Saturday, July 24, 2010

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Luke 11:1-13; Matthew 6:7-14

[Note: As a worshiping assembly, Hope uses three versions of the Lord’s Prayer in rotation; the Malotte’s sung version using debts, the trespasses version most people know, and the sins version dating from 1988.]
I want to do two things with the sermon today. First, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the Lord’s Prayer in its various versions in Scripture and in public use. Then, I’ll talk about prayer as a conversation between us and God.
Today’s gospel reading includes Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. It is striking in what is different about it, when we compare it with the versions of the prayer we use in worship. It is also striking when we compare this version with Matthew’s version. The context in which each prayer is set is also very different. Mark and John do not have any version of this prayer. At least with only two versions, it’s easier to compare and contrast them.
Luke’s version is set amid various teachings about discipleship. In the previous chapter, seventy disciples were sent out to heal and preach about the good news of the reign of God. The Good Samaritan helped the victim when the priest and the Levite walked on by – showing us how to love our neighbor. The sisters Mary and Martha had different ideas about how to offer the best hospitality, and to keep a balance in one’s life.
As for the Lord’s Prayer itself, there are some words missing, and some variations on the words that are used. I’ll just highlight a few things, comparing Luke’s version to the Lord’s Prayer we use on Sundays.
The opening begins simply, “Father.” However, other ancient copies of Luke say, “Our Father in Heaven.” “Your will be done” is omitted. In the sentence regarding forgiveness, Luke uses both sins and debts. We ask God to save us from the time of trial, but not to deliver us from evil.
When we turn to Matthew’s version in Matthew 6:9-13, we discover that the context is part of a long cluster of teachings about discipleship we call the Sermon on the Mount. The immediate context, the verses right before and right after the prayer, are about trusting in God as we pray, about presenting our hearts to God – not our fancy words –, and about forgiveness. Jesus says that if we refuse to forgive others, God will refuse to forgive us.
Looking at the text of Matthew’s version, and comparing it to what we say when we worship, the main differences are the use of debts instead of trespasses, and trials instead of temptations.
Both Luke’s and Matthew’s version lack the doxology, the part we use to end the prayer. “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory …” This part is not in the original Greek texts, and so not in most versions of the Scripture, but it was used when people prayed very early in Christian history. When the King James Version was printed, it included the doxology in the text.
The rest of the reading from Luke, verses 5-13, gives us a fuller picture of what it means to pray. As usual in Luke, Jesus tells stories as he teaches, to help the listeners understand what he is saying. Jesus praises persistence in prayer, and trusting in God to provide what is needed.
So, when we pray, God wants us to bring to God our problems and our joys, our worries and our fears, and to pray trusting that God does hear our prayers. We are to pray often, so we become comfortable with God, and know that God does indeed know our names.
God answers prayers in many ways; simply put, God says Yes, No, and Not now. Sometimes, what we pray for, we get. Children might pray for a skateboard or an I-Pod, and it comes as a birthday or Christmas gift. Any of us might pray for healing for ourselves or a loved one, and the healing comes.
Sometimes, we pray and pray and pray for something, and it doesn’t come, doesn’t happen. God has said, No, that’s not going to happen.
Often, what we pray for, we never get, but something much better come our way. When I was in seminary, we were assigned to congregations for field work, 7-10 hours of service as we practiced what we were learning. We were all given a list of available church sites, and we went on several Sundays to check them out. I made up my mind which one I wanted, and I just knew I was going to Mount Zion, a few miles south of school. I was shocked and grieving when I learned I was assigned to St. Paul’s, miles and miles to the northwest. After a few months, I understood what God had in mind for me at St. Paul's, and then I didn’t want to leave. I have drawn over and over again on the lessons I learned there.
So, when we pray for something we really want, and it never comes, chances are, we need to change our prayer. We need to ask God, what do you want me to learn from this, what do you want me to have instead of what I have asked for? We have to trust that God knows better than we do what is best for us.
In addition, we need to pay attention to what God is asking us to do. Luther’s catechism makes it clear that we are partners with God, just as the disciples were partners with Jesus, in sharing the Good News of the coming of the reign of God. We pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will can be done more easily if we allow God to use us for God’s purposes, if we are open to hearing what God wants us to do. God's kingdom, God's reign is about love and forgiveness for all of God's people.
God is also asking us to be as forgiving as God is. Are we willing to forgive those who have hurt us? Or do we prefer to hold onto our hurts and our anger, keeping them alive in our hearts? Those old hurts and angers only harm us. They prevent us from having the relationships God wants us to have. We think they are protecting us from getting hurt again, but in truth, they get in the way of our relationship with God.
We ask God to help us avoid trouble. But, we don’t always help God help us. We put ourselves in situations that can get us into trouble. I could talk about situations like bars, or friends that use and sell illegal substances, or internet sites that expose us to things we’re not supposed to see – those certainly are risky.
But just as risky are the everyday occurrences and situations we put ourselves into. As our experience and the news media makes clear, it’s easy to cheat, to follow the crowd, to disrespect certain types of people, to do as little as we think we can get away with. We do those things in part because we’re human, and not perfect. But we also do them because we think we know better than God what is good for us. And we do them because we don’t ask God to help us not do them.
This week, as you pray the Lord’s Prayer, take time to really think about what you are asking God to do, and what God is asking you to do. Give real thought to each petition, maybe even each word, and pay attention to how the Holy Spirit is guiding you to live and serve.

Please pray with me: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.