Sunday, August 21, 2016

21 August 2016

Lord’s Prayer sermon series wrapup
Luke 11:1-13
21 August 2016

Since it is most likely the best-known portion of New Testament Scripture, you’d think that we would have this text before us in worship more often.
But no – we don’t – but yes, TODAY, the Lord’s Prayer … from Luke’s Gospel … is our lectionary Gospel text today.
(Yes, while I was on vacation, the last couple of weeks, you have had this text, and a couple of sermons, on the Lord’s Prayer.  Thanks to Pastors Mary-Alyce and Kristy for sharing the Word on it.  Today – it’s my turn, to wrap up this four week stay.  And so … if you’ve also been away some or all of the past three weeks, and have missed some of this series … today’s word is a summary, a stand alone … so you and I won’t have missed anything.)

I’ll begin with the entire section of Luke’s gospel, of which the Lord’s Prayer is a part.

The Gospel
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
 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."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Prayer … in general … and the Lord’s Prayer … more specifically … one would think that there wouldn’t be much new ground for us to cover here.
But that would assume that we know ALL there is to know when it comes to prayer, and growing in faith, and the Spirit’s working in and among us as we pray and meditate and study God’s Word.
Geez … even the DISCIPLES THEMSELVES couldn’t claim that.
They, who were closest to Jesus, even they came to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray.
And so he did.
And so we too should note – carefully – how “we are to pray.” Because, through the words of this prayer, Jesus also teaches his disciples that praying ... and living ... are one and the same. Through our prayers we breathe in God’s Spirit who moves us to life ... real living ... in Jesus’ name.

First – Hallowed, or Holy be your name.
This word is first because it’s most important. Jesus reminds us that the first thing in prayer is the first thing in life – the first commandment of all, as we have heard earlier in this Gospel time during these summer Sundays … Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.
Loving God in that way is the way we keep God’s name holy.
Receiving all that God has to give us through worship … God’s word of forgiveness … God’s gifts of love in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion … that’s the way we keep God’s name holy in and among us.
And yet … how many of us start our prayers in this way?
More often … when, if we pray at all … we’re like good fundraisers … we go “right to the ask.” Right?
If we get around to mentioning how great God is in our prayers … in our lives … more often than not … it’s at the end … the end of our prayers … the end of our days.
Now this prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples, though, here, he puts God … who he calls “Father” … actually, it’s a more endearing form, “daddy” … Jesus puts God first, acknowledging God to be God, thanking, praising God for being God.
So is this just ‘buttering God up’ for what will come later? Maybe. But then, why is that such a bad thing? Children know how this works better than anyone. “Mommy, you’re so smart ... you look so nice today.” “Daddy, you tied my shoe so well …” and then, the road smoothed …. they go in for the kill. “So can I … ?”
Jesus knows this, too.
If you then, who are evil … and that word, although harsh, is simply meant to serve as a contrast to how holy God is … if you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children …. And don’t you know, we’re suckers for our kids, every time … how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
See, I think Jesus is pointing out that our faith relationship with God … pointing it out through using naming words as he does … “daddy” … pointing it out through this “good gifts” example … Jesus is pointing out that God wants to be an intimate, a playful, trusted, beloved companion and friend in each of our lives … as Luther puts it in his Small Catechism:

With these words God wants to attract us, so that we believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving parents.

So go ahead. Hallow God’s name. Keep God’s name holy first. Don’t hesitate to point that out as you pray. And God will be pleased.

Then – Your kingdom come.
We can think of this prayer-example Jesus gives his disciples – and us – as a pyramid. The foundation is the broadest of all … God’s holiness, and we’re called on to keep it that way in our own lives.
But the next thing Jesus reminds us is that we are to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom.
This is a deeply spiritual prayer. Here we move from thanking God for God’s holiness, to praying that God’s holiness would fill the earth, the heavens … all of creation.
But we don’t leave it there, all with God, “Well, God, your kingdom come, that’s well and good, but it’s up to you, God, to do this.”
Not at all.
Remember that we are in Luke’s Gospel here. And praying “Your kingdom come” needs, must inexorably drive us back to the most well known statement about God’s kingdom coming upon us and all of creation … Mary’s song of joy and praise in Luke’s first chapter, we know it as the Magnificat …

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Martin Luther, in his commentary on the Magnificat, said this:

Those of low degree are here not the humble, but all those who are contemptible and altogether nothing in the eyes of the world. It is the same expression that Mary applied to herself above: “He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.” Nevertheless, those who are willing to be nothing and lowly of heart, and do not strive to be great, are truly humble.
Behold, how strong a comfort this is, that not man but God gives to the hungry, and that (God) not only gives them this or that but fills and fully satisfies them. Mary says, moreover: “with good things.”
On the other hand, how could one bring a more damning accusation against riches, or more grievously terrify the rich, than by saying that God sends them empty away? Oh, how great and overflowing are both God’s filling and God’s sending away! How utterly vain here is the help or counsel of any creature!

Don’t be mistaken … praying “Your kingdom come” to God our Father is a wildly, revolutionary, counter-cultural, political prayer. Because it means the end of inequality, poverty, rich oppressing poor, strong oppressing weak, racism, sexism, discrimination of any and all kinds … in short, it’s The Great Leveling Prayer For All Creation.
As Jesus says, we are evil.  In our lifetime, in our world, injustice, poverty, oppression, hatred, all of these will continue to exist. It is our way of things. And yet, we are called on to pray Your Kingdom Come.
But we don’t just dump it all off into God’s hands to solve either, pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye for those who suffer in the here and now. NO. In spite of and despite a world which works against God’s Kingdom Come at every turn, we continue to work for it here and now as well … we do not lose heart, because we know the Good, Good News of how this will All Turn Out in Jesus’ name. Thus every breath which prays “Your Kingdom Come” needs, must come with other breaths, inhaled and exhaled in service to and for these least of these, those breaths, that work in service-prayer as well, prayer to meet each day’s needs in service, service by God’s children to our brothers and sisters far and near.

Next – we pray Give us each day our daily bread.
Here Jesus instructs us to turn our prayer from the spiritual to the temporal or worldly … although, as noted, “Your Kingdom come” is also a spiritual prayer with deep worldly implications.
Ah – finally … we get to pray for ourselves! we might think.
Well … not so fast.
Note that the prayer is clearly about “us.” Give us each day our daily bread.
So it is a plural prayer … God, we pray that there would be enough for everyone.
Again, it’s a wild, counter-cultural prayer. May the inequalities of the world which cause some to have much and others to have little or nothing – may these cease, O God. May everyone have enough, O God.
And again, this prayer is not complete unless God’s people carry words to action. And so we are called to work and give and share so that others will have enough … enough to eat, enough to wear, enough to live.
I’m reminded of a quote from the late Republican senator – and committed Christian – Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon:

I have no patience for those who say that people are poor or suffering because it is 'God's will' and thus there is nothing we should do for them. The command and compassion of Christ compels us to respond to the physical and spiritual needs of a hungry world.

Pope Francis, on his tour of Brazil, said this:

Everything that is shared is multiplied; only when we are able to share do we become truly rich.

Precisely. That service to our neighbor is truly praying “give us each day our daily bread” into our lives, into others’ lives.

And finally – Luke concludes this prayer with these words:
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us into the time of trial.
Now, here, Christ brings the prayer down, further, closer, to each of us. We began, remember, with a call for us to acknowledge the holiness of God. Then, to ask for and work for God’s kingdom to come. Then, to be given and to share our bread – not just food, but our material wealth – with our brothers and sisters who have less, so that all will have enough.
Finally, here, Christ brings us face to face with the fact that all of what we have prayed for so far, all of this, we work against, with all our heart and soul, mind and strength, because, as he says, we are evil. We’re sinful people who fight and steal, claw and hoard, pollute and wreck and ruin God’s good creation.
We are people who are tempted by our sinful selves, the evil within us and the evil which surrounds us in the world, pushing us to make choices which curse God’s goodness, work against the coming reign of God, and take the very bread of life from the mouths of our brothers and sisters.
We are people in need of forgiveness.
Every day, every hour of our lives.
And so here, in the final petition of this prayer Jesus teaches his disciples, teaches us, that our prayers for ourselves must start with asking God forgiveness for not living into that which God calls us to pray for and live into first.
But more ... this prayer is also a call to live into community. When we pray, forgive us, we acknowledge that in working against all that God calls us to live into, we are hurting each other, and so as we ask God for forgiveness we also and at the same time seek forgiveness from our brothers and sisters we have wronged, through our selfishness, our self-centeredness.

And so we come to the end of this prayer, as Jesus teaches his disciples ... us ... to pray.
It’s a lot to sink in, especially early on a Sunday morning after a busy week. Sometimes, what I need to help me process a lot of thought like this is to draw it out. That’s what I did with this prayer. And when I did it, it came out looking like this:

(drawing of a triangle, wide base on bottom)

It’s a triangle, a pyramid. The broadest part, the foundation of our prayer as Jesus calls us into it … is a focus on the holiness of God. Then everything else fits well, and sits well, atop that firm foundation.
However, I know I don’t pray like this. Most of the time we start with ourselves first …. Then the prayer diagram looks like this:

(drawing of a triangle, point down)

This is not a secure design for prayer, to be sure.
And yet ... even in our unbalanced prayers, God is listening to us.
That’s the word we receive in the verses which immediately follow the verses we’ve been hearing and reading the past four weeks:

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Jesus tells this little parable about two friends, one of whom is making a request for “daily bread” at the midnight hour. Jesus says because of the persistence of the one friend’s request, he gets what he needs.
But that word persistence ... it really means, shamelessness. Now here’s a freeing word. God wants us to be shameless in our prayers. Shameless, as in, put it all out there to God, for God, to hear. Don’t hold anything back.
How many of us can say that we pray shamelessly to God?
And yet, that’s precisely what Jesus is saying to us here. Pray shamelessly, as a child makes requests of their loving parent. Yes, learn how Jesus teaches us to pray ... in the holiness of God, for God’s kingdom to come, for the feeding of the world and sharing generosity of all, for forgiveness from God and reconciliation between brothers and sisters, children of God when relationship is broken ... but just, simply, pray.
For to pray is to live, and how we pray is indeed, how we live.
A pastor-colleague of mine puts it well:

I think that in many ways prayer ... is a relationship. It’s the presence of daddy or mommy, not always saying or doing things to change the situation, but their presence can often change you as it brings their comfort and love to the situation – and perhaps you are better able to accept what lies in the future with their support. You can live with the uncertainty of the “we’ll see” answer. Patiently waiting together to see what will happen.

Prayer is the presence of God – not that God will always change the situation, but knowing that God is with you, that God is going through the tragedy or suffering or depression or even death with you, not as a far off God, way out in space, but as your very close and loving (parent).

And so ... Jesus says ... “When you pray, say ...”
And do.
And live.
Pray and live ... balanced ... and confident.
Confident … and shameless.
Shameless … that’s the way Christ calls us to pray … in asking God for anything … trusting that God is as close as our own breath. Trusting that, as Christ calls and wills our prayer lives in order, we will have our faith lives put in order, indeed, we will have our WHOLE LIVES put in order … as Christ calls us to order them, for life in this world ... and into the next ... in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

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