10th Sunday after Pentecost
28 July 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
(The Lord’s Prayer – dramatic form – precedes this sermon)
So often we say it. We repeat the words and yes, there’s great value in repeating something so many times that you can recite it by heart – in two or three different versions. Sometimes we are aware of the content our words and really mean what we say, but how often do we really stop to reflect on this magnificent prayer? Thank you, Jane and Richard, for waking us up to the casual way in which we wear these words. Martin Luther once said “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Jesus was praying, and his disciples wanted to learn how.
He 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."
2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
5 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 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.' 8 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.
9 "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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!"
(New Revised Standard Version)
Be persistent in prayer, trusting that God is good. Begin all prayer by appreciating the wonder of being a child of God. Glorifying God is our highest goal. When we pray hallowed be your name, we are asking that we and others recognize God as God really is. When we pray “your kingdom come” we are asking that God will rule in our hearts through faith, in our relationships through love, and in our institutional affairs through justice. We are praying for the world to become that which God intends it to be – peaceable.
The third petition of the prayer, your will be done, on earth as in heaven, is missing from Luke’s version. But I have a story to tell you about the will of God on earth as in heaven, or God’s kingdom coming to earth. Jenny, Michelle, and I heard a Haitian pastor talk about the exciting church and community development work he is doing there. A medical missionary from Duke Hospital was there, an OB-Gyn. He was seeing patients in a makeshift room, which was really a tree with sheets hanging down. Exasperated one day, he came to Pastor Leon and said, “I cannot do pelvic exams in this outdoor space. You have to help me out, if you want me to keep coming.” Pastor Leon gave him his office. But it was small and very hot in there, so again this OB-Gyn doctor was complaining, “Pastor Leon. This has to change. You must do something about this problem.” And Pastor Leon said, “I think God is telling you that YOU must do something about this problem.” So the doctor went back to Duke, did some fund-raising, and eventually, a small medical center was built there in Haiti. If we are praying for God’s will and kingdom we must be open to the ways God want to use us to bring his reign on the earth.
The fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer is “Give us this day or each day, our daily bread.” Christ asks us to pray for what we need each day and no more, so that we will learn to completely rely on God. Having more than enough tends to make us trust in our savings, in our own ability to provide for ourselves. It also distances us from the poor, who live day-by-day. Those who take mission trips to impoverished parts of the world are usually amazed at the spirit of people who live on far less than we have, and how generous and joyful they can be, under such circumstances.
And now for the line of the Lord’s Prayer that has divided the church since the 16th century when English translations became readily available. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Now the Gospel of Matthew uses the Greek word for “being indebted/owing someone something” in the prayer, but then goes on after the prayer to talk about how we must forgive the trespasses of others if we ourselves want to be forgiven our trespasses. Luke uses two different words. He says, “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” You can read more about these words and the 1526 English translation by William Tyndale which set Presbyterians against nearly everyone else in the translation of debts and trespasses. A couple of years ago Richard put a three-page history – The Lord’s Prayer: Why the Differences. Sadly the difference in three words may distract us from the more significant issue. Our forgiveness by God is related to our forgiving others. It is tied together with one little word “as” or “for.” Whether the connecting word is “as” or “for” the implication is, as Matthew makes clear in his trespasses addendum to the prayer, is the same as what Paul also says in Colossians 3: “Forgive one another, just as God has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” I find it is a circular thing. When I am humble enough to acknowledge how far short I fall of God’s glory, how much I need forgiveness, my gratitude for God’s bountiful mercy makes it easier for me to forgive others. It is the arrogant/insecure spirit in me that clings to hurt because hurt feeds my need to prop myself up. A person secured by God is humble, with no need for elevation. Philippians 2: “Christ, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself.”
And the last petition in Luke’s version of the prayer, “Save us from the time of trial.” We ask God to protect us from our own worst impulses and temptations, that we might not yield to the temptation to live as people without hope.
We do have hope because we have a loving parent, who is not male or female, but is our loving, protector, who like a good parent, gives us freedom appropriate for our growth, so we are not puppets.
But in that freedom is the opportunity to break covenant with God, to damage the earth, to wound one another, and to ignore God’s intentions. In all ways, we believe God works for good, even through the consequences of our sin or the painful circumstances in which we often find ourselves. More than any good mother or father, what God wants is for us to grow up and make good choices.
That’s why most of this communication, this prayer is about aligning our will with God’s will. God desires that we live with integrity – to be faithful and true, generous and forgiving, loving and kind. What loving parent or friend would not want that?