Sermon delivered on Sunday Trinity 9C, July 24, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85.1-13; Colossians 2.6-19; Luke 11.1-13.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
If I tried to recall the number of times I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer I probably could not tell you. You all, likewise, likely could not come up with a number either. We pray it together at least 52 times per year, if we count only the Sunday’s. But then there are the Daily Office prayers where it is included in both the morning and evening liturgies. That’s 14 more times per week. And then there are other times for me when putting my boys in bed that we pray it together. Another 5-7 times each week. And then all of the other random times when we might pray it with others or by ourselves. So the number is probably between 52 and 780 times each year. But that’s only one year. I’m 33 and learned the prayer when I was around four or five. Some of you have a few more miles ahead of me on this. 22,620 is the higher end number I’ve figured that I could be close to if I were as diligent in prayer as I would ideally like to be, but the real number is probably not quite that high. Some of you in this room may have prayed through it even more than 22,000 times. That’s a lot of miles on the same words. And that’s a lot of math I’ve just figured for someone who majored in History and cowered in fear from math.
This prayer is something that has been taught to us, and that we teach to others, either directly by personal instruction, or through our prayers or participation in the liturgy. Quite often I have heard people tell me that they do not know how to pray, or are afraid of praying in front of others. And I fully understand that from the many traditions that I’ve been exposed to in my life. Often the same folks will give these long and beautiful, powerful sounding prayers that sound like mini sermons. The Lord certainly hears these prayers, but they can create in others a sense that they aren’t qualified to pray aloud in a meeting of disciples, or that they don’t know what to say because they don’t have the breadth and depth of Christian knowledge that another might have. You can pray because you can learn to pray. You don’t have to be afraid or embarrassed. If your prayer is something as simple as “Jesus, I love you,” or, “Lord, help us,” (which is a prayer I often say when Fr. Kevin begins one of his jokes), you are tracking quite well. And, as Jesus responded to his disciples’ request to teach them to pray, you also can pray in the same way that he taught them.
Each week we relearn the prayer together during the liturgy of the sacrament. We hear the bidding of this prayer when it is said, “And now as our savior Christ has taught we boldly pray…” We do this together, verbatim. But it isn’t by some simple formula that we pray. We hear this and pray together a method that Jesus has taught us when we don’t quite know what to say. We address the King of the Universe, Creator of all things as our Father, sharing in an intimate relationship with the one true Holy God who is over all.
We call for his Kingdom to come into this earth in real time and space that we might see his redemptive work making new the whole of his creation, and the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is where this Kingdom continues to grow in the world, going forth with the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love for all, until His coming again in glory and the full consummation of the Kingdom that has only yet been inaugurated in our time.
We ask God for nourishment. In the Gospel according to St. Luke I cannot see this as primarily a spiritual food, which it also is, but actual food. For the people who would have first prayed this in the earliest days of the Church they would have been expecting Jesus to return at any time (as we should consider now). As they had this expectation they would ask of the Lord to feed them that they may have the physical strength to get through the tasks of living and sharing the Good News of Christ for just one more day. We ask God for food, just like our ancestors have asked, and the Lord provides it.
We also have been taught through the Lord’s Prayer to confess our sins and seek forgiveness for them, as we also forgive the debts others might have toward us. Luke phrases this part of the prayer differently than is found in Matthew’s Gospel. We seek forgiveness of transgressing the law of God in thought, word, and deed, while at the same time forgiving others their debts by which they are indebted to us. Luke is pointing out that material things should never be a reason to cause a breakdown in the community. When we pray like this, we pray for forgiveness in a spiritual sense from our sins, and in a tangible way for us to lay aside quarrels with others over what they may owe to us. The Lord will help us through these very real, very difficult things of breaking from sinful patterns and building strong, loving community through sacrifice.
To ask a Jewish person during the first century if he had “been saved,” or if he knew Jesus as his “personal savior” would have been nonsensical to him. The Lord and the individual is where the sin is taken care of through confession, absolution, and the forgiveness only God can give; the debts that are owed are within the community, and we all find ourselves in debt to one another from time to time. And sometimes that debt must be forgiven for the sake of the community, the basic theme found in Jewish, and here in Jesus’, thinking. Our salvation comes in the context of the Church, which God has made a part with others. Christ has saved us, he is still saving us, and we shall all together be saved finally together as one body of Christ on earth. Building each other up now is vital to the mission of the Kingdom of God as revealed through this prayer.
We are now taught in the last petition we are to ask for salvation from the time of trail, and from bringing in the completion of this petition from Matthew, also the Evil one. Believe it or not, there are still evil forces at work in this world. I do not say this to point toward some nebulous concept of evil. There is real evil, brought by Satan and his demons. Our prayer here is that when we find ourselves in times of temptation, just as Jesus Christ was tempted in the desert and withstood the devils charming and attractive wooing, we too would be given strength by God to withstand the pressing upon us of engaging in sin that can so easily destroy us and lead us into a league with Satan and his demons, thus rejecting God as our Father.
This prayer taught to us by our Lord is a good gift to us for us to use, literally and as a guide to how we shall pray and why. It’s the text of Scripture that has been preserved for us that we might received and used not only for helping us in our prayer life, but as a point of clarity where we can find what it is the Lord is calling us to, and how he is changing us to serve him.
The words of Jesus Christ are to us a good and holy gift, assuring us of our salvation, and pushing us forward in our mission to seek the lost and treat all of God’s creation with respect and dignity. It teaches us who God is, and what he is like. His essential character is that of a Father who loves all his, and he delights in giving good gifts to his children. God is concerned with our being holy, and in fostering loving, holy community with our brothers and sisters, and seeing the Church built up, and organized to do the mission of his Church, his Kingdom in this world.
If anything, The Lord’s prayer teaches us that our ultimate dependence is upon the Lord, and that we are united together under Christ our Head in a way that should be protected and encouraged. Life as a Christian is not just a vertical relationship between me and Jesus, which it is only in part, it’s also the horizontal relationships between us, the one’s whom the Lord has called.
So you can pray; and you need not be ashamed. Pray with the words of the Scripture. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, and then pray in the way you have learned in the Lord’s Prayer through whatever you would like to pray about. This prayer, and the collect prayers that can be found in the Book of Common Prayer in the tradition of the Lord’s prayer, are all great resources for getting you started in your journey into a robust prayer life
May the Lord bless you in this practice of such an important spiritual discipline.
In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.