The Lord’s Prayer | Luke 11:2-4 | 9 August 2020
2 Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
3 Give us the bread we need for today.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”
Consider all the things Jesus’ followers saw him say and do. From the time Jesus called them to follow him, they had front row seats to all of Jesus’ public ministry.
I’m not sure what they thought they were getting themselves into. Sometimes Jesus could be pretty enigmatic with his statements and often times his parables required some explanation. When someone tells me, “Preacher, I have know I do what you were talking about,” I consider myself in good company. The same was said of Jesus.
And, at times, Jesus would castigate his followers for entirely missing the point of what he said. Still, they followed. When Jesus preached, they were there. When Jesus taught, they were there. When Jesus healed, they were there. When Jesus multiplied fish and bread to feed thousands of people, they were there. When Jesus healed the broken bodies and minds of those who sought him out, they were there. When Jesus calmed the howling winds and the stormy waves with but a word, they were there. And when he prayed, they were there.
Of all the things that Jesus said and did, it was praying that led them to ask him to teach them how to pray similarly. This is an interesting request. Jesus’ inner circle, like Jesus, were Jews. They would have been schooled in prayer from childhood on. Twice daily, they would’ve gathered with their families and neighbors wherever they happened to be to recite the Shema from the Torah [Deuteronomy 6:4ff]: “Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and your strength.”
Jesus’ disciples would have prayed through the Book of Psalms, 150 psalms in all. The Psalms are arranged into five books with 30 psalms in each book. A devout Jew would read one a day for 30 days to complete the first book and then do the same for the other four books. At the end of five months, he would begin the Psalms again and pray through them in the same manner.
Jesus’ followers would have prayed at planting time and growing time and harvest time. They would have prayed before each meal. They would have prayed at the high holidays marking the exodus from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the promised land.
Prayer was not uncommon to Jesus’ followers. It was part of the very fabric of their lives. They learned prayer in their homes. They learned prayer in their synagogues. They learned prayer from their religious leaders, their rabbis.
Now, they wanted to supplement their knowledge and practice of prayer with what Jesus could teach them. My guess is that they saw in Jesus’ prayer life a sincerity, an authenticity, a genuineness that they desired as well.
The context for Jesus teaching his followers to pray is a question from his followers after they have observed Jesus at prayer. Also, Jesus’ followers point out that John taught his followers to pray. Jesus should do likewise. This is a familiar context to us, I believe.
Consider for a moment the things you know and value and practice. My strong guess is that you witnessed such knowledge and practice in someone you admired and looked up to, perhaps someone you wanted to emulate.
We are approaching a new school year. There is no small amount of apprehension as to what the new school year should and will look like in the midst of a pandemic.
I have friends who are teachers. Their colleges trained them well. In college, they acquired the knowledge of their content, they acquired the knowledge of instructional best practices and educational theory, and how to best engage students with the subject matter. As student teachers, they were given the opportunity to put into practice what they had learned and reflect on what went well and what could have gone better. But many of them over the years have shared with me that they learned to teach, to be a teacher by a way of a mentor who shared with them his or her experience of teaching and being a teacher.
This principle applies to most matters. Throwing a baseball, swinging a golf club, playing a musical instrument, painting a landscape, arranging flowers. We don’t emerge from our mother’s womb knowing how to do any of these things. All of these things involve knowledge and technique that has to be taught and learned. But they also involve us seeing someone else do it well and asking them to help us do it well, too. And then putting in the necessary work and practice.
Prayer. Our lesson is what the Christian tradition calls The Lord’s Prayer because it’s the prayer the Lord taught his followers. It could just as well be called The Disciples’ Prayer.
Here is my disclaimer. The Lord’s Prayer requires more than one sermon to get at all that is here. I’m being overly ambitious to think I can say it all in one sermon. So, I’m not going to try to say it all. I will, however, try to say what I believe is the most important stuff.
There are numerous wonderful books on the Lord’s Prayer. I encourage you to read one or more. One of the more recent titles is N.T. Wright’s The Lord and His Prayer. It’s worth your time.
The prayer begins with an address. Jesus calls God, Father. Jesus’ followers would not have called God Father in speaking their prayers to God. They would have called God Lord and did.
What are we to make of Jesus’ choice of the word Father when speaking to God. The word father in Jesus’ time, which was deeply patriarchal, often connoted a “far-reaching, coercive power.” A father was someone to be listened to and not questioned, to be obeyed. What he said went, period, end of discussion. A father could determine the course of your life, even arbitrarily. Whom you could marry or not? Whether you would receive a portion of land or not? Whether you would receive some, all, or none of an inheritance? Conceivably, the father’s concern for the child could be dependent upon the child’s deference to the father. It could have been conditional. For example, “Be the person I want you to be and I will love you.” The relationship between child and father could be fraught with all sorts of emotions.
Jesus takes this one word, father, uses it for God and redefines it entirely. Gone is any coerciveness. Gone is any control or conditionality. For Jesus, father connotes and evokes generosity and compassion and care and fidelity toward his children. This was Jesus’ experience of God. It was the God Jesus revealed to his followers and to the world. It’s the God depicted in the gospels. It was how Jesus spoke to God and spoke of God. It was how Jesus taught his followers to speak to God and speak of God.
The word father for Jesus is a personal, relational word. The word mother can work just as well. So, too, can parent. Likewise, with creator.
The next thing we should notice about the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray is how communal it is. The pronouns are all plural. It’s our and us. There is no mine or me. Jesus would have a tough time with individualistic cultures like American culture where it too often is mine and me.
I remember early on in my Christian journey being self-conscious about praying the Lord’s Prayer when I was all by myself. It seemed awkward to say “our Father”, “our debts,” “our daily bread”, “lead us not into temptation.” In personal prayer, I had grown accustomed to speaking to God using singular pronouns – my and mine.
The prayer Jesus teaches is obviously taught to a group of people rather than one person. It makes sense that the pronouns would all be plural. But there’s also theological sense going on. When we pray this prayer, whether alone or in the company of others, the pronouns are all plural because we live our life in relationship – relationship to a God we call father, in relationship to others who call God father, and in relationship to every other living creature.
When we pray this prayer, we are praying with the company of the faithful across time and space. When we pray this prayer, we are not only praying with others we are also praying for others. We are aligning ourselves with Jesus’ God and our God and the God of others across time and space.
The last thing I want to point out is God’s reign, God’s kingdom. Jesus embodied it. Jesus taught it. Jesus demonstrated it in his miracles. Jesus prayed for it. Jesus teaches his followers to pray for it, too. It’s a reign marked by love, justice, and mercy. It’s a reign marked by grace.
In the world of the Christian gospels, there is no neutral space. You are either pursuing God’s kingdom with Christ or you are obstructing God’s kingdom. In the world of the Christian gospels, there is good and there is evil; there is light and there is darkness. Jesus inhabited this world and taught his followers to inhabit it as well.
Evil is a power that can and must be confronted. In the gospel, it is evil that brings disease to the mind, body, and human spirit. It is evil that crafts lies and calls them the truth. It is evil that seeks the destruction of what is good. But there is also a good and that good is God, whose power will and does prevail. It’s a power that liberates us from every imaginable bondage – especially our bondage to sin and to death. This good, this power, is embodied by Christ, embodied by the Christian community, and pursued in prayer and by actions.
The Lord’s Prayer appears in Matthew and Luke’s gospel. I selected Luke’s version since Matthew’s version is the one we are most familiar with and pray the most. Sometimes hearing a familiar prayer in unfamiliar words is helpful.
I want to close with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer in his translation entitled The Message.
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”
When the day is done and my mind won’t quit given the moment we find ourselves in, when I can’t find words to speak in prayer, I use Jesus’ words. The words he gave us. The Lord’s Prayer. Usually, I use the most traditional translation from Matthew’s gospel.
Here’s where I want to leave us. What is the point of prayer, especially The Lord’s Prayer. The point of the prayer is to nurture our relationship with God until God’s reign, God’s kingdom lives in us and our community more and more; until the desires of God’s heart becomes the desires of our own hearts and those desires transform us and our world.