From a sermon by Rev’d Dr Rob Hoch, Director of Theological Exploration on Luke 11:1-13, preached at the St. Anne’s URC 24 July 2022:
Did you notice there was no heaven in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer? The language “. . . who art in heaven . . .thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . ” all in Matthew — Luke’s narrator doesn’t include any of this. Luke doesn’t need John Lennon to ask us to “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try” — Luke generally prefers God here on earth, grappling with stuff, and perhaps that includes our sometimes complex father figures. The most well-known petition, “give us this day our daily bread” in Matthew becomes in Luke “give us each day our daily bread” — by identifying this bread as something we get each day, Luke keeps it real. The First Nations Version of the New Testament gets the spirit of Luke: “Provide for us day by day — the elk, the buffalo, and the salmon. The corn, the squash, and the wild rice. All the good things we need for each day” (131). Luke’s gospel is good news for the poor because it asks each day for the real food that real people need to live. Moving from the petition for bread to the petition for forgiveness. Luke avoids the perception that forgiving sin and receiving forgiveness is a quid pro quo, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” — I get something for doing something. Luke’s take is a touch different: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” R. Alan Culpepper, New Testament scholar, clarifies Luke’s position: for Luke’s Jesus, mercy flows through one and the same channel, whether it is being given or being received (195).
And finally, Luke knits this petition for forgiveness in verse 4 together with the request for bread each day in verse 3. And here is the implication of that close connection: If God gives the good things that we need each day — “the elk, the buffalo, and the salmon, the corn, the squash, and wild rice” — then we need to keep mercy as real as the food we eat. Think reparations. Think debt forgiveness. Think redistribution of wealth in the face of unjust inequities.
Repair justice, O God, for we give reparations to those who have been harmed by slavery.
On the surface Jesus teaches us how to pray but, in its depth, Jesus teaches about the character of the One to whom we pray. Jesus uses short parables to get the connection. Maybe I’ve got to take my child to the A&E, my car’s not running. Can I borrow your car? She’s wheezing. And the neighbour says, “I’m sorry. I’m in bed. I can’t be bothered.” We can’t even imagine that happening. A neighbour would do what was right, even if he wasn’t the best neighbour or obviously best friend, but our God, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is infinitely wiser, kinder, and truer than our best friend and our most reliable neighbours — won’t God do that much and much, much more?
So, this prayer isn’t only or even mostly about how to pray but about the character of the One to whom we pray. And finally, this: God not only gives, opens, and allows us to find God, but God also asks, also seeks, also knocks. What doors have we locked? Where have we said, justice this far but no further? This is also the activity of our God who asks, seeks, and knocks at the obstacles we put up.
We pray in our house, grace around dinner time. But I often think why bother. Prayers feel like traffic calming measures, a spiritual version of the “sleeping policeman” used to slow down traffic before we get to the food portion of the evening. And mostly, we drive around these bumps in the road. Better to not pray than to pray badly! But I have asked for a temporary stay of execution because of a book of prayers that I found on the free bookrack at the Luther King Centre library in Manchester. Neil Paynter’s Blessed be Our Table — and it’s opened my eyes to prayer as disruptive and humanly compelling. Here’s one called, “Twentieth Century Grace”:
Thank you for the food we ate,
for monosodium glutamate
and every other additive
our grateful thanks to You we give.
. . .
For pallid calves and battery hens
we raise to You our glad amens.
We must confess, we’d really rather
give thanks unto our Heavenly Father
for crusty loaves of wheaten bread
and golden butter thickly spread,
for honey dripping from the comb
and eggs from fowls allowed to roam,
for foamy milk, fresh from the cow
— but things are very different now.
From what we’ll eat another day
protect us from all harm, we pray.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? What would it mean for us to knock on the door of corporations for sustainable food practices? According to Luke, prayer opens us to the real bread that we need each day to live – it may also alert us to the possibility that our corporate fathers in the New York and London Stock Exchange are giving us scorpions instead of eggs! But prayer also opens us to the wonderful things for which we give thanks. A Quaker child visits a Presbyterian family. The family says their traditional grace over the meal. The Quaker child looks puzzled, and says, “In our family we just sit quietly and smell our food” (Neil Paynter, Bless Our Table). Try it tonight — you may never know a prayer so powerful as the one that makes your mouth water. The last prayer is a traditional Russian prayer. I chose it because these days we may have certain associations with Russia, not many of them good. Yet there is also a Russia that prays, as evidenced in this traditional prayer:
May we live more simply
like the bread.
May we see more clearly
like the water.
May we be more selfless
like the Christ.
So at least one of our Russian neighbours pray. May it be so for all of us. Amen.