…one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Luke 11:1-13
“Teach us to pray,” the disciples ask Jesus. Teach us to pray as John taught his disciples. Teach me to pray like everyone else in church who seem to know how, or else they’re faking it. Give me words and courage to say them out-loud so when we circle up at VBS staff meetings or at council or during Sunday school and confirmation, and we go around the circle, passing prayers from one to another, I might actually utter something before squeezing the next hand to silently pass the prayer along. Teach me to pray when my heart is broken, when joy overflows and when asked to say the blessing at Thanksgiving dinner because I am the only one who goes to church. Teach me when I am full of anxiety, can’t sleep, and have to get up in the morning. Teach me to calm my mind and listen. Teach me to still my soul and simply be.
The disciples already knew prayers. As Jews they began and ended each day with the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” Before meals, they prayed, “Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, through Whose word everything comes into being” and after meals, they thanked God who gave them everything. In the Gospel of Luke, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptizer taught his disciples. In Matthew during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the prayer to a huge crowd. Either way, his prayer draws us into the heart of God.
It does so in two profound ways. First, whether we were part of the crowd, one of the 12 disciples or are learning it today – Jesus teaches us this prayer. Therefore, Jesus is with us when we pray it, and in all our praying. Theologian Markus Barth calls Jesus the Inner Man, who dwells in our hearts and always prays with us. This is deep. It helped me to think about it, this way. When I was in first and second grade, I was a terrible reader. All those little marks on the page didn’t make sense to me. I memorized. I did not really read until third grade with Mrs. Wilfinger. She was short woman, not much taller than her students with a wonderful laugh. She worked and worked with me and the other kids in the slow readers group. And then something clicked and I read, and read, and read. I devoured Bobbsey Twin Books and Nancy Drew mysteries. In the billions of words, I’ve read and written since, Mrs. Wilfinger is still there and she always will be.
When we pray, Jesus is with us. Eugene Peterson put it this way, “While I am on my knees before the Father, Christ is praying for me and in me, strengthening me with power through his Spirit…my prayers are rooted in real history, in actual incarnation, and are not controlled by my moods or fantasies, guilty fears or wishful thinking.” He continues. “At prayer I am not myself by myself before God: the Inner Man, Jesus, is there, a partner in my praying speaking the word of God. Prayer transcends ‘me, myself, and I’ by bringing me into attentive participating relationship with the Inner Man, with Jesus, who reveals the Godhead.”[i]
Second, Jesus give us a prayer. He begins with “Our Father”. Note, he doesn’t say my father or your father, but OUR father. His very first word is “Abba,” the Hebrew and Aramaic word for Father, Daddy. Often the first word a child speaks, Abba, Daddy, is Jesus’ father and our father, too. The feminist in me has always wondered what about Mama. In preparing for today, I learned that Hebrew word for mother is emm, the Aramaic word, immah. The word, amen, comes from these words for mother, which at its core means, confirmation, support, YES. So, we begin with “Daddy” Abba and end with “Mommy” Amen. In between, surrounded by love, we pray.
Rather than talk more about it, let’s do it. But a little differently. One of the challenges to praying a prayer so many know so well, it that it becomes rote, done out of habit without much thought. This was a challenge for the brothers of St. Francis, so Francis gave them and through them us, a prayerful reflection inspired by the Our Father. Copies of it are in your bulletin. With Jesus, let us pray.
O our most holy Father,
Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and Savior
who are in heaven:
In the angels and in the saints,
Enlightening them to love, because You, Lord, are light
Inflaming them to love, because You, Lord, are love
and filling them
because You, Lord, are the
the Eternal Good
from Whom comes all good
without Whom there is no good.
Hallowed be your name:
May our knowledge of You become ever clearer
That we may know the breadth of Your blessing
the length of Your promises
the height of Your majesty
the depth of Your judgments
Your kingdom come:
So that you may rule in us through
Your grace and enable us to come to Your kingdom
where there is an unclouded vision of You
a perfect love of You
a blessed companionship with You
an eternal enjoyment of You
Your will be done on earth as in heaven:
That we may love You with our whole heart
by always thinking of You with our whole soul
by always desiring You with our whole mind
by directing all our intentions to You
and by seeking Your glory in everything.
And with our whole strength
by spending all our energies and affections
of soul and body in the service of Your love and of nothing else.
And may we love our neighbors as ourselves by
drawing them all with our whole strength to Your love
by rejoicing in the good fortunes of others as well as our own
by sympathizing with the misfortunes of others and
by giving offense to no one.
Give us this day:
in memory and understanding reverence
Of the love which [our Lord Jesus Christ] had for
and of those things which He said and did and suffered for us
our daily bread:
Your own Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And forgive us our trespasses:
Through Your ineffable mercy through the power of
Passion of Your Beloved Son
Together with the merits and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all Your chosen ones
as we forgive those who trespass against us:
And whatever we do not forgive perfectly, do you, Lord,
enable us to forgive to the full so that we may truly love [our] enemies and fervently intercede for them before You
returning no one evil for evil and striving to help everyone in You
And lead us not into temptation
Hidden or obvious
Sudden or persistent
But deliver us from evil
Past, present and to come.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.[ii]
[i] Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, Grand Rapids, Michigan: 2010, 160-161.