“Lord, teach us to pray,” one of the disciples asked Jesus in today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13). I wonder what’s behind his request. When you reflect on your own life of prayer what do you imagine he’s really asking? In what ways might he be echoing our desire and struggle to pray?
I wonder if something has happened in his life that has called everything into question, even how to pray. Maybe the old ways aren’t working. Maybe he has no words and doesn’t know what to say or ask for. Maybe he’s distracted and can’t sit still to pray. Maybe his prayer used to come easy and just flow but now it’s not only a struggle to pray but a struggle to even want to pray. Maybe he used to feel something when he prayed but no longer does. Maybe he’s skinned and bruised his knuckles knocking at the door and it still hasn’t opened. Maybe life has left him worn out and worn down. Maybe he’s no longer sure what prayer is or what it means to pray.
I don’t know if any of those things were on this disciple’s list when he made his request to Jesus but I’ve had times in my life when they were on my list. Maybe you have too. It seems that the intensity of my questions about and struggle with prayer often correspond to the intensity of life and my need to pray. Maybe you’ve found that too.
It has been two months to the day since the shooting at Robb Elementary School. I’ve prayed and I’ve struggled with praying. I don’t have answers to all the maybes I’ve just raised and I’m not going to try to answer them. Instead, I want us to try what Jesus says in today’s gospel.
In just a moment I’m going to invite you into twenty-two seconds of silence. I ask that you hold in the silence those who died, were injured, and their families; the law enforcement officers and agents who were present; our city officials, school board members, and healthcare providers; the City of Uvalde and all who live here.
Let us pray. Silence Our Father in heaven, regardless of what has and has not happened, through our words and actions we bless, hallow, and make holy your name before others. We claim your ways, concerns, and desires as our own. Each day give us bread for the day to nourish and strengthen us in body and soul for whatever lies ahead. Free us from the past and forgive us our sins in the same way and to the same extent as we forgive others. Save us from the temptation of turning away from ourselves, one another, and you. To all these things we say yes, yes, amen.
What was that like for you? What did it bring up in you? Where did it take you?
Here’s what strikes me about how Jesus teaches us to pray. It’s not about asking God to do or give particular things in specific circumstances. It’s bigger than that. It is about the future and our responsibility for bringing about that future.
That doesn’t mean we determine or control the future. It means we do not give up when the sands of life are shifting under our feet, when our life comes unhinged, when we are overwhelmed, when we come to the limits of our ability, when it looks like this day is as good as it gets or all there will ever be.
The promise of a future is a thread that runs through today’s gospel. Listen to how Jesus describes that promise: “He will get up and give him whatever he needs,” “It will be given you,” “You will find,” “The door will be opened.” Again and again he speaks of a future to come. That’s not, however, a promise that we will get whatever we ask for.
The prayer Jesus taught keeps “the present from closing in upon itself and from closing in all around us” (Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, 196). It opens the present moment to “the possibility of something new, the chance of something different, something that will transform the present into something else” (Caputo, On Religion, 8).
Prayer does not guarantee an outcome, undo the past, or offer an escape from life or the circumstances of our lives. It keeps us open to the future. And the future is always better, not because it necessarily will be, but because it might be (Caputo). That possibility, the “might be” of the future, is our daily bread, why we forgive, and why we refuse to turn away. Some mornings that “might be” is the only reason we have the will to get out of bed; because it might be different, it might be better, it might offer something new. The “might be” of the future is at the heart of every prayer we offer.
Where there is a future, whether it is an hour, a day, a month, or twenty years, there is the possibility of life and more life. That’s what Jesus is promising in today’s gospel. And it’s what I want, don’t you? I want the possibility of life and more life for Uvalde, you, and myself.
Jesus is not teaching a technique of prayer or a magic formula of words. He’s teaching prayer as a posture, a way of standing before God, exposed and responsive to a holy and life giving Spirit (Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 55). It is a risky and vulnerable place to stand. It asks a lot of us. It means you and I have a role in bringing about the future. It means we have work to do.
The prayer Jesus taught asks us to offer ourselves as the place and means for the in-breaking of the future, for change, for life and more life.
I wonder what that way of praying means for your life today. What would it look like? What would it ask of you?
Imagine standing before God and praying, “Here I am. I am a place where the future can enter. I am an instrument of change. I am a birther of life and more life.” What would it take to live like that? And is that a prayer to which you can say, “Yes, yes”?
I have just one question left to ask: Can I get an “Amen”?
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You have my Amen. We cannot change the past, but we dare hope to aspire to a better future,
Thank you for your own attention to prayer and discernment which surely helps open your heart and mind to springs of living water that help water the rest of us who attempt to do likewise. Bless you.
Amen! And AMEN.
Your sermon is eloquent, and your thoughts and insights are inspiring. I will try to pray better.
This is a really thought-provoking and powerful sermon. I wish I had heard it in person. Thank you for making it available here.
Hi Mike, I was really struck by the orientation towards hope, a better future, in this sermon and in your rendition of the Lord’s prayer. I have shared it with others. Melissa (Qld, Australia)
Dear Reverend Marsh
I live in the UK and recently I came across one of your posts which I liked very much indeed and since then have started following you online. I thought you may be interested to see that this church school in Bethlehem has taken your communityâs suffering to heart. Here is a screen shot of their newsletter. Our church in the UK supports Hope School in Bethlehem.
Maybe you already knew about this but if not then I hope you find it to be of interest.