October 23, 2017: Rev. Anna Fulmer
In the Christian faith, there are things that we believe and things that we do. Prayer is something that we do as Christians. Prayer is essential to the Christian life, so Jesus gives us some advice. To begin and end, there are some warnings. Jesus contrasts genuine prayer with hypocritical prayer. Hypocritical prayer is all about flattering ourselves and flattering God. Hypocritical prayer makes us look good before others, but it isn’t real. Our prayers aren’t heartfelt. They are more about making ourselves look good, rather than a relationship with God. Jesus here says to pray in a room alone, in secret, to not heap up empty phrases. But Jesus contradicts his works praying prayers in the presence of people. The very prayer he teaches us begins with “Our Father”—the Lord’s Prayer seems to be a prayer meant to be prayed with other people. Jesus’ warnings are less about public prayer and more about the intention of prayer? Why do we pray? To look good? To manipulate? Prayer has power. It can give you earthly rewards—high regard and esteem. But heartfelt genuine prayer will reward you more fully—it will give you a deeper relationship with God.
All these admonitions could make us paranoid about praying. But all I think that Jesus is saying is that when you pray, you can be honest, bold, and real with God. God knows what you need. You don’t have to have a PhD to pray. You don’t have to be a pastor to pray. Like Romans 8 says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (8:26). Even when we mess up, the Spirit is there, ready to take the reins. And for those of us who are unsure exactly how to pray as we ought, Jesus gives us an example: the Lord’s Prayer. All of us, can pray. You don’t have to say flowery words. God is great, God is good always works. So does Jesus Loves Me. And of course, the Lord’s Prayer.
As a child, the Lord’s Prayer was the end of the Prayers of the People—which to me, felt like the longest prayer ever. The Lord’s Prayer was relief—this prayer let me know that the service is almost over. I loved praying the Lord’s Prayer—it was a way I could participate in the larger worship of my church. Yet, as I aged some days it felt like I am just saying the words without understanding and appreciating their meaning.
The Lord’s Prayer is Jewish. It’s themes, it’s wording all comes from the Jewish tradition, which makes sense because Jesus was Jewish. Daily bread reminds of the daily manna God provides the Israelites in the wilderness. Manna that was crucial to their survival—manna they could not hoard or it would go bad. A gift that they were given each day—just enough. Debt shouldn’t just remind us of the personal trespasses we commit but the monetary debts forgiven in the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee challenged faithful people to not hoard debts, to erase inequality, to let someone have a new beginning. In a world that was so riddle by debts and loans, to ask God to forgive our financial, spiritual, relational, communal debts is powerful.
This prayer is Jewish, but it is also rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer tells the story of Jesus’ life. Our Father, is also Jesus’ father. Hallowed be your name—we remember Mary’s rejoicing at the news of her pregnancy, Christ’s birth, and how people came from near and far to praise God, and pay the child “homage.” Thy kingdom come—in Christ birth, God did come to earth. God’s will came to show us the way on earth as it was in heaven. Christ came to announce God’s kingdom, to tell us what the kingdom of heaven was like. Christ leaned on God’s will—he did God’s will here on Earth. Give us this day our daily bread–Christ gave daily bread—bread to feed thousands of people, just from five loaves, he gave bread on the last night in the upper room. Forgive us our debts–Christ forgave debts—he forgave our debts—the sins we committed against each other and against him. As we forgive our debtors—he encourages people to forgive. He challenges Zacchaeus to forgive people’s debts and to return the money he had taken. He overthrows the money changers tables, overturning the current economic systems. And do not bring us to the time of trial—Christ entered the ultimate time of trail–death on a cross. And although Christ died on that cross, he was rescued from the evil one—he conquered evil and death. He rescues us from the evil one. Read in this way, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer we pray to become more and more like Christ—to remember his life, death, and resurrection.
The Lord’s prayer doesn’t just help us remember. It is a challenge for us too. To pray that God’s will be done and not our own—to give up control in a society that values control, power, and prestige? That’s hard. To work for God’s kingdom on earth and not our own kingdom? To be willing to reject worldly kingdoms that exploit and dehumanize others and lift a few up—to risk rejection and suffering? That’s hard. To trust in God’s daily bread even when we have overflowing pantries? That’s hard. To forgive those who have hurt us? That’s hard. To live as Christ lives? We fall short time and time again because we are human, and it is hard.
But that’s why we pray this prayer. Because it is hard. And we cannot do it alone. We need God. We need each other. We pray because God is God, and we are not. Our will is not God’s perfect will. We need God’s will to be done because left to our own devices, the world is a mess. Division, hatred, violence, and death would win. We need God’s kingdom to come because our earthly kingdoms fall short. We need God’s daily bread—nourishment, life, and promise to remind us that God’s gifts keep us alive not our daily toil. And forgiveness. We need forgiveness so desperately. We need to forgive so desperately. Tom Long says forgiveness is like breathing—it is lifegiving, and it constant. We need to forgive as often as we breath, and we need it in order to live life fully. Just as we breath in God’s mercies every time we breath—air. We breathe out God’s mercy to others.
This prayer is the prayer I pray when no other words will suffice. When I am at the end of my rope—tired and overwhelmed, I often turn to these words. When I visit someone in the hospital, more times than not, I close with the Lord’s Prayer, and every time I do, it takes my breath away. To hear another’s voice, praying with me lifts me up. To hear someone who has long forgotten who I am, but who still knows the Lord’s Prayer—that’s powerful. It’s a prayer that unites Christians across all times and places. To imagine the priesthood of believers from all times and places praying the same prayer we are uttering today fills me with wonder and awe. I am often unsure of my own words, unsure of my own prayers, but not when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer.
Yet, I am reminded that it is not just about us when we pray any prayer, especially the Lord’s Prayer. We have to listen for God to respond. And sometimes we have to do something too. Often, the Lord’s Prayer is the signal that our praying is over, but it should be a signal I think to continue to pray—to listen for God’s response back. Prayer is not a one-way conversation. God responds to our praying—it’s just that too often we are so busy or distracted to hear the reply. So listen this day as we pray, the Lord’s Prayer, as you pray any prayer. See what God is saying back to you, what words, what phrases, what images and experiences come up. If we pray for peace, then we must look for peace, we must work for peace in the world—what God is saying back to us. If we pray for God’s kingdom to come, let’s try to look for God’s kingdom peeking in.
When the world feels darker, I need more than ever to pray, “thy kingdom come” and to look and work for the kingdom. But not alone, I need to pray, to work with a chorus of others. I need to hear young and old voices, voices from all places and times, praying with me. When we pray, we resist, we change, we grow. That my friends is hope, a sign of the kingdom to come, to daily pray for change within ourselves and in this world. Amen.