Salem Lutheran Church


Teach Us To Pray

Prayer in the Gospel of Luke is an important spiritual practice. In fact, it is mentioned more than 60 times in Luke. In this Gospel we are told of Jesus praying at his baptism (3:21); Jesus praying before selecting the twelve (6:12); Jesus praying on the mountain before the transfiguration (9:28, 29); and in our story today, Jesus was praying before the disciples asked him to teach them to pray (11:1). In other parts of the story we are told to “pray for those who mistreat you” (6:28); Jesus says that God’s house is to be a house of prayer" (19:46); and Jesus instructs his followers not to pray lengthy prayers (20:47). So, it is no wonder with all this emphasis on prayer that the disciples finally say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray…”.

Now, we have a tendency in these modern times to think of the disciples as these perfect beings, but they were humans and they didn’t always know how to be disciples. So, after watching Jesus pray once again and realizing that it was something they were all to be doing, they finally ask Jesus for some help in the “prayer department.” I love it, because I thought having difficulties praying was a modern day Lutheran problem. You know what I mean! For most of us, prayers are best left to the professionals. No matter where I go, whether it is a meeting or event here, or even when I am at a family function or visiting a friend’s home, there is always one question that gets asked before we eat, “Will you say the prayer?”.

Now, in our story today, the disciples realize prayer is not just to be left to Jesus, so they didn’t ask for a specific prayer. No, they wanted to know how to pray, and Jesus offers them a structure for prayer that I think we often overlook. In fact, I often wonder why we call it the “Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer wasn’t for Jesus; it was for his disciples. I think it should be called the “Disciples' Prayer. “ And, the other thing is, I don’t think Jesus intended it to be a prayer that we memorized, or recited as is. Oh, I think it's great that we have done that, but in responding to his disciples, Jesus offered a formula for prayer that focused on their relationship with God, and I believe today that we have gotten so comfortable and familiar with this prayer that it has lost much of its power.

First, Jesus says, “when you pray…”. Notice he doesn’t say, “if you pray…”; no, Jesus says “when” you do this. In other words, we all ought to be praying, and as Paul says, "pray unceasingly…”. So, knowing it is something we need to be doing often, Jesus says begin by acknowledging whom you are praying to. That is, we pray to God, our Father, who is holy and righteous.

Secondly, when we pray, we ought to pray for what is right in God’s kingdom, and for God’s will, not ours. Prayer is not about offering up a wish list of things we want, but instead it is about reminding ourselves, not God, of God’s will and God’s righteousness. For example, this week I prayed a lot for Alan Uhl as he was dying. Alan was not afraid to die, but I knew he wanted more time. I knew his daughter and family didn’t want him to die, and so I prayed for healing. The healing I prayed for though was for God’s healing in God’s time. On Saturday morning, my prayer was answered. God healed Alan completely and eternally. God’s kingdom and God’s will were done both here on earth and in heaven.

When we pray, Jesus says we should also remember that God has promised to always feed us, both figuratively and spiritually. Now, you might say, well, that part isn’t going very well, we have hunger and poverty galore in this world. And, that is true, but that is not God’s doing. In fact, God has provided all the food we need to feed everyone in the world. We humans just have to figure out how to share all we have with the world. We are the answer to that prayer, we just need to be willing to not be greedy and use the gifts we have to “feed” the world, even if it means sacrifices for us. You see, when we pray and we ask God for something, we ought to be prepared to be the answer.

But when we pray, Jesus says remember that you are already forgiven, and in receiving such a gift, remember that you are to forgive others, always, no matter what. Why? Because you have been forgiven, already. And lastly, when we pray, Jesus says acknowledge your weaknesses. We can easily be tempted away from God and God’s ways, can’t we? It is so much easier to relax at home on Sunday mornings than to get up and take time to worship with a faith community. It is so tempting to believe that all our wealth is what we have earned ourselves. We don’t need to share it, and if we do, well, let’s give what we have left over, not what we first receive, which is what God says. It is so tempting to believe that we are always right and believe that we don’t need to change our ways. And, yet, this prayer is a prayer of change. When we pray in this way, “lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil,” we are praying that God help us to live and be in relationship with not only God but the world around us as God desires us to live. In other words, we are praying that God help us to change and be more like God. In response to their request for help, Jesus offered them a way of praying that focused on changing their hearts and on their own sinfulness.

Which brings me back to my question of “Have we become just too familiar with this prayer for it to be helpful to us anymore?”. When we pray this prayer in just a few minutes, my hope is that we all realize we are praying a prayer that is demanding that God help us change as she has promised. We are praying a prayer that is saying, “Lord, we will care for this world as you care for us.” We are praying God’s kingdom to be realized here on earth, and for that to happen, we have to live into that kingdom and we have to be willing to change so that we can share that kingdom with the world. When we pray this prayer, we are praying a prayer that is anti-cultural.

Clarence Jordan was a New Testament Greek scholar and a farmer in the Deep South in the early 20th century. He and his family founded the Koinonia Farm, a small but influential religious community in southwest Georgia. Koinonia is the Greek word meaning community, or fellowship. This Christian community bound themselves to the equality of all persons, rejection of violence, ecological stewardship, and common ownership of possessions. Jordan is also famous for paraphrasing the Gospels into what is called the Cotton Patch Gospel, and in doing so, he reworded the Lord’s Prayer, “Father, may your name be taken seriously. May your Movement spread. Sustaining bread grant us each day. And free us from our sins, even as we release everyone indebted to us. And don’t let us get all tangled up.” I love this version of the Lord’s Prayer.

It is so easy for us to get tangled up in this world and its evil ways. It is so easy for us to not take God seriously; after all, this Word that we have is thousands of years old. God can’t expect us to take it seriously. And, I love the idea that God’s kingdom is a movement, because that is exactly what it is. God desires us to move away from the ways of this world and toward God’s kingdom.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus not only showed us how to pray, but he shared with us a way to pray. I know our lives are busy. I know we often feel inadequate. I know we believe others can do it better, but the truth is, this prayer we call the Lord's Prayer is for all of us. I hope and I pray that as we all continue to recite this prayer, we listen to the words, in whatever form we choose to say it, and we realize that we are praying for God to change us, so that we might experience and share God’s promised kingdom. Amen.

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