Pentecost 9C. 2010/16
A Liturgy is also available
PRAYER CHANGES PEOPLE AND PEOPLE CHANGE THINGS
I want to start my comments this morning with a flash-back.
A few weeks ago our Lectionary story/reading was focused around the subject of ‘prayer’.
Around that time I also made a presentation to The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, Canberra
on the Jesus or Lord’s Prayer.
During those occasions I dared to offer some comments
on what I thought ‘prayer’ was, and what I thought it wasn’t.
So let me recap some of that just briefly, in preparation for today’s stories.
Prayer was not some Harry Potter-style magic where you say certain words and specific things happen.
Neither is it Santa Claus–style bargaining…
Be good and you get what you ask for.
Be bad and you don’t.
Instead I suggested that prayer was more akin to the ‘language of the heart’…
as an invitation to sense the connectedness of the whole of life – and the “always present God”
rather than “an elsewhere God” (Morwood 2003:8).
The characteristics of this kind of praying would include:
• listening in silence
• giving insights into ourselves and possibly others
• connecting us to each other.
I also offered some comments I have gleaned
from others who have thought about and shared in, ‘prayer’.
Perhaps I can share one or two of their thoughts as well.
The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once commented:
‘prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays’.
Others have refined that a bit, to:
‘Prayer doesn’t change things. Prayer changes people and people change things’.
While my theological mentor Henry Nelson Wieman went further
and suggested that prayer ‘works’ with the:
“re-creation of the one who prays, of [the] appreciable world, and of [their] association with others, so that the prayerful request is fulfilled in the new creation” (Wieman 1946:282).
Reimagining the world! Reimagining relationships! Reimagining possibilities!
The focus of today’s Lectionary story is again on ‘prayer’.
What we have called The Lord’s Prayer.
And our storyteller says the context of the story
is a request from the disciples for Jesus to teach them how to pray.
And so we are given Luke’s version of that prayer.
Now to be honest, there is a fair amount of doubt as to whether
Jesus actually taught anybody how to pray,
let alone a group called the disciples.
Those who follow 21st century scholarship now reckon
this prayer comes from a group of people called the Q People…
One of several groups of people who make up the early Jesus movements.
Their particular ‘claim to fame’ was they were only interested in the teachings of Jesus
“and not on the person of Jesus or his life and destiny” (Mack 1993:1).
During their life together as a community they began to develop a series of strategies to help them survive.
Those strategies were:
(i) they started writing their wisdom down,
(ii) they began to claim Jesus as their founder,
(iii) they began to compose and write down angry sayings, condemning those who rejected them, and
(iv) they began to institutionalise prayer as a response to their situation.
And the outcome of one of those strategies was what we have come to identify
as the Jesus Prayer or The Lord’s Prayer.
Named that way because they took bits and pieces of his teachings
and wove them together, so every time they said these words,
it reminded them of Jesus, their founder.
It was a brilliant strategy!
This short prayer showed they believed Jesus prayer life was,
and as a result, their prayer life needed to be, basic and broadly focused,
“and more broadly focused than that of many religious people today” (Taussig 1999:98).
And nothing like the Benediction prayer offered this week
at the end of the Republican Nomination Convention in Ohio, USA.
Absolutely nothing like it!!
Now all this might seem to be just ‘head’ stuff rather than ‘heart’ stuff.
So I went looking to see if I could find something or someone
who could make all this very real.
And I reckon I have found that something in a group of refugees in El Salvador…
They too have taken the Jesus or Lord’s Prayer
and earthed it in their experiences of living in this world.
Here is the result of their reflection on this prayer.
As God’s children may we build a new earth of sisterhood and brotherhood,
not a hell of violence and death.
may your name be holy
That in God’s name, let there be no abuse, no oppression
and no manipulation of the conscience and liberty of your children.
May your rule take place
Not the rule of fear, force or money, of seeking peace through war.
Give us each day our daily bread
The bread of peace, so we can sow our maize and beans,
watch them grow and share them together as a family.
Pardon our debts, for we ourselves pardon everyone in debt to us
May our relationships not be based on self-interest.
And do not bring us to trial into a trying situation
Let us change lament for songs of life, clenched fists for outstretched hands,
and the weeping of widows and orphans for smiles…
This is not some reciting of some well-known words in auto-pilot,
like so much of the saying of the Lord’s Prayer in its traditional form, today.
This is basic existence, real life, stuff.
And so is the story which Luke adds to this prayer story.
The arrival of an unexpected guest seeking hospitality.
But there is no food in the family larder.
So a neighbour is asked to help out.
As Uniting Church minister Bruce Prewer observes:
“…[Luke’s] Jesus is talking about basics. Good food, not luxuries for the over pampered. Fish and eggs were the main source of protein in the common person’s diet. Not barramundi or coral trout, but plain stubby little fish from Lake Galilee; the ones now called St Peter fish. And eggs; not caviar but common hen’s eggs. Basics” (BPrewer web site, 2001).
It is for the needs of others that we are told to
knock on God’s ‘metaphorical’ door.
That’s what makes this Lukan story, important.
That’s what makes the refugees’ reflection, important.
That’s what makes the Q peoples’ prayer, important.
That’s what makes what we do and say every week, important.
Amid the basics of life, and remembering others needs, it invites us to
reimagining the world,
Not for our benefit. But for their’s.
Because ‘prayer doesn’t change things.
Prayer changes people and people change things’.
After I had finished the original draft of this sermon some years ago
and laid my pen down, so to speak, a colleague in America
published a two-series article on prayer in the Westar Institute journal, The Fourth 4.
As a PS to this sermon, I publish some of what he - Paul Alan Laughlin - said in the second of those articles.
He describes his take on the Jesus/Lord's Prayer as A Mystical Lord’s Prayer.
"The first and perhaps most important thing that sets this version of the Lord's Prayer off from the others is its theology, which dispenses entirely with the personal, parental Father-Sky-God of the original, and replaces "Him" with a non-personal, immanent power-presence (or sourceforce), an infinite one (or One) that is none other (or non-Other) than the spiritual core of the person or persons reciting or singing the prayer. The implicit theology of this prayer, then, is not monotheism but monism…
"The second distinctive feature of this version of the Lord's Prayer follows from the first; for having eliminated a personal divine Other above, this Lord's Prayer… has no petitions for any intercessory acts on behalf of a human individual or group. In their stead are strong affirmations of how we are already emboldened from within ourselves to become better persons and to accomplish ever-greater things. This "Lord's Prayer," then, can properly be regarded as a daily reminder of our full human potential-miraculous and praiseworthy in its own right-to be good and do good.
"Thus my Lord's Prayer is not an invocative device, but an evocative (psyche) exercise in self-realization-or perhaps Self-realization, if the ego-self is to be distinguished from one's deepest and truest identity, as it is in most mystical traditions. For humanists, this "within" may be seen differently: as our rational and empirical faculties, perhaps after the fashion of Plato, who equated the human "soul" with the intellect. In either case, what we have here is an acknowledgement of a mysterious and in some sense sans divine Immanence (versus Eminence) - a reference to the indwelling mysterious Presence and Power that (at least for mystics) permeates or infuses the cosmos, and that (for humanists as well, though probably the capitals) abides in nature, human nature, and therefore ourselves" (Reprinted from The FourthR, Vol 22, No. 6. Nov-Dec 2009
And now the words of his Mystical Lord's Prayer.
O presence and pow’r within us,
Being and Life of all.
How we are filled, how we o’erflow
with infinite love and gladness!
We shall this day sow
grace and peace,
and show mercy to all,
and gentle loving-kindness.
And we shall be not so
but a constant source of giving.
For ours is the essence,
and the wholeness,
and the fullness forever.
“Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer” by a group of Refugees, El Salvador, in G. Duncan. (ed) 2005. Entertaining Angels. A Worship Anthology on Sharing Christ’s Hospitality. London. Canterbury Press.
Mack, B. 1993. The Lost Gospel. The Book of Q and Christian OriginsPraying a New Story. New York. HarperCollins.
Morwood, M. 2003. . Richmond. Spectrum Publications.
Taussig, H. 1999. Jesus before God. The Prayer Life of the Historical JesusThe Source of Human Good. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Wieman, H. N. 1946. . Carbondale. Southern Illinois University Press.