28 July 2019

One of his disciples said to him,
‘Lord, teach us to pray’

‘Padre Nuestro, que estas en el Cielo … Our Father, who art in Heaven’ … the words of the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish in the shape of a Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 July 2019

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Co Limerick

Readings: Hosea 1: 2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2: 6-15, (16-19); Luke 11: 1-13.

‘Give us each day our daily bread’ … bread in a shop window in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Language can be very amusing, but very difficult, at times.

There are times when the language of the Bible can almost hit us in the face.

For example, the language in our Old Testament reading (Hosea 1: 2-10) this morning is very direct, almost frightening, with its comparisons of a people being unfaithful to God with adultery, whoring and whoredom.

I imagine this is one of those Sundays when many rectors are glad that summer holidays mean they did not ask the Sunday School to act out the Old Testament reading.

When it comes to the Gospel reading, we are all so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, that we often recite it by rote without noticing the significance and intention of each petition. Have you noticed this in your own prayer life?

Did you notice, as the Gospel was being read this morning, that this version of the Lord’s Prayer in Saint Luke’s Gospel is not the same as the familiar text we use, based on the version in Saint Matthew’s text?

Without looking, are you aware of the differences?

Apart from the fact that it is a little shorter, what else did you notice?

What is missing?

Is there a difference in emphases between these two versions of the one prayer?

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Christ teaches the Lord’s Prayer within the context of the Sermon on the Mount. But in Saint Luke’s Gospel, immediately after visiting the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Christ finds a private place to pray. It is then that the disciples ask him to teach them ‘to pray, as John taught his disciples.’

The disciples are already familiar not only with the prayers of Saint John the Baptist, but also with traditional Jewish prayers in the home, in the synagogue and in the Temple in Jerusalem.

So why did they ask Jesus to teach them how to pray?

As a rabbi and a religious leader, Jesus wais responsible for teaching his followers how to fulfil Jewish religious commandments, including the obligation to pray at certain times and in certain forms.

Then and now, a religious community has a distinctive way of praying; ours is exemplified by the Lord’s Prayer, which is a communal rather than individual prayer, expressed in the plural and not the singular:

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.

We approach God in a personal way, as Father. We then bring before him five petitions that are not on behalf of me personally, but on behalf of us, on behalf of all.

Sometimes we miss out on the impact of the Lord’s Prayer because we are so familiar with it. But in the public worship of the Church we often facilitate people missing out on the impact of the Lord’s Prayer when we privatise it.

Many of us were taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer as a private personal prayer as children, perhaps even saying it kneeling by our bedside, hands joined together, fingers pointing up.

So often, in our churches, we encourage people to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if this was now both the most sacred and the most personal part of the Liturgy, rather than asking them to remain standing and to continue in collective prayer.

Or, at great public events, such as synods and mission conferences, we invite everyone present to say the Lord’s Prayer in their own first language. In this way, a collective, public prayer becomes a private, personal prayer, detached from and ignoring where everyone else is at each stage in the petitions.

As someone with English as my first language, I often notice how others finish a lot later than we do – the Finns in particular, but even the Germans too. Each language has its own rhythms and cadences. And the cacophony and conflicting rhythms mean it sounds as if we are in Babel rather than praying together, collectively and in the plural.

The first two petitions place us in God’s presence (‘hallowed be your name’ and ‘your kingdom come’), the next two bring our needs before God, both physical (‘daily bread,’ verse 3) and spiritual (forgiveness, verse 4), and the final petition has an eschatological dimension, looks forward to the fulfilment of all God’s promises, in God’s own time (‘the time of trial,’ verse 4).

The ‘time of trial’ is the final onslaught of evil forces, before Christ comes again, but also refers to the temptations we experience day-by-day.

So there is a temporal and an eternal dimension to these petitions, even when we pray for ourselves in the here and now.

The privatisation of the Lord’s Prayer, even on Sundays, takes away from its impact and from the collective thrust of each of the petitions.

Jesus, when he is teaching us to pray, is responding not to one individual but to the disciples as the core, formative group of the Church. God is addressed not as my Father, but our Father, and each petition that follows is in the plural: our daily bread, our forgiveness, our sins, our debts, how we forgive, and do not ‘bring us.’

When we say ‘Amen’ at the end, are we really saying ‘Amen’ to the holiness of God’s name, to the coming of Kingdom, to the needs of each being met, on a daily basis, to forgiveness, both given and received, to being put on the path of righteousness and justice, to others falling into no evil or into no harm.

If we privatise the Lord’s Prayer, we leave little room for its collective impact to grab a hold of those who are praying, and we leave little room for our own conversion, which is a continuing and daily need.

And so, let the kingdom, the power and the glory be God’s as we pray together:

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 so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Give us each day our daily bread’ … bread in a bakery window in Kournas, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 1-13: (NRSVA):

1 He 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.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

5 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 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.” 8 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.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!’

‘Knock, and the door will be opened for you’ (Luke 11: 9) … a front door in Bore Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


429, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us (CD 25)
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright (CD 35)
509, Your kingdom come, O God (CD 29)

‘Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? ’ (Luke 11: 11) … fish at a taverna in the harbour in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Luke 11: 1) … prayer books and prayer shawls in the synagogue in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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