Monday, August 22, 2016

Sermon from last Sunday in July - Lord's Prayer

Luke 11:1-4
Matt 6:9-13

An interviewer approached a Jewish man who was praying at the wailing wall in Jerusalem.  This wall is the only part of the temple that remained after the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. and to this day remains a place where faithful Jews can gather to lift up their prayers to God.  The interviewer asked the Jewish man to tell him about his praying.  The man told the interviewer that he had been coming to the wailing wall every day for 60 years.  When asked what he prayed for he responded that he prayed to God to bring peace to the world, to end war, oppression and poverty.  This man spent at least an hour a day praying with every fiber of his being that God’s kingdom of Shalom, of wholeness, of peace would come to earth.  The interviewer was moved deeply by this man’s profession of faith and dedication to prayer.  After a moment of awed silence he finally asked the faithful man how he felt coming to the wailing wall day after day.  The faithful man replied, “I feel,” and he paused, struggling to find the words to express his feelings.  “I feel,” he started again and as the tears began to course down his face he finally choked out, “I feel... like I’m talking to a wall.”

               This morning we read to you both gospels that contain versions of the Lord’s Prayer.  What we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer is not in all four gospels, but only in Luke and Matthew. Did anything strike you during the reading of these two versions of the Lord’s Prayer? 
               Let me share with you one more translation – this is another translation of the Matthew version:

Our Daddy in Heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best – as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes!

               Again, anything strike you?
               The bottom line, and what I want to talk about with you today, is that there are several problems with the way we say the Lord’s Prayer now.  First of all, and most importantly, our current way of saying the Lord’s prayer is just plain inaccurate.  And there are a few things I want to highlight about that.  First, the word we translate “Father” which is a very formal word of address, should be properly translated from the Greek as “Daddy”, which is a word of intimacy and closeness.  The word is actually Abba, and it is a word that young children would have used to talk to a close parent.  This word is not just one of familiarity, of closeness, it is also a word of trust, of dependence, of recognition that God as our Daddy, as our Mommy, is someone we rely on, someone we need for our very being, someone we love dearly and who loves us dearly as well.  Same with the word “thy” and “thine”.  These have become very formal words.  And again, that is a mistranslation.  Originally, the words “thine, thou, thy” were actually words of intimacy, proclaiming a closer relationship than the word “you”.  It was at the time when they were words of closer intimacy that they were placed into this prayer to make the translation right.  But now that those words are actually “distancing” or “formal” words, they make the translation inaccurate.  Jesus was making a very strong, clear and, frankly, a very scandalous statement at that time.  I think judging by how we say the Lord’s Prayer now, it is scandalous in our own time as well, by telling us we should pray in an intimate way with God.  Address God as Daddy, (or Mommy – words of intimacy and closeness), use words that indicate an extremely close relationship such as “thy” or “thine” used to do.  We are not following what Jesus asks us to do when we use terms that distance God rather than pulling God closer.
               Secondly, words like debt or trespasses are old, confusing, unclear, and again inaccurate.  What Jesus is calling us to do is to pray to God to forgive us when we mess up.  Debts and trespasses imply mostly monetary and space misuses.  Both of those are part of the “messing up” umbrella, certainly, but not all of it by any means.  We shorten and also obscure the prayer by using those words.
Thirdly, as I have mentioned before, a large part of the Protestant reformation was an insistence that God gave the scriptures to ALL people and that therefore they should be written in our own language, the language of the people.  Our scriptures have become written in our own language now.  However, at the same time, we have hung on to old language that is no longer the language of the people in things like the way we say the Lord’s Prayer.  As we read in today’s scriptures, the way we say the Lord’s Prayer is NOT an accurate translation into today’s language of the people.  But we have become used to the way we do it.  It brings comfort at some level to say it in the words our parents used and our parents’ parents used.  There is value in that.  But there is also a cost.  Part of the cost is inaccuracy in understanding.  But a bigger cost is that the children do not know what they are saying.  How can it truly be a prayer for them if they have no idea of the words they are using?  We’ve all heard the jokes of children’s hearing of this prayer, “Our Father, whose art is heaven, Howard be thy name.”  And I have to ask if leaving our children out of this prayer is worth the value we find in the tradition of saying the prayer in a familiar way.  We are failing to pass it down to them in a meaningful way, which means it probably won’t stay in their lives.  Is that really what we want?  The prayer does not have the same meaning for them that it does for us, though frankly, I wonder if it has the same meaning for us as well when we rotely say words that are not part of our current speech.  And while we can talk about what these words mean with the kids, saying our most common prayers in THEIR language, in the language they use also sends an important message that God is not so lofty as to not want to hear from children.  God is here, and accessible and open to hearing even from our kids.  And again, while speaking to God formally may have a message of respect towards God that has value, it also sends a message of inaccessibility.  The very message, in other words, that the protestant reformation was working to challenge.  More importantly, the very message that Jesus was trying to confront.
            Another problem with the way we say the Lord’s Prayer is that by saying it together the same way every week, we also miss the larger message of the story and of the prayer.  The paragraph right before the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, again using the Message translation reads: “The word is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant.  They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God.  Don’t fall for that nonsense.  This is your parent you are dealing with, who knows better than you what you need.  With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.  Like this…”
Did you hear that?  We aren’t supposed to use a formula or program when we pray.  Instead we are to pray “like” the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus didn’t say, “pray using these exact words.”  In both gospels a most accurate translation is “pray like this” or “pray in this way”.  “Pray in this way” means, these are the ideas and things about praying that are important for us to do.  And there is much in the Lord’s Prayer that is important. 
            Someone once pointed out that if you want to know what to pray for you could use the acronym ACTS I. 
Those letters then stand for

In other words, just as in the Lord’s Prayer, we are called to
adore or express our love, “Holy is your name, Yours is the kingdom, power and glory”,
Confess: “forgive our sins as we forgive others”
Offer Thanksgiving,
Lift up prayers for the world, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
And pray for our own needs “Give us this day our daily bread, don’t lead us into temptation, deliver us from evil”
Another way to say this is that in our prayers, as in everything else we do in life, we are called to do three things:  Love God, love others and love ourselves. 

The passage in Luke goes on to tell us to pray with all urgency, to pray continually, to pray as if your life depended on it, which of course it does.
               That is the message of the Lord’s Prayer.  Jean asked me a couple weeks ago why I begin the Lord’s Prayer with all of you but then mute my mic for most of it.  I do that because I recognize that you need to say the prayer in the way that is most meaningful to you.  Prayer really is about our relationships with God, and if your relationship with God calls you to pray it in the way you always have, I honor and respect that.  For me, my relationship with God calls me to pray it slightly differently, using words that are in the language of my children and connect me more intimately with God.  I therefore use “you” instead of ‘thy and thine”.  I use “holy” instead of “hallowed” and I use “sins” instead of debts.  I pray what has become known as the Ecumenical Version of the Lord’s Prayer and that more and more of our congregations use for exactly the reasons I have outlined.
Our Father/Mother/Creator who is in heaven, Holy is your name.
Your kindom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
   as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
   and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
   now and for ever. Amen.

But again, I recognize and honor that your relationships must be your own.  I encourage you to think on these things, but you must ultimately be guided by your relationship with God. 

               I want to end today by sharing with you a prayer written by the Rev. Dewane Zimmerman.  He wrote

The Lord’s prayer (as it might be prayed by God to us):
(I encourage you to listen differently and to ponder these in your hearts):

My children who are on earth:
You reverence my name
But you do not celebrate my will for you.
You pray my kingdom come,
But how can it
When you ARE what I mean by my kingdom?
You pray for your daily bread,
But you have enough-and to spare.
You pray for forgiveness of your sins,
But how often you will not forgive each other.
You ask me not to lead you into temptation,
But what can I do for you
That I am not already doing?
Use the gifts I am giving you
And you will know my power and glory

Forever and ever.  Amen.