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Sermon 24 July 2016

Our Father, who art in heaven

Notre Pere, qui est aux cieux

 

Elizabeth and I, when we awake in the morning, say together the Lord’s Prayer. Before the busy day unfolds. Setting our compass points. You can’t get where you are going unless you know who is in charge.

You will have your own rhythms. Sometimes late in the night, when things seem unsettled. There’s the Lord’s Prayer in heart and mind and ready to be spoken to God.

Our Lord provided for us before he left. He gave us his body and blood and a way through bread and wine to have fellowship with him day after day. He opened the scriptures, and set them before us, Gentiles who were once far off. He entered waters of baptism so our fonts might have his footprint and his own blessing. And he taught us how to pray, and it wasn’t a set of techniques, but the actual provision of a prayer.

When we say ‘Our Father’ we do not just mean, “Ours” – you and me here today. Our means “his and ours.” The life he has with the Father, the dial-tone, he makes a party line. When we say “Our Father” we pray with Christ. With him and his Father. St Paul tells us that all prayer is God moving in us, and not our petitioning heaven with a check list. It is the Holy Spirit, he says, that lets arise from us Abba, Our Father.

The prayer itself should tell us this. It begins and ends with God. The three things that do concern us are in fact very basic. Give us daily bread: you will know what that is. The bread, the nourishment, we need for the day ahead that will come from your hand.

Forgive our trespasses. Whatever they are, however numerous they are, however entrenched and however unconscious they may have become over time. Do your work God. Forgive our sins. Uncover those we need to give to you. This will allow us to forgive others.

And lead us not into temptation. Do not ask of us more than we can handle. And keep us from venturing into those areas of challenge that will be too much for us. Even the Pope once famously said. “I’m going to bed now. It is your church O God.” Peter is an example of what it means to ignore this petition. He claimed to be up to what God was doing in Jesus. He had to learn he is following. Not co-authoring.

Let God be God. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. Fret not yourself over evil. I’ve got it. Don’t compete with Jesus. He’s not co-pilot. He’s pilot, admiral, General, Lord, first in command. Let him do his 24/7 job.

Just reflect, then, on how much the prayer is really release into God and his life and authority. May your name be hallowed, may it be higher than any goal or hope or fear. Let your kingdom exist around us. That life Jesus has with God and share with us, his kingdom: let us be citizens there. On earth, as it is in heaven.

How often we forget that petitioning God with our list of requests resembles what Jesus other places says are prayers of pagans. Beating the air. Anxious bargains. The worrying and the drumbeat of needs. Self-preoccupation.

Prayer for the ancients was commodity trading. Please do this or that. If one god doesn’t produce, find one who can do the job. Restlessness religion.

Petition has its proper place, and its proper place always follows from, and does not proceed, asking God to be God, and becoming confident that that will be enough. For bread today, for forgiveness, for protection. In whatever ways those things are necessary for us, whose very hairs are counted.

I was once asked to lecture on the spirituality of the Old Testament. “Spirituality” has become a kind of buzzword, often meaning, the individual spiritual progress defined apart from life in the Body of Christ.

At any rate, I said. Well, we’ll need to find the main word for that in order to have a point of focus, as ‘spirituality’ doesn’t exist in Hebrew and makes no appearance in OT or NT  -- in Acts 17 it is used negatively: I see in many ways you are very spiritual, O Athenians. You have a religious statue on every corner, and even an insurance policy in one that reads, To an Unknown God.

The strongest possibility for “spirituality” in Hebrew and in the NT is “wait for the Lord.” Wait. Be in God’s presence. Let him rule with his time and his ways. Throw away your watch in his presence and hand him praise instead a list. You may then find the list is shorter, has been edited, or just doesn’t mean as much as you thought before you gave yourself into his life.

The story of Abraham has been chosen to pair with the Gospel apparently due to the theme of persistence. Notice it is an almost perfect reversal of oriental haggling, or the brocante bargaining we’re familiar with. Where you always under-bid and find a compromise somewhere in the middle. Not here.

Abraham, a man who lives in God’s presence, knows that he has very bad bargaining odds. Sodom deserves God’s judgment. So he begins with the best deal he thinks he can get. Shave off five from fifty, and maybe forty-five will be a deal. But God says fine, so he continues, taking bigger chunks, until God accepts that if just ten righteous are there, he will not bring down punishment. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This is the God we address in the Lord’s prayer.

So Jesus also turns to the theme of persistence after handing us this prayer for our daily. nightly 24/7 use.

The best way to summarize the Lord’s word is: don’t stop praying. Don’t find a way to say, I give up. Know that life is tough and its will demand much of us. It has a scorpion dimension, in sickness, doubt, pride, anger, storing up unforgiven memories and relationships. It would be easy to say, I wanted X and I’m not getting it.

That is because prayer is meant to change us, and make us receptive to what is best for us and not what we want. God knows how to give good gifts. But we must be changed through life in prayer with him to receive them. Otherwise his good gift will not look good or we will prefer to dictate terms to the God who has counted the hairs of our head.   

In our weeks before joining St Luke’s we loved the now common practice of inviting children forward for the Lord’s Prayer at the time of consecration, in the Catholic church. The priest surrounded by kids of every age. Hands open and raised. Receptive.

Empty of the devices we now use to petition, which too often set the compass points of our lives. Smart phones, selfie sticks, tablets.

No. Open and empty. Ready to be instructed and guided, surrendered to God and his kingdom, and his power and his glory. 

 

 

 

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