Our gospel reading today is of Jesus responding to his disciples request to teach them how to pray. Now every Jewish child is taught from an early age to pray, just as I suspect we all were. Still, many of us feel our prayers are inadequate and when we meet a deeply spiritual person, we want to know how they pray hoping we might learn how to become closer to God – and by closer to God I mean we want to drive out any doubts we might have and know that God is present with us.
So, it should be no surprise that the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They know Jesus and want to be as certain as he is that God is listening. And they want to be know what God wants them to do with as much certainty as Jesus does after he prays. What I particularly like about this passage is that the very question his disciples asks speaks to the discomfort I often experience when I pray. I hear the prayers that others offer and wish my prayers were as good as their prayers. That is one reason I love our prayer book. I can read such beautiful prayers. The disciples didn’t have a prayer book so they ask Jesus for some guidance and as a result we have what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is simple and contains what we need to say. Addressing God as Father is personal. Many have suggested alternative ways to address God and that’s fine. Addressing God as Father, for Jesus, conveys the personal relationship his has God our Creator. “Hallowed be thy name” also acknowledges that God is worthy of our praise. Calling upon God’s kingdom to come need not be read as passive. We are not asking God to give us the kingdom or invite us into the kingdom. Instead we are praying for peace and harmony – something which we are called to help bring about. In Matthew’s gospel, he adds “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” So, we are not praying for admission into heaven after our death, we are praying for God’s will to be done here and now – and that requires our participation to make it happen.
We are then taught to pray for our own needs, which includes forgiveness. The inclusion of “as we forgive others” serves as a reminder of just what is necessary for us to experience God’s kingdom. And finally, we are taught to pray for protection from temptation. Here it is said, “do not bring us to the time of trail,” but that is just one way the Lord’s Prayer is translated from the Greek. As we recite it today we will say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
The Lord’s Prayer includes petitions to God to meet our own needs and to have the strength to resist temptation, but it is not about us and us alone. Jesus teaches us seek a personal relationship with God and to surrender our will to God’s will – that God’s will may be accomplished and we may live in God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This may seem an insurmountable goal, but it is possible to experience God’s kingdom while others around us are still struggling to find their way to our Father. We can love God and love one another, we can forgive as we have been forgiven, and we can put our trust in God rather than give in to temptation and give up on experiencing peace. God’s kingdom is not so much a place as it is a state of being in which we are embraced by God’s love as a loving father embraces a child.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, we give you thanks for teaching us to pray. Help us not to simply read our prayers, but to truly offer our prayers up to God and be filled with the Holy Spirit. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.