Text: Genesis 18:20-32a, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:12-14, Luke 11:1-13.
For a number of years now, I’ve been a student of the martial art of aikido. While we don’t typically put a lot of emphasis on rank, there are gradings, for which we prepare to demonstrate specific techniques. The first technique called for on the first test, typically undertaken a few months into a beginner’s training, involves leading an attacker delivering an overhand strike harmlessly to the ground with a few simple-looking movements. We don’t teach it first because it’s easy: we teach it first because it’s fundamental and difficult. We don’t expect anything like perfect execution in the first grading, but best to start working on it early, because it takes decades of practice to refine this ideally effortless and gentle movement.
The Lord’s Prayer was the first prayer I learned as a child, and is widely known even outside Christian circles. It seems so simple, familiar, and safe to us that we sometimes lose the meaning of the words in rote recitation. In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that Jesus gave it to his most devoted disciples in response to a difficult and deep question that still challenges us today. It is a master class in following Jesus into his relationship with the Father, given in a few simple-sounding verses.
I won’t pretend to have plumbed the depths of this spiritual school, and the readings were long enough that I should keep this reflection short anyway. I’ll share a couple of aspects that stand out for me, and encourage you to explore more of its meaning for yourselves.
We often call this prayer by the first words we use: the “Our Father.” Not my Father, but ours. Even when we are alone, we do not pray this in isolation, but as part of a community. When we pray for daily bread, for forgiveness, for deliverance, it is not just for ourselves but for us all that we each pray. Abraham didn’t pray for his own protection, but for that of the righteous people in the town that God intended to destroy, even though they weren’t of his family; he had likely never even met them. In praying this prayer, I find that I cannot be a son of the Father without being a brother to each of you, who have as much claim on God’s love and Christ’s inheritance as I do.
I don’t see the Lord’s Prayer as a passive prayer. I don’t think that we are called to sit idly by and watch as the Father makes everything happen independent of us. We are created with free will as participants in God’s plan. If God’s name is to be hallowed, I have a role to play in accomplishing that, both in my own posture towards God and in the honor or disgrace my words and actions bring God. If the kingdom is to come, it must come into my heart and I must submit to God’s rulership. If we are to have our daily bread—physical and spiritual—I’m called to share in the work to provide it.
The daily bread I provide is not just my own, but for my neighbor who, for whatever reason, may have none themselves. My neighbor—and we remember whom Jesus said that was—is my sibling in God, and although I do a poor job of living this way, they have as much claim as I do on everything, even what I consider “mine.”
If you take nothing else from my words today, I invite you to ponder in your own heart the words we say in this little prayer. To me, it is an inexhaustible spring of inspiration, guidance, and strength; God indeed gives me the good gifts of the Spirit when I ask, even as fumblingly as the beginner I am. In teaching this prayer to the disciples, Jesus has given us all a path into the fullness of God’s generous and mysterious love.