Every week we pray the Lord’s prayer. And some of the cutest stories are about how kids rewrite it in their own words. There was a little boy who proudly proclaimed that God’s name was Harold Wishart. His teacher asked him to explain. He said, “It’s from the Lord’s Prayer. You know how we pray, “Our Father, Whishart in heaven, Harold be thy name…” One little girl prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.” Another one said, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some email.”
And a young boy knelt down by his bed and prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake… Can I have breakfast with you in the morning?” I can’t improve on that prayer. (Source unknown).
The Lord’s Prayer is well-known; even most non-Christians recognize it. Most churches, like ours, tend to use the Matthew version which is longer that the one we heard today from Luke. It the more formal King James language. We do not know which came first but we do know that though the Lord’s prayer has been rewritten and honed and polished, the Luke version is basically the same prayer followed by an explanatory parable. Scholars generally agree that biblical writers are far more likely to add text to a passage than remove text, which suggests that Luke’s version is older.
The context of the prayer is the request from a disciple who asks Jesus how to pray. They have seen Jesus praying. In Luke alone we see him praying at his baptism (3:21), during temptation (5:16), all night (6:12), alone (9:18), on a mountain (9:28) and in today’s passage “in a certain place.”
Martin Luther King said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible han to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is the foundational to the life of a Christian, and yet sometimes it is difficult to enter and sustain a prayerful relationship with God.
So I’d like to focus on three aspects of the prayer we find in Luke 11, 1) our image of God in prayer, 2) forgiveness and prayer , and 3) faith in prayer.
First and foremost is awareness of who we are praying to. Jesus uses the word “Father” to address God. This works for many especially those who have had good relationships with their fathers, and maybe not as well for those who have complicated or conflicted father relationships. There are many feminine images of God in the Old and New Testament which are also fascinating to explore. But here Jesus calls God “Abba” or Daddy in the Greek, indicating a high level of involvement, trustworthiness, and unconditional love. God is like a loving parent.
When we pray, we are not to think of our prayer as a way to protect ourselves from an angry or insecure God. God is not a detached observer or figure calculating our good deeds and our sins. Rather God is to be hallowed, honored, respected like an honorable king, and the giver of our bread, our sustenance. The foundation of Christian prayer is God’s love for us. God cares for us like a loving parent cares for his or her children. Jesus prayed out of a relationship of gratitude and love for God. We want to enter prayer without fear which may mean rethinking our image of God.
The second important aspect of the Lord’s prayer is forgiveness. We need forgiveness for our sins, and we need to forgive others. Jesus showed us how to forgive. The people he met were no better nor worse than the people we meet every day. Some people are fortunate and strong and come into the world with many advantages. Others may be weak or have had terrible wounding experiences which make it harder for them to be lovable. But Jesus loves them all. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to seek and save the lost. Who are we to judge others?
Rev. Randolph T Riggs tells a post-World War II story. In 1945, Dr. John Muyskens was the pastor of a church in Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania. World War II had just ended, and the church had a celebration. Dr. Muyskens delivered a sermon entitled “I Pray for Them.” He prayed for the enemies of the United States. What made this so remarkable is that these enemies were the people who had killed his son. Dr. Muyskens knew the pain of war as his son had died that very same year. The outline of his sermon went like this:
I pray for them because it is what Jesus did
I pray for them because prayer changes the one who prays
I pray for them because prayer lifts us above hate.
When we pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…, we are not doing this simply because we don’t want our sin to separate us from God. We pray because spiritually, we need forgiveness and we need to give forgiveness to be mentally and spiritually healthy people.
Mental health experts find that the major breakthrough for persons recovering from the brokenness and pain of divorce is the willingness to forgive their former spouse, even if that former spouse doesn’t think they need forgiveness. Forgiving others is one of the most therapeutic things we can do for spiritual and mental health. It’s not always easy, but you forgive others not for their sake but for your own. And if you are truly repentant, God will surely forgive you.
The third thing I want to say about prayer today is the message of the ending parable of the passage. Luke images God as a friend who will help the person who persists. God works through prayer to bring us into alignment with God’s will in the world.
There is a story about a pastor who looked out the window of the parsonage one day and saw a shabbily-dressed man walk up to the doors of the church. This was a concern to the pastor because it was a rough neighborhood. The man slipped into the church. This made the pastor nervous, especially when it happened again the next day and then the next day. Finally, the pastor decided to spy on the man to find out what he was up to.
The next day at his usual time, the man appeared on the steps of the church, and snuck in. The pastor hid in the back of the church where he could watch.
The man took off his hat and held it over his heart. Then he walked up to the communion rail and said, “Jesus, it’s Jim.” That was his whole prayer. Then he turned and left. It turned out that he worked in a nearby factory and was coming there on his lunch hour to pray for strength to serve God in a difficult work environment. He could have poured out his worries before God, but he just said, “Jesus, it’s Jim.”
A few days later, Jim was in an accident at the factory. He was taken to a hospital ward which was full of unsavory characters who lived and worked in the neighborhood. Sometimes they were so disrespectful that the nurses would finish their shifts in tears. As soon as Jim was admitted to the ward, however, they began to notice a change.
On the third or fourth day, one of the nurses actually heard the men laughing together at a joke instead of yelling and cursing each other. She just had to find out what had caused the change. So, she asked one of the guys, “Why are things so different here?” Pointing to Jim’s bed, one man said, “Oh, it’s that guy in the bed over there.” So the nurse went over to Jim’s bed and said, “I understand you’ve made quite a difference in this ward. Can you tell me why?”
JIm said, “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” The nurse said, “Try me.”
Jim said, “Every day a little after noon, I see a man walking up to my bed rail and he says to me, “‘Jim, it’s Jesus.”‘ (source unknown)
Somehow Jim had persistently put his mind into alignment with the mind of God. And that is what we seek when we pray.
The Lord’s prayer, whichever version you use is a perfect prayer for Christ’s disciples to use. It is a prayer that begins and ends with an acknowledgement of who God is, who we are and what God wills for us. That time spent with God is precious.
There is an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin is getting undressed for bed, and he says to Hobbes, his toy tiger, “Any time when you don’t finish the day with grass stains on your knees, you ought to seriously re-examine your priorities.”
So it is with the Christian disciple. Any day you don’t spend some time acknowledging who God is and what God wants, making your needs known and asking forgiveness and blessing for your life, you ought to seriously examine your priorities.
Please pray with me now as we approach our God and pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Amen.