from Matthew’s version, and the modern version has some points that were made by ancient authorities. Yet, the core is the same.

“Our Father…” There are people in our world who have mixed emotions about this word because they had the terrible misfortune of living with a bad father. And many of us were blessed with loving and caring fathers and we have no difficulty in identifying the Creator with the word Father. God, who is father and mother, understands.

“Hallowed be your name.”  We are addressing the Holy of Holies, the all-sacred one. We are reminded immediately by Jesus that when we address God we are in the presence of holiness.

“Your kingdom come.” Jesus’ favorite image: the kingdom of God where justice prevails, where love conquers. The kingdom of God where everyone is of equal value in God’s sight. May it come to us also, he teaches us to pray.

“Your will be done.” We long for the kingdom where God’s will is done. Putting it on a marble pedestal, in the public arena, will not save us. All that is for show. God is not mocked. Jesus warned us severely about praying in order to show others how pious we are. True prayer is the private communion between us and God. Even when we pray in unison, in church, we are connecting to God and to each other.

This then is the first portion of prayer: the acknowledgment of God as Father/Mother, as Holy, where God’s rule of love and justice are natural and at home.

The second part is a simple request for what sustains life. Bread was the essence of nourishment in the ancient world. Having bread meant one was not hungry. Not having bread meant starvation. “Give us the necessities for living; all else is superfluous.”

“And forgive us our sins.” The second request that concerns us is the need to forgive. In all the gospels there is an expansion of this need for forgiveness and it helps to seek, find, and read all the references. The plea to be forgiven is followed by the most surprising element of this prayer:

“. . . for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” That God’s forgiveness is dependent on our ability and willingness to forgive is unexpected. Without the grace to forgive our fellow human beings, we would not recognize, or even accept, God’s forgiveness of our own sins. “Those who are indebted to us,” may also be taken literally. In the ancient world, as in our own mean times, being indebted financially was very serious. Many times it meant life or death. Jesus knew that Mammon was a powerful idol, that those who cannot forgive debts because they worship money cannot possibly be forgiven by God first. Think of the people who have lost their jobs because the CEO wanted more money than he could spend in ten lifetimes.

“Do not bring us to the time of trial.” Trials are frequent and no one is spared. We pray to be shielded from trials, but when they do come, they must be faced. So in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me,” but he was not spared and he faced his death, convinced of the will of his Father.

This then is the profound and simple prayer that binds us together as we worship. This is the prayer that forms the basis for all our prayers. We are assured by Jesus that we are being heard. Jesus adds more urgency through stories of people known to his hearers, like the persistent child to a father. A father responds to the child’s plea, he tells us. He encourages us to be persistent. God’s will for us is good.

In the midst of despair over the conditions of terror and harm and killing in our world, it is good to remember that millions of the faithful are praying every minute of the day: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”

Download the sermon for Proper 12 (C).

Katerina Whitley is the author of A New Love, a novel set in the midst of St. Paul’s sphere of influence in ancient Corinth. The author now lives in Boone, NC.

Praying as Jesus taught, 10 Pentecost, Proper 12 (C) – 2013

July 28, 2013

Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

How many of you know the Lord’s Prayer?

By heart?

There is the traditional language and cadence that we use in the Episcopal Church, which is so very familiar: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

And there is the contemporary language: “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name.”

There is controversy over some fine points: Are we forgiven “sins” or “debts”?

And how does the prayer end? “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil”?

Or “The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever”?

There are a number of versions of this prayer used by Protestants and Catholics in contemporary services and in more traditional worship. The important thing is that we pray.

But what are we praying? What are we praying for? And where did this prayer come from, what does it mean, how are we to use it?

It is clear that prayer is important to Jesus. We hear of him praying, we hear of him calling his followers to prayer, and we hear the lessons he offers about prayer.

In Luke’s gospel alone, Jesus is at prayer at his baptism; before choosing his 12 disciples; before the first prediction of his passion, at the Transfiguration. Prayer seems to be important to Jesus.

And prayer was clearly important to Luke – after all, he collected and presented several stories attributed to Jesus right here in a rather small section of his gospel.

Presumably, then, prayer will also be important to us.

Let’s take a closer look.

What we read today begins with “Jesus was praying.” And when he was finished, one of the disciples asked him to teach them to pray “as John had taught his disciples.”

We learn a couple of things in this.

One, that prayer is something one learns, something that can be taught. There goes the excuse of “But I don’t know how to pray!”

And we also learn that there are forms of prayer that teachers pass on. It was usual in Jesus’ time, and still is today, for teachers to instruct their disciples in how to pray and give them a formula.

This is essentially what the disciples were asking for. Rabbis, teachers, taught their students, their followers, their disciples, how to do things. In this case, it was John who had taught his disciples how to pray, and the disciples of Jesus asked for the same thing. They asked to be taught. So Jesus told them, “When you pray, say this.”

Here we get to a potential stumbling block in understanding what we traditionally call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It wasn’t his prayer, was it? It isn’t what he prayed. It was his response to a disciple’s request to be given a formula for praying, to be given some instruction, a method. How often have we introduced this prayer in worship, saying, “And now, as our savior taught us, we are bold to say”?

So, is it the Lord’s Prayer?

Well, yes. And no. He didn’t teach us his prayer, but a way to pray, and what to pray for. He gave it to his disciples as a way to formulate prayer.

There is another point about this prayer that is sometimes missed: This is a community prayer, not a private prayer. It is a prayer that first praises God, and then makes three petitions for the ones praying. The language of “us,” “we,” assumes that the community shares the longing for final coming of the kingdom.

This puts a bit of an eschatological thrust on the prayer. The people who formed the early church believed with all their hearts and hoped that Jesus was coming back to lift them out of oppression, any day. They expected that the kingdom would be established in their lifetime, and that they would live with God. Hence, the community prayed in the way that Jesus instructed them.

Another point: The “daily bread” piece in Luke more accurately reads “day by day give us,” or “continue giving us,” or “each day give us.” It seems that Luke wasn’t looking to a glorified bread in an eventual kingdom, but sustenance for the day, food for those who were encouraged to take up the cross daily, and who were expected to travel on missionary journeys with only what is needed for the day.

It is as much a request as it is a demand.

In Luke, the one praying asks for God’s forgiveness of sins – not debts – while promising to forgive others their debts. This may be a reflection of Luke’s concern that possessions not get in the way of community relationships. It may also be a reminder that God is the only one able to forgive sins, and that we are always in debt one to another.

Ultimately, the importance of the Lord’s Prayer is not only that Jesus gave it to his disciples, but that it was picked up by early Christian worshippers and incorporated into their understanding of how God shall be praised and what is right to ask for. And it is especially important that it has been handed down through generations to bind our community together.

How does Jesus teach his disciples to pray? Boldly. Courageously. Expectantly.

Praise God. Place your needs before God. This prayer begins in boldness. It is a prayer of great courage, both praising God and placing demands upon God’s goodness, God’s justice. It is the prayer of community.

We hear a lot these days about Jesus as “personal savior,” and it is common to hear the question “Have you been saved?”

But that would have been a foreign notion to the Jewish community, and out of character with Jesus’ teachings. It is all about community, not you and me individually.

Pray in boldness, my friends. Stand strong. Lift your head. Raise your voice. Never mistake that our God is a strong God, ready to hear us. And pray together, for the community. That is what Jesus taught.

 

— The Rev. Machrina Blasdell has been teaching religious studies at Park University, Parkville, Mo., for 13 years, following 12 years as executive director of an interfaith council in the San Francisco area. She enjoys her family life, growing roses and making anything chocolate.

Teach us to pray, Pentecost 9, Proper 12 (C) – 2010

[RCL] Hosea 1:2-10 and Psalm 85 (Track 2: Genesis 18:20-32 and Psalm 138); Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

There was a little girl who lived on a street right next to a cemetery. Her school was straight across, on the other side of the cemetery. That cemetery frightened all the children who lived on her street. In fact, they took great pains to avoid the cemetery, walking all the way around it to get to the school, and then all the way around it to come home.
But not so our little girl. Every morning she would just head straight through the cemetery, and at the end of the day she would walk back, straight through, to come home, usually whistling all the way.

An elderly neighbor sat on her porch each day and watched and wondered. One afternoon, she called the little girl over as she returned from school and said to her, “My little friend, I notice that every day, all the children on our block walk around the cemetery to go to school and back, but you just walk right through. How can you do that? Doesn’t it frighten you to walk so close to death?”

And the little girl replied, “Why, no. I’m not frightened, because I know that I’m only passing through.”

Our Collect for today bids us pray for an abundance of God’s mercy, that with God as our ruler and guide, “we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.” Living faithfully has everything to do with how we pass through our daily lives. Living faithfully means always being connected with God as our ruler and guide, as with one another.

The way we pass through life each day – the way we walk – matters.

One of the riches of our Episcopal hymnal supplement, Wonder, Love and Praise, is hymn number 791, “Peace before us”:

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet.
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.
This beautiful prayer is, in fact, based upon a traditional Navajo prayer used regularly in congregations of the Episcopal Church in Navojoland. In part, that prayer can be translated:

Jesus Christ, just as I pray, you do it; guard me,
In my defense, stand, reach out,
Plead in my defense.
Let peace come to me from the forest stream,
Let there be peace from the lowly grass,
Let there be peace from the wind’s way,
Let peace come to me from passing rain,
Let passing thunder bring peace to me.
Just by me let the dew fall,
Just by me let corn pollen form.
Beauty before me,
Beauty behind me,
Into fullness of life I have come,
Into beauty I have come.
All is peace again.
All is peace again.
All is peace again.
All is peace again.
How we walk through life, day by day, matters. Moving from a state of anxiety and restlessness into a way of harmony and balance is a blessing of grace that keeps us centered through whatever challenges rise to face us.

Watching children grow, from shaky first steps into the ability to dart here and there, intent on escaping their anxious parents’ grasp for as long as possible, we know that it is human nature to try to cast out on our own, to make our own way. The playfulness of children is engaging, and – usually! – we smile to see their sport. Children yearn to be able to “do it all by themselves.” Doesn’t being “grown up” mean taking care of ourselves – all by ourselves?

This relentless drama certainly makes life interesting for the parents of any toddler, and often for the rest of us as well.

“Doing it all by yourself” is part of growing up. But being fully grown up involves more than moving from dependence into independence. Our lessons today teach that to be fully alive means to embrace an interdependence with one another and with God, in a faith-filled confidence that leads us from life driven by anxiety and angst into life blessed by harmony and balance.

“Grant that as we pass through things temporal, we lose not things eternal.”
The first step in embracing a healthy interdependence, is to chose to turn back from the initial exhilaration of striking out on our own, to return to right relationship with those whose love formed us to begin with. Like the toddler squirming away from the embrace of her ever-loving parents, there must be a moment – God willing, before damage is done! – when the child turns and recognizes a need deeper than the need to assert her independence: a need to reconnect with her parents. What happens in that moment is a gift of grace, a seed which, with God’s love and in God’s time, will germinate and then blossom.

That turning point, which opens the door to right relationship restored, is grounded in the abiding, steadfast love of God, which is a constant, no matter what we have chosen to do. God chooses to include us in the dance of reconciliation, waiting for us to turn and open our hearts in some way to return and receive God’s ready embrace in that steadfast love.

Consider the exchange between Jesus and his disciples in our gospel reading as just such a moment. Jesus has gone apart to pray, and upon his return, the disciples greet him with a question, a request, which is just such a turning with an opening heart: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

It is significant, first, that the request is made at all. To ask for help is a deeply spiritual action – and not one that we are often prepared to do gracefully. To ask for help requires that we acknowledge our need of one another. It is to confess faith, confidence in the one we are asking for help. To receive and respond to that help leads to growth in our relationship with one another. It involves, at some level, healing; for to receive help from another heals us, and in that action, we become healers ourselves. So, what seems a simple request from the disciples is profound: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

What follows, of course, is the prayer loved and used by so many, so regularly, down through the centuries. The Lord’s Prayer transforms those who pray it, teaching us to walk through life in a harmonious and balanced way. Let go of what makes you anxious and restless, and trust in what God is doing around and through you, that as you pass through your daily life, you may lose not the things eternal, which is your birthright by baptism.

Our Father: “Abba,” “Father,” “Daddy,” whose love for us is so certain, it cannot be broken,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come: may your way of justice be followed by all the people of the world.
Give us each day our daily bread: confidence that you will provide for our basic needs, each day,
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us: the way of healing is within reach.
And do not bring us to the time of trial: grant that as we pass through things temporal, we lose not things eternal.
Yes, the way we walk through life matters. Give us the blessing of a harmonious and balanced life together. And thank you for the gift of a prayer to be offered daily to keep us on that way:

Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet.
Peace within us, peace over us, let all around us be peace.

 Download large-print version for MS Word

Written by the Rev. Steve Kelsey
The Rev. Steve Kelsey is a retired Episcopal priest, living with his family in Arizona. He is currently serving part time with a team of ministry developers among the Diné (Navajo people) in the Navajo Nation.

Ask, search, knock, Pentecost 9, Proper 12 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13

Over the past few Sundays, the lessons have focused on what it means to be a disciple and a follower of Jesus. Today we look at the depth of that discipleship in relationships: between Abraham and God, between Paul and Jesus, and then Jesus teaches us how that relationship works through prayer.

People who claim to have a relationship with God often act as if they discovered it. But the truth is that God found them and led them to their creator. That is how it was with Abraham. Abraham would never have sought a relationship with a god who made such incredible demands and promises, but having been found and led by God, he began to trust enough to accept God’s promise of a child to Sarah in last week’s Gospel. In this week’s reading, we find him feeling confident enough in his relationship to plead for mercy for the city of Sodom.

Abraham’s experience with God teaches us how relationships with God develop, how they can lead us to new and exciting things, and how to ask for things on behalf of others.

Saint Paul, in the reading from Colossians, describes his relationship with Jesus as “rooted and established in the faith”; this is after he persecuted Christians and Christ. So he knows how much he is loved by God, and how much the mercy of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus means to him. Paul describes our relationship with Jesus as much more than mercy when he says, “He forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us.”

There are countless Christians who have experienced God’s forgiveness and the reconciliation in Christ’s dying and resurrection. Convicted felons on death row, white-collar executives who have broken trust with their companies, addicts, and just ordinary folk testify to the glorious new life that comes from this relationship.

As disciples of Jesus through our baptism, we are given the outline of how we should pray: the Lord’s Prayer. Many good books and sermons have unpacked this prayer that almost everyone knows by heart. It is prayed in many languages around the world, a continuous offering going up from the hearts of the faithful, and even from those who may not be sure about their faith.

Then Jesus tells his disciples, and us, through Luke, to take the actions expected of this relationship: ask, search, knock.

A few years ago, a woman found herself in a mess. Her husband died, and she was alone and horribly lonely. She was virtually friendless, in a large city, and her son lived many miles away. She began asking God what to do with her life. She forced herself to go to activities, to search; she even tried to join some support groups, to knock. It took a while, but one day she went to church and was greeted by a new usher, a man who appeared close to her age. Soon they were sitting together in church, and about a year later they married.

God does not intend for us to be lonely. God may use our loneliness to draw us closer to him, sometimes directly and often through others. People who have experienced God’s mercy are seldom lonely. They know the joy of a relationship with God that keeps them anchored and available to be disciples with and to others. They seek partnerships with other disciples to do their work, to learn more about their faith, and to grow.

A wise therapist once said, “You can’t be well on your own. You need other people to complete who you are.” God knows that, and God knows how much we need to be loved, forgiven, and accepted. God planned it that way, so that in needing a relationship with our creator and redeemer, we would find it in others as well as directly with God.

Asking, searching, and knocking are actions disciples should take every day. We should say the Lord’s Prayer, then get up and begin our day with action. Saint Paul learned this and became a world-traveling missionary, comfortable wherever the Spirit sent him.

Be a disciple, pray the prayer our Lord taught us to pray, then search for the things God has in mind for you. As Abraham discovered, you will find them, because we worship a God who always keeps promises.

Written by the Ven. Ben E. Helmer
The Ven. Ben Helmer and his wife Jane are currently living on Guam where he is serving as archdeacon for the Episcopal Church in Micronesia, which includes churches on Guam and Saipan. E-mail: bhelmer1247@msn.com.