In his simplicity, Luke is clear that the Our Father
is just four petitions.
Matthew flowers it up a bit by putting the first and last petitions
into poetic couplets.
But it’s really quite a simple prayer.
To get the point of the Our Father,
we start with asking what is prayer for.
John Macquarrie, the greatest 20thCentury Episcopal theologian,
said Prayer is the heart of all religion.
The greatest Roman Catholic theologian of that century,
Karl Rahner agreed, calling prayer the great religious act.
Prayer isn’t magic.
It isn’t a voo-doo incantation to impose our will
by paranormal means.
We don’t conjure God up like a genie from a bottle
to do our bidding.
To understand prayer we need to remember two things about God.
First, God whose love created this world and holds it in being
already wants to bless us beyond our wildest imagination.
But, second, God isn’t the Puppet Master of the Universe.
God creates the world by allowing it autonomy.
God’s love is intimately present in all situations,
but God’s power is another matter.
God sets boundaries on God’s own power so that we can be persons
and not puppets.
It is as if there is a threshold to our world
that God will not cross uninvited.
Prayer is the invitation.
Am I saying that if we do not pray that God is less able to help?
Frankly, yes, I am saying just that.
To the extent the world does not freely submit itself in prayer,
it eludes his gracious mercy.
But when we pray, we are become channels of grace,
drawing the whole world with us into a nearer communion
with its source.
That’s why the first petition in The Lord’s Prayer,
your kingdom come,
doesn’t tell God what to do.
It invites God’s reign into our lives and our world.
We trust that when God reigns, all will be well.
The 2ndpetition Give us each day our daily bread
didn’t feel relevant to me the first 60 years or so I prayed it.
I already had my daily bread. Then I noticed the key word – us.
In the Our Father, we aren’t praying just for ourselves.
We pray for everyone – and some of us don’t have our daily bread.
We produce far more food than we need to feed everyone
but 3.1 million children die each year
from malnutrition related conditions.
161 million are stunted physically and cognitively by hunger.
30,000 Syrians are starving in the Al Rukbar refugee camp
10 miles from an American base.
That calls for some serious prayer and some action
to show we mean it.
The third petition makes us squirm because it seems to have
a price tag we don’t want to pay.
Forgive us our sins for we forgive everyone indebted to us.
We have all been hurt by others and we have a hard time
getting over it.
We still hurt; so, we are still angry.
We may even need our anger to keep from getting hurt again.
But forgivenessin this prayer doesn’t mean not being angry.
It certainly doesn’t mean exposing ourselves to future abuse.
This is moral economics.
If someone makes us suffer, we feel we have a right
to see them suffer.
Luke make it clear, it’s a debt, like a moral I O U.
God is our collection agent.
Forgiveness is cancelling that I O U.
We may still be angry, but we don’t live for vengeance.
Can we forgive those who have hurt us?
Look at that prayer again, Forgive us our sins.
That usincluded our enemies.
We already released them from retribution.
The last petition, Do not bring us to the time of trialcomes easier.
It’s a prayer for the whole world to be protected from disaster.
That includes all the personal heartbreaks and devastations
that hang like threats around us.
But the Our Father is greater than the sum of its parts
because it’s Jesus’ prayer and the ancient prayer
of his Church.
Each weekday, early Christian communities held
3 simple prayer services, centered around the Our Father.
They rang the church bell so people who could not come
might stop and say the Our Father where they stood.
We all get caught up in our own projects.
We can feel alone in them and that makes us anxious,
sometimes even aggressive and competitive with each other.
Most of the time, Jesus isn’t on our minds
and if he’s in our hearts, he’s hidden too deep for us to notice.
But then we stop to pray his prayer with him
remembering we all have the same Father,
so we pray for our own well-being by praying
for the well-being of us all.
In the Eucharist, the prayer of consecration
isn’t just to transform bread and wine into Christ.
The bread and the wine represent us.
Sanctify us also, we pray.
The prayer consecrates us to be one with Christ.
When it concludes with The Great Amen,
when we are one with Christ,
then we say his prayer together.
Every time we pray the Our Father,
it is an act of communion with Jesus and with each other,
because we can’t have one without the other.
Every time we pray the Our Father, we become the Body of Christ.
At each Baptism, we make vows to God and to each other.
We promise to continue in the apostles’ fellowship,
in the breaking of bread,
and in the prayers.
This is the number one prayer.
So, pray it, brothers and sisters.
Wrap your life in it.
Pray the Our Father till it seeps into your soul and makes you one with Jesus.
Pray it in the morning when you rise.
Pray it in the evening when you rest.
And when you come to die, pray it with all the saints
who’ve been praying this prayer for you all along.