July 28, 2019

2019 July28_RevKaren

The Lord's Prayer - Proper 12- Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Karen Siegfriedt

 

A few weeks ago, I was driving our niece back home after a delightful day at our house. She announced that she was going to pray for her “stuffy” whose nose and eyes had been chewed off by our dog earlier that day. It was obvious that she was affected by this injury to her toy pet. So I asked her: “When you pray for your stuffy, to whom will you pray?” She thought about the question for a minute and then said: “I will pray to my stuffy.”  While her response disappointed me, I realize that there are many people out there who really do not know how to pray, including perhaps the disciples in today’s gospel story. According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus had just finished praying when one of his disciples asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”(Luke 11) Hmm…kind of makes you wonder! Didn’t the disciples already know how to pray? Was the prayer that John the Baptist taught different from what they were used to? Were their own prayers too shallow or self-focused? Jesus responded by offering them a template for prayer which has become known as the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’

 

There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the gospels. One from the gospel of Matthew which is longer and more polished and another version in the gospel of Luke which is shorter and to the point.  However, both versions cover the essentials. What I would like to talk about today is prayer, and I will focus on the Lord’s Prayer in particular. While I cannot exhaust the topic of prayer in just a 15-minute sermon, I hope to excite you about the need to pray. Why?  Because prayer has the power to transform our hearts and minds, and thus has the power to transform this broken world of ours!

 

“Prayer is responding to
God, by thought and by
deeds, with or without
words.”

 

(BCP)  There are many kinds of prayer that are important in one’s spiritual journey towards wholeness. These include adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition. The Lord’s Prayer however is a particular prayer of petition. It focuses on our greatest needs in this seemingly hostile universe. It is a desperate cry for help which includes our need for food, forgiveness, and protection. Let’s take a closer look at the shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer found in today’s reading.

 

“Father, hallowed be your name.” Clearly, this prayer is addressed to God, not some stuffy toy or a political ally. God is not “the man upstairs” or “a holly, jolly Santa Claus” or some vague philosophical force that we call upon when things are going poorly. The God to whom we pray in this prayer is holy, intimate, and one that inspires awe and reverence. God’s name is not to be used lightly or as a tool for our own purposes. Calling upon God is serious business, not some magical incantation to make ourselves feel safe. God the Father is the creator of all that is, the ground of our being, the source of life. God is love and it is this great love and mercy that we call upon in time of need.

 

“Your kingdom come.” This is the most radical petition a Christian can ever utter. It takes a lot of courage, personal sacrifice, and a thirst for justice and peace to desire God’s kingdom to come into its fullness. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, it requires us to let go of our own ego desires, our privileges, and our prejudices. It means we are being called to participate in God’s work by feeding the hungry, standing up for truth, working for peace, and dismantling the structures that oppress others. If you want to know more about the kingdom of God and its values, read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and you will get a glimpse of how radical this petition is.

 

“Give us each day our daily bread.”  If a person does not have food to eat, s/he will die. Asking for sustenance to survive is a basic human need, not a desire. The good news is that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. What is lacking are the political structures and the desire to make that happen. So one of the goals of prayer is to change the human heart from greed to generosity.

 

“Give us each day our daily bread.” It might be obvious to some, but I would like to point out that the Lord’s Prayer is largely in the first-person plural: Our Father, our bread, give us, forgive us, save us. The Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer, concerned not only with our own needs but also the needs of the community at large. In this prayer, Jesus reminds the disciples that they really couldn’t just pray for themselves without somehow praying for others.  If we want to experience peace, then we need to pray and work for peace on earth. If we want there to be enough food to eat, we need to pray and work diligently with the Food Bank and other organizations to eliminate hunger.

 

“Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” The Aramaic word hoba, can mean either sin or debt. Sometimes this word is translated as trespass, sometimes as sin, sometimes as debt. Asking God for forgiveness was a staple of Jewish prayers in the time of Jesus. However, whenever we ask God to forgive our sins, we are also required to forgive others who have hurt us or have taken advantage of us, even our enemies. Much of the anger, resentment, and violence in the world today is a result of a general unwillingness to forgive those who have caused offense. While we do not have a delete button to remove the wrongs done to us in the past, we do have the ability to forgive, which heals the painful memories of the past and allows them to fade away. Whenever we forgive, we set a prisoner free, and that prisoner is us. Holding onto resentments is like eating poison and expecting the other person to die.

 

“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” We are indeed vulnerable people, tested, tried, and beaten down by the powers of the world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We need protection from those circumstances that test our faith, imperil our goodwill, and threaten our lives. And so we pray for safety for ourselves, our community, our enemies, and all the people in this world.

 

So, how do you pray? Who taught you to pray? And what do you pray for? I first learned to pray when I was 5 years old in Catechism class. I felt a movement of the Spirit of God stir within me the first time I said the Lord’s Prayer. It was an experience I have never forgotten. In my earlier years, I prayed to God like a Santa Claus, asking for my needs and desires to be granted. Although my requests were small, it was not much different from the 1970’s Janis Joplin song: “O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz!” I imagined God as a mighty puppeteer in the sky, waiting to hear my requests, and then pulling the strings to answer my prayers.  But as time went on and my so-called prayers went unanswered, I had to rethink my notion of prayer. Today, my understanding of prayer has radically changed from being about me, myself, and I, to praying for God’s kingdom to come into its fullness.

 

For me, prayer is more about
listening to God’s will for my life
than speaking endless words of
petition.

 

That is why I walk quietly on the beach each day because God often speaks in the silence of one’s heart. Sometimes as I walk, I repeat the mantra: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

 

When I pray, I feel as if I am entering into the web of life where everything is connected, and God is at the center. In this posture of interconnectedness, prayer becomes a powerful force for healing and change. As a scientist, I know that an atom cannot be observed without changing its behavior. So if an atom is changed by simple observation, imagine how powerful prayer can be in changing the hearts and minds of those who are praying as well as those who are prayed for.

 

A friend of mine has been involved with the Transcendental Meditation movement for decades. One year, over 400 meditators gathered in Washington D.C. to meditate for a weekend with the hope of reducing the crime rate. That weekend, the crime rate in Washington D.C. decreased by 50%. Coincidence? Maybe. Magic? No! Jesus encouraged his followers to be persistent in prayer, not because it will get us whatever we want but because it opens up a space for the Holy Spirit to do its work by guiding us into all truth and righteousness.

 

Once a man was asked, “What did you gain by regularly praying to God?” The man replied, “Nothing…but let me tell you what I lost: Anger, greed, insecurity, and fear.” Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not gaining but losing, which ultimately is the gain. Soren Kierkegaard once said:

 

“Prayer does not change God,
but it changes [the one] who
prays.”

 

Mother Theresa once said: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

 

Luke’s gospel points out that Jesus would withdraw to a deserted place to pray. Jesus would spend the night in prayer. He prayed before he chose his disciples. He prayed the night before his death as well as from the cross. Prayer gave him strength and nurtured his active life of healing and teaching. And so when his disciples came to him and asked him how to pray, he made it simple. He didn’t offer lofty or magical words. He didn’t require them to become anything that they were not already. He didn’t offer long instructions. He simply asked them to approach God with awe and respect and to focus on their daily needs, forgiveness, and protection as well as those of the community.

 

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth
as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive
those who sin against us. Save us
from the time of trial and deliver
us from evil.”

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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