A Prayer Packed With Jesus – July 24

A sermon based on Luke 11:1-13
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on July 24 , 2022*
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A little girl was with her father when they stopped at a delicatessen to buy some cheese and fresh rye bread. The dad held the bread out for the little one to sniff “There’s no better bread, it’s a gift from God.” Before eating the sandwiches made from the loaf the child led them in “The Lord’s Prayer,” innocently saying “Give us this day our DELI bread. ”
Today we are going to discuss the Lord’s Prayer, also called “The Our Father.” I recently sent out a letter about prayer, and wouldn’t you know it, today’s Lectionary text has Jesus’ teaching on prayer. It’s where he teaches the “Lord’s Prayer, ” the Our Father. It’s the central prayer of our faith and our worship services, but it is a model prayer we can always use.
Like many of us, the disciples in the story are concerned about how to pray, and Jesus gives them a beautiful example, it’s a prayer that encompasses the gist of virtually all that Jesus preached and taught. The Lord’s Prayer teaches the pray-er to focus on a pervasive recognition of God and God’s desire in our lives. The Lord’s Prayer provides not only a communication from us to God, but having come from Jesus the Christ is contains a communication to us from him about how to live our lives. The Lord’s Prayer can be understood as a communication from us to God and from God to us. We can pick up communications from God in that prayer exchange! The prayer is pure genius– a Divine gift from Jesus.
There are actually three ancient versions of the Lord’s Prayer, one is in a very old church teaching manual called the Didache and its version is a lot like the one in the Gospel of Matthew (the second source). The third source is the version we heard today from the Gospel of Luke. New Testament Scholar Stephen Patterson asserts that Luke’s version “is probably as close to Jesus’ original views on prayer as we can get.” 1 But Matthew’s version is closer to what we pray each Sunday and includes the phrase “Our Father” which captures the essence of Jesus’ teachings that we are all one family, with one Father.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer so often that I think we tend to forget what we are saying. So, I am going to read Luke’s version of the prayer in two different ways. I want us to hear very clearly what is being communicated in that little prayer. Here’s how the New Revised Standard Version translates the prayer:
“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.” (Luke 11:2-4).
Now let’s listen to Dr. Patterson’s translation of the same Lukan passage:
“Father, let your name be revered; let your Empire come. Give us today enough bread for the day. Forgive us our debts, to the extent that we have forgiven those indebted to us. And do not lead us to trial.” 2
Powerful stuff! What strikes me about each of the requests in the prayer Jesus taught is that humans can provide each request to one another. God has given us the resources and ability to make them happen. Jesus asks us to pray for the possible – not for supernatural happenings, not for the smiting of enemies, not to have prosperity, not to cause religious conversions, not to get some type of afterlife. 3 The Lord’s Prayer is a practical prayer of possibilities, all petitions in the prayer can be answered by human acts–all of them lead to global well-being, Shalom. They can be answered by our focus on desiring them and desiring that they get done and then turning the desire into action. Notably the prayer as we say it each Sunday is couched in communal language, it’s not a “me” oriented prayer, it’s an “us” and “our” oriented prayer, as Jesus taught it to be. The prayer unites us in time with Jesus, his disciples and every follower since with expressed desires for personal and communal well-being.
The prayer begins with an address to “Our Father.” That phrase alone is remarkable. Theologian Marjorie Suchoki observes that with that salutation, “Jesus gives us all the highest lineage possible . . . If God is my father and yours, are we not one in value? Is not the social ranking of higher and lower immediately overturned?” 4. In the patriarchal-patron oriented system Jesus lived in “The ‘oneness’ of our relation to one father overturns the patriarchal privilege of ‘your’ father against mine.” 5. In the Lord’s Prayer, relating to God as Father in Jesus’ culture meant relating to God not only as a birth creator but also as the sole patron that one owed allegiance to in a patriarchy. God is Father – not Caesar, not Pilate, not Herod, not any leader in the patriarchy. Dr. Paterson puts it like this, the Lords’ Prayer:
“plac[es] each person in the community under the authority and patronage of God alone. There is no patriarch who stands over and above others in the New Empire of God; all stand equally under God’s immediate care.” 6
Calling God “Father” is about communicating our allegiance to God alone, and it’s about acknowledging all are equal –and just as importantly that all are our family (“brothers and sisters all are we”). The prayer is egalitarian. All are equal children of God.
The “hallowed be thy name” part is a communication of a desire that God be revered, that is honored and esteemed. It can be heard to both state that reverence, as well as ask God to make that reference come about on earth as in heaven.
The opening phrases coupled with the rest of the Luke text are Jesus’ teachings packaged in summary form in a simple prayer. It’s genius. We ask for what is needed in our world from God. We communicate to God what we desire, while at the same time the prayer communicates to us what God desires. The prayer is all about relationship, which is what the Bible is all about. It’s what religions are all about.
The part that I like best comes next. “Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Luke’s got it simpler though, it’s declarative “Let your Empire come.” That’s our job. Bringing heaven to earth is only going to happen when we make it so that God’s power has our allegiance, not earthly powers. Or to put it another way, earthly ways of violence and greed and few-have-a-lot-while-many-don’t-have-enough, give way to heavenly ways of non-violence and compassion where all have enough. Global well-being is the goal.
The next line is about that well-being. “Give us this day our daily bread” is a communication that all of “US” ought to have enough to eat every day. Prof. Marcus Borg puts it like this: “The coming of the kingdom of God is about food–about the material basis for life for everybody. It is about bread for the world.” 7. Dr. Suchoki asserts there is a communication to us as well! She writes “To ask for daily bread for ourselves is to ask daily bread for all, and to acknowledge our own responsibility in giving as well as receiving . . . [it].” 8. Dr. Patterson concurs. He calls the daily bread part of the prayer “a pledge to participate in meeting the needs of others.” 9. . . We make that pledge each time we pray the prayer.
The next part of the prayer is about forgiveness. Debt was a huge, huge burden to families in Jesus’ day, it affected survival. That still holds true today for many in the world. This part of the prayer is intended to also help everybody get enough, by expressing a desire to end crippling debt. Prof. Borg notes the prayer envisions a world where ‘Everybody is to have enough; nobody is to be enslaved by economic misfortune.” 10.
Finally, the prayer, as Luke reports it, ends with a plea for us to not be led to trial. Life is hard enough; trials make us weary. We are communicating to God, ourselves and our community the desire that we not be given – or give– that which causes trials. Jesus’ simple prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is “a summary of what mattered most to Jesus1” 12. As Dr. Patterson points out “The Lord’s Prayer expresses both the gracious love of God, a God who gives bread, not a stone, and a response of those who have been transformed by the experience of this God, who long for God’s Empire, even as they already participate in it.” 12.
One way for us to do this is to hold The Lord’s Prayer close to our heart and soul and to pray it loud and clear– and listen to it. It’s a summary of Jesus’ teachings. It’s about love and care and compassion and the well-being of all. It states the key to how we participate in bringing heaven to earth. We will pray that prayer in a few moments. When we do, let’s pay attention to what we say and see if we can hear it anew as teachings from Jesus and a communication from God, as well as from us. AMEN.
ENDNOTES:
*This sermon is based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2013
1. Patterson, Stephen, The God of Jesus, Trinity Press International, (1998), p. 103.
2. Ibid.
3. This section on what is not in the prayer was inspired by Marcus Borg’s chapter on the “Lord’s Prayer” in his book Speaking Christian, Harper One, (2011), p. 223-230. Indeed, much of this sermon was if not directly, indirectly inspired by Dr. Borg’s chapter, as well as Dr. Patterson’s note on the prayer in his book, ibid.
4. Suchoki, Marjorie, In God’s Presence, Chalice Press, (1996), p 106.
5. Ibid.
6. Patterson, 103.
7. Borg, 227
8. Suchoki, 109
9. Patterson, 104
10. Borg, 228
11. Patterson
12. Ibid. COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED