The Lord’s Prayer and Airport Security

A Sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church

Boise, Idaho

July 25, 2010

Luke 11:1-13
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;
for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?
Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

We’re done with the Year of the Bible, although I hope that you aren’t done with reading the Bible. I hope that you feel more comfortable now than you maybe did a year ago, to see connections between your story and the story in the text.

But, for those of you who miss the corporate routine of all reading the Bible together, the Session voted to make this coming year, beginning now, the Year of Prayer.
Again, many of you were reading the Bible and praying long before anyone declared years that were dedicated to them. But we’re hoping that during this coming year, we can enter into some new conversations about prayer.
How do we pray when we are together?
How do we pray alone in our room?
For what should we pray when we gather at the bedside of people who are ill?
Who can pray?
Why do we pray?

And we don’t pray just to inform God about things. “Dear God, my mom is in the hospital.”
WHAT?” says God. “When did that happen? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

No, God knows what is going on before the words are even on our tongues. Yet we still are called to pray.

Yesterday at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, one of the many great preachers we heard this week, Tony Campolo, told a story about his son as a child. He came to his parents and said, “I’m going to bed now. I’ll be saying my prayers. Does anyone want anything?”
Often, perhaps, our prayers are like that. Giving God a list of things as if it is Christmas and God is Santa Claus.
So, for what should we pray?

Jesus’ disciples seem to have had similar questions to ours. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

I never knew there was a wrong way to pray until my brother came home from school in 2nd grade and told our family, as we were saying the blessing for dinner, that we were all praying wrong.  He had recently started attending a Catholic school and the nun who was his teacher told the students that the our prayers go to heaven if our hands are pointed up straight to heaven.

Our family were hand curlers, with our fingers dangerously pointed d o w n. I’m sure his teacher was just trying to come up with a clever way to help her students attain proper prayer posture, but my brother took it very seriously. Because, like the disciples, we want concrete answers to very mystical and mysterious questions.
Lord, teach us to pray.”

Jesus doesn’t talk about what we should do with our hands. He doesn’t get into specifics much at all, actually. This passage is short. And it seems cryptic, to me, at least.

Let’s look at the prayer itself.
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

This is not, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the prayer we say every Sunday. The one we pray each week is clearly related, but comes from the 6th chapter of Matthew.

Pared down from the language that seems so familiar to us, this prayer makes me uncomfortable. It is asking for just a few things.
For God’s kingdom to come.
For people to have what they need to eat so that each person can live.
For forgiveness of sins—both in heavenly and earthly relationships.
And for deliverance from the time of trial.

Yesterday, on my journey home from Triennium, I had an interesting experience going through security. For the first time in my life, I think, I packed light enough to only need a carry-on sized bag, which is a notable achievement for me. But that meant I had to put my bag through security. And the screener called a few people over to look at the image of my bag. And then they pulled it out and asked me, “do you have some sort of cup in this bag?”
“Yes, it is a communion chalice”, I said.
“We’ll need to x-ray that”.
So, my bag was unpacked and they pulled out this communion chalice, and put it back through security.
I have nothing to say against the security screener. He was just doing his job. And it turns out that there is a metal rod inside this chalice to hold it together. Who knew?
But the image of a communion chalice, a symbol of our Christian faith, being subjected to extra security made me think of this prayer in Luke’s gospel.

Because the Lord’s Prayer is dangerous.

If we really, truly pray for God’s kingdom to come, rather than praying for our wishes, then things will change.

If we really, truly pray for our daily bread, and not for a stockpile of food for some and none for others, things will change.

If we really, truly pray for the forgiveness of sins in our heavenly and in our human relationships, things will change.

I don’t think the Lord’s Prayer would make it through security. There is nothing safe about it.

The world does not want us to pray this prayer. Our world prefers the kingdoms of this world to be in charge, because it adds to the illusion of our own power. The powers of this world don’t tell us to seek to God’s Kingdom. Because that would require justice for all, not just for those who can afford it. In God’s Kingdom, people aren’t subject to prejudice because of the color of their skin, or because of their sexual orientation, or because of their gender, or because of the way they serve God. When God’s Kingdom comes, things are going to change.

The powers of this world also don’t want us to pray for our daily bread. Our economy is not built on each person having just enough. Our economy is built on the idea that you and I need to buy as much as we can, to fuel the engines of our economy. And in order for some of us to have too much, others of us must go without. Those are the laws of scarcity.

In 2008, in our very prosperous country before the economy tanked, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households—32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children. That is almost 15% of our population. People who aren’t sure how they are going to feed their families this week. Today.
Give us this day our daily bread.

Across the world, the numbers are worse. Over 1 billion people across our planet are hungry right now. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds. Over 600 children will have died from hunger-related causes in the hour we spend here today worshipping God.
Give us this day our daily bread.

If we really, truly pray the Lord’s Prayer, things are going to need to change.

And then we’re supposed to pray for the forgiveness of our own sins and for the restoration of our relationships with others. We pray the Prayer of Confession each week in worship. It is one of my favorite elements of worship because it is so freeing. To be able to approach God and acknowledge that we have not been all we would be, frees us to try again.
During worship at Triennium, after 5,000 kids prayed the Prayer of Confession and received the Assurance of Pardon– I declare to you in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven—the auditorium burst into applause and shouts of joy. I don’t know if you’ve ever worshipped with 5,000 teenagers, but it gives me hope for our future. None of them have studied Theology and Worship, learning about the relationship between the elements of worship, etc, etc. But, on a visceral level, when they heard the good news of forgiveness proclaimed, they responded appropriately. They raised the roof. Why don’t we do that each and every week? The forgiveness of our sins is something to celebrate, people! (Triennium worship photo by David P. Young)

If we were really truly to pray for the forgiveness of our sins, seeking repentance and change, then things would change. And that change would have to spill over into our human relationships as well.
To pray that we forgive everyone indebted to us would change everything.
Do you suppose Jesus meant we were supposed to actually forgive debts, as it says in the prayer? He couldn’t have really meant what he said.  Did he mean real debts, do you think?

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, God’s forgiveness of our sins is tied to the idea that we’ve already forgiven everyone indebted to us.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”

Luke’s version suggests to me that we have to keep very close the connection between our relationships with others and our relationship with God. We can’t just say, “God please forgive me for my sins. But I can’t stand so and so, and I don’t want to be in relationship with them NOW, and I don’t want to forget about what they did to me yesterday, but I know that we’ll get along fine someday in Heaven.”
That isn’t going to work, friends.

If we really are to pray the Lord’s Prayer, we have to believe, on a deep level, that if God can forgive us for the things we do, then we have to be able to do the same for the people in our lives.

When I first read this text, I thought I would focus most on what Jesus said to his disciples after he taught them the prayer. About the bread for the late night guests, and the scorpions to the children. But I think the Lord’s Prayer is enough for today. Maybe even too much for today.  So I promise that I will address that part of the text at some point in the future.

Friends, we are people who have chosen to walk this journey of life together as followers of Christ, like the disciples in our text this morning, and so we ask, Lord, teach us to pray.

But we can’t ask that question casually. Because it is dangerous and would not make it past the security screening of this world.

Because if we’re asking to enter into a conversation with God, we need to expect that God will speak to us. So we need to listen.

We need to expect that God will listen to us when we speak, so we need to mean what we say.

And we need to be open to change, to be the change that God needs us to be in this world so that God’s kingdom can break in to our brokenness, to our pain, to our injustice, and to our violence, bringing a kingdom of peace, of equity, of wholeness and health for all of God’s children. Lord, teach us to pray. Amen.

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