Sermon for July 24
In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus doing something he does a lot in scripture, which is to pray. In the gospels Jesus prays all the time, in private, or when other people are around; he prays to give thanks, he prays for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prays from cross in the last moments of his life to commend his Spirit to the Father.
So in today’s passage from Luke Jesus is praying in a certain place and his disciples are around and see him praying, and they want to pray too so when he is finished they ask him to teach them how to pray. Like other teachers taught their disciples, for example John the Baptist did, they say to Jesus.
And so Jesus answers their prayer, you might say, and teaches them a prayer, a version of which, (Matthew has a slightly different version,) has become so iconic and ubiquitous for us the church, a prayer that Christians have found to be so wise and profound throughout millennia that we just simply call it the Lord’s Prayer.
Or the “Our Father” – which I think probably Catholics call it mostly after the first words of the prayer; a name that I actually like a lot because it highlights a really remarkable thing about this prayer: that it’s meant to be prayed together.
Not that we can’t pray alone, Jesus tells us to do that too, in fact to go in your closet and pray in secret. But this prayer is for the community. It’s “Our Father…” Not, Oh Father, or My Father or Dear Father, but “Our Father.” “Give us this day…” “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” It’s a communal prayer.
Now, granted Jesus’ people were a much more communal people than we are in general – the people of Israel. Especially we Americans have a very strong sense of individual rights, individual responsibility, that’s just part of our history. But the people of Israel did not think way. Jesus did not think that way. There was not concept, historians tell us, of the individual as separate from the group: the family, the community, the nation, and God talked to them as a family and a nation. And there was no real sense of individual salvation. And you don’t have to believe me you can look it up: in the writings of the prophets, for example in Isaiah Israel was called to be a light to all other nations in the path of peace and righteousness and justice. The prophets were called to speak to Israel. God tells the people through Amos to turn back to God. Sometimes the prophets spoke to individuals – kings, for example – but only as representatives of the nation.
That’s Jesus’ tradition and so when he says to his disciples “You are the light of the world” he doesn’t just mean individuals – you, you and you. No, he uses the plural form of the word you, spoken in Aramaic and translated by the evangelist into Greek, “As in y’all are the salt of the earth.”
That’s kind of a good feeling, isn’t it? Helps us to realize we are not alone in this, but together. We don’t just have this little light of mine to shine, but little lights join with all the others to make a big light. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a chosen people as we read in 1 Peter.
So, we pray as one, and that’s how the Lord’s prayer is made to be prayed. In a church service but other times too. Congregational meetings. There’s nothing like, at the end of a long and difficult congregational meeting where there have been differences of opinion, hard decisions have had to be made or maybe emotions have run high, even a little, dare I say it, conflict.
Then at the end of it all, many congregations say the Lord’s Prayer together, maybe even hold hands. I’m not saying it heals everything but it’s symbolic and it’s an effort to acknowledge that we are all working for the same thing: for the reign of God here on earth. And we want to be one in that.
You can pray it alone of course, and hopefully it’s a reminder of all the other people who may be saying it or not, but it’s still “Our Father” – we’re praying on behalf of all of humanity.
And it’s amazing when you pray the Lord’s prayer at someone’s bedside how people who are really weak and even near the end of their lives, really not very verbal but you pray this prayer with them and praying together they remember it and start praying along. Because no matter who we are we all need our daily bread. We all need to be forgiven and to forgive others. No matter what kind of shape we’re in, we all need to be delivered from evil. So we are a community and this prayer helps to make us a community. Even if we pray it by ourselves.
And then the other thing Jesus does in this passage which is also very powerful, is to remind us to keep on praying no matter what. And he tells these strange, funny stories about a friend waking a friend up in the middle of the night. Friend says “go away!” but the guy just won’t give up. That’s how we should pray he says, just don’t give up.
He says “Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you” and we know we don’t all get what we want when we pray or get it when we want it but Jesus says keep praying because God is listening. If we sinners can answer the prayers of our children how much more will our heavenly Father give us the Holy Spirit when we pray. Ask and it will be given, God’s love, God’s attention, God’s help.
So we pray, and keep praying. We pray together because we are one, we pray alone because God’s with us even when we think we are alone.
Because we have the promise that no matter when or how much or how little, God is always ready to hear us.
And that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.