Friday, 26 July 2013

The Lord's Prayer: Sermon for July 28th

These are my sermon notes for Sunday. If you come along to St. Mary Magdalene, Belmont you will hear a different version of this depending on whether you are at the 8am BCP communion, the 10.30 All Age with Baptism, or the 12.30 Baptism service...but these are the notes for all of them.

If you are also following the Teenage prayer experiment blog then you may recognise some of the material!

Gospel Reading: Luke 11:1-13

11Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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 him!”

Sermon Outline:
  • Being in bed and not wanting to get up to answer demands for a drink of water or a story or a lost teddy is something all parents – indeed, all grandparents and anyone who has ever stayed in a house with small children - know well!
  • When people asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the short form of prayer that we now call 'The Lord's Prayer'.

    There are slightly different versions of it in different accounts - the one in our reading today is the shortest - but they all are similar.
  • And they all begin in a way that was revolutionary at the time; by calling God, ‘Father’. This sounds quite formal to us, but the original word, ‘Abba’, is very informal, more like ‘daddy’. This was a huge contrast to how people were used to talking to and about God – as YHWH, THE LORD! Jesus was introducing people to the amazing idea that God is someone with whom we can have a personal, emotional, individual relationship.
  • Its a lovely touch to follow this, in this story, with the image of a dad not wanting to get out of bed! It brings it right down to earth, doesn’t it? We may not want to get up and help, when that little voices pipes up 'Da -ddy? Mu-mmy?' in the middle of the night. But if we are pestered enough we will drag ourselves out of bed and deal with the problem so we can all get back to sleep.
  • And Jesus uses this example to say to us: look, God really does hear and answer prayers. Even if you don’t think your worries or problems are important enough for God, even if you find it hard to believe that God loves you, just think about how you end up doing something for your kids when they pester you enough: even if it were true that God thought your complaint quite trivial, he would still answer it!
  • Its important to note that Jesus and the Church are not saying that God is exactly like a dad. We all probably have mixed feelings about our parents, and about our own parenting ability. But Jesus knows that and his image here has a wonderful realism about it. ‘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!’. God knows that our earthly images of parenting are often lazy, angry, unreliable or impatient as least as often as they are close, loving and reliable. Unless we’ve had a very bad experience of parenting – when you might think ‘actually you know what, my dad is exactly the kind of person who if you asked for a fish would think it was funny to give you a snake’ - most would agree that yes, for all their faults, our parents did broadly speaking know how to feed us reasonably healthily most of the time.
  • So, Jesus says, if even we, who know we aren’t perfect parents, get some things right, how much more can we rely on God to look after us. Even the best parenting is only a pale approximation to God’s infinite and total care for us.
  • So what else does Jesus reckon we should say when we pray? Well, the next phrase he gives us here is Hallowed be your name. Again, this may sound fairly formal, but it just means God, we pray that everyone may call you holy. So we are starting off by recognising that God is close and personal – our Father – but also totally holy.
  • Your kingdom come is the next thing we ask. Jesus's main message when he was talking to people was about God's kingdom coming. But he didn't seem to mean a normal kind of kingdom. He didn’t mean he was going to take over and rule the world like the kings and presidents of our countries. This seems to be a prayer for the world to be a better place, a place where everyone is valued equally. What do you think would make the world a better place, more like the world Jesus taught us to hope for? What would be different about life in God's kingdom?
  • Give us today our daily bread This line means we are asking God for what we need, and as in the story Jesus told about the dad in bed, we trust that God will hear us and give us what we need. But the word ‘daily’ is interesting. It means we are not expecting God to give us everything we would like. We are only asking for enough for today. So we are trusting God one day at a time, and trying not to worry too much about the future.
  • And forgive us our sins We might not feel we have 'sins', as it sounds quite heavy and serious: or we might think this just means eating too many icecreams! But Jesus included these words for everyone. Asking God to forgive us our sins, all that we do wrong, means admitting that we are not perfect. We can feel safe to admit that, because Jesus promises that nothing we can do or be can stop God loving us and hearing and answering our prayers.
  • As we forgive those who sin against us, or are indebted to us. This can be the most difficult bit! If we can trust God to love us whatever we do, can we bring ourselves to forgive people who have been horrible to us? If you are angry with someone, it can feel like letting them off if you choose to stop being angry. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting: it doesn’t stop us knowing what has happened in the past, and being sensible about our future actions. It doesn’t mean we have to trust someone who has let us down many times in the past. But Christians believe - and scientists agree - that choosing not to hold on to anger makes you a happier and healthier person. So here we ask God to help us not to hold onto resentment and bitterness for all the things that seem so unfair in life, but to let them go and free ourselves for the future.
  • And do not bring us to the time of trial; or in the better known version, Deliver us from evil. This line is a catch-all prayer asking for protection from bad or scary things. From illness, people dying, people wanting to hurt us, anything we are worried or anxious about. In this line we are praying that those things never happen to us. There’s a famous echo of this line too in Google’s slogan – ‘Don’t be evil’. I wonder if this line maybe also asking for God to help not to be evil to other people?

    What is not known is how Jesus meant these words to be used. Did he mean 'say exactly these words'? Or did he mean 'include these areas when you pray'. We don't know, but many Christians do both. Saying the Lord's prayer is a good way to start or end prayers, and if you go to church it will usually be said in every service.

    It is a good prayer to use if you can't think of anything to say, or you don't think you know how to pray, or don't know what to pray for. Just use these words, and you know you are doing what Jesus taught his first followers to do.

  • So let us pray, in the words that Jesus taught us:

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