Texts: Genesis 18:20-32; Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]; Luke 11:1-13
If there is anything about summer that is universal, it is that it’s a time of growing. The ground is receptive. Seeds of spring are steadily growing into sturdy plants bearing fruits, vegetables and flowers. New seeds are being sown to bear fast-growing micro greens and late-harvest plants.
If we never got around to planting seeds, it would be a disaster. Thanks be to God for farmers who know the seasons and the seeds. After all, it’s not just crops that they plant, but in a larger, truer sense, it is our future.
This of course is what Jesus did. He understood the world’s hunger. He planted the seeds of the reign of God with abandon. Jesus understood that the future reign of God depended on sowing faith among people. And perhaps what makes Jesus really stand out was his creativity and prodigality in planting.
One particular day the disciples observed Jesus at prayer. Afterwards one of them asked Jesus for instruction in prayer. Here was an opportunity to sow a practical kind of seed within the community of faith. Jesus readily responded with what we know as Lord’s Prayer.
But was Jesus responding with form or content? A few years ago Ann Lamott wrote a popular book on prayer called “Help, Thanks, Wow”. Many people found that it help them form their prayers with more intention. The content of course, is up to each individual.
With respect to content, naming our sins is one good prayer exercise. Then too, it’s helpful and comforting when we are unsettled, to share with God whatever anxieties we feel. And it’s always right to pray when troublesome or heartbreaking situations arise for ourselves or others.
It appears that the sort of prayer the disciples desired to learn was not just how to have a conversation with God. There was significance to their request that Jesus teach them as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples. And the prayer Jesus gave in reply was not just the Swiss Army knife of prayer – something efficient and handy to get the prayer job done.
No, there was more to it than that. In this prayer is a certain seed of meaning. Ideas and convictions could continue growing from this seed - from one generation to the next. As a faith farm where God’s truth is planted and the harvest realized across many, many seasons.
So perhaps we can call this a discipleship prayer. Jesus was planting a seed to nurture the disciples. This prayer became a rich and holy treasure to them; it was preserved and passed on to all followers of Jesus from the earliest days of the Christian community.
The prayer is personal and direct - we speak to God who is the Father of alll. It assures us that we can speak directly to God. And God is listening. This is no small matter. This prayer teaches that God is approachable, compassionate, responsive. God is our Father in the best and most profound sense of the term – nurturing, correcting, instructing, and loving.
Next, God’s name is holy. That is, we declare and trust that the name of our God is powerful and performative. God’s name is good.
God’s reign come! This is not a plea. It’s a bold and confident statement that God’s reign is here now and we welcome it! The competition to hold power and authority among humans is huge. It takes chutzpah; it takes real guts to keep preferring God’s reign. We know that we’re following the way of God when we are stretched beyond our comfortable, settled lives.
This particular part of the prayer about God’s reign planted in the disciples the seed of future understanding about the meaning and purpose of the cross and the necessary death of Jesus. God’s reign overturns and destroys all human structures of power whether they be social, spiritual, or political. Resurrection is God’s final overcoming of these things.
Give us bread for today. We need sustenance to live. “I am the bread of life” Didn’t Jesus say that? Take and eat, this is my body which is given for you.” Sounds familiar too, right? So the part of the prayer about our daily bread was a reminder that God has provided the disciples with the Source of life. Like the old spiritual hymn says, “You can have all this world [or, all the rest] give me Jesus.”
Forgive us, for we ourselves have forgiven… This part of the prayer is audacious. Asking forgiveness with the declaration that we are forgiving. Wow. Don’t we fail at this, not only daily but sometimes even hourly? Every time we say this prayer, we should prepare by first asking ourselves, have I really forgiven others?
But perhaps this audacity helps us make sense of the final line “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” We know that if God were to test on this, the results would be disastrous. And maybe that’s the point. To plant the seed of recognition in us that Jesus was put on trial for us, found guilty for our sins, and paid the price of our redemption.
It is true that when we ask, we receive…when we knock the door opens…when we search, we find? There’s lots of anecdotal evidence suggesting it isn’t true. There are lots of explanations to justify why an “ask” isn’t answered. Wrong timing, attitude, wrong expectation, lack of faith.
So what is this prayer for? Jesus told a story of an awkward ask for bread. The hour is late (midnight!), the need excessive (three loaves for one friend?), it requires the exposure of others in the household (the sleeping children!). There’s no accounting for such expectations.
Yet God, whose children we are, who is a better parent to us than we desire or deserve responds. A parent who does not give snakes and scorpions. Who does give the seed of everything we need. A seed that when planted yields bread and fish and eggs and all that we need to really live.
God gives a Holy Spirit. This is both the form and the content of the prayer Jesus taught.
The Spirit makes God’s name holy; brings the reign of God; sent God’s Bread of Life to us, forgives and helps us forgive. By the Spirit we are rescued from trial and redeemed from sin. So pray! And when you pray, do it as confidently and persistently as ever Abraham or Paul did.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.