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Teach us to pray

July 24, 2016

 

I remember distinctly the day I told my father that I had memorized the Lord’s Prayer. I recited it for him and he was very pleased. I think as a child, I thought I had solved the problem of how to pray with being able to recite the prayer from memory. But life moved on and I learned from my own experiences that it wasn’t really that easy.

 

Jesus was praying and one of his disciples noticed and asked him to teach “us” to pray. In that very description of the scene unfolding before us in the Gospel, we discover that praying involves more than just our self. His disciple says, “teach us to pray.” A singular disciple implores Jesus to teach “us.”

 

This signifies the beginning of the understanding that prayer is not as simple as we might expect or desire. But let’s listen to what Jesus tells his disciples.

 

“When you pray, say, Father, hollowed be your name.”

 

The idea of God as Father was already in use in other parts of Judea when Jesus told his disciples to direct their prayers to a Father God. It reflects the male dominated culture, but it also reflects the idea of understanding God as a source of life. In the first Century all that any one received flowed from the patriarch. Jesus is telling his disciples to begin by acknowledging that all things come from God.

 

When he tells them to say, “hollowed be your name.” He’s not just telling them to say that the word God, or Yahweh is holy. In the Hebrew Scriptures when the prophets speak of the name of God, it’s not the word used to identify the deity, it’s an affirmation that God represents something that is more than all of us, something that speaks of a great powerful source of goodness.

 

Your Kingdom come…

 

Jesus is telling them to acknowledge that what is most important in their lives is the coming of God’s kingdom. Not a political kingdom, but the promised relationship between God and all creatures that existed in the beginning of time. Many misunderstood this because as oppressed people, they had expected the Messiah to be a military leader who would free them from the Romans.

 

The next line seems somewhat demanding to our ears. What no “please?” Give us each day our daily bread…

 

Jesus is establishing a relationship that we can expect to receive what we need from God each day. Actually the Greek translates, give us the bread we need for tomorrow. But in this relationship that he has established as Abba, Father there is the built in understanding that there is gratitude for what is received. This is why in the Parable of the Lost Son, (the prodigal son) it is so shocking when the son asks for his share of his future inheritance right then, and there.

 

It’s worth reflecting on the fact that in the U.S. today one in seven American households – 49 million individuals, including 12 million children are food insecure, meaning that they don’t necessarily know where their next meal is going to come from.

 

Forgive us our sins… future tense. … for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us… past tense. Jesus is telling the disciples that we should ask for our sins to be forgiven because we already forgive the debts owed to us by others. Its not a quid pro quo. Our forgiveness is based on the fact that our faith is based in God’s unconditional love of all people.

 

It’s similar to what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:24, “…when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister…”

 

And do not bring us to the time of trial…

 

Spare us from being tempted to give up the hard work of discipleship and give in to our egos demand that we place our self before all other people, creatures, and the world we live in.

 

Luke’s version of the prayer ends there. It sounds different to us because we are accustomed to hearing the words that the author of Matthew uses, we do not regularly use the word debts, and we almost always in the Episcopal Church say the doxology at the end. You remember… “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever.”

 

That part gets added on the end and restates some of what we already heard in the first lines.

 

This is a prayer that takes its form from Jewish Prayers. Some of those prayers are still in use today in synagogues around the world. It’s what could be called the Judeo Christian Tradition. More recently some scholars have been denying this is a tradition. Personally, I think there are way too many links to allow us to deny this connection.

 

So, here’s the problem. Jesus tells us to ask for what we need. Here’s an important word worth pointing out, need. Not want, not things we obsess about, need. And to some extent he tells us that we should approach it is a way that makes it sound like we are entitled to what we ask for. But then what do we do when we call upon God to cure our loved one, or restore our relationship, or repair the damage we do to the earth; and it doesn’t happen?

 

There are people, possibly you know some, who have walked away from a relationship with God, because what they asked of God did not happen. Maybe at first they thought that they did not pray good enough, use the right words, assume the proper stance. Maybe they feel like the popular witch in the Broadway musical Wicked who when her spell doesn’t work taps her magic wand on a hard surface with the words, “Is this thing working?”

 

And in reality, it’s not working. Jesus is telling us that God’s will is above all else, and yet we should ask for what we need. We should continue to ask, just like the man who finds that he doesn’t have bread to offer his guests late at night and keeps asking his neighbor until he finally gets what he needs.

 

We don’t know how many loaves he receives. Because in asking, we need to know that we may not receive what we think we need. But also in asking, we find our self opening our minds to hear what God is about in the situation. This opening allows us to move toward God and accept that God’s will may be different from our own. Our human reaction is to move away, maybe even to curse God. But here is where we should draw closer and look for where God is acting in our particular situation.

 

Sometimes the opportunity presents itself for us to look for where we can bring healing. These are sometimes the places where we can demonstrate our incarnate divine nature, the gift we receive from God and that Jesus’ birth and life reminds us. It’s these times that we are called to fill that space that seems so empty with love and generosity and acceptance. In these moments, doubt becomes mystery.

 

To me the part of today’s Gospel that says, “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” This sounds to me like a message we might find in a fortune cookie. Years ago I made an oversized fortune cookie message. You know those little slips of paper we find when we break the cookie in half. I printed across a piece of legal paper the message, “You will find what you seek.” I did it as a joke, but then after looking at this message on my wall, I realized it was true.

 

When we seek what we need and not our wildest desires, when we look for where our own loving spirit can fill the empty spaces, we will find what we seek. We will see it in the face of those with whom we share our love and joy for living and believing in a God that loves us.

 

Jesus ends his parable with the story of how if we are asked in the innocence of a child for what is good and nourishing will we respond with the goodness that is sought instead of what is venomous and evil. He challenges us to understand through our own goodness that overcomes the evil that can exist in each of us that God will join us in responding through the mystery we know as the Holy Spirit. But we must meet God there in those times and places where doubt and hate could flourish and grow and fill our lives and those around us with love.

 

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