1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The late Leonard Bernstein is one of the greatest American composers of the 20th Century. He is probably most famous for composing the music for the well-know musical West Side Story. But Bernstein did not just have some thoughts on music. He had some thoughts on faith too. Bernstein once said that the most troubling and disheartening language in the church, the hardest words to say during worship were not from the creed, “I believe in God…” I mean, even now when church membership and church attendance are on a downward slope, most people can say that they believe in something. No, the most difficult words are not “I believe…” says Bernstein. The most difficult words are…”Let us pray…”
And I don’t think Bernstein is alone. As I have said in recent weeks, I would bet most of us struggle with prayer at some point during our life time. And we struggle for any number of reasons…
One struggle is that there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day for prayer. Time is of the essence and there simply isn’t enough free time in the day. Therefore, prayer for many has been relegated to that time while waiting for the red light to change or for the drive-thru to move ahead. I can still remember in college being the busy student that I was, I would leave my prayer life for that time right before I would fall asleep at night. It seems that was the only time I could find to pray. However, each morning, I would wake up realizing that I had fallen asleep in the middle of my prayer. I hated that. A friend of mine reassured me that it was okay because I was falling asleep in the arms of God. The truth is, while that sounds nice, it never made me feel any better. I still fall asleep during my prayers. And I still hate it. Sometimes, the problem with prayer is that it can be hard to have enough time in the day to give it the attention it deserves.
But I suppose that is a rather simple problem. Other times, the problems with prayer are more complex. Sometimes we aren’t sure what kind of prayer the situation calls for. What do you do when the diagnosis is bad and the cancer has spread – do you pray for more time together, or do you pray that the end come quickly and painlessly?
And other time, when it comes to prayer, some of us are left wondering, why did I not get what I prayed for? Why couldn’t we have children? Why did I lose my job so close to retirement? Why can’t I control my anger? How come my child is making the same mistakes over and over again and risking his life? Did God not hear my request? Or was the answer simply, “No.” Does God care or is God a jerk?
There are all kinds of problems with prayer. If we spent enough time together, I’m sure we could come up with a much longer list than that.
But the truth is these problems with prayer are not new. In fact, they are old. Old enough to be found in Luke’s gospel, when the disciples were also struggling with how to pray. For it is in Luke’s text for us today where the disciples, who have been following Jesus around for the past 10 chapters or so, ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The disciples. The ones who have been called to follow Jesus didn’t know how to pray! Which tells us you don’t have to know how to pray in order to be a follower of Jesus. The ability to pray is not a prerequisite to this whole Christian thing. Which is good news, because when it comes time for you to pray and you’re not sure what to say…then you are no different than Jesus’ closest friends. “Lord, teach us to pray.” they ask. And so do we. Lord, teach us to pray because we don’t always know how. Luke knows that there are problems with prayer.
And so it is out of this that the disciples, us included, are taught the Lord’s Prayer. And we are reminded that the Lord’s prayer doesn’t come from the catechism or from the hymnal. No, it comes from the Lord. Hence the name.
If you didn’t notice, the version of the Lord’s prayer found in Luke is a little different than we are used to. You and I are more likely familiar with the version found in Matthew’s gospel. To emphasize this, I’d like for us to say together the Lord’s prayer from our reading. So would you please begin reading with me in vs. 3, beginning with the word “Father” all the way through vs. 4. 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. Amen.
These are the words that Jesus gives us to pray when we don’t know how to pray. And from the start, the prayer teaches us about who God is. Father, Jesus begins. God is a father, a loving parent. In fact, the Aramaic word abba, meaning dad or daddy. Contrary to popular opinion, the God found in Jesus is not a final judge who sits behind the bench, but rather God is father. God is mother. God is a loving parent. Whom we need not fear.
And then Jesus goes on, Father, hallowed be your name. And what I love about this is that it isn’t that we are supposed to keep God’s name holy. But that God is supposed to keep God’s name holy. Father, hallowed be your name. Hey dad, make your name holy. Live up to your name. Be who you are. Be a dad. Be a parent to us, Jesus teaches us to pray.
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. God, be who you are and your kingdom come. Make your kingdom come. Come here. What this prayer is saying is that the kingdom of God is not something that we go to when we die, but it is something that comes here to earth. When we pray your kingdom come, we pray not that we would go to God, but that God would come to us. To join us here. In this place and time, amidst all of our toils and troubles. That God would meet us here amidst car accidents and skin disease. Amidst empty crop fields and burned down homes. Amidst miscarriages and crushing debt. Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your kingdom come here. To be with us.
And what does it look like when God’s kingdom comes? The rest of the prayer tells us. It looks like hungry people being fed. Or as Jesus puts it, when people are given their daily bread. It looks like forgiveness being offered between people who are at war with each other. Or Jesus says, when our sins are forgiven, as we forgive those indebted to us. The coming of God’s kingdom will look those who are burdened under the great weight of suffering being rescued from their pain. Or in the words of Jesus, when the people of God are saved the time of trial.
Lord, teach us to pray, the people of God ask. And he does. 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.
That is the prayer that Jesus – the one we call Immanuel, the one who is “God with us” – would have us pray. Now, about once a month, I lead worship at the nursing home in Blooming Prairie. I always enjoy going over there. They are lovely people. However, it can be hard to lead worship, because almost every month, by the end of the service, at least half of the congregation is asleep. Which is okay. Because let’s be honest, sometimes some of you fall asleep in church too. And so do I. Or at least I used to, when I wasn’t the one leading worship.
But what never ceases to amaze me is the power of the Lord’s prayer to wake up just about anybody. At the nursing home, all I have to say is “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” and suddenly, everyone stirs to life. The whole room comes alive again and they all are speaking it with me. I have been with hospital patients who haven’t spoken a word for days and who are nearing death, but when the Lord’s Prayer is spoken, they mumble along. They can speak this prayer that sits deep within them, even when they can’t seem to speak anything else. That is the power of this prayer. This prayer that the Lord would have us pray. In the midst of our toils and troubles, it can remind us of who God is. It reminds God who God is to be. And in the right moment, it can bring us back to life. Amen.