This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, July 28, 2019. The lectionary text was Luke 11:1-13.
How well do you know how to pray?
If you’re like a lot of Christians, you probably think, “not so well.” Yet, I bet you know how to pray better than you think. Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The answer begins, “Our Father.” Can you guess what comes next? That’s right: “who art in heaven.”
How do you pray? Jesus taught us. He taught us the Lord’s Prayer. And we know that prayer. It’s one of the first things we memorize as Christians. Right alongside our ABC’s. And it’s also one of the last things we hold on to. I once visited a woman in a nursing home. She had such severe dementia that conversation was impossible; she just mumbled to herself for the whole visit. I wasn’t even sure if she knew I was there. But when I began to pray the Lord’s Prayer, suddenly the mumbling stopped, and she joined me, word for word. We know this prayer. It’s in us. So why do we feel like we don’t know how to pray? Perhaps it’s because we know the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but rarely slow down to think of the meaning. So let’s slow down.
Let’s pray it really slowly, one line at a time. I invite you to pray aloud each of the bold-faced lines as we go.
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Which is archaic English for, “Our heavenly Father.” When we pray this, we are saying something important about God: God is both majestic and holy, dwelling in heaven, but at the same time so close to us, nothing less than a loving parent who wants only to take care of us. God is not distant or aloof, but right here with us. Pray it again. Our Father, who art in heaven.
The rest of the prayer is seven petitions or requests. Jesus taught us that our prayers to God should be precisely that, requests. God wants us to ask for things. But what does God want us to ask for? Money? Comfort? Happiness? Let’s find out.
Hallowed be thy name.
That’s old English for “May your name be holy.” Now, of course, God’s name is holy whether we pray this or not. It’s not like God hears our prayer and says, “Oh, good point. I’ll make my name holy today.” But in this prayer we ask God to make God’s name holy for us. So that we might recognize God’s holiness, and recognize that God’s name is higher than any other name, including our own. That we might use God’s name and call on God in any need. When we pray this, we are asking God, “Help me to pray to you more and more, and look only to you in every time of need.” Let’s pray for that. Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
That means, “may you reign here among us.” Here’s where the Lord’s Prayer starts getting subversive. We are praying that God’s kingdom come here to earth. That God would break into our world, and establish peace. Now of course, God’s kingdom already came to earth. When Jesus died on the cross, God’s kingdom broke into this world, and has never left. But in this prayer we ask that that kingdom may come among us. We’re not asking for crumbs. We’re asking for an entire kingdom, for everything God has. We are boldly asking God to give us everything. This takes confidence and faith, to believe that God would actually do this! Let’s pray it together again. Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Your will be done. God’s will, not ours. We just prayed for God to give us a whole kingdom, but here we pray that we use it according to God’s will, not ours. Now God’s will comes here on earth whether we pray this or not, but in this prayer we pray that God’s will would be done among us and by us. Not our will. Not the will of our spouse, our parents, our leaders, our pastor, our church, our political party. But God’s will. We pray that we would follow God, no matter the cost. And sometimes there is a cost to following God. This prayer takes courage and trust. Let’s pray it again together. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Of course, daily bread is far more than the stuff we make sandwiches out of. Daily bread includes everything we need, everything. Food, water, air, shelter, family, friendship, government, clothing, shoes, good weather, peace, money. And so forth. Now God gives this all to us already, whether or not we pray, to the good and the wicked alike. But in this prayer, we ask God to remind us that it is all from God. It’s not from our own work, from our own merit. Everything we have is a gift from the hand of our heavenly Father. When we pray this, we are telling God that we know we have earned nothing, nothing at all. Let’s pray it together again. Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Don’t get tripped up by the word “trespass.” It’s just old English for “sin.” Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. God is a God of mercy, so God forgives us even if we don’t pray this. But when we pray this, we recognize that we are sinful, that we continue to screw up over and over again. And secondly, we pray that we can be equally forgiving to others, because otherwise we can’t experience God’s forgiveness. Think of it this way: my son brings me a cup that’s filled with mud, and asks, “Daddy, please fill this with water.” My response would be, “Of course. But there’s no room right now. You have to pour out the mud, and then I will gladly fill it for you.” It’s not punishment; it’s just the way forgiveness works. Let’s pray it together one more time. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation.
Now, we know God better than that. God doesn’t tempt us. A better translation would probably be, “Save us from temptation.” So we ask in this prayer that God would protect us from all the temptations that hound us – the temptations of the world, the temptations of our inner selves, and the temptations of the devil. We ask God for strength to avoid the things we should avoid. To be the people we are intended to be. Let’s pray for that together. Lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
There is a lot of evil in the world. There are other people who would do us harm. There are our own evil impulses. There is evil always lurking around the corner, always lurking within our motives. We are sinful beings, we live in a sinful world. We cannot expect to avoid evil. And we don’t pray to God to take the evil away. Instead, we pray that God would deliver us from it. Bring us through safely. Guide us and lead us, protect us and hold us safe. In this prayer, we acknowledge that only God can do this; on our own, we are weak and frail. Let’s pray it one more time. But deliver us from evil.
That’s the final petition. But there is a conclusion.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
It’s yours, God. It’s all yours. Power and glory do not belong to us, or to the church, or to nations, or to people. They belong only to God.
Amen means, “so be it” or “let it be so” or “it is certain.” When we end a prayer with “Amen,” it’s not like ending a letter with “sincerely yours.” It means, “I believe in all my heart that this is true.” Jesus taught us to pray in confidence that what we pray for will be. What we pray for is certain. What we pray for is true. We can end every single prayer with this, not because they’re good prayers. Not because we’re good pray-ers. But because God is faithful and steadfast. And that is how we pray, in complete trust. All together now.