by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Text: Luke 11:1-13
We don’t pray Luke’s version of the “Lord’s Prayer,” at least not in corporate worship. Maybe some of you turn to it in the privacy of your prayer closet, but it lacks the elegance and sense of completion we find in Matthew’s version, which we will come to later in today’s service. Matthew’s version is found at the heart of that collection of teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount. From an elevated position, Jesus offers wisdom and moral teaching that has come down through the ages as prototypical for both. This includes his version of the classic Christian prayer.
By contrast, Luke’s version comes to people on the move. Jesus and his followers are well on their way to Jerusalem and Christ’s confrontation with the powers that be when one of the group asks him to teach them how to pray.
Presumably this disciple has been watching prayer at work. Not only has he seen John instruct his disciples to pray, but, more importantly, he has observed Jesus at prayer. He has come to suspect that there is something powerful in Jesus’ prayer life that would benefit them all. In particular, in Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus often in prayer, frequently going off alone but at other times praying with people present. It has become increasingly clear to this disciple that prayer provides a critical connection between Jesus and God. The healings, the exorcisms, the feedings, the many miracles, the wisdom and the teaching all seem to be grounded in this prayerful relationship. This disciple wants to get in on the experience.
Jesus’ response, as Luke recounts it, is simple, terse, inelegant. It begins with a paradox. Say “Father, Abba, Daddy.” This is a terribly intimate, overly familiar way to address God, perhaps shocking to them as well as discomforting for us. It appears that Jesus is saying that his followers can have the same kind of close relationship with God that he has. He may be the Son of God, but we, too, are sons and daughters of God. We may also address God in language used by loved and loving children – as long as we understand that the name of this “Father, Abba, Daddy” is, at the same time, sacred. Hallowed be that name. Holy is our Daddy. It may be a little easier to live with this paradox if your own daddy, like mine, was the pastor of the church. As dearly as I loved him, when he spoke from the pulpit, it was the voice of God. It can be a challenge to cozy up to the one who thunders from the pulpit or the heavenly throne. Yet this is where Jesus begins and so may we. And by the way, the formula works just as well if you use “Mother or Mommy.” It preserves the same powerful, life-giving intimacy.
Daddy Holy One, Mommy Whose Name Is Hallowed, your kingdom come, your royal realm be realized. More paradox. As far as I know, no one here has royal parents. In time, these words may take on particular meaning for George Alexander Louis, Prince of Cambridge, when his daddy is king or he gets to know his great grandmamma, the queen. But for us, the phrase is a little arcane. Kingdoms or realms are the stuff of history and fantasy more than they are real for us. Still, this is concept is crucial to Jesus’ ministry, especially in Luke. The coming of the kingdom of God, the reign of the Holy One, was central to everything he did and taught. In the past I have spoken of this as the coming culture of God. Perhaps it is most useful to speak of it as the in-breaking of God’s way of life. It’s a different way of being in the world, of relating to the world, of shaping the world. When one puts God at the center of one’s life, which is a big part of what prayer is all about, there are likely to be radical changes that one doesn’t expect.
When you pray ask your Daddy who is holy, your Mommy who is sacred, to make real the world as He or She conceived it from the beginning. And if you’re having trouble figuring this out, go back over the first 10 chapters of Luke’s gospel; revisit Jesus’ witness to what the realm of Daddy God, the way of Mommy God, is like. Remember what the twelve year old Jesus said to his earthly parents and the wise ones in the temple. “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” I’ve got to be busy with my Daddy’s work. Remember what Jesus said in his first proclamation about how “The Spirit of God is upon me, because [S]he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. [S]he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
That same John who taught his disciples to pray, sent two of them to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them” (Luke 7:19-22). The good news of God’s reign is about love of God and love of neighbor, it’s about compassion for those in need, it’s about cleansing and healing, it’s about justice for the oppressed, freedom for captives, economic equity. It’s first and foremost about good news for the poor and downtrodden, the outcast and the forsaken, the lost and the broken. It’s about making God’s creation whole again. The heart of prayer is your kingdom come, your reign be real, your will our way of life, oh Mommy-Daddy God.
Then in more detail Jesus teaches them to pray for “daily bread;” for God’s gracious forgiveness of our sins as we also “forgive everyone who is indebted to us;”for being spared “the time of trial.” Forgiveness of sin, that which separates us from God, those things which break our covenantal relationship with the One who made us and loves with boundless love, is linked to our capacity to forgive, especially those who are indebted to us. Here Luke moves from the spiritual to the very practical. Debt was one of those things that bound people into captivity and broke their lives into pieces. Forgiving debt and sharing the abundance of God’s creation are parts of the righteous reign, that holy way of life.
Times of trial here likely refers to those moments when the power of evil is most potent in our lives, when we are in danger of succumbing to its siren call or its crushing power. We may not believe in a personal devil, but there are times in our lives when some force comes calling that threatens to drag us away from all we love and cherish, especially our place in the reign of God. Save us from such threats, oh Mommy-Daddy God.
But I want to focus in these remaining moments on the request to give us bread. This seems the most elemental of all the requests. In his commentary, Richard Vinson looks at this element of the prayer from three perspectives. One is the obvious reading of the words, “Give us each day our daily bread.” I would take this to mean something like, “Keep us well-fed and healthy.” It’s a prayer for well-being. A second perspective is to see it as a prayer for “tomorrow’s bread,” which could be taken literally as planning ahead, “Give us today the bread we need for tomorrow.” Or it could be seen as a more spiritual request for that bread “we will eat in the kingdom of God,” the spiritual fulfillment of a coming day in a new world.
The third and most likely perspective for Luke is also the most challenging for us. Give us the bread necessary for our existence. That is, we are instructed to pray “for God to provide our basic rations on a daily basis.” To me this implies that we are to ask for enough to meet our basic needs with an understanding that a focus on our basic needs would mean there would be a lot more to go around. It would enhance the likelihood that there would be enough for everyone. The question is, are we ready for such a pay cut? Could we stand to rein in our rampant consumerism in the interest of making sure there was bread for the world? What might we do without so others could have their daily bread? (Richard B. Vinson, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary: Luke, pp. 370-371).
I want to add a final awkward word of my own to these perspectives on daily bread. Throughout today’s service the songs and readings have referred to bread in various symbolic ways. My symbolic word would be to add the bread of compassion. I know this gets away from Lukan practicality, but I have been wrestling with the disparate responses to the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. I recognize the verdict as legal under the existing laws of the state of Florida, but I am troubled by the ethos that placed those same laws on the books, that encourages a man to patrol his neighborhood at night with a loaded gun, that targets another man because of his skin color and dress. I know the defense of and outrage over the verdict breaks down along racial lines. We continue to live in a country and culture that is deeply racist. This case along with that of Oscar Grant and others has helped to blow the cover off our hidden racism. Along with elements of the debate over immigration reform, the breadth and depth of our lingering racism has been exposed. We cannot continue to live like this – in fear, mistrust, hatred and hurting.
I believe that Jesus is inviting us, encouraging us, calling us to fall on our knees in private and stand up in public to pray that God would feed us a daily dose of compassion, that a healthy portion of our daily bread would be that capacity to get inside another’s skin, to see with another’s eyes, hear with another’s ears, feel with another’s heart until all racial barriers were broken down, our common human wholeness was celebrated and there was room and resource for all to share. As Brian Wren has written, let us “Break the bread of belonging, welcome the stranger in the land, we have each been a stranger, we can try to understand.” God give us bread – the daily bread necessary for our existence, the promised bread of your coming reign and the bread of compassion to know and love our neighbors as ourselves.