A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on July 24, 2016.
Principal Reading Luke 11:1-13
The Gospel reading for today is Luke’s version of what Christians know as The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ disciples are experiencing the life of an extraordinary man and they have seen how he always takes time for prayer, for communication with God. They are witnesses to how his prayer life and what he does and says are woven together – one does not exist without the other and prayer informs daily life and daily life informs prayer. They have seen him do and say remarkable things and they are eager to learn and understand this new life Jesus offers to all – this life of freedom, of peace, of love for all. So they ask him, ‘teach us to pray’.
This prayer which has become as well known as the 23rd Psalm has amazing depth of meaning. Right off, the form of addressing God is a new way of considering one’s relationship with the Creator and Ruler of the universe.
He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father,…”
Jesus tells them to pray to God as they would speak with a loving parent. We know that God is genderless but the point here is that the word Jesus uses is Abba – the Greek word for daddy – Jesus says pray like this is your loving nurturing parent. Your relationship with God is not some formal, only on Sunday morning thing, but God as loving parent is the one to whom you look for daily guidance and direction as you grow. What are the attributes of a loving parent? When we are young these include feeding us, cuddling, drying our tears, fixing our boo boos, protecting us, helping us to grow and understand the world around us. As we grow our loving parent challenges us to try new things, helps us with our science projects, encourages our talents and gifts so that we might find our true calling in life and then later provides counsel and guidance as we negotiate the world as adults. All things because we are loved and cherished. So this is what Jesus is saying to his followers, talk with God in prayer just as you would your own mother or father. For those whose experience of parent is not loving, then think about it as talking with your BFF – your best friend.
He said to them, “When you pray, say: hallowed be your name.”
In the days of Jesus, your name expressed your very nature. So God is holy and we need to acknowledge that. God is holy – beyond our understanding. We need to acknowledge where we are in this relationship. We can never be God – even in all that we continue to discover about our world through science, there still is God beyond it all. Some say that scientists have a difficult time believing in God but some of the world’s greatest minds who have plumbed what were mysteries to the ancient world still are great believers. For me, understanding what science reveals to us does not dismiss God but just makes God bigger and more all-encompassing and mysterious. All about God is holy – to be hallowed – and we are mere humans trying to do our best to emulate that holiness and love but even our best is but an imitation. And so we look to God always for Holiness and Goodness and Purity and Love and Justice – not to the world but to God.
“Your kingdom come.”
Jesus says we are to pray that God’s kingdom might come. This is one that I struggle with daily. What does it mean? God’s kingdom come to earth? God’s kingdom come after we die? Yes and yes. We as believers are to pray and work for God’s kingdom to come. God’s kingdom of love and justice for all people not just for some.
“Give us each day our daily bread.”
There are several things going on here. First this prayer is not a ‘me’ prayer, it is an ’us’ prayer. We are praying together as believers in Christ. Jesus was telling his followers that they needed to stick together and that it wasn’t about individual needs but the needs of all in the community. Second, we should be praying each day – not just once in a while when we think about it or get around to it, but every day. Just like any daily discipline like exercising or brushing our teeth, we need to make time for it and just do it! Third, what we are to ask for is our ‘daily bread’ – whatever it is we need to survive. I often find myself asking for wants rather than needs – sometimes I have to do a reality check on my prayers – is this a need or is it a want? In an even broader sense, this line of the prayer implies that we are praying for all to have their daily needs met. There are many in our world who unfortunately do not have the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter met each day – so we are to include them in our prayer as well. And then as Pope Francis has said, praying means then doing something about it.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
This acknowledges that we are not without sin, both as individuals and as a community of faith. Forgiveness is at the heart of our Christian faith. When asked, how many times must I forgive?, Jesus replied not just 70 but 7 times 70 – which in Bible speak is always and forever. Forgive always – just as we hope that others will forgive us, we too must forgive. This is because God loves us and always forgives us. God forgives always and continually those who ask with a contrite heart and we must emulate this type of loving forgiveness in all our encounters with others. The version of the Lord’s prayer that we use here says ‘forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ . In this sense, the word debts encompasses not only those things we have done wrong but also those things that we did not do but should have done – something we know is the right thing to do but we don’t do it. Using debts for sins here means that as well.
“ And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Borrowing from recently retired dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ the Rev Kathryn Matthews:
“The final thought, “do not bring us to the time of trial,” reminds us of Jesus’ time of temptation and struggle in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. It also reminds us of his time of trial before – and during – his suffering and death. In the days when this story was written down, a few years after Jesus’ death, there was already a time of trial for the early Christians, who experienced persecution and even death at the hands of the authorities. Please, God, we pray, deliver us from what we cannot bear.”
Following this example of prayer that Jesus uses to teach his disciples, he tells a story that solidifies the notion of praying to a loving parental-like God. Jesus says that even bad parents know how to give their children what is good for them even if that is not always what happens in reality. So God, who is all good – the very definition of all good – will certainly give good things to God’s children.
Before I went on vacation I asked each of you to consider persons or groups of people whom who struggle to love. I said we would pray about these together. We will pray about these. Once again I ask you to consider where we need God’s love to influence our lives both individually and as a church to reach out in love. Parents, talk to your children about this for they too might have someone they find difficult to like – maybe a bully at school? Praying for God to put love in our hearts where currently we feel something less than love is not condoning hurtful actions. It does not mean that we need to continue to let others walk all over us. Part of our prayer needs to be an attitude of understanding and asking God for help with a person so that their actions and words might become more loving too. It also means that we are asking God to not only change them but also to open our hearts and minds so that we might respond in loving and faithful ways to every person.
I’m sure some of you are sitting there thinking to yourself, ‘yeah, yeah, I get it, I’ve heard this all before….’ but in reality there are really only 2 sermons that preachers give: ‘ Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and if you look at the state of our world then it is obvious the message is not getting through.
And so, may God give us the discipline to incorporate daily prayer into our lives. May God constantly remind us to pray for our needs and the needs of others and the ability to discern between needs and wants. May God encourage us to forgive others as we acknowledge our own need for forgiveness. May God grant us the wisdom to always look to God for help and guidance as we pray together for our families, our church, our community and our world. And may God grant us the Grace to always respond to all in love. Amen.