Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Praying the Lord's Prayer

 Reflection at Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 8th March 2020

You may find today’s reading both familiar and strangely different – it is the NRSV translation from the Greek of St Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, set for today in the common lectionary. It is deceptively simple, while at the same time encapsulating all that we ought to ask of God. I’m going to share with you some reflections upon it.

First, Jesus’s introduction makes me a bit uncomfortable because I fear I all too often ‘heap up empty phrases’ in intercessions that are too long and wordy. But I take comfort that God, our Father in heaven, ‘knows what I need before I ask him’.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray what we call the Lord’s prayer, as we continue to do whenever we come together as a Christian congregation. But there is nothing explicitly Christian about it. The Lord’s prayer can be said in good conscience by anyone who believes in a loving, almighty God, including Muslims and Jews - both Jesus and his disciples were of course Jews. Notice that Jesus calls us to pray together to ‘our Father’, not individually to ‘my Father’ – it is a prayer to be said together, not a private prayer.

When we pray ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’, we express our reverence for the nature and character of God, who is holy, who is good and who loves all his creatures, just as an ideal father of a household loves all the members of his household. That includes you and me, but others too - not just Christians, but people of other faiths and none – and not just human beings, but all the wonderful diversity of living creatures we share our planet with, because God sees all his creation to be good.

We pray ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’. I believe that God’s kingdom is a state of peace and justice where we and all his creatures flourish. This is not the damaged world that we see around us, beset with war, dangerous climate change, and collapsing biodiversity – that is the antithesis of God’s kingdom. But I believe we can glimpse his kingdom, even enter into a small part of it, at any time and place where we do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. Our prayer is an invitation to look to the future in hope.

Jesus invites us to pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Notice he does not invite us to pray for more than our daily needs, and nor should we. If I greedily take all I desire, hoarding it for the future, others will likely get less than they need. We are to share what we have so that all have enough. It is ok for us to ask God for what we devoutly wish for ourselves and for others – if we can’t ask God, who can we ask? But we ought always add, ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done’, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. The purpose of prayer is to align our wishes with God’s wishes, not to badger him into doing what we want.

‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’. The Lord’s prayer in the BCP speaks of sins or trespasses, rather than debts. But they amount to the same thing – a failure to pay what is due, a failure of duty to God or our neighbour, a failure to do what is God’s will. Every one of us has failed many times in our duty to God or to our neighbour. I ask God to forgive my failures, but the sting in the tail is that God will forgive my failures only in proportion to my forgiving the failures of others. We must forgive to be forgiven.

Finally, we pray ‘Do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one’. Our time of trial may take many forms. Someone else, even someone I love, may seek to persuade me to do what I know is wrong, what is against God’s will. Or a character flaw in myself may give evil an opening it is hard to resist. Or cruel events may make me doubt the goodness and love of God. So we ask God to spare us such trials and temptations. But when we must face them, we ask God to help us resist them, as Jesus did when Satan tempted him in the desert, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Evil is real. We see it all around us in the violence humankind does to this beautiful planet. We see it in the way people exploit other people for their own ends. And we see it in the death and destruction of war. We see it in the suffering not only of the people of Ukraine, but also of misled Russian soldiers, and those whose lives are upended by sanctions, which will include many here in Ireland.

Now more than ever, we need to pray to our Father in heaven to rescue us from the evil one.

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