A few weeks ago, I preached* a sermon on Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, but I never wrote it down. The sermon existed in my mind as a skeletal structure of six or seven keywords, but with no meat or movement. So during the preaching moment, I wove in the muscles and tendons, and (as she so often does) the Holy Spirit animated the whole thing with breath. All that to say, my fingers never hit the keys on this particular sermon, so when a dear, dear lady at my church asked for a copy, I had none to give her. So what follows is not exactly what I preached, but a rough approximation of the sermon based on a reconstruction of my initial skeletal thought processes.
Jesus is praying in a certain place when his disciples approach him and say to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I imagine Jesus looking at them with bemused surprise and thinking: “Took you guys long enough. I called you six chapters ago!” Then he teaches them his own prayer:
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.
You might look at these words and say, “Hey, wait a second. Where’s the rest of it? Is this the Cliff’s Notes version or something?” True, the version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s account of the Gospel is not quite as long as the one found in Matthew and there are also a few differences in word choice (“sin” instead of “debt/trespass,” for example). Most scholars agree that Luke’s version is the older one, citing the fact that shorter versions of similar passages tend to be older because phrases tend to get added over time rather than subtracted. For our purposes, just remember that we’ll be talking about Luke’s version during this sermon and not the one we’ll pray later on in the service.
Jesus begins his prayer with the expectation of close relationship with God. Rather than saying something like “Almighty God, Lord of the Universe,” Jesus starts with a familial word. By addressing God as “Father,” Jesus tacitly shows himself to be in the role of child. And because he is teaching his prayer to his friends, he lets them and us know that we, too, are God’s children. With one word, Jesus sets up the relationship between God and us. We are both closely connected to the Father, and we occupy the position of dependent in the relationship.
With the words “Your kingdom come,” Jesus introduces hope into the prayer. Hope is about the future. When we hope, we begin to expect that the boundaries of possibility are far wider than we once supposed. When we pray for the coming of the kingdom, we show our willingness to participate in the advent of that kingdom here on earth, both in its current, unfinished manifestation and in its future culmination. The mere act of hoping for a better future can begin to change the present, which is the subject of the next phrase.
While scholars aren’t quite sure of the meaning of the word translated into English as “daily,” the fact that two words in this next sentence have to do with “today” stands out. Jesus teaches us to pray for the nourishment that sustains us just for this day – not yesterday, which is past, nor tomorrow, which is yet to come, but right now. When we pray for sustenance today, we remain grounded in the present moment, the moment in which we can encounter God moving in our lives. Nourishment today helps us hope for tomorrow, and sustains us to continue walking the path with Christ.
More than anything else, this path is about reconciliation, which is the subject of the next sentence. We ask for forgiveness, and at the same time we make a commitment to forgive others. I’m reminded of that great Anne Lamott line, in which she says that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. A quick recap: forgiveness is the action we take in the present to participate in the coming of the kingdom. Nourishment sustains us in the present. Hope drives us to the future. And a close relationship with God allows us to pray. One more sentence to go.
With the final phrase, Jesus gives voice to the fear that crops up in each of us. We do not like to think about coming into a time of trial. But by saying the words aloud, we permit ourselves to give that fear up to God. And the thing that occupies the space left by that fear is peace. This peace frees us from the worry that might keep us from praying in the first place.
And Jesus says that we must never stop praying. The disciples asked him to teach them to pray, but he’s interested in more than just the words they use. Like the person who keeps knocking and knocking to get his friend to come to the door, Jesus tells us that persistence is the key to prayer. Just like improvement in sport comes through constant training, practicing prayer makes the act of praying second nature (or perhaps, even first nature).
This persistence in defining a close relationship with God, hoping for the future, finding nourishment for the present, reconciling and asking for forgiveness, and discovering peace leads us into deeper faith in God. Through prayer, we participate in God’s movement in our lives, and our persistence helps us notice God’s blessing in our lives.
Relationship, hope, nourishment, reconciliation, peace, persistence, blessing. Jesus teaches us to pray these things. I pray that God may grant us these so that we can continue to be blessings in this world.
The sermon went something like this, though I know there was a line from The Shawshank Redemption in there somewhere. Mrs. E, I hope this is what you were looking for!
* Perhaps you’ve never given this much thought, but I’ve always wanted the past tense of “preach” to be “praught.”