Genesis 18:20-23; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-19: Saint Luke 11: 1-13
There are two historic impediments to hearing the Gospel today. The first is bad preaching; and by “bad preaching” I mean one or both of two things: Either preaching that makes the Gospel useless; or preaching that turns the Gospel into law; implying that we’ve got to do something to get God to pay attention to us; “if…then” preaching, suggesting that our relationship with God is transactional: we do something for God or to God so God will do something for us. I’ve heard more bad sermons based on today’s Gospel text than on any other. So let’s deal with that impediment now. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is not telling us that if we bug God long enough, God will give us what we want. That’s not Gospel, that’s law, “works righteousness” in Lutheran terms, the exact opposite of Jesus’ absolutely unqualified Good News statement “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!” Free gift, not human-like transaction! If you’ve heard that with God “persistence pays off,” please put that notion out of your mind. It’s useless!
The second impediment to hearing the Gospel today is at least 1800 years of the church’s liturgical tradition coupled with a lifetime of our own personal piety, because what we pray, both in church and in our personal devotions is not Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer but a liturgical version which most closely follows Matthew’s account and concludes with a doxology that is not included in either but was added in the Church’s public praying about a century later. That’s true of both of the versions of the Lord’s Prayer, printed in today’s bulletin.
With the whole Church, we’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer that way later, but for the moment I’d like you to concentrate on the prayer as we have it from Luke’s Gospel.
As you do this, I’d like you to notice some extremely specific things.
Notice first that it simply begins “Father” – an opening that speaks not of someone with whom we will have a relationship after certain pious or ethical exercises, but of one with whom we already are in relationship as beloved children. No “if… then” there!
Second, consider the verbs. There is a “nowness,” sense of immediacy to these verbs, particularly in the original Greek but even in English. The coming of the kingdom, the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from “the time of trial” are not pious hopes or future expectations, but realities expected in the here and now.
Take “your kingdom (or as we heard last week “your kin-dom come” for example.
We usually take that to mean “at the end of time” — what a lot of our fundamentalist critics call “the last judgment” when Jesus returns madder than (you fill in the blank.) But when, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “your kingdom come,” there is a clear expectation that God’s rule of justice, mercy and love — a rule embodied in Jesus Christ — will be happening right now, particularly among those doing this praying.
You see, the congregations to whom Luke addressed his Gospel were not living for some future hope; they were living a tangibly present reality. They weren’t waiting for Jesus to return; they were experiencing Christ’s real and contemporary presence now. They weren’t waiting for the end of the world to make all things new; they were living that newness here and now. And these were the signs of that kingdom present among them:
- They received and shared their daily bread.
- They received and shared the forgiveness of sins.
- They practiced and experienced the forgiveness of debt — that’s real debt — dollars and cents debt — not spiritual debt.
- And they were attempting to live all this out in all of their relationships without being put to the test by civic or imperial authorities.
- They understood this prayer not only as a request from the God who freely gives, but as a template for responsible interpersonal behavior in Christ.
When we pray this prayer as those who, by the world’s standards, are relatively well-off, we are not asking God to give us more, we are asking God to only give us enough: Daily bread, no indebtedness, no way to earn compound interest from others; and a way of living that is satisfied with enough and anxious to do mercy and live justly with all. Praying this Lord’s prayer has social and ethical implications that include advocating mercy even for the contemporary equivalents of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah because that’s the responsible faith-based, rather than self-serving, fear-induced, thing to do.
God’s name hallowed; God’s kin-dom present; our daily needs: enough bread broken and shared; ample forgiveness, holding God, us, one another and us, lovingly together; salvation in every time of trial, at the end or right now; and also a model for living forgivingly with and for others. There is a word for all that these add up to; a word that defines our experience right now: Jesus, present, here, and now, “among the poor, beside the sinner, with us now;” Jesus, present, here, and now, giving us life, giving us purpose, being a model of faithful living for us. Jesus, God’s always useful, always good Word and all we need to do is receive it with joy and thanksgiving and let God the Holy Spirit do the rest in us and through us.