Lord, Teach Us to Pray

by | Feb 26, 2023


Meg Peery McLaughlin
Lord, Teach Us to Pray
Lent 1/ February 26, 2023
Matthew 6: 7-13

Prayer of Illumination

Everlasting God,
whose tenacious love holds us:
make our hearts the house of your truth
and make our minds the realm of your wisdom
so that our fellowship will become your dwelling place
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.8
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “Pray, then, in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be revered as holy.
10 May your kingdom come.
May your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.



“Lord, teach us to pray.”

Have you ever asked that? It’s what the disciples ask Jesus
before we’re given the Lord’s prayer in Luke’s Gospel.

Or maybe, for you, it’s been more like a declaration. “Lord, I’m bad at this.”

That’s what Spiritual guru, Barbara Brown Taylor said,
when she called herself a “prayer failure” saying she’d rather show someone her checkbook stubs than talk about her prayer life.

Lord, teach us to pray.
I’ve asked it.
When I’ve doubted the efficacy of my words,
when I’ve God my monkey mind
and my inability to sit.

But if I’m really honest with you,
which I endeavor to be,
I confess that I’m more likely to ask the Lord to teach us other things.
Teach us
how to love guns less and the planet more
how to heal a divided country and addicted minds
how to turn off our need to be right
and turn on our capacity to yield our wills to the common good,
rather to incessant greed.

But prayer it is.
So much so that during Lent we are taking a tour: a Tour de Prayer.
Over the next 6 weeks, we’ll consider some of the prayers in scripture.
Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the whale. Some Psalms.
Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and from the cross.

Today, it’s the Lord’s Prayer.

If you are going to start, you might as well start strong!

Before he gives us this prayer, Jesus gives us a preamble.
“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do.”

Jesus isn’t slamming those who are not Jewish.
Our text today is a snippet of a sermon,
preached to a congregation living in the shadow of the Roman Empire.

Jesus is trying to paint a picture of the kingdom of God,
which stands in stark contrast and in opposition to the ways of Rome.

Rome required its people to pray to Caesar, who claimed to be Son of God,
and wanted to be called Lord.

When Jesus refers to the Gentiles and their flood of empty words,
he is calling to mind how a prayer to the emperor would have started.

Historical documents tell us it sounded like this:
Emperor Caesar Galerius Valerius, Invictus, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, conqueror of the Germans, conqueror of the Egyptians, conqueror of the Thebans, five times conqueror of the Persians, six times conqueror of the Armenians, Tribune of the people the twentieth time, Emperor the nineteenth time, Consul the eighth time, Father of his country ….

Not only is Jesus’ address 68 words shorter,
Not only does he dispense with all the flattery and buttering up
but Jesus says just begin with this:
say “Our Father. . . “

Jesus says that prayer begins not with an acknowledgment of status,
but rather an acknowledgment of relationship.

Our praying this prayer
is about using our words to name out loud who God is
and who we are.

Father. Child.

I don’t know what your connection was or is like with your dad.
If that relationship is not one that reminds you of comfort and provision,
then I hope you’ll be like my friend Julia Robinson. She’s 5.

Julia has a lesson to teach us about language.
Her family is joining the church after worship today.
And her parents Jonathan and Meg are fantastic.

They invited me to their home recently to talk about baptism.
I was trying to get across to Julia and her older sister Helen
one of the most important theological truths I know:
that we belong to a loving God.
I likened God to the mama rabbit in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny,
and said that we cannot ever escape that belonging.
I asked Helen and Julia to write on a piece of paper in a sharpie that she was a
CHILD of God.

She worked hard on the spelling.
She turned her paper around and it read: KID of God. Exclamation point. Perfection.

Friends, let’s take a cue from Julia and be expansive with our language.

If child doesn’t work for you, you can be God’s KID.
If Father is painful, say Our Mother, our Parent in prayer instead.

Whatever language you use
to describe the relationship you have with God
put an exclamation point at the end of that part.

For that connection, that intersection is not just the beginning of the prayer,
but the foundation from which we live every other moment of our lives.

And it is the launching pad for all the petitions of this prayer.
And they are big asks.

Reveal who you are. Make your face, your way clearly known.
Set the world right.
Erase the distinction between heaven and earth.
Give us all enough – not any less, and also not more than our share. Enough.

Free us from our debts / trespasses / sins
whatever synonym you want to use that describes what
keeps us from being our full selves
keeps us from being generous neighbors, yes, free us from that–
and enable us to model that freedom with one another.

Keep us in the road, belonging only and always to you.

Y’all that’s a good prayer.

In fact, the African Christian theologian Tertullian
believed that the Lord’s prayer was a shorthand version of the Gospel as a whole.

No wonder Jesus wanted us to know this one by heart. Pray this, he said.

NT Wright said
the Lord’s Prayer is a risky, crazy prayer of submission and commission.
But the bending of our lives toward God does not come naturally,
so we repeat the prayer again and again.

We speak the words:
thy kingdom come
thy will be done
over and over

give us this day our daily bread
forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
over and over

deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom
over and over

Back in the mid-fifties a British philosopher came to Harvard to give a talk about his new book, How to DO things with Words.

J.L. Austin developed the Speech Act Theory, which suggests that language is not only used to inform or describe things; it is used to do things, to perform acts.

Last night, I was standing at the top of those steps, as two people spoke promises. They were statements, words, but something was happening right before my eyes. They left this sanctuary different than when they came in.

I wonder if the same thing happens in prayer.
So perhaps, when Jesus teaches us to pray.
He is teaching us far, far more.

What if “to fold one’s hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

What if it makes things happen?
What if it makes us different?

Lord, we are your kids,
so teach us to pray,

Our Father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory