Biblical Commentator Niveen Sarras explains that this version of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Luke focuses on the father-child relationship especially for Gentile Christians. The other version of the Lord’s Prayer is in the Gospel of Matthew and addresses Jewish Christians. Both forms are derived from well known forms of Jewish prayer, so they are not uniquely Christian. What is different about the Lord’s Prayer is the focus on identifying God as father. Luke especially wants his Gentile audience to identify God as a benevolent father, which was not typically the case thinking about fathers in the Greco-Roman world. Fathers had complete control over their children which was problematic. The focus of the Lord’s Prayer is that God is a Father who is not someone to be feared, but someone who showers unconditional love upon God’s people. This refocus makes God more relatable, human, and incarnate. It’s also counter-cultural arguing that children ought to be confident in their self-worth, not something that was guaranteed or encouraged in the Gentile world.
As we reflect upon the Lord’s Prayer today a couple things stand out. One thing is that a lot of people have complicated relationships with fathers. So Luke’s countercultural context can be lost on us without the aid of a Biblical historian bringing this to the fore. Together with other churches at Church of the Cross we have tried to pivot from patriarchal references to God as Father to include images of God as Mother and beyond gender categories. We can continue doing this while still lifting up the Lord’s Prayer and its gains in granting children agency as was the case for the original audience of the Gospel of Luke. We can lift up children and celebrate God’s care for children and all of us, while recognizing God the Father imagery can also be problematic given millennia of church history that have often erased women’s and queer people’s contributions to the church, which continues today. For example even though we’ve had women’s ordination for several decades continually women clergy face discrimination and have their authority questioned far more regularly than do men clergy.
As we lift up language of God the Father, which also contributes to our understanding of the Holy Trinity, we recognize God is still God including when we use differently gendered identities for God. We do not diminish God’s authority or love by referring to the Godhead in different ways. If anything our discomfort in exploring new identities reveals the rigidity of our theologies and church structures. Luke challenged his original audience by thinking about fathers as benevolent towards their children. He challenged ideas that children ought to be given respect and autonomy as fully human. Today we still see undercurrents in which children are not seen as fully human including within the church. The Lord’s Prayer urges us to push back against these injustices.
We continue worshipping in the Spirit Luke intends by continuing to challenge assumptions of how we identify with and understand God. God as Mother. God As Queer. These too are ways we push boundaries and explore ways God reveals divine grace in unexpected ways. Just as Gentiles who were Luke’s first audience would have felt uncomfortable thinking about God as father, so too we may find ourselves feeling uncomfortable thinking about God with different identities.
Another theme in our gospel reading today is Jesus encouraging the disciples to be persistent. There is the parable of the persistent friend who at first doesn’t want to open his door because it is night and he is sleeping. But he opens the door eventually because of the friend’s persistence. He wants to be left in peace and go back to sleep. This is a humorous parable because the man who is sleeping doesn’t seem to be much of a friend. But the “how much more than” comparison of the parable is meant to show how much more generous God is than this stubborn, sleepy friend. If even the not great friend eventually will do the right thing because of the friend’s persistence, how much more generous God will be with us.
It’s again painting a picture of a human God, someone to whom we can relate. How often do we find ourselves in these situations with our own kids, a neighbour, or someone else who wears us down with repeated requests? When we are tired we are more likely to give in and give the person what they want just so they will go away and leave us alone. How much more will God answer our prayers in our time of need.
One tricky part of these kinds of stories about God answering prayers is that our prayers are not always answered with a desirable outcome. Sometimes bad things happen and the outcomes do not improve. At times like these as pastors we point to the beloved community of Christians who rally around people when things go wrong, when bad things happen. Not everyone is satisfied with these answers. Sometimes we want to know why God could not reverse an outcome. Why our prayer seems to have gone unheard?
In these cases we often need to question our image of God. Who do we say God is? The Lord’s Prayer emphasizing the compassion of God is not one of an all powerful tyrant. Not a God who controls our lives. And yet we still claim God is at work in the world. How do we hold this tension? To say God is not a holy despot, that instead God is compassionate and loving in incarnate ways? It is here that we hold open the mystery of God’s and especially Christ’s kairotic love, a love that empties itself on the cross. A love of sacrifice and giving to others. Jesus dies on the cross and God does a new thing through the resurrection. Yet Jesus does not succeed in quashing the Roman Empire. God does not bring about a coup that ends the reign of Caesar or even Pontius Pilate. Instead Jesus invites his followers to live in new ways centred in love and self-sacrifice, following Jesus’ own example.
It is into this kind of living we are invited as well. Living that includes prayer, even persistent prayer, and living that includes action. Following Jesus into communities and neighbourhoods in ways through which God brings about the longed for love so desperately missing in the world. If you think this sounds wishy-washy or lacking that is understandable. The mystery of the cross and God’s love promised through the Lord’s Prayer are not something we always grasp immediately. Although the content of the prayer is something we can understand. We all need daily bread. We all need forgiveness of sin. We all need reassurance that love will prevail despite evidence of the contrary at times. Like many of Jesus’ words they are both easy to grasp and reveal hidden truths over time. One reason we say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday during worship.
A story about persistence. This is a story that was told to me by Pr. Gavin, an Anglican chaplain at the University of Sussex many years ago, where I spent a study year abroad. Pr. Gavin was planning a student trip to Taize, France and offered a ride to some students. One student named Dan said he would join but would get there a different way. Dan said he would offer to serve as crew aboard a sailboat in the UK, sail to France, and then hitchhike to Taize. Pr. Gavin said that perhaps he could eventually find a boat to take him and perhaps eventually hitchhike his way to Taize but that he wouldn’t make it before the conference was over. Pr. Gavin departed with students on the ferry fairly confident Dan would never make it in time. But as it turned out Dan was persistent. He was able to convince a skipper to take him as crew. Once in France he was able to prevail upon drivers to give him rides to Taize. But would he make it in time? It was opening worship on the first day of the conference and out of the corner of his eye Pr. Gavin saw Dan walking up to the group. “There is no way you would make it in time! He exclaimed. This is nothing short of the hand of God getting you here. It defies reality that all these legs of your journey would line up like this!”
Pr. Gavin wasn’t wrong. There was no way of proving how or why Dan was as fortunate as he was. Only that a prayer was answered. And Dan didn’t stop asking for people’s assistance along this route.
What about you? What are the things you need God to hear? What do you need lifted up in prayer? Jesus encourages you to lift them up to God. And if you don’t know how to do that you can simply pray the Lord’s Prayer. The words are provided for you. You can also share your prayer request with us to be lifted up Sunday morning or during Tuesday morning prayer.
In closing remember the ways in which Luke challenges the status quo, depicting God as a benevolent Father. So too we depict God in ways that challenge the status quo today.
And know that God encourages you to lift up in prayer anything on your heart. Jesus promises that God will hear it. And be persistent in praying to God and reaching to us here to walk with you. Amen.