July 24, 2022

Proper 12C – George Yandell

The people Jesus brought into his fellowship were young – some were likely teenagers. If you do a search on life expectancy in the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day it will tell you most people did not live much past the age of 25. John Dominic Crossan cites estimates that in Jesus’ day and place the life expectancy for most was very short. “Probably a third of live births were dead before they reached the age of six. By sixteen about 60% of those live births would have died, 75% by age 26, and 90% by age 46. Very few people reached their 60’s.” [Crossan quoted in Jesus the Village Psychiatrist, p. 62, Donald Capps, Westminster John Knox Press, 2008]

Why is that? Poverty and malnourishment made people susceptible to illness, children more so. Young children were often not regarded with affection because parents expected few children to live past infancy. They were expendable. So when Jesus speaks of loving and giving good gifts to children, he is cutting against the grain of the prevailing culture. Children growing up in Galilee were susceptible to the fears their parents tried to keep at bay. Yet the youth and young adults who walked with Jesus were already among the few survivors among their peers. They would have tasted death and the fear of death regularly, especially in the fears of their parents.

Jesus offered remarkable potential­­­­ — for kids to grow strong even when their deepest fears have been triggered — is exactly what Jesus offers his disciples when they ask to be taught to pray.

Jesus led his closest disciples in a way that gave them God’s own love. Jesus’ way of laughing, walking, crying, teaching and living with them opened their hearts to God in a way no one else ever had. 

Those close to Jesus were the ones who had been divorced from their faith and their culture because of the professions they had, their parentage, the sins they’d committed, and their decision to seek and follow Jesus. They had left their families behind and become members of the band of Rabbi Jesus. They had been scorned by their religious leaders and told they were unworthy of God’s love. Matthew because he was a tax collector. The women, because they dared to sit at the dinner table with men who didn’t own them. Peter, John, James and others, fishermen and tradesmen, because they worked on the Sabbath and didn’t keep the laws on cleanliness and diet.

The close friends of Jesus watched him as he withdrew regularly and prayed to God. They marveled at the peace and strength he drew from his devotions. So they asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray, just as John the baptizer taught his disciples.”

Jesus relied, “When you pray, you should say this prayer.” [You may follow along in the prayer book p. 364 as I offer an alternative translation of the words in Luke.]

“Daddy, your name be revered. Impose your imperial rule. Provide us with the bread we need day by day. Forgive us our sins, since we too forgive everyone in debt to us. And please don’t subject us to test after test.”[From The Five Gospels What Did Jesus Really Say? The Jesus Seminar, p. 326, 1993]

The prayer in this simple form is a serene statement of the absolute and immediate access to God that Jesus and his movement proclaim. This prayer is so simple anyone can remember it. And it was a tremendously radical statement about how to speak to God. I suspect when other supposedly orthodox Jews heard the disciples pray this prayer, they wanted to lash out at the pray-ers.

Jesus opened the arms of God’s love so wide, God could embrace everyone. Jesus broke the authority of religious leaders to dictate how, when and where devout people could pray. He displaced the ‘holy ones’ who told worshippers they were unworthy to speak to God without them to speak for them. He made God portable- God doesn’t need to be worshipped only in temples or synagogues.  He healed the divorces his friends had suffered from their God. All leading from these 5 simple sentences.

The prayer book version of the Lord’s Prayer we use most frequently follows the version in the gospel of Matthew more closely than this version from Luke. But Luke carries some very subtle differences worth noting. 

First, we may simply address God as Daddy. Each of us can heed this invitation from Jesus- speak to God like talking to your own parent.

Second, ask God for God’s ways to be known and done in our world. When we ask God to impose God’s own ruler-ship, we live turned toward God in all our daily actions. And when a group of people lives toward God, selfishness and greed diminish while love grows.

Third, rely on God for our daily needs to be met, our bread to be given day by day. Jesus means for us to rely on God, and trust in God in all things. What freedom Jesus intends all his followers to know! How many of you, if you ceased all worry about tomorrow- if you could quit all anxious thoughts and actions- wouldn’t you be free? Jesus tells us to pray for that freedom.

Fourth, ask God to forgive your sins, as we forgive the debts of those who ask us. The words here in Luke may be the most radical of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words here specifically pertain to debts of money owed and forgiven. So he tells his disciples to act with charity in business dealings, because we ask God to forgive us so much more- our sins against God’s other children.

And fifth, ask God to relieve us from ceaseless testing. That’s what the religion of Jesus’ day had set up- unless believers met test after test under the strict law of the Pharisees, they would be cast out. Jesus invites his disciples to ask God to free them from such oppression- to live in love, rather than fear of failure. Jesus knows that God is a daddy who loves all equally. God doesn’t desire God’s people to live in fear of testing, rather in the joy of loving as God loves. When God’s children need correction, their continual prayers for forgiveness, and God’s loving acceptance of them are the only tests they need pass.

Jesus imbeds the prayer with this assurance to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Notice: all the petitions are in the plural- “give us, not give ME.” Jesus is clearly offering communal participation, not just individual requests.

So the prayer is the body of disciples asking, seeking, knocking at the door.

“Daddy, your kingdom come- Impose your imperial rule.” And then in spare words Jesus offers three petitions to transform our lives and our communities. “Give us bread every day; forgive our sins as we forgive; don’t bring us to the time of trial.”

Jesus healed his disciples’ divorce from God. He offers to bridge our distance from God. All we need do is pray together and privately as he taught, then live the prayer we pray. We need no mediators, no temple, no priest or bishop to bring us into God’s embrace. God hears and responds every time we ask. Jesus promised the same shortly before he was killed- he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.” The prayer he taught is all we need to recall his promise and his presence. Live the prayer, and we live in his presence all our days.