Shortly, we will say the Lord’s Prayer together again in our Sunday assembly. We have said this prayer in both German and English in this room since World War I. In doing so, we continue the long Christian tradition of using the Lord’s Prayer in worship that began with the first Christian groups in the second century. The Lord’s Prayer is one of our most treasured texts from the Bible. Today we have Luke’s version of that sacred text in chapter 11.
Luke’s prayer is similar but different from the prayer we use. It is different from the Lord’s Prayer of Martin Luther who in the 16th century, in good and proper German order, said the Lord’s Prayer consisted of seven petitions, a beginning and an ending. The seven petitions of Luther are divided into two tables: the “thou” petitions which address God, and the “we” petitions that address our daily lives. But Luke’s prayer is different, shorter, more direct, and in some ways feels less polished and more primitive.
Luke’s prayer is even different from Matthew’s Lord’s Prayer in chapter six which is close to what we now use for the Lord’s Prayer. We can see the seven petitions here. The petitions in Matthew have a cadence and can be read by a group more easily. And they are paired or echo each other in some way so that the prayer hangs together as a group recites. But Luke’s prayer is more direct, more impulsive, and more primitive, if you will.
Perhaps it is best to not think of Luke’s prayer as a prayer organized around petitions or public reading, but around impulses. This prayer of Luke expresses four basic impulses or yearnings that undergird human life. These impulses or yearnings are not so much prayed, but expressed or even exhaled by the believer, as prayer is tied closely to simply living life one day at a time, one moment at a time.
The four impulses basic to human life are: that the right will prevail, that we will all have enough, that we will stop killing each other and get along, and finally that we will have the strength and courage to meet the challenges ahead. The hope we have for living is expressed or exhaled in these four impulses.
That the right will prevail: we want the right rather than evil to prevail in this world, and we yearn for the good and true. We understand this good and right to be sacred. We also understand that it may take some time for the good to come. But we yearn for justice and peace, the right and the good, for the kingdom of God. Our impulse is for the right to prevail and we long for the good to be accomplished. Let’s all breathe in and then exhale, focused on the sense that the right will prevail…….
That we will all have enough: we know that having enough food and resources for living is basic to all life. We yearn and long for enough. Note that we pray not for all we want, but all we need. Note that it is not what I need, but what we, we all, need. Note that this is not about stockpiling, but having enough day by day. But all life has this impulse for food, clothing, shelter and the resources needed to sustain life. We sense that we are supplied this by the sacred presence of God. Let’s all breathe in and then exhale, focused on the sense that we will have enough…….
That we will stop killing each other and get along: we know how violent the human race can be, how difficult our disagreements can become, how mean and cruel life can be. And we know that at the bottom of making humanity work is the need to forgive, to be forgiven, and to move on rather than to be stuck in an endless and entrenched cycle of anger, fear, aggression, and reprisal. We yearn for that. Let’s all breathe in and then exhale, focused on the sense that we will give and receive forgiveness……..
Finally that we will have the strength and courage to meet the challenges ahead: we know we will face challenges, struggles, obstacles, and difficulties in life. We all yearn for the courage, faith and strength we need to meet those challenges, so that we might be delivered. Give us the strength we need to make it through. Let’s all breathe in and then exhale, focused on the sense that we will make it through the challenges before us..….
May the right prevail, may we all have bread, may we forgive so that we are not consumed by hatred and violence, and may we have the strength we need for the challenges ahead. These are the basic human impulses exhaled in this prayer of Luke.
We might notice a couple of other things about these prayer impulses that are the breath of life for all humanity. First, notice the parables that follow the impulses. They remind us that prayer is not about good form or an occasional thing. Persistence matters. Prayer is a practice. The consistent practice and persistence matters more than propriety. In the parables today, people are not rewarded for their procedures or good form. There are no style points here. They are rewarded for their consistency and persistency. It’s spiritual exercise that unleashes the power of prayer.
A second thing is how this prayer thing is based on having a relationship with God, an awareness of the divine, the sacred, a personal sense of God’s presence and love. All of that is summed up in the word Abba, which is an affectionate word for God, perhaps too affectionate for some, but it is only because we sense the nearness of God that we are able to breathe these impulses and entrust them into God’s care.
St. Ignatius’ Prayer of Examine is a meditative style of prayer that focuses on reviewing some aspect of life and finding the presence of God, the presence of the sacred, the will of God in whatever is going on. When we sense the presence of God, we are able to breathe again with God the impulses of human hopefulness.
In the first lesson from Geneses, grounded in his sacred relationship with God, Abraham enters into an intercessory prayer, a prayer for others. Abraham prays for Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities so filled with violence and corruption that no one should pray for them. But Abraham does. His prayer form is an ancient Middle Eastern conversational barter with God that still goes on in some marketplaces of the world. Abraham starts out at fifty and barters God down to five.
Now the point of this is not that we should use prayer to barter with God, but that God is not interested in exacting a high price. God is a push over in this bartering. Why didn’t Abraham get the number down to zero? It was Abraham’s sense rather than God’s that settled on the number five. God is not interested in bartering with us. God wants to be graceful with us, sustaining us, often agreeing to our own terms. As God leads us along the path of renewal, God breathes with us, over and over again in daily exercise or walk. May the right prevail, may we all have bread, may we forgive so that we are not consumed by hatred and violence, and may we have the strength we need for the challenges ahead.