Scripture: Luke 11:1-13

Some of you may have noticed that we didn’t pray the Lord’s Prayer in the usual spot today. That’s because today’s topic in our series on Learning to Live as Disciples is on praying, specifically on praying the prayer that Jesus taught us. Saying it every week like we do, it sometimes can lose its meaning in our rather rote recital of it. But after really thinking about it, you may find that it is a prayer that starts off with some really cozy words of comfort, and ends up with a great challenge. It actually takes some courage to pray it when you know what you are actually saying.

The prayer appears in two places in the Bible, once in Matthew, and today’s version in Luke. Matthew’s version is longer, and neither ends it the way we do commonly in many churches, although the closing words can also be found in Matthew.

The Disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray. This is what he told them to say. “Father,” Actually the word Jesus used is closer to the word Daddy. It’s a warm, intimate word for someone who loves a child and wants what is best for him or her. In those days the name was thought to sum up the whole character of the person. To call someone by name meant you knew who they were as a person. So “Daddy” says a lot about God’s character.

Not everyone likes the word Father for God. Some people have abusive or difficult relationships with their fathers and don’t find it comforting. For me, as a twelve-year-old girl whose father had just died, it was very comforting to think that in some ways I still had a father. Some don’t like it because it implies that God is a man. The Bible was written and edited in patriarchal times, but there are lots of images of God as a mother too. There are images of God nurturing creation in a womb, of giving birth to humanity. In Isaiah, the prophet, speaking for God, asks “Can a woman forget her nursing child or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (49:15).

There are images of God “cry[ing] out like a woman in labor” with gasps and pants. In Numbers 11:12, Moses tells God that having birthed Israel, God (not Moses) should “carry [the nation] in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child” to the Promised Land. In Isaiah 66:13, the Lord tells Jerusalem, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”

And Jesus, who at one point says he and the father are one, describes himself weeping over Jerusalem, and says “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”

So we are not to think of God as an old man with a white beard somewhere up there in the sky, but rather as the creator of us all, who created us, as Genesis says, in God’s own image, male and female. But in this particular instance, Jesus uses the word “Daddy.”

“Hallowed by your name” – Before we ask for anything for ourselves or others, Jesus reminds us to put God first. While we are talking to someone as intimately connected to us as our daddy, we still need to remember that God is worthy of our greatest respect.

“Your kingdom come” – In some ways that has already happened, as Jesus is a sign of God’s kingdom here on earth. We pray that it will continue to come. We pray that one day we will know justice and mercy, peace and love, right here and not in some far off time or place. Of course, that also means that we will act accordingly, and sometimes we don’t really want to give up some of the ways that we stray from the path God has in mind for us. This part of the prayer is beginning to ask something from us as well as God.

“Give us each day our daily bread” – Like the people wandering in the wilderness who were told only to collect enough manna for one day, except before the Sabbath when they could collect for two, this phrase reminds us that we are dependent on God, every day. We aren’t supposed to get out there and get as much as we can as soon as we can in hopes of storing it up for later. One day at a time, we depend on God for our care. That runs counter to our ideas about saving up for retirement, doesn’t it? What does it mean to trust God daily for your well being?

But now here comes the really hard part. “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” Do we? Do we forgive everyone who has ever wronged us? This part of the prayer assumes that we all sin. And many of us have trouble with that word. It feels harsh, condemning. In Vacation Bible School we talked about what the word really means. We have talked about it here too, but it is good to be reminded that the word sin comes from archery, where a sin is what missing the mark is called. You aim for the target, and if you miss the mark, you have sinned. That makes it easier to say we all do it, doesn’t it? We all miss the mark at times when it comes to living God’s way. Even the best archer misses the mark sometimes, and it means they need to work at it more. That’s just what it means for us too. The great news is that we are already forgiven for those times we miss the mark. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to keep trying. As a parent, I didn’t want my children to obey me because I was bigger than they were and had control over a lot of their lives and could hurt them. I wanted them to obey me because they loved me and didn’t want to disappoint me, and wanted to please me. And so it is with our parent God. When we love God, when we fully understand the gifts we have been given through Christ – the gifts of love and grace and mercy and hope, we want to do better. It’s natural. But the scary part of this one is that we are asking God to forgive us our sins, and saying that we forgive everyone who has harmed us in some way. That is attached to our asking for forgiveness for ourselves. In fact, the way we usually pray this prayer, we say “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In other words, we are asking God to forgive us the way we forgive others who have hurt us. Which means we have to be very careful when we pray this prayer. How well do we really do at forgiving others? Would we want God to treat us in that same way? If not, then we have some work to do on ourselves and on the way we look at other people.

“And do not bring us to the time of trial” – We know that we are weak in some ways, and will fail to do the right thing sometimes. So we ask not to go there, knowing that we bring ourselves there regularly. This particular passage doesn’t necessarily mean “don’t tempt us” but literally “don’t bring us to the time of trial.” Don’t take us to a time in our lives where things will get so hard that we will abandon our faith. And one way to make sure that we never get there is to make sure that our faith is strong enough to carry us through anything. And that mean questioning it, digging into it, and making sure that it covers all possibilities, and is not just made up of platitudes that don’t hold up when things get hard.

To further explain, and to bring us back to where we started, which is that we are praying to a God who loves us even more than the very best parent loves their child, Jesus tells a story. Someone has a friend arrive at their house, perhaps unexpectedly, and has nothing to give them in the way of food. This was a problem because in those days people practiced radical hospitality. Traveling could be very dangerous, and people had a duty to take others in and feed them well. So Jesus says to imagine the host person going to another friend’s house and asking for some food to share. And the person in this house says no, that they have already gone to bed. Well, Barclay says that this would have been hard for people of the day to imagine, because hospitality was so important that it was not likely that a true friend would say no. So Jesus says that the first person persists in knocking and asking and finally the friend does get up because they can’t take it anymore. This is often used to say that we should persist in prayer.

But notice what Jesus does NOT say. Jesus does NOT say that God is like the person who won’t get out of bed at first. Jesus does NOT say that we need to keep pestering God until we wear God down. Rather, Jesus links this story of the friend who will finally get up because of the persistence of the one who asks, to the idea that as parents, none of the people listening would give their child a snake if they asked for a fish, or a scorpion if they asked for an egg. If people wouldn’t do such a thing, and if even people would get up to finally get a neighbor what they need, how much more God is likely to give, not just anything, but the Holy Spirit to those who ask. God is better than the best of parents, and more generous than the most generous of friends.

And so we are invited to ask, to search, and to knock, for God, like a good parent, is longing for a conversation, waiting to discuss our needs, and ready to provide. Maybe not always what we want, but certainly what we need most. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the best gift anyone could ever give us.

And so today we are going to pray the prayer, as it has been interpreted down through the ages, and in the way we usually do. But let us be mindful of the words, and both the comfort and the challenge that they present to us. Let us pray.

Learning to Live as Disciples–Praying

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