Prayer Matters

A Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)

by The Rev. Louise Browner Blanchard

Luke 11:1-13


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer.          

This is a difficult time for our country and our world. We’re in the middle of a divisive election. We’re torn between questions of race, immigration, and police safety. We’re threatened by terrorism and gun violence. Questions about taxes, insurance, and economic security seem to drive us even further apart. And even prayer can polarize us. At last week’s Republican convention, one pastor raised eyebrows across the political spectrum when he named Hillary Clinton as the enemy in his prayer. I’d like to believe something similar won’t happen again, but at this point who knows what prayers we’ll hear at the Democratic convention.

How timely that today’s gospel reminds us that how we pray matters.

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They are living in a difficult time themselves. The controversy around Jesus is mounting, and the crowds grow as he continues to challenge the authorities and conventions of the day by performing miracles, healing outcasts and sinners, and proclaiming forgiveness. It’s difficult to imagine how he handles the pressure, but one thing we know is that he remains grounded in prayer. We see him praying at momentous times, like his baptism and his transfiguration, but also in his daily life and work. For Jesus, prayer is the framework by which he discerns who he is and what God has called him to do.

One of the disciples notices, and he asks Jesus to teach him and the others how to pray. It’s the prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer, but in Luke’s version, it’s abbreviated and perhaps more to the point. In just five sentences, Jesus reveals that prayer is not only about what we say, but how we act:

The first sentence reveals to whom we pray: “Father.” Although “Father” may sound formal to us, in Jesus’ native Aramaic language, the term is “Abba,” which is akin to “Daddy” – more approachable and intimate, more affectionate and immediate. God is caring and compassionate, generous and gracious. This is a God who is merciful. At the same time, “hallowed be your name,” affirms God’s holiness and sacredness. He is set apart from and unlike us. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways. We should be very careful about presuming otherwise.

The second sentence, “Your kingdom come,” recognizes both that God’s kingdom is not yet here on earth, and acknowledges our responsibility to help bring the kingdom about. We are commanded to love our neighbor, to be hospitable to the stranger, and to care for the other. How we treat one another matters.

The third sentence starts to flesh out how we do that: “Give us each day our daily bread.” Each day, we ask for what is essential and recognize that that is enough.

The fourth sentence recognizes the centrality of forgiveness in the Christian life. We begin by asking for forgiveness for our own sins, which presumes that we each have them. Yoked to the forgiveness that we receive is the prayer to forgive everyone who is indebted to us. That in itself is a concept that requires some consideration. I doubt that Jesus was talking just about people who owe us money.

Finally, we pray that God “save us from the time of trial.” Whether such trials amount to temptation or persecution, we acknowledge that it is God who keeps us safe.

Ultimately, the prayer that Jesus teaches the disciples is a lesson in who they—and we—should try to be as faithful people in relationship with God. It is not enough to know the words, or even to believe in them. In order for the Lord’s Prayer to be effective, we have to live into it, to let it inform our perspective of how we live in the world, guide us in following more closely in the footsteps of Jesus, and bring us further in relationship with God. That prayer, or any other that we say, will have little effect on us or the world we live in if we do not make it a practice to put it into practice in our daily lives.

So how do we do that? How do we do our part in ushering in God’s kingdom? We know what the prayer says. How do we apply it to our lives? The first step is simply to undertake to take what we have say and do here on Sundays and apply it to the way we live our lives.

I believe that those ways are as varied as the people in this church. It starts with a resolution to live more fully into the prayer that Jesus taught us. It could be through a practice of daily prayer or meditation reading the Bible more regularly. It could be a result of cultivating gratitude for all the blessings that we have been given. Maybe it’s resolving to be more welcoming of strangers both here and in our wider communities or getting involved with our outreach partners. It is almost certainly through listening to one another. But Jesus has given us a prescription for how to pray and how to live. It is up to us to fill his charge.