The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12), Year C.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “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.”
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”Luke 11:1-13
If we were to rank the greatest fears of the average Episcopalian, extemporaneous prayer would be right near the top, just after inviting a friend to church and making a decision without first creating a committee. It’s no secret that as a denomination, we like to stick to the script. And why shouldn’t we? The Book of Common Prayer is a well-composed, hard-fought over collection of prayers that brings together our language, scripture, and theology, all to the glory of God. And for those who accuse us of knowing the Prayer Book better than the Bible, we always have the old joke, “of course we know the Bible! It quotes the Book of Common Prayer all the time!” While there is a time and place for unscripted prayer, there is something special about praying together, saying the same words that have transcended time, place, denomination, and language all to proclaim our love for God, and ask for what we need most.
Of all the prayers that we say together, as Episcopalians, as Christians, none are quite as special as the Lord’s Prayer. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we are experiencing the Kingdom of God. We are speaking words that have been said by people in all walks of life, in all times, the communion of saints here on earth and in heaven. It doesn’t matter your language, class, education, theology, or where you are on your spiritual journey. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are all brought together in the most basic, most human way. Talking to God and asking for what we need.
For as remarkable of a spiritual experience saying the Lord’s Prayer is, it is equally remarkable how ordinary it is. Though we do not always appreciate the grandeur of the prayer, it is meant to be entirely ordinary. It is a remarkably honest prayer, a deeply human prayer; not starting with long, pious, introductions proclaiming how “unworthy” we are and how big or grand God is, but a simple familiar: “Our Father…”
The controversial theologians of Monty Python illustrate how being too religious can get in the way of a relationship with God, in their satire of the Lord’s Prayer, the so-called “Oh, You are so Big” Prayer:
Oooh you are so big,
So absolutely huge.
Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here I can tell you.
Forgive Us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying.
And barefaced flattery.
But you are so strong and, well, just so super.
Fan – tastic. Amen.”
As anyone who has survived certain family gatherings or interfaith potlucks can tell you, the “Oh, You are so Big” Prayer is not too far off. Or even worse, when the prayer for the meal turns into a sermon about how your estranged cousin needs to mend his ways. It’s easy to pray what you think you’re “supposed to” pray, saying pious things about how good or how strong God is, while holding back what you really need. After all, how could your little life compare to the Almighty Creator of the Universe?
Yet when Jesus teaches us to pray, we call God “Our Father”. Sure, some of that piety and respect for God’s name comes a bit later with “hallowed be thy name”, but the first and foremost, when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we come to God as a parent; someone familiar, someone who loves us, someone we can trust. Though our corporate practice of prayer, the Book of Common Prayer gives us the words to say when we have no words of our own, but the main drawback of sticking to the script is how easy it is to forget who God really is in our prayer.
Sometimes it is easier to think of God as an intellectual concept, or a force, or something that is the foundation of our world, but hidden from view. Especially in times when we lose faith in our fellow man, or in God’s promise that the world truly is good, it’s easier to put God away as a distant concept than to approach God with our fears and frustrations. We’ll say the words sure, and our community can hold up our faith when we have little left of our own, but if we do not stop occasionally and think about what we are saying, we can forget who God is. God is not a philosophical concept, or a force of nature, or a vague sense of purpose that permeates creation. As we hear throughout the Bible, and especially in the Lord’s Prayer, God is a person. God is someone who cares, who speaks, who feels, and above all, who listens. To approach God in the Lord’s Prayer is not to tremble before the throne of the Almighty, but to speak to someone dear, the person who loves you the most: “Our Father”.
The things that we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer are equally as profound as they are simple. Give, Forgive, and Deliver. Of all the many needs we have, these three bring together our needs as individuals, as society, and as creation. We ask for our daily bread, the sustenance that we need not only to sustain our bodies but our whole being. We are asking for more than just bread, we are asking as individuals all that we need, food, shelter, community, and especially in the context of our Eucharist together: the outward and visible sign of the inward grace that is communing with God.
We ask for forgiveness, for our own sins and those who sin against us. Like bread, we are asking for more than the most basic personal forgiveness. We are asking for the forgiveness of not only ourselves, but our society. In asking for forgiveness, we are asking for Justice. That those whom our society has failed will be restored, that we can acknowledge our wrongdoing, but above all, ask that we may learn to forgive and love in the way God does. That in our pursuit of Justice, we seek healing rather than vengeance.
Finally, we ask for ourselves and on behalf of all creation, to be delivered from evil. Just like our other petitions, asking for the deliverance from evil is both highly personal and cosmic in scale. We ask for God to save us from the forces that separate us from God, and that isolate us from one another. We are asking to be delivered from hopelessness, fear, greed, and callousness. At the same time, we are asking that the world be delivered from those same things which have corrupted God’s creation; knowing all the while that when the whole world lives in faith, justice, righteousness, and love for one another, then we shall see “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven.”
But the sharp-eared and biblical scholars amongst us may have noticed something missing from our reading. Luke didn’t do a very good job of quoting the prayer book, because in our Gospel lesson, the Lord’s Prayer stops right here. What about “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory…”? Though it is a prayer for all times, all people, and places, not everyone says the final sentence. In fact, we don’t even say the final sentence in some of our services. On page 133 of the Book of Common Prayer, in the Compline service, the Lord’s Prayer ends like it does in Luke’s Gospel, with asking to be delivered from evil. You can always tell who’s paying attention, or rather, who’s already falling asleep, at a Compline service by whoever stumbles into “for thine is the kingdom…” It’s true that in most of our ancient sources and earliest New Testament manuscripts, the Lord’s Prayer does not include the last sentence. Yet, in our earliest manual of Christian worship, the Didache, it is included. Why? And who gets the last word?
The last sentence of the Lord’s Prayer is called a Doxology, or a short expression of praise. Saying a doxology at the end of a prayer was a common Synagogue practice in Jesus’ lifetime, and a tradition that continues in Judaism and Christianity to this day. Though Jesus Himself may not have taught the disciples the doxology when teaching them to pray, disciples of Jesus have included the doxology for centuries. While it is the Lord’s Prayer, it is also Our Prayer. It is a prayer so basic, and so profound that it belongs to no one, while at the same time, belonging to anyone who calls upon God for what we all need. Give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, deliver us from evil. Because it is the Lord’s Prayer and Our Prayer, in gratitude and faith that God provides for us, loves us, and saves us, our last word is one of thanks and praise,
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”