Sermon VII Pentecost July 28 2019
Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the way of thy servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As July comes to a close and we look blearily eyed towards the beginning of a new school year in a scant couple of weeks, I can’t help but think back to some of the wonderful ministry with kids we’ve had these past few months. And I mention it because whenever I think about the prayer Our Lord taught us, I think about how gratifying it is, how inspiring it is, and how beautiful it is, when children learn and say the Lord’s Prayer. It’s the best. Like back during VBS, you could tell that not all the kids knew that important prayer; but by the end of the week almost all of them could say it together with enthusiasm. My mind also goes to a set of Sundays when one of our smaller Sunday worshippers got into the wonderful habit of belting the Lord’s Prayer at the top of his little lungs, finishing with a succession of quite loud AMENs. This stuff really is the best.
The relative ease at which the words of the Lord’s Prayer spills out of the mouths of kids highlights something about Jesus ‘ teaching, and about Prayer in general. Recall how the unnamed disciple addresses the issue of prayer: “teach us a way to pray just like John the Baptist taught his disciples.” Recall again that Jesus teaches his prayer with the preface: “When you pray.” In both cases, prayer is assumed, as if instinct; as if prayer were as natural a human activity as needing water, breathing air, and eating food. Jesus taught us his prayer because he assumed, just as most human culture throughout time has assumed, that people would be praying.
Thus, he gave us this beautiful prayer, which has become the most basic part of Christian prayer throughout time and place. in our own spiritual tradition, based off the Western Tradition and the Book of Common Prayer, the person who sets their heart to prayer will find that the Lord’s prayer is used in just about every circumstance, in just about every service provided by our liturgy. Given that fact, I have always been fascinated by the fact that Our Lord for all his many teachings, parables, and ministrations, didn’t sit down in the colonnade with the philosophers and lay down the express dogma of his burgeoning movement. He taught us a lot, but questions would persist about how we ought to relate to God given his life, death, resurrection, and ascension- and then how we ought to relate to one another given his teaching founded on God’s great love for us. The wonderful theology of the Church was discerned by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the searching of the Scriptures; and Christian ethics painstakingly discerned as the application thereof. And yet, Jesus very clearly left us the Lord’s Prayer, with no need for discernment or application. And so, when we pray, we begin with “Our Father.”
In so doing, in this short prayer, I think we get a vision of what is important to God as we address Him in the name of His Son. We “hallow” God’s name, acknowledging its great power and His holiness; our difference from Him. But we also become aware that even though God and His heaven are distinct from us, at the same time it is not completely separate either. God’s Kingdom is among us, revealing God’s will for us. We are needful things, and we ask God for his provision, his gift of life in bread. We come seeking forgiveness, acknowledging that we fall short of God’s intention for us in our sin. But crucially, we are to be aware of our need to forgive each other. This is a great challenge in the text of the prayer, but once again, it indicates that God means for His creation to live together in His peace. Finally, we petition God to keep us from the time of trial, in a very real sense, asking God to keep us safe even as we are aware of the fact that trial, temptation, testing, and so on are assuredly in our future. Yet, we rely on God to be our shield and defense.
Even in that short summary, we can see the succinct, elegant beauty of the Lord’s Prayer and how even as we offer it back to God, we can see what he wants for us, how we can represent Him in the world, how we can best follow after the Christ.
But as elegant as the Lord’s Prayer is, and despite the fact the children and human culture seem to run readily to prayer, we still ask the question “why bother praying.” Simply put, we pray because it works. Jesus himself concludes his teaching on prayer this morning by assuming as much by saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “if even you in your best and worst attempts at parenting try to provide for your kids when they ask for stuff they need, don’t you think God will too?” We see a similar principle at work when we observe Abraham petitioning God for the sake of the one righteous person in Sodom. Who is Abraham to do this sort of thing? That’s some gaul to stand in front of the Author of the Universe and make his plea. Yet, he does. And he does that because he can. And we can. Again, we pray because it works. I can’t even really tell you how it works, honestly, because it kind of makes my head hurt when I probe the depths of that mystery. Even still, my own life is filled with a direct and specific petition to Almighty God that is answered pretty directly and specifically.
I hope that’s an encouragement, and I hope that it’s especially an encouragement to follow our instincts, not to mention Jesus’ command and example. As Christians, we ought to be praying. But, if you’re anything like me, you might find yourself at a loss at times as to what to say in any given moment in prayer, in those moments when we finally remember to do it. Well, Jesus has us covered, right? The Lord’s Prayer is perfect in any situation as we seek to address God. I mean, if the kids can do it, so can we right? The cool thing is that when we start adding in the intention to pray, sprinkled liberally with the words our Savior taught us, we tend to feel better, love God and our neighbor more, having our eyes opened to His Kingdom and all of its effects. We end up doing as Christ says and living as he commands. And with that in mind, I exhort you with the words of St. Paul as e exhorted the Colossians: “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
To God be all glory, From Age to Age. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
The Very Reverend David Bumsted