SCRIPTURE LESSON: Luke 11: 1-13

“The Lord’s Prayer is Christianity’s greatest prayer. It is also Christianity’s strangest prayer.” So John Dominic Crossan begins his book dedicated to the prayer Christians have long prayed.

To understand Crossan, let’s listen to what he says next. “The Lord’s Prayer is Christianity’s greatest prayer. It is also Christianity’s strangest prayer. It is prayed by all Christians but never mentions Christ. It is prayed in all churches but never mentions church. It is prayed on all Sundays, but it never mentions Sunday. It is called the “Lord’s Prayer” but never mentions “Lord.”

It is prayed by fundamentalist Christians but never mentions the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, the miracles, the atoning death, or the bodily resurrection of Christ. It is prayed by evangelical Christians, but it never mentions the Evangelium or gospel. It is prayed by Pentecostal Christians, but it never mentions ecstasy or the Holy Spirit.

It is prayed by Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic Christians, but it never mentions congregation, priest, bishop, or pope. It is prayed by Christians who split from one another over this or that doctrine, but it never mentions a single one of those doctrines. It is prayed by Christians who focus on Christ’s substitutionary, sacrificial atonement for human sin, but it never mentions Christ, substitution, sacrifice, atonement, or sin.

It is prayed by Christians who focus on the next life in heaven or hell, but it never mentions the next life, heaven, or hell. It is prayed by Christians who emphasize what [the prayer] never mentions and [is] also prayed by Christians who ignore what it does [say].

Crosson continues. “You could respond, of course, that there is nothing strange [here] at all. It is, you might say, a Jewish prayer from the Jewish Jesus; hence nothing Christian or even Jewish Christian is present. But that only invites us to start the question of strangeness all over again. It does not mention covenant or law, Temple or Torah, circumcision or purity, and so on.

What if the Lord’s Prayer is neither a Jewish prayer for Jews nor yet a Christian prayer for Christians? What if it is… a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world? What if it is…a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth?

What if [the Lord’s Prayer] is a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope? Crossan’s question calls us into the depths. Which is where Jesus is always inviting us to go.

I don’t know about you, but I love praying the Lord’s prayer together in worship each week. Even on Zoom, where that platform turns our unison praying into a jumble of sounds, a kind of Pentecost moment, even then, I love praying this prayer with you. I love that we know the prayer so well that all we have to do is open our mouths and the words tumble out.

I love the unity that envelopes us we pray the Lord’s prayer together.

I also love how this prayer connects us to other communities of faith worshipping as we are, that it calls us into communion with all those spiritual homes we have known and loved over the years. I love how it binds us to Christians near and far, those long gone and those yet to come.

And yet, for all the beauty that is wrapped up in this prayer we share, for all that is given when we pray it together as we do every week, I sometimes wonder if the words that fall from our lips are words we are actually feeling as we speak them. I wonder if they express desires that are actively stirring in us as we pray.

For many of us, I suspect, it’s not so much the words we lift up, but the music of our unison speech that carries meaning, that it’s the familiar cadence we enter into that binds us one to the other, to our God, and to the humble Savior who first taught us to pray in this way.

One Lenten season back when we were here at the Ute every week, back before Covid pushed us online, I gathered up as many versions of the Lord’s Prayer as I could find. On our way to Holy Week and Easter that year, we prayed a different version of the Lord’s Prayer each week. Not for the novelty, of course, but so that we might hear our prayer and feel it afresh. And in this, my hope was that we might be moved by, surprised by, and even challenged by a prayer that has grown so familiar over the years that we can easily miss the revolution of love that it suggests and the hope it means to convey.

One of those versions of that long-ago Lenten season came from an unnamed author who rendered our familiar prayer in this way:

O Breathing Life, your name shines everywhere! Release a space to plant your presence here. Imagine your possibilities now. Embody your desire in every light and form. Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom. Untie the knots of failure binding us as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults. Help us not forget our source; free us from not being in the present. From you arises every vision, power, and song from gathering to gathering. May our future actions grow from here. Amen.

I wonder what would happen if you and I gave ourselves over to creating our own interpretations of the Lord’s Prayer? I wonder what holy nudges and knowings would arise in us as we turned inward, as we listened with the ears of our hearts? How might this pursuit call us more deeply into the reality Jesus inhabited when he prayed? How might our own creative rendering of Jesus’ prayer draw us more fully into the dream of God that Jesus himself was stretching to describe and manifest?

If we were to make Jesus’ prayer our own, would we, like him, come to trust that a potent prayer need not be long? That it can be simply stated, more of haiku than dissertation?

In every age, we who are disciples look to Jesus to help us pray. And to trust that a plainly-worded prayer is in no way inferior to something flowery, something lengthy, something more like those we have heard pastors give?

In spite of what we might imagine, Jesus suggests in Luke today that our prayers don’t need to be complicated. Less genuinely is more. Neither do our prayers need to be a case for God’s care and concern. God already cares. God is already concerned.

However we pray, Jesus teaches today, let the wings of our prayers stretch beyond a specific circumstance to embrace a greater reality. However we might be moved to pray, we can reach beyond our own personal circumstances to cover the needs and realities of the collective, the human family. After all, no man, no woman, is an island. Our realities are not separate or distinct. Rather they are bound up together, just as our destinies are.

However we pray, Jesus tries to help us understand today, we are invited to ground ourselves in this moment, this time and place, a time and place God already inhabits, already calls home.

If we understood Aramaic, Jesus’ native tongue, the closeness of God, the utter availability of God, the intimate, unshakable connection you and I have with God would be immediately apparent. And this sense would stand in stark contrast to the unfortunate influence of both English and the Enlightenment that has us pray “Our Father who art in heaven…” as if prayer were a telegram, an email, a shout toward a God who dwells somewhere else, somewhere far from here.

It’s for this reason that a friend’s church was moved to change how they pray together. “Our Creator, holy is your name.”

At our Leadership meeting the other night, Charlie expressed this sense of God’s utter availability beautifully. Just before he prayed our meeting to a close, Charlie spoke of prayer as something that puts us in touch with the immediacy and intimacy of God. Said Charlie, “Divine Presence surrounds me, surrounds us, surrounds everything; it is in everything that is.” Charlie and my friend’s church have company. This is something Jesus knew, Paul and the Christian mystics knew, and certainly something our indigenous siblings have long understood. God is not off and away. God is here, now. Available. Awaiting our awareness and our invitation in.

Although part of my responsibility as a pastor is to offer spoken prayer, when I am alone, more often than not, my prayers are devoid of words. Sitting quietly, I simply picture whatever it is that has my attention—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and imagine the light of God’s love enveloping this reality completely.

Better than I ever could, God knows, God understands, and God is alive to the reality I am presenting. Somehow this wordless way of praying frees me of the burden of language. And the limits of imagination.

Instead, I rest in the presence of the one who is present to whatever I have carried with me into my prayerful moment. And I rest in the knowledge that God is attentive and active in ways I may never fully understand.

Jesus gives us permission this morning to make our prayers exceedingly simple. And to trust that we can circle back and offer them repeatedly. Even that instruction is simple: ask, seek, knock, Jesus says quite plainly.

We are good at complicating most things. Don’t believe me? You must never have stood in line at Starbucks while the person ahead of you orders a Venti nitro brew, two pumps vanilla, two pumps hazelnut, cold foam, with a drizzle of caramel.

Jesus’ way is so simple. His way of prayer and his way of being in the world. Perhaps his prayer for us, this very minute, is that we come to trust this.

Let us pray:

Free us to find you, Holy One, in this breath and the next and the next. And when we can’t find you, please find us. Let our very living be our prayer, just as it was for Jesus—in whose way we follow. Amen.