Praying Towards Sunday for July 24th, 2016

Our Gospel reading contains a short version of one of our most beloved prayers.  It is a prayer we use on many occasions and is one of the treasures of the Christian life.  A large number of people claim they do not know how to pray. Perhaps all of us echo the disciples when the disciples asked Jesus “Teach us to pray.”

Some of the most profound times we experience with those we love can be wordless – this is so with God. We begin by listening.  To pray is to open ourselves to be in alignment with God's will for us.  Jesus gives us words to add to this experience.

As we pray, we discover our own continuing need for prayer. Often people ask, “Why should I pray when God knows my needs more fully than I do?”  A partial answer is that God wants to be in relationship with us, and prayer is a way in which this relationship grows.  Fosdick described prayer as “friendship with God.”

Prayer is communion with God. Praying is not a form of filling out an order blank or "putting coins in a vending machine."  It is not pushing the right button, and waiting for a response from a celestial Santa or a transcendent vending machine. Prayer is, instead, an ongoing connectivity with God. Prayer seeks and grows out of a relationship -- an intimate, loving, caring parent/child relationship.

Prayer is finding and experiencing the presence of God. God will not always change a situation, but with God, we find the strength and companionship we need for any situation. 

Jesus’ disciples observed that Jesus prayed both as ritual and on particular occasions. Jesus at prayer is a frequent and important image in Luke.

It seems to have been a regular custom for a rabbi to teach his disciples a simple prayer that they could habitually use.  We know that John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray. Unfortunately we don’t have a record of this prayer.

Differing versions of the prayer Jesus taught are reported in three places: In Matthew as part of the Sermon on the Mount, in today’s reading from Luke, and in a very early Christian document named “the Didache.”  Luke’s version is the simplest; the doxology is only in the Didache.

Other differences in wording have also arisen from differences in translation. The variation of "debts" and "trespasses" still occurs.

Some argue about whether Jesus intended for his followers to recite this prayer using these words that He gave or if He intended the disciples to use the prayer as a pattern or model for their own prayers.  My guess is “both.”

Two of the three versions of the Lord’s Prayer begin with the word “Our.” With this prayer we are a part of community, even when we are alone.  This beginning, addressing the Creator and Source of all, implies, then, the siblinghood (is that a real word?) of all who say it. We can be comforted to know that somewhere, someone else is probably saying it with us.

Luke’s prayer includes five petitions.  The first two (v. 2—hallowed be Your name and Your kingdom come.) focus upon God.  The last three (vv. 3-4) have to do with the fulfillment of our needs.  Each of these three requests for ourselves is plural (give us…, forgive us…, do not bring us…), emphasizing the community of faith of which we are part. 

It is a short prayer; it is a reasonable length to ask children to memorize, in my opinion.

This is a prayer that God's name be honored and unblemished by God’s own creation.  “Hallowing” or our lack of it is reflected in our daily behavior and in our upholding of our baptismal covenant.

"Your kingdom come” petitions God to be the Ruler of life, family, community: those things we care most about.

There are three petitions asking for ourselves: forgiveness of sin, daily food, and protection from temptation.

The petition for daily bread reminds us of the Israelites in the wilderness. We can trust God to take care of us each day.  This petition expresses our knowledge of our daily dependence upon God for the “stuff of life.”

We ask for forgiveness of our sins knowing that God’s forgiveness cannot be expected if our forgiveness of others is withheld. Our forgiveness of others does not earn God's forgiveness for us, but is part of our continuance in forgiveness.  When we compare the versions in Matthew, Luke, and Didache, the biggest difference is in this forgiveness section.

Apostasy was immediately a problem in the young church, even before these texts were written down. The phrase “led us not…” may be the reference to testing that occurred. God is not out to “trap” us in some manner. We are calling upon our Father to protect us from whatever might threaten our lives or our relationship with Him.

Luke says that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. Imagine receiving the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer.  Think how this could transform our very lives.

In the time of Jesus, Palestinian homes often small and had only one room with one small window. Everyone slept together on the floor. Often the family animals were there, too. Villagers went to bed early once their source of light was gone. A late night arrival would awaken a sleeping family.   If one person was disturbed, the whole family unit became involved. A traveler, trying to avoid heat, might arrive late at night. 

Hospitality was expected of people in Jesus’ society. To fail in this expectation would bring shame on the whole family. The sleeper would get up and respond to the request. A neighbor would not leave the request for food or other aid unanswered. 

Jesus teaches using an analogy between parents and God.  If a parent, who is sinful, would take good care of his child, how much more will God, who is not sinful, take care of us we call on him.

The Bible teaches that Christians are to be bugging and bothersome, persistent and pushy in prayer life. We find this theme often. In Romans: “ constant in prayer.” In Ephesians, “pray at all times.” In Colossians: “be steadfast in prayer.” In Thessalonians: “pray constantly.”

Someone observed “I have discovered that you bug and bother people who are closest to you. You don’t bother and bug family who are not close; you aren’t persistent and pushy with neighbors who are not close friends. It is only people who are the closest to you that would tolerate you being pushy and persistent.”  God is among those we can “bug” for an answer.  Like a patient parent, God can deal with being “bugged.”

Prayer is a very important part of our lives.  Let us pray for each other and pray to Our Father.  May we listen for his word and know He is always there to listen to us. He is the one who has risen and will answer when we call.