Sunday 24 July 2022

Reflecting on the Lord's Prayer

May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my strength and my redeemer. Amen

You may have found today’s 3rd reading (Luke11:1-13) both familiar and strangely different.

It begins with a translation from the Greek of St Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, set for today in the common lectionary, which is slightly different from St Matthew's version, and the version we have in the BCP. The prayer 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.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we call the Lord’s prayer. We continue to do so whenever we come together as a Christian congregation. It is a prayer we are meant to say together publicly, not just on our own. We pray in the plural number, and Matthew’s version of it, records Jesus calling us to pray together to ‘our Father’, not individually to ‘my Father’.

But notice, there is nothing explicitly Christian about the prayer. It 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.

When we pray ‘Father, hallowed be your name’, we express our reverence for the nature and character of God.

God is holy, God is good and God 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.

When we pray ‘Your kingdom come’, what are we saying?

I believe that God’s kingdom is a state of peace and justice where we and all his creatures flourish. This is not the broken 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 also 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. Our prayer is saying that despite the brokenness, we look to the future in hope.

Jesus invites us to pray ‘Give us each 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, if I hoard it for the future, others will surely 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 as an afterthought, ‘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.

‘And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us’.

Our sins are our failures to do God’s will, either by doing what we ought not to do, or by failing to do what we know we should. Very often these take the form of disobeying Jesus’s commandment to treat our neighbour as ourself. 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 this: 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’.

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. But when we must face them, we need to seek God’s help to resist them, as Jesus did when Satan tempted him in the wilderness.

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 of those whose lives are upended by shortages of food and energy as a result of sanctions. We are starting to feel the consequences here in Ireland as many struggle to pay the bills and fear food and energy poverty this coming winter. We surely need to pray that we may not be brought to the time of trial.

People often find it difficult to pray, to be intimate with God.

We may feel shy. We may find it hard to find the words to say what we want to say – I know I do. Or we may be ashamed of how unworthy we are and so try to avoid meeting God in prayer – we would much rather not think of our unworthiness. But Jesus reassures his disciples – and us - that it is always right to engage with God in intimate prayer:

‘So I say to you’, he says, ‘ask, and it will be given to 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.’

Let us take Jesus’s words to heart and unreservedly open ourselves up to God, our loving Father. And when our own words fail us, Jesus has given us his own words to fall back on.

I shall finish with a Collect of the Word:

Father in heaven,

in your goodness

you pour out on your people all that they need,

and satisfy those who persist in prayer.

Make us bold in asking,

thankful in receiving,

tireless in seeking,

and joyful in finding,

that we may always proclaim your coming kingdom

and do your will on earth as in heaven. Amen

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