One of the most interesting characteristics of humans as a species – is our ability to learn. From a young age we are fascinated with how to do new things. As we grow, many of us perfectionists out there – I know some of you are – consistently seek the best way, the most efficient way, or the most economical way to do just about anything from our professional tasks, our domestic work, and even our relationships.
The internet is full of advice on just how to do just about anything. From wikihow to youtube – there are millions of articles and videos featuring others teaching us the “right” way to do ____ fill in the blank.
Today we tackle one of the biggest questions in regards to faith – how do we pray?
Is there a right and a wrong way?
For prayer is just talking to God. Bearing our hearts, our minds, our very souls to the one who made us – who knows us better than we know ourselves. From a young age we learn to talk – it is modeled to us by those around us and you may know this – but children mimic and pick up language much faster than we do as adults. A young child’s brain isn’t mapped as strong as an adult brain- making it easier for them to learn different languages, different mouth shapes and vowel sounds.
We teach our children to talk by talking to them, and encouraging them to talk. Working with young children and families, rarely a week goes by where I do not hear or say myself – “use your words please” to a child.
Do we teach our children to talk to God through the same kind of modeling and encouragement?
The author of Luke shows the disciples asking Christ to teach them to pray like John taught his disciples. We’ll come back to that last bit.
Jesus teaches them more than a well worded prayer here – he teaches a structure and form for prayer.
Just as we learn the structures and forms of our own language – remember sentence diagrams? Prayer can also take a structure that helps us to organize our thoughts and our needs that we might better understand them, and communicate them to our God. For we want to communicate clearly and effectively – do we not?
Our prayers may not need a grammar checker, however we can grow in our prayer life and in our discipleship as we take time to focus on prayer.
Jesus today in this classic text teaches the disciples what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. Echoing back to the sermon on mount- in this prayer Christ gives more than words to memorize, in this 5 petition structure.
Father – what a beautiful image it is for us to relate to God, and address God as a father. We are familiar with the love of a parent for a child, or at least what that love should be like. Like any metaphor of course, there are limitations. In “The Quest for the Living God” theologian Elizabeth Johnson lays out a helpful framework for evaluating metaphors for God. For a metaphor to truly describe God, it should work as yes, no, and more so.
Yes – God is like a father as God loves us unconditionally, guides us, teaches, us, protects us, and we are created by God.
No – God is not like a father in that God is not a human man.
More so – God is more of a father as God provides a grace and a love that helps us to redeem the role of a father that earthy fathers can fail to live up to.
The 1st petition – Hallow be thy name
The word translated here for “hallowed” is translated in other places as “sanctified”. And the way this sentence functions is as an ask. We recognize the holiness of God, and this first petition praises God’s name. Pastor David Lose, in his blog “Working Preacher” notes “The passive voice indicates that we ask God to hallow God’s own name, to act in such a way that God’s name is held in honor. The petitions that follow flesh out what this means. When God’s name is hallowed and God’s kingdom comes, there is daily bread for all, forgiveness is practiced, and God delivers the faithful from the time of trial.”
2nd – Thy kingdom come
In this second petition we continue to ask God for a gift that God is already willing to give. Jesus has been preaching and teaching – revealing the kingdom, proclaiming the kingdom, and challenging all who hear to do the work to bring about the kingdom.
3rd – Give us each day our daily bread
In this third petition, we bring to God our daily immediate needs. The essentials we require for the day – not to excess, simply to sustain and to live. It is therefore inherent in this petition, that we recognize our need for God daily. That we keep our eyes open and live in the present – looking for the presence of God that sustains us and is all around us.
4th – Forgive us as we forgive
Forgiveness is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Here we also are reminded that forgiveness is also a release – for both the forgiven and the forgiver.
Forgiveness and freedom are interdependent upon each other. At the heart of Luke’s gospel – Jesus comes to bring freedom to us all. Freedom from sin, which keeps us captive, freedom from our debts, freedom from our oppressors, freedom from ourselves. There is so much here for us to explore. As we come to God in prayer, we admit our failings, our confessions as we seek God’s forgiveness. That is one of the greatest gifts from our loving God – grace and forgiveness. In turn however, we are called to go out and give that forgiveness to others.
Yet it doesn’t come naturally or easily. Sure we say, I’m sorry – no worries, no problem, there is nothing to forgive. Yet there is. And then when it is a big deal – we have a hard time offering up the forgiveness. When there are repeat offenses. When we are hurt. We hold on to our grudges, our pain.
And how hard is it to admit when we are wrong? To ask for forgiveness? I know I for one, am happier to let things just fly under the radar. I don’t want to seem irresponsible, I don’t want to be judged for my mistakes. I certainly don’t want to bring it up.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is as much a petition as it is a conviction for me to do better at my own forgiveness. For God forgives my trespasses much better than I forgive those who trespass on me.
The fifth and final petition 5th – Deliver us from temptation
We acknowledge that there are temptations and sin in the world that we face. Both personal, and communal. We are more than familiar with our own sins and shortcomings – yet there are also sinful systems in which we are caught up that keep others down – that oppress and tempt others at our benefit. We don’t ask for these things to come into our lives – yet we recognize that they are there – and they are not a part of the beloved kingdom. We pray for deliverance, for strength, and for us to claim the power God gives us to resist – to stand up for what’s right, and to live holy lives.
A beautiful prayer yes – helpful words – yes – words that bring comfort in the times we need them, I have heard friends who are chaplains speak to just how much comfort this prayer gives to some of their hospital patients, especially those in memory care units.
A beautiful prayer – and a greater structure for all of our prayers.
Acknowleding the holiness of God
Seeking the kingdom, or God’s vision
Asking for what we need, no more
Asking for forgiveness, and offering it
And seeking God’s power and deliverance from our trials
We do also have to ask ourselves –
Do we really want to pray like Jesus?
And is that what the disciples asked? Jesus has been teaching, preaching, healing- living and breathing with the disciples and inviting them to seek the movement of the spirit- and it seems like they are asking for either a special formula or words that simply identify themselves as his followers. For they asked – teach us a prayer like John taught his disciples…
Yet being a disciple isn’t about obtaining the label- Christian, or even child of God- we are that at our core and there is nothing we can do to change that.
Pastor Rob McCoy offers this nugget of wisdom “The Lord’s Prayer can’t be just words that we recite. It is a prayer that we live. It is one thing to say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but it is an entirely different thing to live the Lord’s Prayer… When you live the Lord’s Prayer, it becomes more than words that you say. It is the choices you make, the grace you show, the forgiveness you give, and the bread you share.”
We seek not to be the best prayers – but to be disciples whose lives are shaped by how we communicate to and with our God – our source of life.
And we must ask – What about unanswered prayer?
I have a young man in my ministry who came up to me a few months ago. He is about 11, very smart, and very inquisitive. He said to me – Deacon Erin, everyday for the past 2 years (which is a very long time when you’re 11) I have prayed to God to take my asthma away. But it hasn’t worked. I’m not sure I believe in God.
How real – how honest – how raw. We all have those kinds of prayers.
Yet as I remind the youth – God is not a vending machine and prayers are not orders. We can’t simply ask and ask and receive. Relationships don’t work like that. God is better than that.
Prayer is so important in our faith lives and in our discipleship. Prayer is a form of social change, prayer builds our relationship with God, yet what about unanswered prayers?
There is no easy answer. In fact, there might not be an answer. Yet we must not take this passage as a way to cause harm. Our prayers do not go unanswered because we have sinned, or because we have not believed hard enough. Our God is bigger than we can know. We are called to seek, to knock, to ask. And we know that our God loves us. May we as disciples continue, even in our darkest nights, to cry out to god – and just as this prayer teaches us – to let our prayers not only be for God, but also for us. Let us not wait for God to give daily bread when we can share our extras, let us not wait for God to build the kingdom when we can live lives of justice and mercy, let us not wait for God to forgive us when we can reach out and forgive our neighbor.
Our God is a mystery. Three in one, God becoming man, and unconditional love. These are not things I pretend to understand. Yet just as God calls to me, claiming me as a child of God – I will seek and pray to God, building relationship. May your prayers deepen your faith, your connection to the source of life, and your impact on the world in God’s name. Amen.
Benediction – This day may you go out into the warmth of the world to live deeply as disciples of God. Go with the forgiveness of God, to work for the kingdom of Christ, through the strength of the Spirit. Amen.
Often our gospel story for today is interpreted to reinforce the dichotomies we fall into so easily. You may have been asked in bible studies before- are you a Mary or a Martha?
Are you a doer or a listener?
Yet- is this what the author of Luke is trying to say? Is this story intentionally shaming the work Martha is doing in favor of Mary? Is it just a weird coincidence then, that this passage follows the Good Samaritan which ends with – go and do likewise? Could there be more than two choices- do work or study?
Is it possible that the world that we like to see as black and white – really be much more? What if we could open up our two boxes of this or that – and see the world as a spectrum- as a beautiful rainbow? Many things, blending into one another.
Sure, it’s messy. There are way less distinctions. And it may be closer to the kingdom of God, than the black and white I know at least I prefer.
Let’s dive into this text a bit deeper.
Did you catch that bit at the beginning? Whose house did Jesus go to? You might know that Mary and Martha are Lazarus’s sisters. We may be tempted to think that this is Lazarus’s house – or assume that Mary or Martha must have a husband who owns the house. The scripture though tells us that “a woman named Martha welcome him into HER house.”
Throughout the gospel of Luke, the author hits themes of Jewish family life many times. One of the biggest aspects of the Hebrew culture, especially around your home is hospitality. We can’t miss that crucial piece of this short story. Extending hospitality to strangers is a major tenant of the faith – one commentator I read noted – an absolute requirement and therefore Martha’s “busyness” is not a target for current critiques of our cult of busy. While we have convinced ourselves that we must always be overworked, over scheduled, under slept, and working as hard as we can to be worthy, or successful – this is not something that is fair to but on Martha.
As we look into the Greek – the original word used for the “work” Martha is doing is diaconia. I always grew up hearing from this story, Martha was busy in the kitchen and women’s work – yet the Greek word translated to “work” or better “serving” is the word that describes the work of a Deacon. Leadership work in the church – the work and role I am called to.
Serving is at the heart of the work of a deacon. Hospitality, work of compassion, welcoming, caring for, advocating for. Martha is busy with the work of ministry and hospitality – not just busyness – and that is an important distinction.
This passage has also been used to shame Martha for doing stereotypical women’s work. Hear this scholar’s understanding of this problem:
It does matter that we notice when the scene valorizes Mary’s choice to engage in study with a teacher. That means that Luke’s storyteller sees Torah study as being open to women, not just to men. This is important and reveals something about eh social world out of which this story comes. This matters. But is also matters that we not shame Martha, especially for doing “women’s work” – Hospitality is the duty of the entire household, for one thing – and tasks traditionally performed by women as are honorable as any other tasks. Limiting women to only those traditional tasks is not honorable, but the tasks themselves are crucial to our life together, no matter who does them.
So here are we left with the contrast – not between women’s work and men’s study – but the many things and the one thing.
There are many things that are important and we must all attend to – hospitality, work, cooking, family life, church life, children, the sick, the hungry.
What is that one thing that Jesus says is necessary? The one thing that holds all of the many together? In this context – studying the Torah, understanding the law. All human life is shaped by the Torah.
Scripture gives us wisdom and strength. It shapes our lives through the stories of the people of God, and provides us with a window into who God is through the stories of Jesus. God, as revealed through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience is the one thing we need to be able to faithfully do anything else.
God is our source. It is not that the ministry and hospitality work of Martha isn’t important. We can choose to study and to serve. We must to choose to study and to serve. Let us hear the words of Jesus – and remember to always seek God first.