March 17, 2019

Teach Us To Pray

Carla Wilks


Last Sunday if you were here, you would have received this card that has the traditional Prayer of Jesus on one side, and on the other side, a paraphrase. The paraphrase that we often use here, and we have been using each week in our book study to close our time together, is from the New Zealand Prayer book and was written with Maori and Polynesian traditional language. When you received this card, you were invited to carry it with you this past week and pray one of the versions three times each day.

In the Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition, praying at certain times of day was part of their experience. For Islam, the five daily rituals of prayer are pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night. In Judaism, the three times of gathering for prayer are morning, afternoon and night. In the Jewish tradition, the oldest fixed daily prayer is the Shema… which is in Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.

The Shema, an assertion of faith in One God, is recited when rising in the morning and upon retiring at night. It is the first prayer a Jewish child is taught, the last words spoken prior to death. Reciting the Shema brings about an experience of awareness of the Eternal One.

When the early Christians began to detach themselves from Judaism, they kept the practice of praying at fixed times of the day.

So this was our prayer practice invitation for this week. During Lent our series is called Watch and Pray, and we will be exploring a different aspect or experience of prayer each week. I’m not going to ask who did their homework – I don’t want a show of hands – because I wasn’t able to keep up with this myself. I probably should have set an alarm or something, so I’d stop and remember. But I do want to invite anyone who did try this during the week, if you wish, to tell us about what you noticed from working through this practice.

I began the week pretty strong. I think I remembered all three times for the first day. Then I went off track – I didn’t stick to the same time each day, but I did manage to ‘make up for lost time’ on other days. I used the traditional prayer because I could do it from memory. What I found was that because I was so familiar with the prayer, I didn’t actually stop to think about what I was saying – but in praying it over and over, each time I prayed, I stopped. It was a time to stop whatever I was doing, and listen. To stop, and think about what each part of the prayer meant for me and for us in this community and what it would mean for our world. It also caused me to stop, slow down and remember that I am not alone. It helped me to feel more grounded in a very full week that seems to have covered the entire spectrum of ministry experiences.

Then on Tuesday afternoon our book study met, and in the Heart of Christianity, in chapter 7, which is the chapter we looked at this week, Marcus Borg talks about the Lord’s Prayer. We were left with a question to discuss in the group, which had me thinking about the ‘your kingdom come’ line for the rest of the week. We talked about what it would mean for God’s ideals of love and compassion to be the prevalent rule throughout the world and throughout our governing bodies.

In Luke and also in Matthew – Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. He offers a model for the kind of simple, concise, private prayer that he recommends. His model prayer consists of four simple but profound moves.

First, we orient ourselves to God. We acknowledge God as the loving parent whose infinite embrace puts us in a family relationship with all people, and with all of creation. And we acknowledge God as the glorious holy mystery whom we can name but who can never be contained by our words or concepts. Jesus invites his disciples into a deeply personal relationship with God, encouraging them to call upon God using the same name he uses — Abba, Father. He invites his disciples to call upon God as children call upon a loving parent, trusting that they belong to God and that God wants for them what is good and life giving. Abba, Loving Parent, Hallowed be your name.

Second, we align our greatest desire with God’s greatest desire. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We want the world to be the kind of place where God’s dreams come true, where God’s justice and compassion reign.

Third we bring to God our needs and concerns – our physical needs for things like food and shelter, and our social and spiritual needs for things like forgiveness for our wrongs and reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Finally we prepare ourselves for the public world into which we will soon re-enter. And do not bring us to the time of trial. We ask to be guided away from the trials and temptations that could ruin us, and we ask to be liberated from evil.[1]

Broken down to its very basic parts, it is giving us the formula as: Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.

The final petitions concern three basic needs: food “give us each day our daily bread” forgiveness “and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and fidelity “and do not bring us to the time of trial.” These petitions name what is essential for the life of our individual bodies, the life of our communal body, be it society, the church or the world, and the life of our ongoing relationship with God. These are gifts which will not be refused, because they flow from being united with the very being of God, who sustains, forgives and is faithful to us.

The prayer that Jesus taught us is pretty simple. After asking that we act in a way to keep God’s name holy and live in God’s way on earth, Jesus’ prayer covers sustenance (daily bread), relationship (forgiveness), and safety (bringing us through the time of trial).  These are the basics of life, and Jesus contains himself pretty much to these essentials. Prayer doesn’t need to be complex to be faithful.

Second, faithful prayer is honest. Prayer isn’t about saying the right words or sounding particularly eloquent or pious. Rather, it’s about saying what’s on our heart in our own words.

And prayer is based on trust. We trust in the mystery that God knows our prayers and is working through us as we pray – transforming us and others in ways that we trust but may never understand.

When teaching us to pray, Jesus doesn’t specifically focus on the mechanics of prayer, but instead focuses on the relationship that we have with God. Jesus invites us into relationship with God through prayer, offering us the opportunity to approach the God whose name is too holy to speak, with the familiarity, boldness, and trust of a young child running to her parent for both provision and protection.

This week I invite us to continue the practice – take time to stop and take a moment to pray a short prayer, multiple times a day, and take note of the experience. See if you might feel a deepening of your connection with God the Love who is within us and all around us, guiding our ways and transforming our lives.

The Moderator of the United Church, Richard Bott, had some thoughts about prayer this week that summed up my thoughts as well. He says: There is a quote regarding prayer that is attributed to Pope Francis: “First you pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That is how prayer works.”

Prayer is a conversation with the Divine – a time to speak the words of our hearts, and to listen, with all of our senses, for what God is saying to us.

I believe that God is deeply entwined with every part of the universe, all times and all places. The intimacy of that togetherness is so deep, that when God moves, Creation does, too. When Creation moves, God is right there in the dance.

In that way, prayer is important, in and of itself.

But prayer is also an act of reflection, of challenge, and of call to action. Prayer is a starting point, in which we speak our deepest words not only to God, but to ourselves

Our prayer should always change *us*, calling us to be the action that is God’s response to the prayer.

St. Theresa of Avila, one of Christianity’s great mystics, wrote, ““Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.”

Speak the words.
Share the prayer.
Be the response that lives God’s love in the world.

Bruce Sanguin, former minister at Canadian Memorial United Church, wrote a book that I have been reading – Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos, an Ecological Christianity. In that book there is a section about the Lord’s prayer that I found to be really interesting. At the end of the section, as a conclusion, after looking at each of the words in Aramaic and what their meaning would more closely translate to, he wrote this version of the Prayer of Jesus, which I will close with now:


Loving presence, luminous in all creation,

Hallowed be your name.

Thy kin-dom come.

May we reflect on earth the yielding perfection of the heavens.

Help us to receive an illumined measure from the earth this day.

Forgive us when we trespass against others,

human and other than human,

as we forgive others who trespass against us.

Keep us on the path of wisdom

When we are tempted to take the selfish path

May it be your rule we follow, your power we exercise, and your radiance that allures.

May this be the truth that guides our lives,

the ground from which our future will grow,

until we meet again. Amen


Speak the words.
Share the prayer.
Be the response that lives God’s love in the world.

[1] Brian McLaren We Make the Road by Walking