Teach us to Pray
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 11: 1 – 13 – The Lord’s Prayer. Focus on what Jesus teaches us to pray for. Check out Kelly Crandell and Bill Ucker as they sing – As We Gather.
Since the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, it got me thinking, “Who taught me to pray and what did I learn?” Somewhere along the way my parents and Sunday School teachers taught me to close my eyes, bow my head and put my palms together. Now the first prayer I learned was not the Lord’s prayer, but “Now I lay me down to sleep…” which I discovered is from the New England Primer, which was the first American reading anthology written for children in the 1700s.
Since about 2 million copies were sold in the 18th century this prayer became more popular than the Lord’s Prayer. From this I learned to assume a powerful God was out there somewhere keeping my soul safe, yet it raised the disturbing notion of death. I remember thinking sometimes at night, “Would this be my last prayer and my last night.”
But that’s not what the Lord’s Prayer teaches us. Unlike “Now I lay me down to sleep…” which focuses on my own immortal soul and its peril, Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father.” This is a prayer meant to be said together as a community. When the disciples asked for instructions on how to pray, they were given a common prayer, not a private one.
The importance of the Kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer leaps out at me now. “Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and again at the end “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.” Luke emphasizes Jesus’ teachings about the coming reign of God, and its presence in our midst.
God’s reign is like a great banquet where even the poor and the lame are invited in to feast. It is like a pearl of great price that we would give all to hold in our hand. God’s reign may start among us like a tiny mustard seed, barely noticed, but will grow to be our shade. It is a future hope, and a present reality. Just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus in breaking bread with him, whenever two or three of us gather, there is Jesus and the Kingdom.
The Lord’s Prayer lays out the practical basics of what God’s will looks like. And the first thing to notice is that Jesus wants us to view prayer as a family affair. We are to come to God with the same confidence that we would approach a loving parent, certain that we are welcome and our desires are of genuine concern to God.
So Jesus gives us permission to call God, “Daddy!”, and to speak to him very directly. “When you pray say ‘Father!” It’s an attention getter. Jesus tells us come into the presence of God boldly and honestly. When you address God speak in the imperative mood. “Hallowed be Thy name! Thy Kingdom come! “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus is saying, when you pray, pray directly and honestly to God. Pray in the imperative mood.
Such boldness is not unique in the Bible. Jesus not only told his disciples how to pray, but to be persistent when they prayed. “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight saying, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to feed him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is shut, and my children are with me in bed; I can not get up and give you anything?’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give (his friend) anything because of their friendship; yet because of his friend’s (persistent) importunity, (which is synonymous for prayer) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you, seek, and you will find; knock; and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11: 5-9)
Be honest and direct with God. Like Job and the Psalmist approach the throne of grace with confidence, knowing what you want from God.
And it’s very important for us to know with whom we are dealing, because if the partner is not correctly identified, we will inevitably blame the wrong person. We will end up fighting with our spouse, our children, or our friends when we are really angry with God, and the absurdity that life sometimes brings our way. Honest emotion in prayer is always faithful, because it deals with God directly.
Hallowed be thy name. This is better translated: Let your name be held holy. The word translated hallowed or holy comes from a Greek adjective hagios, meaning different or separate. In the Bible names are very important for they define the nature, character and personality of the person. Hallowing God’s name means let us treat it differently from all other names. That is why the commandments begin with “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Yahweh is totally separate and different from all the gods of our making. Therefore, when we pray “Hallowed by Thy name,” it means, “Enable us to give to thee the unique place which thy nature and character deserve and demand.”
Thy kingdom come is the central subject of the New Testament. To be in the Kingdom is to obey the will of God. It demands the submission of my will, my heart, my mind, and my life.
Thy will be done, is the heart of faith. For God’s will is not necessarily our will. To submit to God’s will is to continually ask for guidance in living. Thy will be done is a way of being that is based in trust and faith that in all things God is working out God’s purpose. This is a freeing idea when practiced daily. It means you can surrender your anxiety or fears, or hopes or dreams into God’s keeping, trusting that what God does with them will be ultimately in your own best interest.
Give us this day our daily bread. This declarative sentence with the emphasis on daily is found nowhere else in the Bible. The word translated daily comes from the Greek usage of a woman’s shopping list. It was a note to remind a Hebrew woman to buy supplies of a certain food for the coming day. So very simply, what this petition means is: “Give me the things we need to eat for this coming day. Help me to get the things I’ve got on my shopping list when I go out this morning. Give me the things we need to eat when the children come in from school. Grant that the table be not bare when we sit down together today.
It’s a very practical reminder to God that we need the stuff of daily sustenance, which includes clothing and shelter in order to live, and that all this daily living stuff comes from God not from us. The farmer may plant the seed, but it’s the Holy separate one that makes it grow and brings it to life. It’s also a reminder to us that the spiritual and material go together. We need both.
Forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us. The word that is used here for sin is opheilema and it means a debt. It means a failure to pay that, which is due, a failure in duty to God and to one’s fellow man and woman. This is the sin that no one can claim exemption from, because it is the failure to practice love the way Jesus practiced love.
And finally lead us not into temptation. The idea is better translated “Do not lead us to the test.” There is no one here who would want to face the kind of test that God put to Abraham or Job and this clause in Jesus’ prayer is a reminder that no one wants to have their faith or character tested not even Jesus, “Let this cup pass from me, yet not my will but your will be done.” This is an honest acknowledgement of God’s power to test our metal as a person.
So in this light, I see the Lord’s Prayer as a commitment to participate in the work of the coming reign of God. We pray together as our bond of trust that we are committed to being in right relationship with God and with one another.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you. Knock and the door shall be opened unto you. Seek and ye shall find. Ask and it shall be given unto you. Amen