Martha Goodwill, Sermon – July 24, 2016, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Clearwater, FL
I’m sure you noticed that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is not exactly like what we pray each Sunday? The Lord’s Prayer is actually found in 3 different versions in early Christian documents. The first two are in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The third is in the Didache, which is, so far, the oldest collection of Christian teachings that have been found (but it wasn’t included in the New Testament). The version we now use most closely matches the one written in the Didache.
In the early church, people would prepare for baptism as adults over 2 or 3 years. The final journey of the teaching would be during Lent in preparation for baptism on Easter. During this time, the Bishop would teach the seekers the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer was only taught and said by Christians. You couldn’t look it up in a book (there were no printed books then.) It was one of the special things you were given as you prepared for your baptism. You would learn it by heart and teach it to your household. Think about this for a minute, this special prayer has been used by every generation of Christians that has ever been.
The disciples recognized how important prayer was to Jesus and I think it is gratifying to us to realize that the disciples didn’t know everything when Jesus called them. They knew they needed to learn to pray. They must have also seen Jesus’ relationship with the Father. How wonderful that Jesus gave us this lesson where he invites us all into his intimate relationship with the Father, as he also teaches us how to have such a relationship.
The opening of the Lord’s prayer acknowledges Jesus’ own intimate, family approach to the Creator by addressing God as Father. He then affirms God’s holiness and majesty. When he says “Your kingdom come” – to Jesus this would have been both a present and a future coming. The kingdom was already breaking in through Jesus and still, even now, we are looking for its fulfillment. Jesus is inviting us into his relationship with God and into the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom.
Then Jesus gives 3 very simple petitions. There is no flowery language and no long sentences.
First, “Give us bread.” Just give us what we need to survive, both literally and figuratively. And give it to us every day. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he fed people, both literally and figuratively, so of course he needed to pray for this in order to continue his ministry. Just as we need to imitate Jesus in prayer, we also need to imitate him in ministry.
Then, “Forgive our sins. As we forgive others.” Now maybe Jesus didn’t pray to have his own sins forgiven because we believe he was sinless. But he knew that we would sin and that we would need to be able to forgive others. And forgiveness, God’s freely given forgiveness, is another foundation of Jesus’ ministry.
And lastly, “Save us from the time of trial.” Not the end times, like this is sometimes interpreted, but rather protect us from circumstances that test or imperil our faith. Jesus was tested often, just as we are tested.
So Jesus taught us to pray just like he prayed. His private prayer formed the undercurrent of his life and public work. The prayer that Jesus gave us embodies his own prayer life and his wider kingdom ministry in every verse.
Jesus prayed. He prayed before he chose his disciples. He prayed when he fed the 5000. He prayed the night before he died and from the cross itself. He taught us to pray. And we pray. Sometimes it seems there is a never ending stream of hashtag prayers for us to recite. Pray for Orlando. Pray for Baton Rouge. Pray for Munich. And forgive me, but I didn’t check the news this morning to see who needs my prayers today. It’s heartbreaking and it’s spiritually draining. We pray to a God who is silent much of the time. I feel this silence anyway. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis talks about how when we are happy, and we turn to God with gratitude and praise, we are welcomed – or so it seems – with open arms. But when we go to Him when our need is desperate, when all other help is vain, what do we find? A door slammed in our face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.
But, Jesus must have known this and must have known that we’d get weary because he continues this teaching today with a parable wherein he tells us to be persistent. To keep knocking. Just do it. Just pray.
There is an ache in the world. Maybe those that are aching are asking but not receiving, searching but not finding, knocking but no door is opening for them. We blame guns, terrorists, mental illness, political parties, etc. We blame because we don’t know how to deal with the pain, helplessness, despair and grief that have caused these hashtag prayers. But the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of action. Jesus tells us to ask for these things so we can do this ministry, so we can help heal the ache. So we can help the world receive and find Him, so we can open the door.
This prayer gives us all the help we need to love and serve and give and sacrifice and mourn with the world. So many hungry, hurting, invisible, disregarded, brutalized people are so, not because God hasn’t heard our prayers but because we are acting like we haven’t prayed them at all. We haven’t grabbed the power this prayer is giving us. We are acting like we haven’t prayed at all.
We were made for this ache. For all of our own lives, and indeed for all of Christianity, we have been learning all that we need to help the hurting world. We don’t have to fix the entire world all at once, but we can open the door to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.
As St. Theresa of Avila tells us, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
And so we pray the Lord’s Prayer, which you might not have thought was sufficient before. We pray for our daily bread so we can go out and feed the world, both literally and figuratively. We pray to forgive and to be forgiven, because great forgiveness provides the opportunity for great love. We pray that we are not distracted from our faith so that we can have the strength to be Jesus to the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Amen.