This is my sermon for the Seventh Sunday after the Pentecost, Year C. You can find the lectionary here.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked by one of his disciples to teach them how to pray. And in what seems like an uncharacteristic response given that Jesus often responds to questions with yet more questions, Jesus teaches a prayer. And it is a prayer that we pray together every Sunday and which many of us pray daily.
If we were to outline this prayer, it might look something like this:
- Praise God’s name.
- Pray that everyone gets what they need.
- Commit to a way of living in community and discipleship.
As I read this prayer in Luke’s Gospel with the parable, which Dr. Amy-Jill Levine calls, “The Parable of the Pushy Pal,” I realize that, as familiar as this prayer is, as commonly prayed as it is, I am not sure that we always understand what it actually means.
I also find it somewhat ironic that a parable – parables being known, perhaps being notorious for raising more questions, causing more confusion – acts as a commentary, an explanation, of a prayer that is known and prayed fervently throughout Christendom.
The Lord’s Prayer, as it is commonly known, is far more radical and counter-cultural than we may realize. It is rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition of praying daily for what you need to shape your so that you are able to live righteously, and that is “faith” as a verb, what we often refer to here as “living our faith.” It is that kind of faith that we hope to shape. It is something of a roadmap to living our days as God would have us live them to achieve God’s dream on earth.
Jesus is giving this prayer to the disciples, to us, at a time of political conflict, at a time in which he is working day in and day out to all attention to social, political, and economic injustice, to ensure that everybody gets what they need to thrive. It is offered at a time in which the institutions and religious legalism make it really difficult to reconcile the way people are forced to live with Jesus’ mission of mercy, justice, compassion, and hope.
The prayer starts with a command. We are to praise God’s name. We are to ground everything we say and do in an awareness of the sacredness and mystery of God’s holy name, the sacredness and mystery of the Divine. We are to acknowledge that God is God and we are not. And that leads to everything we pray after that.
We ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Note that there is an immediacy to this. In asking that God’s will be done her on earth, we are asking that it be done now, not at some future time when earth is not more.
What we may not understand is that this request is a bit dangerous, at least for those of us who fear the kind of change that is necessary to realizing God’s dream now. This is a prayer that is all about “us,” all of us, all of God’s children, all of God’s creation, and not about “I.” Though we pray it personally, we always pray it “give us.” It’s about building community.
We ask God to give us – all of us – what we need to live each day, no more and no less. Coupled with the immediacy of asking that God’s will be done on earth, that means that we are praying that all of God’s people get what they need now, as as soon as they need it, not when it’s more comfortable or more convenient for us to do our part.
This is the choice that the “pushy pal” in the parable is making. He chooses to disturb his sleeping neighbor because it is the only way he can feed his unexpected and hungry guest. This man chooses to risk his status as a good neighbor to ensure that he extends the radical hospitality that Jesus would have him extend.
In doing this, he reminds us that God’s will is not magically achieved. We are Christ’s Body in the world. We are Christ’s hands and feet. We do the work, the on-the-ground work, of ensuring that everyone has what they need.
We then acknowledge that we don’t always get this right. We ask God to forgive us for our failures and misdeeds. And we ask this knowing that part of the work God has given us to do is to forgive others for the ways in which they, too, need forgiveness, for the ways they have hurt us and other people.
Seeking God’s forgiveness while forgiving others is part of the whole. We need both if we are to be part of the realization of God’s will being done here on earth now.
And then, because we know that in our brokenness we need reassurance that we can praise God’s holy name in all that we are and all that we do, every single day, we ask God to help us stay the course.
This Gospel gives me hope that as people of faith we can make a difference in God’s world now. I heard this week a description of prayer that brought this home:
Prayer is powerful…Are we living with the understanding that when we pray, God enters into the situation about which we’re praying and uses the work of the Spirit to create real change. [This is my aside: That is the Spirit who works in and through us.]…
Prayers are aspirational. They are speaking into existence things that we hope will happen, but do we actually trust that they will?” (The Rev. Will Ed Green)
I would add to that the question of whether we are willing to risk the kind of change that embodying Jesus’s radical love and hospitality requires. The Lord’s Prayer is a call to action, which brings with it certain risk that we have to let go of some things we hold dear, some of the ways of living and being with which we are so very comfortable in order to ensure that everyone has what they need.
I am reminded of the adage, “Be careful what you ask for.” And I pray that God gives each of us the strength and the courage to be a part of changing the world from the nightmare it is for so many, into the dream that God has for it (to paraphrase Presiding Bishop Michael Curry). Amen.
Copyright 2022 The Rev. Paula J. Toland