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When You Pray

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 28 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 11:1-13.
Initially, I was planning on preaching from the parable or from the end of the lesson on asking, seeking and knocking. However, the more I thought about it, the more I suspected that none of us are such master level prayers, that we couldn’t use some instruction from our Lord Jesus on the subject.

The text begins “Jesus was praying” (v. 1). Even Jesus needed to pray and take time with God. One of the great things about Jesus as a teacher and leader is that he exemplifies what he wants his disciples to be and do. Then afterward, one of the disciples approaches Jesus and tells him to teach them to pray. These men were devout Jews who would have learned prayers. Perhaps there was something different they saw in the way Jesus prayed. There was an intimacy in his praying. Jesus was praying to God as his Father. He had a deep communion with his Father.

In Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus at prayer frequently. To name but a few of the occasions in Jesus’s life that show him praying are at his baptism (3:21), before choosing the twelve disciples (6:12), before the first prophecy of his passion (9:18) and at his transfiguration (9:28).

But that’s Jesus! What about regular people? Author, Anne Lamont, writes that she has two basic prayers: “Thank you, thank you,” and “Help me, help me, help me.” Can anyone else besides me relate to that?

The disciples wanted Jesus to teach them to pray “…as John taught his disciples.” They wanted something to define them as John’s followers had. One way in which the Lord’s Prayer defined Jesus’ disciples is that it was not meant for individual, but for corporate prayer.

As Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer he says, “When you pray,” not if. It’s assumed that followers of Jesus will pray. It’s not like once and done either. The verb “pray” is in the present tense, meaning it is a continual and repeated action. No wonder Paul can write, “…pray without ceasing” (II Thessalonians 5:1), since that is what Jesus had taught.

“Father, hallowed be your name.” Right from the get-go, we see that prayer is about relationship, Father. 

Hallowed is not the same as holy. It means to sanctify, make holy or sacred…to set someone or something apart. As we pray “hallowed be your name,” God is commanded to “hallow” his status as God (his name, reputation and honor). In other words, we are asking God to act and reveal himself to be the God he is, to make known his personage (Malina and Rohrbaugh). The reality is that God’s name is always holy, but it is not always hallowed. It is not always set aside for holy purposes. Now we have four things God can do to demonstrate the honor of his reputation and his name: come, give, forgive and protect.

The first is “your kingdom come.” Where is the kingdom of God? It is found wherever God’s will is done. It is not heaven after death, but the enacted will of God made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our prayer for the kingdom includes prayer for the earth itself, it’s waters and forests, plants and animals. We ask that God’s will be done in all the created universe (sundaysandseasons.com). Another aspect of praying for God’s kingdom to come is that we are praying for an end to all oppression, injustice, and unrighteousness and instead for God’s realm to replace all earthly rulers and rules. We certainly do not see the complete answer to this prayer in the here and now. It’s a case of the now/not yet of the kingdom of God—what is present and what is future.

In answer to the question, “How does this come about?” Luther writes, “Whenever our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity” (The Small Catechism).

The second way God demonstrates the honor of his name is to “Give us each day our daily bread.” Jesus’ associates were not rich people. Bread and food address the very real and present concern of Jesus’ followers—to have enough to eat that day. 

Give is in the present tense meaning “Continue to give us our daily bread day after day” (Myallis) Martin Luther takes this even further in The Small Catechism. Daily bread means “Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farms, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors and the like.” Everything we need for this life physically and emotionally, according to Luther, is daily bread.

Thirdly, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” What is sin in this passage? It is to act contrary to the will and law of God; to engage in wrongdoing (Vitalis-Hoffman).

The first “forgive,” as we are praying, indicates we are asking for forgiveness right now. The second “forgive,” concerning our own action, is an on-going activity. We need to forgive over and over and over again, not just once. This is to be the lifestyle or attitude of Jesus’ followers. As desperately as we need bread, we need forgiveness. It is not a quid pro quo. The ability to forgive and be forgiven is part of the same gift.

“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Here we are asking for protection. This can be looked at a couple of ways, one of which is eschatological, meaning pertaining to the end times, asking the Father to prepare us for that time.

Trial can also refer to testing, like an examination. In scripture, God frequently tests believers, including Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Hebrews 5:7-8; Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32). We call upon God to protect us from whatever may threaten our lives or our relationship with the Father.

The trajectory of the Lord’s Prayer is “When God’s name is hallowed and God’s kingdom comes, there is daily bread for all, forgiveness is practiced, and God delivers the faithful from the time of trial” (Lose).

The Lord’s Prayer is not something we thoughtlessly recite together. It is a prayer that we live, meaning it becomes more than the words we say. It is the choices we make, the grace we show, the forgiveness we give and the bread we share (McCoy).

Grace is something our society sorely lacks today—such as in the vitriol of our public, national debates over whose right and whose wrong in our politics. I experienced some of this first-hand this past week. I had reposted something on Facebook in defense of some ideas. Seminary friends and other more recent acquaintances totally agreed. However, people from my more distant past made it sound like anyone with that particular opinion was a traitor to our country. This went on for several days straight. It was the debate that wouldn’t die. They might as well have said, “Let them be drawn and quartered!”

I was talking with someone the other night. A good ten years ago or more, I think most of us felt like we had made some progress as a country and individuals concerning racism since the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But now…publicly, people seem more hateful than they have been in a very long time in our country. It is the sins that just won’t die.

Culturally, we have so conflated Christianity and patriotism and America to make one synonymous with the other. To speak against anything our government does means one can’t really be a Christian. Never mind what so much of scripture says about how we are to treat our neighbors, the foreigners among us, the least of these.

Although it’s clear in the text, we often think of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 as referring to individuals, yet at the beginning, it says, “all the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:32). And just what are the nations judged on?

  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me’” (Matthew 25:42-45).

Don’t turn to Jesus and scripture for techniques, models and best practices on prayer. Go there to discover what love looks like—love in action, love for God and neighbor. After all, prayer is all about relationship and the presence of God. It doesn’t mean God will change the situation we’re praying about, but knowing that God is with us, with us in the tragedy or suffering or depression or even death. God is not a far off but is our very close and loving father. Even if our earthly fathers were not very good or loving, God our Father is! “When you pray,” Jesus says, “say, Father.”

Amen.

Resources Consulted

David Ewart, holytextures.com
David Lose, Matt Skinner workingpreacher.org
Mark Vitalis-Hoffman, Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com
Martin Luther, The Small Catechism
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels 
Robb McCoy and Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com
Rob Myallis, lectionarygreek.blogspot.com
Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.com

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