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Teach us to Pray

Luke 11:1-13

Imagine Warren Buffet teaching you how to pick stocks. Imagine Joe DiMaggio teaching you how to hit a curve ball. Imagine Fred Astaire teaching you how to dance. Then imagine Jesus Christ teaching you how to pray. But we don’t have to imagine it. Jesus does it for us this morning in this unforgettable lesson.

While the words of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel are immortal, they are not the most important lesson that Jesus teaches. More important than his words are his attitude, his behavior, his complete confidence in the Father’s love. The Lord’s Prayer reflects The Lord’s life… the Word made flesh, to humbly dwell among us, to be the living, breathing manifestation of God’s love.

Jesus does not besiege the Father with petitions. He does not ask for miracles. He does not try to persuade the Father to see things his way. He does not attempt to impose his will. Rather he teaches us to look for God’s will in all things and to make ourselves open to that will. We don’t pray to change God’s mind. We pray to know it and to change our own hearts and minds to live in harmony with his will.

The very first words of Christ’s prayer, Our Father, set the tone for our relationship with God and our place in his universe. We are not highly evolved creatures of appetite. We are not a superior breed of ape. We are the cherished children of God, the author of creation. We are his beloved, here to live in harmony with his will. Our gifts of intellect and energy come directly from his hands to serve his purpose… to witness his love in the world.

Our Father… what a humble, loving greeting. Jesus does not try to overawe us with the grandeur of God. There are no theatrics in this gospel. God is our loving Father, not some vainglorious Wizard of Oz. Our Father is an infinitely wise, caring, kindly, yet powerful parent. He loves us and wants us to love him. We are his beloved and he delights in understanding and satisfying our real needs.

We praise God’s name. But God does not need to hear us praise him. We do. We need to put voice to our total dependence on our loving Father. In this humble acknowledgement, we remind ourselves of the order of the universe and what must be the order in our lives… if we are to ever find peace in the world and peace in ourselves.

In praying for our daily bread, we ask for the physical and spiritual strength to do God’s work in the world. And having given ourselves to God’s will, we pray confidently that he will give us the grace to become instruments of his will, empowered to proclaim him, to serve him… to give of ourselves… to be active extentions of his love.

There is a single quid pro quo stipulation tucked inside this prayer. We pray to be forgiven as we forgive others. The formula is simple. The ramifications are profound. To receive mercy, we must be merciful. Beyond giving, we must be forgiving. We say it. But do we live it… especially in times when fear and anger are the order of the day?

In its form and in its content, Christ’s prayer is a masterpiece. The fact that it is delivered off-the-cuff in response to a random question is further proof of the divine inspiration of the author. And while the words have echoed repeatedly in a thousand languages down the centuries, Christ cautions us that our prayer should never be a mindless incantation to wring a list of goodies from a grudging God.

With each new call to Our Father, we approach him anew and we acknowledge our total dependence on his love. His will defines our day. His love refreshes our soul. Jesus is not teaching us to say the Lord’s Prayer. He’s teaching us to live the Lord’s Prayer.

The Reverend David F. Sellery

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