The 7th Sunday after Pentecost
28 July AD 2019
St Michael’s Episcopal Church, O’Fallon, IL
Proper 12C: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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In the church where I was ordained there was a couple of ladies named Constance and Leta. Leta was older than Constance. Constance told me once that when she was a little girl, she used to wonder why, in the middle of asking God for the things we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer, the people would always tell God that “Leta’s not into temptation.” Why, she wondered, did the people of Trinity Church feel the need, Sunday after Sunday, to remind God that Leta could not be tempted?
This is the only day in the three-year cycle of readings that we get to hear about the Lord’s Prayer in the gospel. That makes today an important day, because the Lord’s Prayer is an important prayer. In fact, it’s the central prayer of the Church, the one that models all our praying, the one that teaches us what the most important things are that we ought to praying for. That’s why it’s included in every service in every edition of the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican world, and in every service in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, and many other churches. Why is that? Very simply, because, “as our Savior Christ has taught us,” that’s what we do. Now, the version we read in Luke today isn’t quite the same as the one we’ve all committed to memory. It contains all the same elements, but it’s just a bit shorter. The actual words we pray are from Matthew’s version (Mt 6:9-13). So with a nod of respect to St Luke, I’m going to walk us through Matthew’s version, specifically the one he composed for the King James Version of the Bible in 1611.
First, a word about the context. The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, like John taught his disciples.” Earlier some of the Pharisees and scribes had complained to Jesus that “John’s disciples, like [our own] disciples, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” John the Baptist and all those others prayed fervently for the coming of God’s Anointed One, his Christ, and fasted in repentance for the sins of God’s people. But compared to them, Jesus and his disciples were the party crowd. Jesus said to them, “You can’t make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you?” Christ himself is the bridegroom, who will ultimately take God’s people to himself, just as a groom takes his bride to himself. You could try to put that in more PC terms and say, the way spouses take each other to themselves, but that’s not really the case here. In the marriage vows they say, “I, Arthur, take you, Maxine,” and “I, Maxine, take you, Arthur.” It’s a completely equal pairing. But in the case of Christ and his bride the Church, there’s no sense in which we take Christ to ourselves. He does the taking, and all we do is let him, because we bring nothing to the marriage but our repentant and grateful selves. So unlike John’s disciples, Jesus’ disciples have no need to fast and pray for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, because he’s arrived, and they’re with him. So they eat and drink. But, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” That’s what he’s preparing them for in today’s gospel: In the days when the bridegroom/the Christ is taken from you, this is how you’ll pray…
“Our Father who art in heaven…” Ever since the days of Moses, there was a sense in which God’s people understood him as their father, but it was more of a metaphor, an image. When God sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to demand that he release the Israelites from slavery, they were told to say to Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son… let my people go” (Ex 4:22-23; Ex 8-10). But with Jesus it’s not a metaphor; he is the actual Son of God, “eternally begotten of the Father.” So under the new covenant that we enter into through baptism, when he takes us into himself, his Father becomes our Father.
“Hallowed be thy Name…” holy is your Name. God identified himself to Moses as “I Am.” As I’ve said before, nobody on earth can say about themselves, “I am,” and leave it at that. We always have to follow it up with something—I am Ian; I am a husband, a father, a priest, a miserable sinner. We can’t just be—we have to be something. But God just Is. And because God is so utterly holy, and the Name by which he identified himself is holy, Jews to this day won’t speak it. Instead they say, “the Lord,” or “the Holy One, blessed be He.”
And because Jesus is God the Son, in Eastern Christian iconography, he’s always depicted with a halo around his head, with a cross in it, and the Greek words, Ò ê< (ho own) = the One Who Is. And St Paul says that God exalted the risen Jesus “and gave him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bend… and every tongue confess” that he is Lord (Phil 2:9-10). And since we have been so joined to him in baptism that our main identity is in him, we can address God as Father, and are encouraged to say the Name of Jesus freely. All our prayer to the Father is through Jesus. In fact, when you don’t know what else to pray, all you have to do is repeat the Name of Jesus over and over, because he is our access to the Father.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re essentially asking for what’s going to happen anyway, and for what began to happen when Jesus was born of Mary. But more important, when we pray that, we’re declaring our allegiance to God’s kingdom above all others, and aligning ourselves to God’s will. When the power and the politics of any worldly kingdom have become more attractive than the power and politics of God’s kingdom, as it has with several prominent religious leaders in recent decades, then we have set ourselves against the kingdom and the will of God. (That’s all I have to say about that.)
“Give us this day our daily bread.” That seems pretty straightforward, right? Don’t let us go hungry, Lord. Don’t let anybody on earth starve. But people are hungry, in spite of the fact that there’s enough food in the world to go around. The problem is that human sin and corruption stand in the way between the food that’s available and the people who need it. From a spiritual perspective, the problem is that we don’t love our neighbors the way God loves them. Which makes me question whether we have any right to ask God for daily bread when we’re not doing what we can to share it.
That’s what our daily bread is on the temporal level. But Jesus is also talking about daily bread on the eternal level. After feeding the 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fish, a bunch of them tracked Jesus down hoping to get more. But he said to them, “Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” They said, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Then Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:27, 34-35). Sometime earlier, though, he had said to his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” So when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done, we’re signing on to work alongside Jesus, doing the will of the One who sent him, and who sends us, doing what we can to accomplish the work of God. At the top of God’s worklist is to love our neighbors as ourselves. In God’s neighborhood there are no boundaries between rich and poor or between countries. Everybody is our neighbor. So after we’ve feasted on the food that the Son of Man gives us—his own flesh and blood—then we need to be figuring out what to do about getting some daily bread to those who don’t have any.
“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The actual Greek word means debts—“forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” ‘Trespasses’ is what appeared in the very first English translation of the Lord’s Prayer, but in the King James Version of the Bible they chose the more accurate word. To trespass is to sin. It doesn’t just mean illegally walking through private property, but any kind of offense against our neighbor, or God, or even against ourselves, because we belong to God and we are holy. To trespass is to cross a line that shouldn’t be crossed. A debt is something we’ve incurred that we have to pay for. Sin is both of those.
This is a pretty important petition in the Lord’s Prayer because the whole reason Jesus came is to reconcile us to God, to forgive us our trespasses and to write off our debts. “All have sinned,” Paul says, “and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And there’s nothing we can do to repair the breach between ourselves and God that we have created through sin. Only Jesus could do that, and did do that once for all time on the cross. He is the place where God the Father meets us and reconciles us to himself. What’s required of us is repentance, turning away from sin, and true sorrow for how we have offended God and our neighbors.
But in order for that to happen, in order for God to forgive us, we’ve got to forgive others who have trespassed against us—not just be ready to forgive them if they ever ask for it, but to forgive even if they don’t ask to be forgiven, and also to forgive no matter what wrong has been done to us. Lots of people seem to think it’s okay not to forgive in the case of a horrible crime that’s been committed against us or against humanity in general. But it’s not. Jesus suffered unspeakable hatred and physical brutality, besides which he absorbed all the sin of the world into himself—all the sins committed by you and me, by rapists and murderers, and even mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin—he absorbed all that into himself, and then from the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). So bottom line: if we’re unwilling to forgive, then we won’t be forgiven; and if we’re unwilling to repent, we won’t be forgiven. And in either case we’ll have separated ourselves from Jesus.
That’s why passing the Peace is such an important part of our worship. When we greet one another in church, after having confessed our own sins and been forgiven, and repeat Jesus’ own words, “Peace be with you,” we are declaring that we are at peace with all people, that we bear no animosity toward any other person, and that whatever another person might have done to trespass against us, we have let it go for ever. If that’s not the case, then you need to find yourself a priest and have a serious talk about getting right with God, because if you’re not right with your neighbor, then you’re not right with God, and you need to stay away from the communion rail until you fix things up. I can’t stress enough how utterly serious this whole forgiveness thing is.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It’s another way of saying, “don’t put us to the test.” The question comes up, Why would God lead people into temptation? Why would he put us to the test? The simple answer is that he doesn’t. He allows it to happen, because he has given us the freedom to make our own choices. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t be free agents. We’d all be little more than robots doing what we’ve been programmed to do. And God wouldn’t have needed to send his Son to redeem us. God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin; he doesn’t play such games with his beloved children. St James warns that nobody should ever say, “I’m being tempted by God,” since God himself is above temptation, nor does he tempt any of his creatures (Jas 1:13). That’s what the devil does. Temptations are aimed at us giving in to our sinful desires and impulses, with the ultimate goal of stealing us away from God (Rom 7:5). Nobody is immune to them, but we pray that the really big ones, the ones we can’t bear will not come to us (OSB Mt 6:13n). “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That’s what God does—he delivers us from evil. By the work of his Son becoming one of us, dying and rising for us, he redeems us from our sinful condition.
That, says Jesus, is the kind of Father who created us, and who has adopted us as his own. He doesn’t give us snakes when we ask for fish, or scorpions when we ask for eggs. He gives us the good things we ask for, the things that accord with his will, that will lead us in the way that is everlasting, because he loves us. And he gives us all good things, including this prayer, in order to draw us into ever deeper intimacy with himself in the beloved community of the Trinity where we’re loved every bit as much as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit love one another.
So think about all that when you pray that prayer. Pray it every day, and let it shape all your other praying, because it’s the pattern of prayer that Jesus has given us. It lays out all the essentials that we should be praying for as children of our heavenly Father, and as ambassadors for Christ in the world, whose mission it is to love all people in the hallowed Name of our heavenly Father, and to welcome them into his beloved family, where they can experience the unconditional love and the infinite mercy of God. In the Name of…
Ian C. Wetmore+