How many of you would admit that in prayer, in worship, during liturgy, your minds wander? Let’s be honest - we have all had our minds go to grocery lists, homework, to do items, the fight we had with our spouse the night before. It is sometimes a struggle in prayer because our minds can be pulled in so many different directions - one worshipper here described those thoughts “like little chipmunks.”
And it is sometimes a struggle in prayer because we aren’t sure what we’re praying! And so, do you just keep praying and hope the feeling and understanding comes later OR do you wait to pray until you feel you understand what prayer is - what’s first, the chicken or the egg?
Friends - let me burst the bubble, too, to say that if you are going to wait for full understanding of how prayer works before actually praying, you may be waiting a lifetime. Even for Christians who are firmly founded in a prayer practice, there is still a mystery to be found in prayer, which is part of what makes it beautiful.
What about rote memorization? (Some of you teachers may have just cringed.) The church I grew up in said the Apostles’ Creed at least once a month. I don’t really remember when I was taught it, though, it may have been confirmation class. I was repeating it long before I started asking why we were saying “I believe in the holy catholic church” when it was a Presbyterian Church - not Catholic! (spoiler alert: “little c” catholic means “united”...so, yes, I do believe in a holy, united church)
So many questions! So many possible struggles!
What about the Lord’s Prayer - which we say every week? Have you thought about it? Do you ever wonder why we pray for God’s name to be hallowed? Or, while we live in a nation, why we pray for a kingdom?
For many of us here, the Lord’s Prayer rolls off our tongues as quickly as our mailing address. There are pros and cons to that.
A pro, I think, is that we aren’t doing extra work to pray. There’s a benefit to being able to slow the mind down and make room for the Holy Spirit. Prayer is a way of connecting and communicating with God.
Ilia Delio reminds her readers that “Prayer is the longing of the human heart for God.” As St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself O God and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (https://omegacenter.info/can-prayer-focus-the-positive-energy-of-the-universe/)
Similar to how we repeatedly sing “Bless the Lord” on Ash Wednesday, praying the Lord’s Prayer without needing extra effort allows us to rest in God’s presence.
A con to simply letting the words roll off our tongues without much thought is that we may not know the words coming out of our mouths. We may be praying for something we aren’t really sure what it is!
And so, here we are - at Lent - studying through the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a prayer recorded in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels; we’ll be using Matthew’s version as study, since that is the one we use in worship. Each week in the message we’ll take a phrase of it and break it down, with some guidance from the book The Greatest Prayer by John Dominic Crossan.
Our Scripture tells us the Scripture story of where Lent started...it is a remembrance of the 40 days that Jesus was in the desert, or wilderness, hearing the evil temptations. The word, Lent, comes from the word meaning “long”....hence, we remember “40 days long” the time Jesus spent in the wilderness.
During those 40 days, Jesus was tempted in using his power to overcome hunger, to gain power, and to, essentially, show off his divine power. He refused each time. Jesus’ response to these temptations came through using the words of Scripture.
Sure, staving off hunger or displaying God’s mighty power sound like good and reasonable things to do, but Jesus also knew it wasn’t right in that situation. He had wisdom from the Scriptures to help him discern.
In the wilderness, Jesus was cut off from normal culture and social interaction. The way that it is placed in the Scripture, it tells the story much like how an athlete, leading up to a big game or match, will separate themselves and often face temptations to quit training or not be in the right mindset. Richard Swanson says that Jesus' test prepares him, too, for what he is about to do, for "he will turn the world right-side-up again. This is a fairly large task."
While in the wilderness, because Jesus was spiritually grounded, he was physically able to resist temptation. He was able to face that large task at hand.
I believe the same goes for us, in many ways...we need spiritual grounding to be compelled forward in doing the physical and social work needed in this world. That spiritual grounding may have some questions in it and it may transform over time, which is ok, but our spirituality is where we find meaning in this world. It is from where we draw hope.
Being grounded in our spirituality helps us to see what we need to say “no” to in this world and what we need to say “yes” to in this world.
The Lord’s Prayer can help do this. Praying the words that Jesus taught his disciples to pray is a spiritual practice with intense on-the-ground, physical and social meaning behind it. Praying it, while knowing the meaning behind it, keeps us grounded in our faith and in what Jesus taught. This grounding helps us to stay connected with God.
And so I hope that you will join us or tune in each Sunday this Lent to dig deeper into the words of the Lord’s Prayer, starting next week with “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
After our Prayers for the People today, we will say the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety, as we normally do. We’ll wait to say it again, in full, though, until Easter. Hopefully, when we pray it again, it will be said with new insight, new spiritual grounding that will compel us to act and work in this world as Jesus taught.
Scripture: Luke 4:1-13