It is the end of week one. What have I learned? (1) Expect to make a delicious mess at Torchy’s Tacos. (2) This is a busy place, even in the supposedly lazier days of summer. (3) This congregation has a LOT of tall people. I mean, y’all are TALL. CTK basketball teams for men, women, and youth would sweep any team in their categories. You’ve inspired me to suggest new words to Henry Strzelecki’s famous song; “I’m a long tall Texan. I belong to CTK.” And (4) while you are on average physically tall, you desire deeply to be yet more rooted and to grow more in faith.
I’ve enjoyed many conversations already about your aspirations not only for even better congregational growth and health. Many of you have shared with me already your personal desires too to grow deeper in the faith. Of course, for us here such a desire may seem expected, kind of a platitude to be checked off with the new guy. But I believe you are sincere. You have a history from excellent leadership to know something about what spiritual maturity means. You have been washed in faith; fed by God’s word, you have known, sometimes even mystically, that God is “in the house.” Having so bathed, so heard, so tasted, you should want more. It is what God created us to desire, to grow in God’s own love.
Beyond our God-given natural desire to want to grow more in faith, there is the dire need for it by a world bathed not by healing waters, but by dark and dank forces of violence and injustice. There is more than a preponderance of evidence that even in our politics and religion violence and injustice have become normalized. This past week, as you know, we’ve been encouraged to pray for the healing of racism and violence because from speech to act the need for healing is so starkly clear. Human folly all around sharpens the need for prayer; not the prayer of a heretic who whips up vile chants like a hate-leader in a noisome assembly, which is most definitely NOT prayer; but prayer which is finally the unending practice of breathing words that God has given to us so that we might actually hear God speaking to us in, with, and under, and beyond those very words.
I was perplexed a couple of weeks ago by a newspaper article that said some churches were finding their way to numerical growth again by trying something new, which was to attend to peoples’ spiritual needs. To quote the famous theologian, Homer Simpson, “well, duh!” The profound liturgies we pray in this beautiful place mean to deepen our roots and strengthen what is holy in our vision. Your ministry staff works well and hard to help cultivate your faith growth. Today, with Jesus and the disciples, we are given another new moment to affirm this priority by asking how we can better pray.
But maybe even Jesus’ own words caught your attention this morning. Did you notice something different in today’s reading? Like the missing “our” and the missing “in heaven” in Jesus’ opening words of what we’ve come to call The Lord’s Prayer? Not only do the Gospels give us different versions of what Jesus said, translators also must choose from diverse early sources. Many scholars, as with our translation today, have chosen the version that seems better to meet Luke’s own theological interest to emphasize that Jesus already has referred intimately to “Father” several times and now invites the disciples into the same intimacy with God that he knows. God is close and personal. For Luke, God is “our” Father even if the word “our” is omitted. The “our” is presumed. Other phrases differ, but more about all that another time. The long ancient practice is true if not literally factual. The first understood word to pray is “our.” “Our” is a prayer word that is beautiful, clear, even holy, with which to start!
With “our” we are invited into Jesus’ intimate relationship with the God he knew as the father of fathers, the origin and destiny of all who hear the call of “our.” That is a great crowd! Jesus includes himself in that word. He includes those Jews who were not yet Christians in that word. I have Muslim friends today who tell me they can see themselves praying this prayer as it was first intended. It is the universal prayer form for all, for all people who want to grow deeper in their faith, whether just starting to pray or seeking to grow deeper, which also means to reach higher. The prayer that begins with “our” is not a political or religious tribal term. It is the inclusive term that Jesus uses to link everybody through him to the Holy Source of all our lives. “Our” is the truly normative and blessing way to begin truly to pray.
“Our” also turns out to mean that my performance does not matter. The prayer is not all about me and my cozy buddying up to Jesus. Prayer is about my having been gathered in. . It is not about my measuring up or about graduate credits in spirituality. Prayer is not a “thing” to check off so to add a merit to my spiritual resume, as if I could or would distinguish myself from the Christian who votes wrong or lives in a trailer. With “our” I am welcomed into a beautiful world of hospitality and generosity that extends in every possible direction. With “our” comes the promise that I belong always to God through Christ and the family he names as his. The promise is made clear beginning with baptism, as with the baptism this beautiful morning of Wyatt Paul Ybarra. Soon to be watered, Wyatt will grow as a tree in the best forest where our father is his father and where, no matter the state of our own bark-skin and our loss of leaves, Wyatt too will always be ours and we his with ALL God’s family.
I have an “our” image that is always spiritually powerful for me. One of my “go to” places in my mind, if not physically possible, is the Muir Woods in Marin County, where I once served a congregation. The Muir Woods are an old growth forest. The giant Redwoods there grow almost 300 feet straight up. Their bark is the furriest red woody beauty; their piny evergreen tops a most wonderful canopy for birds and furry things of a marvelous variety. What is unseen, and unknown to many, is that much of their awesome straightness and nourishment is provided by the most complicated intertwining of their root system. All these evidently individual straight-up old tall Redwoods (taller than a CTK basketball team!) are not separate. They belong! They are so intertwined down deep that they feed each other and by roots twining so tightly from all directions, they sustain each other’s vertical perfection!
The Muir Woods for me are an image of how God’s church is to be. Hold a child’s or neighbor’s legs from all directions then that child will not fall or grow crooked, but sprout straight. Recognize and practice that we are claimed by OUR Father, we in Christ’s church are then seen as a cathedral of holy redwood trees, each and all pointing to the glory of The Father. Pray, starting with our, with every breath until natural. Then phrases like “give us our daily bread” and “forgive us our sins” are profoundly broken open. Then Christ’s prayer becomes the surprising and wonderful doorway into God’s beautiful world of compassion and justice. When it comes to Jesus’ teaching us how to pray, the first word “our” is a sign already of God’s infinite generosity, a gift that keeps on giving.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX July 24, 2916