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  • Rev. Annie McMillan

“Teach Us to Pray”             

In Jesus’ day, rabbis regularly taught their disciples to pray. As we heard, John the Baptist had done so. So it’s no surprise that the disciples wanted Jesus to teach them as well.

Jesus starts us simply enough: Father, as Jesus had probably just been praying. There’s an intimacy to our relationship with God: our Father, our Shepherd, and our Creator. But lest we get too intimate, we’re reminded of God’s divinity and holiness. My favorite translation- the Common English Bible- translates this first line: “Father, uphold the holiness of your name.” God might be our intimate Father, but that does not mean demanding the most trivial things, like Let me win the lottery, or Let our team win the game (as much as we might want to).

Bring in Your kingdom or, as we usually pray, Your kingdom come. We are “recogniz[ing] God’s holiness and anticipat[ing] God’s coming reign.” We even expound upon it with Matthew’s version: “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” But it can be so easy to say the words and not truly believe that God’s will might actually be realized. Where might we pray sincerely and specifically for God’s will to be done instead of our own. It’s so easy to conflate the two, assuming that our will is the same as God’s. Or that whatever is happening in the world must be God’s will.

This part of the prayer means praying for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, and then acting like it would happen by acting on those deep, passionate prayers. I was looking at what David Lose had to say about this prayer, and he explained, “In praising God’s name or invoking God’s kingdom, we are committing ourselves to honoring that name and kingdom in word and deed, and so in the first part of the prayer we ask God for the strength to do just that.” Maybe that looks like praying for peace and reconciliation, and then supporting ministries who are working for peace and reconciliation, or working toward reconciliation and peace in our own lives.

The rest of the prayer, especially here in Luke’s gospel, is simple. After asking that we act in a way to keep God’s name holy and live the kingdom life on earth, Jesus’ prayer covers sustenance in praying for daily bread, relationship as we prayer for forgiveness, and safety when we pray God not lead us into temptation. These are the basics of life, and Jesus contains himself pretty much to these essentials. Prayer doesn’t need to be complicated to be faithful.

And as we pray for each of these things, we don’t pray for only ourselves. We don’t say “Give me the bread I need”, but Give us the bread we need for today. When we pray, are we thinking of others’ needs as well? I’d expand this to beyond family or even church: how far can we pray for our own true needs for the day, as well as the needs of others?

This morning’s passage ended here, but in the following verses, Jesus expands on how prayer is not about saying the right words. It’s about the prayer being honest: talking to God from the heart. Prayer is based on trust that our Heavenly Father will give us good things.

So, what would it be like to pray as Jesus taught us, from the heart? Not necessarily using the same words we say at least every week, but in the spirit that we have been taught to pray.

What’s your intimate name for God? I know it is Father for many, but there are so many possibilities. I was listening to the Chronicles of Narnia a little while back, and the image of Aslan creating the world through song especially speaks to me. Calling God “Beloved Creator” is especially meaningful for me.

Next: how do you remember that God is holy? Heavenly and Lord remind me, as well as phrases like “Glory of the Lord.” What image, what song, what words help you remember that our God is holy: not here to cater to our every whim.

Where do we see God, and where is God needed? We pray for God’s kingdom here, that God’s will be done here. Is there a specific place that you see the need for God? And is there a way to live that out? People burdened by overwhelming debt, violence, despair. Even if it’s an area where you can’t quite see how to act on the prayer: where do you see that God is needed?

Now we get to three specifics. What basic sustenance do you or your neighbors need: Housing, clothes, a job, to know where the next meal is coming from? What relationship needs some shoring up? As Lose mentions, “Right relationship is one governed not only by commitment to the well being of those around us, but also provision for receiving and granting forgiveness. We …hurt each other and [are] hurt by each other. [It’s unavoidable. F]orgiveness reaches beyond justice to compassion to renew a community that is bound to each other by a commitment to justice and love.” Where might you need forgiveness, and where might you forgive, even if no one has asked for forgiveness? And, finally, is there safety that’s needed? Or is temptation knocking at the door?

That’s how Luke ends the actual prayer, but I like the ending that was added all those centuries ago: the reminder that God is in control: For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. We know that our good Father, our incredible Creator is ultimately in control, and loves us dearly. So don’t worry about getting the words right. Go to our God in prayer from the heart. God absolutely wants to hear from us, and be in relationship with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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