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"Lord, teach us to pray"

A sermon preached July 24, 2016
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:1-13)

I think prayer is evangelism.

Here’s what I mean by that: people are drawn to people who pray well. People are drawn to churches that pray well.

People – thousands of people at a time – were drawn to Jesus. When the first disciples noticed Jesus praying, and when he was done, they said, “Lord teach us to pray.” As if to say, “We want what you have: We notice your contagious joy, your courage, your calm power and authority, your tender compassion. “Lord, teach us to pray.

“Lord, teach us to pray.” Each word is important.

Lord: it means someone who has power, authority, influence. A “lord” is someone you follow, give your allegiance to. “Lord” should remind us of the first commandment: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me.”

The bible doesn’t say there are no other gods. The ancient Israelites knew there were dozens, if not hundreds of gods competing for their affections and loyalties. What the Bible says is the Lord God is the only God who will love you back: it’s the nature of false gods to promise more and more to you and deliver less and less, but it’s the nature of the Lord God to give back to you more than you even ask or imagine.

Lord, teach us: I said prayer can be thought of as evangelism. That is, if we have this attitude of people who are wiling to be taught.

We have much to learn. A “Jesus as teacher” attitude puts us in the position of humble apprentices, people admitting we don’t have all the answers, or even most of them, but we are eager to learn.

So Jesus’s disciples say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

And Jesus says, in response, “when you pray, say, “father, hallowed be your name.

Right off the bat, this wonderful tension, this beautiful paradox of our relationship with God: on the one hand, God’s name is hallowed, holy, divine, sacred, other. God is God and we are not.

On the other hand, we are to relate to this hallowed, holy, divine, sacred other God as Father. Or more literally, “abba,” daddy, loving tender parent. 

(a word about language: if you had or have a good, healthy, loving relationship with your earthly father and the metaphor of father-child is useful and encouraging, makes you want to have conversational intimacy with God, run to God and God’s open loving accepting arms – then use it – but if  you’re one of those many people who for whatever reason did not have a good healthy, loving relationship with your earthly father – if, when you think of your father you think of scolding or shaming or cold indifference or distance or worse, abuse – then please remember that all language about God is metaphorical and choose some other metaphor as your operative one.)

What all of us should remember is, as the author John Eldredge points out, that Jesus could have used any number of other biblical metaphors to describe our relationship to God, and three of the most popular ones at the time were

potter and clay,
shepherd and sheep, and
master and servant.

You see, Jesus could have referred to us as clay in the hands of a master potter, no relationship there at all, just an inanimate object to be molded.

He could have referred to us as sheep cared for by a shepherd, a little better but very different creatures, and if you know anything about sheep, not a very flattering image to have of yourself.

He could have referred to us as servants to a master – that’s a stage many Christians are stuck in – and while at least here both the servant and the master are human beings, the relationship is all about commitment to duty, following orders, being obedient, receiving instructions and carrying them out.

No, the metaphor Jesus uses – the way Jesus wants us to pray to God – is as child and parent.

As Eldredge points out, children live in the same house, eat the same food, share the same name, and the fortunate ones receive support and unconditional parental love.

And they grow up understanding the world to be a safe and secure place.

And something people in Jesus day and time would have understood right away, as Paul would later write about in Romans (8:17) is “if we are children of God, then we are heirs – we get God’s inheritance. A father’s intention, a mother’s intention, is to pass on what they have to their children…everything that God has, we have access to.  That means everything that Jesus had, you have: his humility, his love, his forgiveness, his ability to heal and work miracles – it’s all available to you!

That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray “your kingdom come” – and as the Gospel of Matthew adds – God’s will be done on earth, right here, right now, as God’s will is being done in heaven. As a child of God, everything that Jesus had, you have available to you: his wisdom, his strength., his joy, his union with the father – all these things we receive in our own life.

But wait, there’s more: later in this passage Jesus uses the metaphor of friend, going to God as a friend, and as Eldredge points out, this opens up an even deeper level of intimacy: 

we’re companions; God knows what’s on our heart, and we know what is on God’s heart. With friends there is conversational intimacy. There is giving and receiving.

There is forgiving and being forgiven.

Want some good news this morning? Jesus is here giving us a daily prayer, a prayer to say each and every single day of our lives: Give us, each day, our daily bread. And in that same breath he says “and forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”

In a prayer meant to be prayed daily, we are to ask for forgiveness and for the grace to forgive others. That means God, the one who created us, knows we are in need of not just daily food shelter water and clothing, but that daily forgiveness. God knows you and I are going to sin, and be sinned against – that we are going to screw up, and be screwed over by other people, every day of our life. Maybe you’ve seen the daily prayer making its rounds, meant as a joke, that goes like this,

“Dear Lord,

So far I've done all right.
I haven't gossiped,
haven't lost my temper,
I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I'm really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God,
I'm going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I'm going to need a lot more help.”

Well, exactly.

I think Jesus would approve of that prayer.

Jesus knew, in teaching us to pray, that God knows none of us gets this thing called life, or the Christian faith, or church, perfectly, and so each of us, all of us, can pray, each day, “forgive me, and help me forgive – and if it’s not too much to ask, don’t bring me to those times of trials – lead me not into those temptations -- in the first place.”

So: prayer as evangelism.

Pray like that, as an individual, and people will be drawn to you.

Pray like that, as a church, and people will be drawn here, as they witness more and more people

·      filled with contagious joy,
·      courage,
·      calm power and authority, and
·      tender compassion.

Lord, teach us to pray like that!



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