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Teach Us to Pray
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
July 28, 2019
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke
Jesus 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.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And 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; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And 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.’ I 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. “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. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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 him!”
Every pastor learns an amazing skill in seminary. We can get a room of people to go silent with one request. On Sunday evenings, the college students are usually chatting with each other and our UKirk greeters are giving hugs and welcoming one another and all I have to say is, “Who would like to pray for us this evening?” And silence. And you could hear a pin drop.
Prayer feels like it must be filled with flowery words or that we have to say something significant. It feels holy because it is. It is communication with the Divine. But just because something is holy doesn’t mean that it has to be complicated. After all the gospel of Luke practically makes the Lord’s Prayer tweetable! I’m kidding, but Luke does take out some verbiage ho there. There’s no need to count the words. It’s 341 words in the NRSV. I just think it’s funny when Luke takes stuff from the gospel of Matthew and shrinks it down to what he thinks is important. Luke added and subtracted from his predecessors, Mark and Matthew. He changed some stuff, wrote for a different group of people, added a few commas, took out minor phrases from the Lord’s Prayer like “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” You know, like you do. Or maybe it was Matthew that beefed up the Lord’s Prayer. I’m not sure, but nonetheless, these gospel writers adjusted some things.
Recently, the pope made a pretty big adjustment in the translation of the Lord’s Prayer. He’s been working on it for two years, and he finally approved the change of the prayer. The phrase that we have translated in our Bibles as, “And do not bring us into the time of trial,” which we usually say is “And lead us not into temptation,” Pope Francis has suggested it should read, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” He did this because of his theological viewpoint that God cannot lead us into temptation. He claims, “A father doesn’t do that. He [meaning God] helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.” see note 1
Now I’m not a Greek scholar, but I’ve taken some Greek. I looked at this word that the pope is translating and how it is translated in other parts of the gospel. And I decided to Mad Lib another part of the gospel of Luke taking this translation of the word that we have translated “lead into” to “let fall into.” And here’s what I came up with form Luke the 5th chapter, verses 17-19:
“One day, while [Jesus] was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting nearby (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to let him fall and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to let him fall into the house because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.”
Now, it kind of seems like these guys were pretty mean to the paralytic. “Hey Joe, we really wanted dump you out at the feet of Jesus, but this crowd, man.” I don’t know about that. So, I’m curious what other Greek scholars would say. And it’s hard to go against the pope. He’s done a lot of good for a lot of people and has a position of authority. But I don’t know if I buy the translation. It doesn’t really jive with the rest of the text. And there have been Catholics that are really upset about this change. The editor of World Catholic News was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Pope Francis has made a habit of saying things that throw people into confusion, and this is one of them. It just makes you wonder, where does it stop? What’s up for grabs? It’s cumulative unease.” All over one prayer.
It’s so difficult for us to change the things that have been imprinted upon our hearts, especially liturgical prayers that have brought us so much solace over the years, that are comforting to hear in the same we heard them as children. And prayer particularly, is a difficult thing to talk about because it’s so personal, and there are many prayer practices that we can engage in beyond these specific words that Jesus prayed.
I had a specific prayer request that was weighing heavily on my heart and a friend of mine suggested that I use a prayer bracelet. It’s a bracelet that has a little box on the end of it that can hold a tiny piece of paper if you measure it and write really small, and roll it up really tight and stick it in there, which I did. It is mean to externalize your prayer. This bracelet hung around my wrist for quite a while and each time that my concern was recalled to me in the world, I would think about this bracelet and pray for God to remove a thing from my life that I could do nothing about. And I was off to Mo-Ranch at the end of last month. Now, if you’ve ever been to a youth conference at Mo-Ranch or really anywhere, you know that there are some camp and conference traditions that are woven in the fabric of who these folks are. And, one of these traditions is the throwing of rocks in the Guadalupe River as a prayer practice. Many times, we have written our sin on a rock and there it goes, into the river, washed away.
This year, as I was serving on leadership, I bore witness and participated in the Presbyterian practice of communal discernment as we discussed once again, this practice of throwing sins into the river, which our worship leader wanted to do this year. After she told us that she was going to be doing this once again, she smiled in such a way that I started laughing. She told me she was serious, and after looking like a fool for a moment, I asked her if it had to be sin that we were writing on the rock. This launched a whole discussion about why we do this practice in the first place and how we had to buy rocks this year because we always end up running out of rocks that we can easily write on and why we write our sin in permanent marker on the rocks and is that permanent marker ruining the Guadalupe River and do the fish see our sin for all eternity? So, we changed the practice. We wrote on, yes, store-bought rocks with chalk and we were all set to cast our burdens into the river.
I didn’t have to think very hard about what I wanted to write on that rock. It was on my wrist every single day. I wrote discreetly on my rock as a young teenager played “Down to the River to Pray” and as a leadership team, we prayed over our group of rocks. And just as I let that rock go, the bracelet that had been carrying this burden for months slipped off of my wrist and into the Guadalupe River.
I swear to you that I almost jumped in. My whole body flooded with adrenaline (I can feel it again right now). I thought about all of the time that prayer had been on my wrist, that that prayer had been on my heart. How it became a reminder of the thing I couldn’t get rid of and about how different this practice of throwing rocks in the river had just become. I stared at that place where my rock and bracelet simultaneously fell into the river for what seemed like forever with a little bit of relief and a little bit of “what do I do now?”
And then I noticed a bunch of teenage boys trying to hit the large wall on the other side of the river with their burdens. I smiled. It seemed like they didn’t get it, but, you know, it was good to teach them the practice anyway.
If you pray to a God that has the ability to lead you into temptation and chooses not to or if you pray to a God that has the ability to let you fall into the temptation and chooses not to, I’m glad you’re praying. Both of those explanations sound like a God who has huge abilities and gave them up for our sake, and then told us about it in the form of a human being named Jesus Christ. I know that God. You know that God. And we pray to that God. I pray to that God with bracelet and a rock and with a prayer that I have spoken and have had spoken for me for over 35 years.
And we learn this prayer, we speak this prayer, we pray this prayer in a way that helps us remember it because we’ll doing the theological work when we need it. We ask for God to give us our daily bread and the theological work, that action follows. The rest of this passage is fleshing out this prayer. It’s Jesus fleshing out who he is. If you ask something of him, he’s not going to abandon you. He’s a persistent and generous God. And in encourages us to then live out what it is that we pray. To then give others bread. To forgive those who need to be forgiven. To partner with God in ushering in God’s Kingdom. And to not tempt others to fall into or to be led into temptation.
Because when we learn more about God, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, we learn what it means to be fully human. So, we teach this prayer because we were taught this prayer by our God. And the next time that we are asked to pray, this Lord’s Prayer is more than enough because it holds within it the millions of people who have prayed it before in whatever language, in whatever translation, in whatever action the prayerful person chooses. It holds the voice of our Savior. It holds the weight of our theological reflection. It is ours, it is our gift, it is our prayer.
So, even if this is your first time praying the Lord’s Prayer today of your thousandth time praying the Lord’s Prayer, I hope it comes alive for you differently today. I hope the Holy Spirit meets you right where you are and holds out a piece of this prayer that you hear anew in the recitation or takes a burden away from you today. I hope you are able to connect with a God who is persistent and generous. I hope prayer changes you for the good. Because I think that’s what Christ was getting at: pray like this and live like this.
In the name of Our Father, by the Son of God who gave us the words to pray, and the Holy Spirit who takes our prayer into action, Amen.