Year C Proper 12: Teach us to pray

Jesus gave a couple of different words of advice to his disciples about prayer. In one, he tells his disciples to lock themselves behind closed doors in secret, to pray privately to God, and there is a place for that in each of our hearts. But here, too, he speaks aloud, invites his disciples to “us” and “we,” to share their prayer, to share his prayer, together. That is what we do on Sunday mornings.

It is not the silent prayer of our locked hearts, but it is not, either, the loud, showy prayer of the Pharisee. It is a tuning of our hearts and voices to one another, as the Body of Christ working in harmony, to lift our prayers to God with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven, with the person standing next to us.

We don’t use the exact words that we read in this morning’s Gospel. Over time, we have become used to traditional forms, renderings of the prayer that Jesus taught us, which we can recite together anywhere, almost without thinking. Almost without thinking.

Sometimes, a change of translation: ancient to modern, musical to spoken, choral to plainsong, trips us up, and we are tempted to fall away.

It can be difficult to adjust the habits of a lifetime to the gathered community in the moment; but we are called by Jesus not only to pray in the privacy of our locked hearts, but to open our prayers to one another, “us” and “we.”

There are many ways to pray as Jesus taught his disciples, and each community has its own tradition, and if we visit one another, we may find ourselves straining to match our tone, our pace, the habits of our heart; but it is worth it to experience the Body of Christ in unity, in harmony, praying together.

So some of us have found it a stretch, this summer, to speak in contemporary language instead of borrowing the language of our ancestors to pray to God; but we are in good company, and we will find ourselves on familiar ground if we visit another church where this is the tradition.

The habits of our hearts will spring back into place as soon as we are behind locked doors, or as soon as the season changes and a new, or old setting presents itself as the prayer of the gathered community before God; we have lost nothing.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, not in rhythmic lines, but in stark petitions to the God whom we trust to hear us.

Father, hallowed be your name.

In God we trust, and there is no other name that we dare elevate to the place of saviour, sustainer. We belong to God, every tribe and nation; we are called by the same name, creatures made in the image of God. IN the excitement and fear, in the rhetoric and threat, in the promises and the pageantry that flood our news feeds, let us remember whose name it is that we hallow, hold sacred, alone, and temper our hearts accordingly.

Your kingdom come.

Come to Kabul, to Munich, to Nice, to Baton Rouge, St Paul, Dallas, Orlando, Cleveland, and Euclid. Your kingdom come; the kingdom in which no weapon is raised, no death remains, but the light of your life leads us in paths of righteousness. Before any more grief, any more graphic fear grips us, let your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And let it be enough for us.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Or at least, we try. And if we cannot forgive other, how will we forgive ourselves? And if we will not forgive anyone, what do we say, that we know better than Jesus who is deserving of his blood, and sweat, and tears? No; but forgiveness sets us free, in the giving and in the receiving, and reminds us of our humility, and our own need for God’s grace and mercy, which is given ungrudgingly.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.

Last Sunday night, 200-300 young people gathered on Sims Park Beach for a party that they labelled, Stop the Violence. The Violence visited them. One young man is dead, a child is in the hospital. A juvenile is charged with aggravated murder before he has reached adulthood.

“Which of you, if your child asks for an egg, gives him a scorpion?” asks Jesus. And I’m afraid that we do, with our excess of guns and our tendency to play God with one another’s lives.

Do not bring us to the time of trial, because we just might fail. Instead, deliver us from evil.

Jesus does not add a doxology, but it is the cry of our unlocked, unleashed hearts. We know that in God alone our prayers are answered, and that there is power beyond ourselves that we can borrow, lean on. Those young people last weekend knew that they were strong together in their love, strong enough to bring a message to Stop the Violence. Earlier in the day, on a bridge in Cleveland, thousands gathered in silent prayer to hold our city in hope, in faith, in peace, drawing on something much larger than ourselves, something beyond our closed-door hearts.

Jesus does not add a doxology, but we do, to remind ourselves when it is hard to pray that there is power that we can borrow, lean on, to bring ourselves closer to that kingdom come, in which no evil is done. It is our hope, our faith, and our promise:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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