The Lord's Prayer - A sermon for Proper 12 YrC based on Luke 11: 1-13
Years ago I remember being told that the prayer meeting was in reality a competition. It was a competition as to who could use the floweriest language or quote the most obscure scriptures. You may yourselves have been at prayer gatherings which fir that description. On the other hand you may have been at the sort of prayer gatherings which feel rather like a cure to amnesia like sermons are also often thought to be.
I couldn't comment on such suggestions but this morning we need to face the truth that prayer was something that Jesus found to be important in his life. Time and again we find him in prayer at pivotal moments in his ministry. And here we see him talking of prayer to his closest friends.
The scripture we are looking at today includes Luke's recording of the Lord's Prayer. This prayer is often seen as not so much that which we must say whenever we meet together but as a pattern for the life of prayer.
It is rooted in relationship. Like Jesus we are encouraged to approach God as our father. This speaks of the intimacy that we can enjoy with God as well as this relationship being not an exclusive relationship but one which is open to all. All that follows flows from this relationship.
We begin with wonder at the otherness of the Father. There is an awe here that flows out of respect and love. This is a relationship in which we are moved not to cringe with fear but to wonder at that which God is. It is this wonder that draws us closer to God.
We then seek God's Kingdom. Christ himself came proclaiming not so much a church as a kingdom. This look to the way of God reigning in our lives, our communities and our world. Too often kingdoms are oppressive and coercive. Christendom itself has often betrayed those negative qualities. But theKingdom proclaimed by Christ is a way of life in which all may be included, a way of life in which the poor and lowly are lifted up, a way of life in which the ways of peace are made real as swords are turned to ploughshares.
Next the prayer looks to our needs. I know that the global economy is a bit of a disaster when it comes to meeting human needs. Yet despite our economic sins, God is in the business of meeting human need. From John's gospel we know that this is both physical and spiritual, the latter being something we are reminded of when we come to the Communion Table. But let us make no mistake. Whenever a person is without shelter, food or sustenance, we need to speak of theft from God's provisions.
And then we come to the matter of forgiveness. Her we meet the language of indebtedness. Indebtedness was something inflicted on peasants in Palestine by the Romans and those to whom they gave the land they had taken by conquest. In a poor peasant society the debts that came from rent were something that peasants could never quite get rid off. It choked the very life out of them. The concept of Jubilee which Jesus related to the Kingdom of God dared to look to a time when there would be release from this debt. So to release from debt and sin was a sign of the Kingdom which Christ proclaimed. And as people practised release from indebtedness then they are enabled to see the greatest release from indebtedness of all, the forgiveness of sins which God in Christ makes available.
Finally we seek that God will not bring us to the time of trial. This petition leaves us with a problem. We know that followers of God do get tested. We are not offered a convenient "Get out of jail" card! Perhaps the best way to see this is a request that God should not load us beyond that which we can bear.
In the teaching afterwards we are offered contrasts between reluctant human responses to requests and that of God. The point of these is not suggest a "name it, claim it" theology which sees God as a shortcut to wealth, health or ease. Instead its point is that God rather than having his arm twisted by us, is in the business of willing good. This does not mean that being a prayerful Christ follower guarantees that we may be "happy all the day." What it means is that God seeks to help us through the varied experiences of life. As Fred Pratt Green puts it in a well known hymn;
"Father hear the prayer we offer,
Not for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength that we might ever
Live our lives courageously."
And that is why prayer matters. It is not like putting coins into a vending machine to get the outcome we desire. It is about a path of intimacy in which the outcome is that we find an enriched relationship with God. It is about a growing relationship in which God brings us to a more healthy state of being. It is about ultimately becoming the means through which prayer is answered and God's Kingdom revealed on earth.