Sermon preached by Reverend Charles Royden
Luke Chapter 11
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." He said to them,
"When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' "
Last week Neil spoke to us about Mary and Martha and the need to have time for God, not doing things for God but perhaps just taking time to be in the presence of God.
This week we move from there straight into teaching about prayer
The problem about prayer is that we have to avoid the simplistic ideas which are too often associated with prayer, especially in the minds of those who seek to ridicule what prayer is.
There was a drama series on television some years ago in which miners stuck down a pit were prayed for by a Vicar with a somewhat flaky faith. When the miners were eventually rescued he proclaimed it as an answer to prayer. One of the miners asked,
'If God saved the miners, who got them stuck down there in the first place.'
There is an understanding of prayer which sees it as a simple task of asking God for stuff and waiting for God to perform. There is no concept of an appreciation of prayer in the wider context of our whole spirituality and way of life. It is understandable how in a very materialistic society prayer still remains associated with getting things from God. Development of the importance of our 'soul' is not something considered important.
I decided this week to have as the meditation in Partnership News some thoughts about school assemblies. They appear to be on the way out, largely because schools have decided that they do not want to have them.
Schools should be allowed to do away
with daily collective worship in favour of weekly or monthly assemblies, says
the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell. "I struggle, as do my inspectors and
most secondary schools, with the requirement that every school day shall include
an act of collective worship," Figures from Mr Bell’s department show that 76
per cent of secondary schools fail to comply with the regulations for collective
worship; many say they lack the physical space to hold an assembly, or they
cannot squeeze worship into their timetable.
Mr Bell says he tried to crack down on schools’ failure to comply — but "ran into a firestorm of protest", because school inspectors found themselves having to declare schools that met every other standard "unsatisfactory", simply because they were failing to implement the daily act of worship.
Prayer is about the need to create space in our busy lives. If schools stopped having PE, games or sports lessons, I wonder if then they would be allowed to drop sport from the curriculum in schools? I would suggest that such an idea would be utterly rejected. The fact that Mr Bell has made this statement shows that spiritual activity is regarded as of less importance than physical activity. ! If we remove from our children an awareness of things which are spiritual, what kind of people will they become? Is it merely coincidence that in a society where we are removing the spiritual focus, that we are seeing less and less respect for others and a degeneration in the behaviour of children and young people.
If schools feel able to break the law so wilfully, is it any surprise that children in those same schools are morally confused?
But what is going on in schools is only a reflection of what is going on in society at large. As people become more affluent, so they have more money to spend on certain things and choose to spend less time on non-material things. Spiritual values are crowded out. People pursue happiness through the purchase of merchandise and buying of things outside themselves. So there is no room for consideration of the spiritual part of life.
Of course Christian teaching is exactly the opposite, there is no blessing in wealth and riches, possessions will not make you happy, rather store up riches in heaven where moths can’t eat them, rust can’t destroy, where thieves cannot break in and steal. Christian teaching is that there is a great paradox in the pursuit of wealth and happiness in things. Desire for material happiness actually brings about poverty of the soul and unhappiness. Having some 'super-dooper' washing machine will not make you more fulfilled. It might get your clothes cleaner and quicker, but it will not add to your greater happiness. The trouble is that it is very hard to tell somebody who has been coveting a BMW or a Mercedes that it won’t actually make them any happier. It looks so lovely, it is marketed so well that surely it must be good for me.
So what is taking place in schools is only a reflection of wider society. The teachers who have abandoned spiritual teaching in schools have done so because they have abandoned spirituality in their own lives. As I have said, if we were to stop sport in schools their would be an enormous uproar. Sport for fitness of body and exercise are regarded as essential, the health of the soul is considered less significant.
In truth we all know that society is not changing for better or for worse with the abandonment of spiritual focus. Whatever you decide, if you believe that spiritual health is important then you will be interested in the reading from Luke this morning. Jesus has told Mary that it is OK not to be active, rushing around all the time. He has affirmed the importance of stillness and sitting at his feet.
Lord teach us to pray
The problem is that like the disciples we are confused by prayer. Perhaps the reason why people do not pray very often reflects this confusion. Often people will ask
‘Why doesn’t God answer my prayers’
This again immediately presupposes that prayer is about asking God for things.
Is prayer about asking God for things?
I wonder how many of you have visited Tesco.com or ‘Sainsbury’s for you’, placing your order online and waiting for delivery? You sit down, hopefully somewhere quiet where you can concentrate, log on, then go through all the things which you need. Somebody at the store then receives your requests and the goodies are delivered. If you order something and they haven’t got it then they will sometimes substitute what you asked for with something else. Occasionally something does not arrive which you asked for and on other occasions you actually get something more than you bargained for, normally because the shopping has been mixed up.
Now for many people this is a model which expresses their understanding of what prayer is all about. Sitting down with the shopping list and waiting to see if it arrives. Prayer is essentially asking God for things and there is disappointment when we ask for something which we do not get. Perhaps so much disappointment that people do not bother to pray because it just doesn’t work!
So, when you hear the word ‘prayer’ what do you think of? How would you describe prayer to somebody who was not a Christian?
If we were to listen to the words of some of the passage from Luke this morning, superficially it appears that prayer is about going to God and asking for things.
‘Ask and it will be given to you’
But if we look closer at the text it is apparent that Jesus is not saying that at all. Jesus says that when we ask God for good things, he will not give us bad things.
"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
So it appears that the importance of prayer is knowing what we should pray for. Listening not asking. Alignment of our wills with God's will for our lives. If we asked for a scorpion would God give us one? The school assemble illustration is always fun. Have three glasses on a table. One of water, one of orange squash and one of beautiful deep blue liquid. Ask the children which one they want and they will choose the beautiful blue one. Then you tell them that it is Harpic toilet cleaner! If we ask for Harpic would God grant our desires?
Much of what passes for prayer is about wanting what we think we want and need. Because of that it becomes irrational, superstitious, and self-centered, and ultimately unworthy of the pattern of the prayer which Jesus offered to us his disciples.
If we are honest we know that prayer can never be a magic way of persuading God to change his mind and grant our wishes.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, because they recognised in Jesus a spirituality which they envied. They wanted to have a rapport with God, like Jesus had, and clearly Jesus wanted them to have it too.
Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s prayer is not magic, but Jesus did tell his disciples in Luke to pray this prayer and, so we should. But, let's take a look at what the Lord's Prayer teaches us about prayer
Jesus began the prayer with a recognition that God is sovereign over all.
‘Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name.’
Father Jesus must have
amazed those around by addressing God as "Father". The Pharisees never used such
a title to address God. We can be sure that not until Jesus does it become
characteristic to speak to God as Father. God was close to Jesus and this is
shown clearly by his choice of this word. Moreover Jesus wants this level of
intimacy to be shared by us all. A relationship so personal that we can call the
Creator of the universe 'Father'. God is somebody we can approach as we go to a
human parent and share the good times and the bad, the success as well as the
failure, the joys and sorrows. As 'Father', God is concerned for the needs of
Hallowed be your name Hallowed means to treat as holy, to reverence, to be pure, sacred. There is an acknowledgement of the fact that God is 'worthy.' This is about the essential quality of God which is beyond our imagination. In calling God 'Holy' we acknowledge that God is 'other worldly' and that there is much about God which is above and beyond us: We cannot expect to place an infinite God into the container of our human finite minds. This is also a prayer for the mission of the church, we are seeking that all people would reverence God.
Then it goes on to ask for the healing of God's creation to transform our own lives and bring about God’s kingdom
‘thy kingdom come’
Your kingdom come Jesus expresses our longing to have the kingdom fully now, not just a taste of it. Our deepest longing is to see the day when the triumphant, sovereign lordship of our loving God will no longer be a mere hope clung to desperately by faith, but a manifest reality in all human affairs. We all long to see the end of death and pain and suffering, this prayer seeks the time when all these things will come to an end.
So the prayer starts us off thinking about God, not us!
Only then do we come to the fulfillment of our needs.
Lead us not into temptation
Note the use of the word 'Our.'
We have all heard the
phrase 'I am a Christian but I don't go to church.' The word 'Our' is very
poignant, it makes the Christian faith a shared experience, not an isolated one.
You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and mean it and then be a private Christian.
The following is a simple poem but it does have a strong message about the
shared nature of Christianity
You cannot say the Lord's
prayer, and even once say "I".
You cannot pray the Lord's prayer, and even once say "my".
Nor can you pray the Lord's prayer and not pray for another.
For to ask for "our" daily bread, you include your sister and brother!
All God's children are included in each and every plea.
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say "me".
Give us each day our daily bread.
We are half-way through
the prayer before Jesus allows us to ask for anything for ourselves! This phrase
reminds us of where our priorities must be. It reminds us of our daily
dependence upon God and calls us to simplicity of life. As we pray these simple
words we pray that we will live just one day at a time and we also acknowledge
that all things come from God. (Deut 8:18, 1 Cor 4:7, James 1:17). True prayers
are born of present trials and present needs. Bread, for today, is bread enough.
As every day demands its bread, so every day demands its prayer. No amount of
praying, done today, will suffice for tomorrow's praying. This part of the
prayer is also about NEEDS not GREEDS. Jesus acknowledges that our physical
needs must be met but it is not a prayer for luxuries.
To pray for 'our daily
bread' is to remind ourselves that in a wealthy society we should not be asking
for more than that, anything else is a bonus! Indeed for many people daily bread
itself would be a real luxury.
Forgive us our sins
In this prayer we admit
that we are sinners! By sinning we have incurred a moral and a spiritual debt to
God who has authority over our lives. So we ask for forgiveness as a gift, for
we can never earn or merit God's forgiveness. Some would say that we should be
praying forgive me 'my' sins. There has been a tendency to become over excited
about our individual sins: Of course the ones that we get really excited about
are sexual sins and sins of morality. Jesus is not so focused on individual but
rather corporate sin. It is actually harder to say forgive us our sins, since
when we take shared responsibility for corporate sins it challenges us in a new
As we forgive those who sin against us Think about the things God has forgiven you for. Now with all that forgiven how can you not forgive someone who has sinned against you? Jesus does not suppose that God's forgiveness is contingent on our forgiving. Rather, he simply assumes that as we pray we will understand the need to forgive. Once our eyes are opened to the enormity of our offence against God, the injuries done to us appear by comparison to be trifling. If we exaggerate the offences of others then the chances are that we have a minimized our understanding of our own ! Forgiving others shows that we are living out the kingdom standards in our own lives now.
And lead us not into temptation
Does God lead us into
temptation? We can all be sure from personal experience that he does allow us to
be tempted, to go through difficult circumstances. We are told in scripture that
God will not allow us to be tested beyond what we can endure and that he will
help us through it (1 Cor 10:13). Perhaps we could say that this prayer asks God
to help us avoid sin, and that our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead
us into sin of any kind. If we continue to say this prayer each day, then we
will find it hard to live knowingly with sin each day. It is interesting that
when people do things which they know to be wrong they frequently find a reason
to avoid confronting their sin. They will perhaps leave their church which
challenges such behaviour, sometimes finding fault in the church itself as an
excuse. Our prayers will challenge us not to live a double life.
Jesus at Prayer
A good way to reflect on what prayer is will be to look at the example of the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane. What were his words when faced with what he believed to be his imminent death? Let me read to you the words of Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 26:39-41
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
I think that in a world where prayer is often thought of as presenting our requests to God, this model of prayer is very helpful. Jesus uses his time of prayer as an opportunity to come before God honestly, expressing how he feels and seeking to understand God’s will and have his life conformed to it.
So from the life and teaching of Jesus what is prayer ?
Prayer is seeking after the will of God and of being open to the reign of God. Prayer is about helping in the process of God being there, as we live the way God wants us to live, so God is at work in us as he was at work in Christ. Surely lots of things do not happen in this world simply because we Christians are too idle, to selfish.
'conspiring with God toward the healing of creation.''
Such praying will lead to a different perspective on the life of the one for whom prayer is genuinely offered, and on our own priorities, Such praying may lead naturally to changing the way we do things, altering our priorities.
Prayer is not just about saying words but it is about an attitude of life and of the heart. About being prepared to disturb the complacency of our lives and put ourselves at risk. This is real spirituality, real Christianity. By 'prayer' we mean the readiness to rest in the presence of God, trying to look at life through His eyes, bringing our activities under His sovereign will and mediating his love to those who have a claim upon our attention. Prayer is not finding a way of making ourselves bullet proof so that we don’t get sick like everyone else.
When we pray we show that we recognise the authority of God. That there is a higher moral authority. That there is one who watches over us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Prayer recognises that there is one who walks with us and who goes before us, who walks with us so that we might be without fear, and who calls each one of us, to be ever faithful. Prayer recognises that no power which seeks to destroy us will ever have an unbreakable grasp upon us. That there is One who is 'gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.