Teach us to pray

Pentecost 10 – 2013

Luke 11:1-13

Marian Free 

In the name of God who taught us to pray. Amen.

 

“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.”

There is a lovely story, probably apocryphal, about the Lord’s Prayer. The story concerns three hermits who had taken themselves off to a rather inhospitable island to spend time in prayer. One day the Bishop of the district thought that he should visit them. On arrival he asked them how they prayed. Their response was that they repeated the words: “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us.” The Bishop thought that that was good, but that he should teach them the Lord’s Prayer. Together they spent the remainder of the day rehearsing the Lord’s Prayer line by line. When at last the Bishop was sure that the three had memorized the prayer he got into his boat to make for home. He had gone only a few yards out to sea when he noticed the hermits wading through the ocean calling him to return. They had forgotten the prayer already. At that point the Bishop had to accept that the prayer with which they had become so familiar was sufficient for them. giving them his blessing he went on his way.

I imagine that for many of us, that story is a little hard to believe. For many of us the Lord’s Prayer serves as something like a mantra, words that we can repeat without thinking. It has been a comfortable easy prayer to say for as long as we can remember and because it is the prayer that Jesus taught us, it can be an excuse not to say any other prayers. Not that that is a problem if we grasp the depth and the challenge of what it is that we sometimes say so glibly.

Because I have preached on the prayer so often I thought that this Sunday I would seek some help from someone else. For those of you who will only read this on-line, I will try to give the gist of the discussion. I will call my discussion partner “May”

“Give us today our daily bread”

May began by saying how important “give us today our daily bread” was to her. For May it is a reminder of the thousands of people throughout the world who do not have enough to eat and therefore also a reminder of how fortunate and privileged we are in that we never have to think about where our next meal is coming from. More than that, May said that it challenged her to trust God – not to worry about what the future might hold. I picked up on the fact that May had understood the petition in two different ways – a challenge to care for our neighbour and a challenge to live in the present. Trusting God is not as easy as it seems. We are often consumed with events of the past or focussed on the future. Having confidence that God has our best interests at heart is liberating and allows us to pay attention to the present moment rather than to allow it to be clouded by what has gone and what is yet to come.

“Forgive us our sins”

Perhaps not surprisingly, May found this to be of great comfort. Knowing that her sins were forgiven was liberating and reassuring. However there is something about this line that is troubling to me: “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. Does that mean that our being forgiven depends on our first extending forgiveness to others? But it says: “for we ourselves forgive”, May responded. Then she saw my point, the bible from which she was reading (the NRSV) does use those words, but the words which our prayer book uses are those that cause me to ponder. We were intrigued by the different translations and the different slant that put on the phrase but agreed that we needed to do some homework before we could take that part of the discussion any further.

“Save us from the time of trial”

That led us to the next phrase which caused May some disquiet. She prefers the former version: “Lead us not into temptation.” Her reason being that she does not have a dualist faith. May believes in one God who has no competition. For her that means that God (not an alternative power) is responsible for everything. I had to agree that it was a powerful argument and that there are times when we are either guilty of or in danger of giving the devil equal power to that of God, or of forgetting that on the cross Jesus defeated evil once for all. Compelling as May’s argument was I had the advantage of having recently read Hebrews chapter 12 which states explicitly that God does not lead us into temptation

Where to go from there? Neither of us accept dualism (two equal but competing powers) and both agree that people are sometimes tempted, or that we do the wrong thing. For me it comes back to creation and the fact that God gave humankind free choice. Free choice means that we sometimes (often), behave in ways that are not consistent with Godly behaviour. It could be argued that God’s gift of free choice, leads us into temptation which would support May’s view. However, the new translation: “Save us from the time of trial”, has another meaning, one which is also scriptural – that God will never allow us to be tested beyond what we are able to bear. Fortunately, for most of us in the West this phrase is never really tested but we trust that God will not let us to experience more pain, more grief or more hardship than we are able to cope with and that our trust and confidence in God will get us through the worst that life can throw at us.

That seemed like the end until I pointed out that perhaps the most powerful part of the prayer for me was the idea of God’s name being hallowed – the place at which the prayer begins. For me that line is a reminder of Moses and the burning bush, a challenge to take off my shoes in the presence of a power so awesome, so beyond my imagination that I cannot put a name to it.

Too often I think, we take God for granted, we become over familiar. We might not use God’s name in vain, but there are times when I at least am thoughtless and casual in the way I name or speak of God. I don’t always think about what I am invoking when I speak of or to God. The “hallowing of God’s name takes me back to the relationship between Moses and God, which, though familiar, was also overlaid with an awareness of the awesome power and presence of God which Moses only dared approach because he was commanded so to do. I am reminded too of the cautiousness of our forbears in faith, the Jews who refused to use God’s name but referred to God using an alternative expression which is best translated “Lord”.

 

This concept is best expressed for me in the words of an alternative “Lord’s Prayer” which can be found in the New Zealand Prayer book which seems an appropriate place at which to finish.

 

Eternal Spirit,

Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,

Source of all that is and all that shall be,

Father and Mother of us all,

Loving God in whom is heaven:

 

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by the people’s of the world!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom

sustain our hope and come on earth

 

With the bread that we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.

From trials too great to endure, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the power of the glory that is love. Amen.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , ,


%d bloggers like this: