Lord teach us how to pray
Like those first disciples, all true followers of Jesus are interested in prayer and at the same time most will admit that they need to learn more about it. In all the years I have been doing this I have never had someone come up to me and say “Okay Fr. Kasch, I’ve got that prayer thing down, tell me what’s next.”
So the disciples observe Jesus’ prayer life and they decide to ask Him to teach them. That is interesting because as Jews they would have grown up praying. They must have seen something very different in how Jesus went about it. My guess is that they saw in Him one who was doing more than simply reciting the words. That is something that is easy to fall into and it is something that we need to be cautions about, particularly in a tradition like ours.
Martin Luther said that the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr of the Church and when you think about it you realize that it is true. We roll it off our tongues without even thinking what we are saying. There was a nice breakdown of the Lord’s Prayer going around the Internet and you may have seen it but it is worth hearing it again. It was offered anonymously so I altered it a little.
Our Father — That’s Relationship!
Which art in heaven — That’s Home!
Hallowed be thy name — That’s Honor!
Thy kingdom come — That’s Hope!
Thy will be done — That’s Sovereignty!
In earth, as it is in heaven — That’s Conquest!
Give us this day our daily bread — That’s Provision!
And forgive us our trespasses — That’s His Love!
As we forgive those who trespass against us — That’s Our Love!
And lead us not into temptation — That’s Direction!
But deliver us from evil — That’s Protection!
For thine is the kingdom — That’s Royalty!
And the power — That’s Authority!
And the glory — That Transcendence!
Forever — That’s Eternity!
Amen — That’s Acknowledgement!
I like this because it invites us to think through what we are praying. Luther had a wonderful way of meditation on the Lord’s Prayer by taking it a line at a time, thanking God for the truth of it, repenting where he has not been living up to that truth and praying that he and the whole world would live according to its truth.
How do we get past just simply reciting the words. I think there is a way but let me first say that we all experience times when that is about all that we can do is to recite and I am convinced that is acceptable to God. Praying when you don’t feel like praying is a genuine act of faith and this whole journey that we are on about faith. Fr. Palmer once said to me that God even accepts bad praying and I think he may be right about that. He wants to hear from us. So don’t start out by thinking that you have to do this perfectly or you should not be doing it at all. It’s like learning to walk. You learn it by doing it and that includes stumbles and falls along the way.
That said, we do want to move beyond mere recitation of prayers. So Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven….” and it is those very opening words that move us from recitation to relationship. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are not fulfilling a religious duty, we are not speaking words into the air, we are addressing a Personal Being. More than that, we are addressing the Almighty. More than that, we are addressing OUR Heavenly Father. When Jesus was speaking to Mary Magdalene who was the first to see Him raised from the dead He gave her instructions to report to the Apostles. He said “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” In teaching us to pray ‘Our Father” Jesus is inviting us into the same relationship that He has with His Father and His God.
If you let that sink in for a moment you will quickly realize what an astonishing thing that is. God the Son, who has been in perfect unity with in His relationship with His Father. Frankly we feel more like the prodigal son who would be happy simply to be numbered among the Father’s servants. Instead the Father welcomes us, puts a robe around us, a ring on our finger and calls for the killing of the fatted calf. We are His sons and daughters and He invites us to call Him “Our Father.”
A second thing that we learn from this prayer of Jesus, which was probably already understood by His disciples at that time, is the corporate nature of prayer. It is a point that modern people miss. You will notice that the word “I” does not occur even one time in the prayer. Give US our daily bread, forgive OUR trespasses, deliver US from evil.
The Jewish people had an identity of being a chosen and called out people and so they saw their worship of God and their life together as a corporate expression of that reality. This corporate identity was also understood by the early Church. They knew that it was by one Spirit that we have been baptized into one Body. They met together daily to continue in the Apostle’s teachings, fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. They lived the Christian life together. Meanwhile the church today is figuring out ways to do live video streams so that folks don’t even have to leave their homes but can “worship” through a computer.
We too easily miss this corporate nature of the faith because much of spirituality is seen as an individual and even private matter and much of that is based upon personal experience and/or emotion. So rather than asking what Christ’s Body has taught and believed over the millennia, instead today people talk about how they feel or what they have experienced as a test for truth. And then if I have my truth based upon what I feel and you have your truth based upon what you feel then we will eventually not be able to talk to each other.
Beth and I visited a church while we were on vacation where the service booklet contained notes from the priest who had taken it upon himself to change the liturgy and correct what he believed to be theological mistakes in Book of Common Prayer. I could not believe his naiveté and/or arrogance. In the Roman Church it takes a national conference of bishops to petition Rome to allow local adaptations of the liturgy and here we have a single priest changing the worship of the Church all on his own. That is so post modern but this form of individualism has little place in the Body of Christ. We are members of one another who TOGETHER make up Christ’s Body on earth. So Jesus taught us to pray US and OUR and not ME and MINE.
That is why common prayer is so important. When I am left on my own I tend to pray selfishly but the Book of Common Prayer does not allow me to get away with that. And when we come together and pray the same prayers, that is how we truly experiencing the corporate nature of prayer and worship.
One time Beth and I were in Switzerland and Beth was not feeling well so I went to Mass at the Old Catholic Church in Bern. The Old Catholic Church broke with Rome in the 19th century over papal infallibility. We are in full communion with them and our liturgy is nearly identical. So while the liturgy was in German, and I do not speak a word of German, I could still worship because I knew exactly where we were in the liturgy and what prayers we were praying.
I have had people mock the Book of Common Prayer to me and accuse us of reading to God. They do this because they come from a belief that somehow extemporaneous prayer is more spiritually mature than written prayers. And while I think it is important to also learn to pray extemporaneously, I certainly don’t believe extemporaneous prayer is more spiritual than written ones. In fact to me, some of it is difficult to listen to and some badly miss the mark.
I have prayed with folks where every sentence begins with “Father God we just really….” After about a minute of listening to that, I am ready to break out the rosary. And I have also been around folks who intentionally put in “Ums” and “ahs” and long pauses to make the prayer sound more casual and conversational in nature. But when we go out of our way to make our prayers sound cool and casual, it comes across like we are treating God as our buddy and you don’t see a hint of that mentality in the Lord’s Prayer.
As evidenced by the collect we use to begin the Mass, called the Collect for Purity, the Prayer Book truly does ascribe to God the honor that is due His Name and that is why it is such great aide to us. Some of the prayers in our Prayer Book go back to the 4th century and when a prayer has for 1,700 years expressed the heart of the Church to Almighty God, in theological terms, that’s what you call a keeper.
One of the lines that folks find confusing in this prayer of Jesus, is when we pray for God to lead us not into temptation but to deliver us from evil. We know from a direct statement in the letter of St. James that God does not tempt anyone so why do we pray “lead us not into temptation”?
The short answer is that we need to see this part of the prayer in the context of spiritual warfare. The modern wording, while making it easier to remember and to recite, is the source of the confusion. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s first translation from Latin into English puts it in a better light for us. His translation read “And let us not be ledde into temptation.” So what we are really asking of God is to deliver us from all sources that would seek to ensnare us. Further the original literally says “deliver us from the evil ONE” and so in this portion we are asking to be protected from Satan who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. So in short what we are praying here is, “Lord don’t let me be the devil’s lunch.”
The last thing I want to point out about this most perfect of all prayers is to note how short it is. As I told you last week I sat in my office, with my handy dandy apple phone and timed myself praying it at a respectful rate. I was surprised to see that it took a mere 13.6 seconds to pray.
There is a story of a young priest who was spending the day with an older priest that he admired a great deal. The elderly priest suggested that they end their time together in prayer before the altar. The young priest prayed first, and wanting to impress the old man he prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. Finally the old priest tapped the younger one on the shoulder and said, “My son, if you prayed more often you would not have to pray quite so long.”
This short prayer of Jesus invites us into communion with Our Heavenly Father. Then once those lines of communication are opened at the beginning of the day, then we can follow it up throughout the day with more brief prayers. We share with Him our hopes and concerns, our fears and our needs, we pray for others, we offer thanks, we express our gratitude. I know we are all busy but I feel reasonably safe in saying that all of us can afford 13.6 seconds at the beginning of our day and then if we will pray on and off throughout the day, by the end of the day, we will have prayed quite a lot. This, I think is what the Apostle had in mind when he said that we should pray without ceasing.
I love the hymns of our church and I love the sound of the Sanctus bells but my favorite sound of all is the sound of children reciting the Lord’s Prayer in the liturgy. I’m sure that many of you love that sound as well. And I have to believe that just as it warms our hearts to hear the children pray, so it must warm the heart of God to hear us say “Our Father….” If that is true, then like the first disciples, we should be asking Jesus. “Lord teach us to pray.”