Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Lord's Prayer in Luke

Jesus [1] was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread, [2]
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [3] he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for [4] a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.(Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)

“Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” It is often lost on people, just how much time Jesus spent in prayer. It was a routine part of his life. It wasn’t something he reserved for times of crises alone, as when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Rather it was regular. His disciples then asked him to teach them. And it seems almost odd. Jesus answers with what seems such a short thing as the Lord’s prayer. But then it is an awesome and profound prayer in its own right. It is the bedrock prayer of the Christian faith. When you look at it, you realize that it covers absolutely ever concern a Christian can have, with the added benefit of going on forever and ever like the prayer of a Baptist or a heathen who thinks God will hear his prayer for his many words, but that is how Jesus prefaces the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 where we have a slightly different version of the prayer, the version most of us are familiar with.
There are a couple different explanations for this, and probably both are responsible. The prayer was probably translated a couple different ways from the Aramaic. Anyone who has ever translated knows how that goes. You do your best to get it accurately but things can go one way or the other at times. Sometimes there is no exact equivalent of the word in the language you are translating into. Actually the nature of language makes it so there never is. My fourth translated book being published in September, I know a bit about that sort of thing. And we will see in a little bit that the same thing applies to translations of the Bible. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that Jesus himself gave the prayer many times with slight altercations as the best of teachers tend to do with their material. If it is worth saying once it is worth repeating a thousand times or something like that. I remember having profs in college and seminary that seemed to teach the same class despite the name of it changing on the syllabus. A person was tempted to be put off by that, but then I learned from those profs. What they had to say is still with me to this day, and as a pastor I begin to realize how important that was. That’s one of the purposes behind liturgical worship, repetition of the important things over and over again. It teaches. It repeats, and it does so in a way and with material, like the Lord’s Prayer, that a person is never done with, never outgrows. Rather the material grows, it takes on new meaning, and guides you in new ways throughout the seasons of life. And this doesn’t surprise anyone who thinks about it since about ninety five percent of it is little more than a word for word recitation of God’s word. And God’s word is like that, it takes hold in a person’s heart and grows. So you see things happening there, the little grandchildren worship with the grandparents and they ask them questions about what these funny words mean, and the faith bridges the age gap, and a culture is shared as the whole family engages in a familiar rhythm. This sort of thing is lost these days, missing. But you can see what I’m talking about with the Lord’s Prayer.
Here we have a simple prayer that Jesus gives to the disciples to pray, to teach others to pray. And the Lord’s Prayer does teach us to pray. You repeat it. It’s one of the cornerstones of prayer in the Lutheran tradition, where our Catechism was designed to shape and guide prayer and devotion. The first three parts, the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer formed the framework for prayer for the family as the father would teach the faith in the home. Finally after hearing God’s law, and seeing all the different ways they had broken God’s law, and then studying the creed and seeing all that Jesus had done for them on the Cross with his death and resurrection, they would pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine what a cathartic experience, what a bonding moment that would have to be for a family? For a father to approach God with his own children as a child of God? Our Father who art in heaven? As a child it means one thing, as a Father contemplating the love he has for his own children it takes on more meaning doesn’t it? Hallowed be thy name? And the mystery of his holiness grows with each passing day as you encounter this grand world he created, as you grow in his holy word and learn from it daily that his holy name would be kept holy by you in what you having his name given to you in baptism would say and do. Then there is this, thy kingdom come, and perhaps we think about the Day of Judgment and the final victory in heaven. Yes, we pray for his kingdom of glory. But more we pray for his kingdom of grace, that he would reign in our hearts with love and forgiveness where his faith has been kindled. That the world would not have it’s way with us and continue to harden our souls, and jade our spirits. And more than that we pray that this kingdom would also come upon our neighbors, that they would hear his word, and the Holy Spirit would take up residence in them with the truth of salvation. That this kingdom would grow in us and our family, take root in our children. And then again in thanksgiving, praying for our daily bread, and as children it is something as simple as a new bike for Christmas, and as a parent that after paying the mortgage and the IRS, you might have enough to feed your family and perhaps buy that new bike. And you hear the word bread, and come to realize how much more God has given you beyond the simple necessities of life. And then forgive us our trespasses, sins as it says in Luke, for we forgive those who trespass against us. I almost centered the whole sermon on this.
Augustine took this passage and combated the Pelagian heresy that thought it was possible to live without sin after being forgiven once. This hit me like a ton of bricks not to long ago as I read, “Through the Eye of A Needle” by Peter Brown. If it were possible to live without sin, Jesus would not have instructed us to ask forgiveness on a daily basis. But he does, because he knows something about us, we are sinners, and poor and miserable at that. Really, there is no other type of sinner, sinners are poor and miserable whether they realize it or not. Sin is death, it plagues our souls, it ruins our relationships, it robs us of joy. Forgiven or not in this world it causes suffering we were never meant for. I hear people say they aren’t miserable sinners, you aren’t? Really, your grandma died just last week and you didn’t feel misery? I’m not sure if that makes you more or less miserable in your sin, you hard hearted beast of burden. Sin has so infected us it is hard to even comprehend the myriad of ways it manifests itself in our lives. And daily then we pray forgive us our sins, our trespasses. The father in the family thinks of his short temper in dealing with his son, it was supposed to be a relaxing father son fishing trip, and then the lines got tangled for the fifteenth time because the boy just couldn’t figure it out. The boy is perhaps reminded of the cookie he stole from the cookie jar when no one was looking. The mom, to her horror can’t for the life of herself understand why she found herself flirting with the coworker. Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who has sinned against us.
The translation fails a bit there. Kai gar in the greek, it means a little more than the English “For”. It isn’t as if we have managed to forgive everyone who sins against us, and so we hold this up as some sort of work we pulled off meriting the forgiveness of sins. Behind this for, means more in order that. Forgive us our sins, in order that we might forgive. I mean this I the task of the Christian, to forgive. And we aren’t always good at it. We are to forgive others their sins. Why? Because this is what Christ has told us to do. I’m always dumbfounded by people who say man can’t forgive sins. Jesus sure thought we could. He didn’t just give us the authority to do it, he gave us a command to do it. And by the way, sin is sin and it is all sin against God. If only God can forgive sin, then you are incapable of forgiving those who sin against you. Because if they have sinned against you they have sinned against God, you are his children after all, he created you in his own image, he has redeemed you with his own blood. And if they have sinned against God, who are you to speak for God and forgive them their sins? I’ll tell you who you are. You are disciples of Christ, you are Christians. You are forgiven children of God, whom God forgives richly and abundantly everyday anew again, who live in the faith by God. And it is this that you are continually forgiven that gives you strength to continually forgive.
No, there are people who think they do it on their own. God might have had to forgive them at one time, but they managed after that. They live righteous now, every day they think better and better. They don’t need forgiveness. And these people are insufferable, truly miserable. They don’t see it, their own misery, but it doesn’t stop them from taking it out on everyone in a ten mile radius. Judge this man for his foul language. Judge that girl for her skirt being too high up on the leg. Judge the parents of that boy for a dirty face and unkempt hair. Thinks those people over there are going to hell for the beer they drank. And do you really need to drink that much coffee? Yeah. Not cool. And if they only took a few minutes to examine themselves, but they can’t because they don’t believe in forgiveness, and if they aren’t forgiven they can’t forgive. That is not a Christian way of life. They have been led into temptation. They have been led into false belief, and right now it is delusion, but underneath is despair, and follows will come other great shame and vice, like hypocrisy and self righteousness for which there is no need. No, the temptation is to believe there is no forgiveness, or that forgiveness needs to be earned. Not so with Christ, he died for the ungodly, he died for us while we were still sinners, he died for evil men and women who sin daily. He died for the man with the foul mouth, the father with the short temper, the boy who steals cookies, the mom who finds herself flirting with the other guy at work, the parents who can’t keep their kid clean and kempt, the girl with that short skirt attracting the attention of the boys. Yeah, he died for you, even you so easily led into temptation, who find it hard to forgive, and he forgives you anyway.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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