Summary: Fourth sermon in a series on the Lord’s Prayer based on booklet by Partners in Ministry.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
June 19, 2005
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
"Petitioning God for Our Needs: Supplication and Divine Providence"
After receiving a scolding from “old Miss Watson,” Huckleberry Finn recounts,
Miss Watson she took me in the closest and prayed, but nothing
come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for
I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fishline, but
no hooks. It wartn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the
hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By
and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I
was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way.
I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it.
I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t
Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the
widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can’t Miss
Watson fat up? No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing to it.
[from Chapter III of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn]
Huck Finn appears to be right at times. We pray for good weather for a picnic and it rains. We pray for healing for those we love and sometimes they don’t get healed. We pray for God’s help, and there are times when God doesn’t seem anywhere near us. Then again, there are times when we pray for good weather, and despite what the forecast says, the sun comes out and we bask in it. We pray for healing, and there are times when we get a report back, like this: "the Doctor looked at the tests and there is no longer any detectable cancer." There are times when we pray for God’s help, and God’s presence and support seem palpable. How can we explain prayer?
I can’t explain it. Still, prayer is at the very heart of Christianity. Nothing could be plainer from the gospels, particularly the Gospel of Luke, that prayer was a central facet of our Lord’s life. I have to concur with Martin Luther, who said, "No one believes how strong and mighty prayer is and how much it can do except he whom experience has taught, and who has tried it." [quoted in George Buttrick, Prayer, p. 82]
Anglican Bishop Christopher Chavasse once said, “If you want to shame a Christian, ask him about his prayers” (Timothy Dudley-Smith, Someone Who Beckons, p. 13). Yet it is also plain from the gospels that Jesus wants all His followers to be people of prayer.
In today’s look at the prayer our Lord taught His first disciples, we focus on verse 11.
Just prior to the giving of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to His followers, "your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (v. 8); yet he still has His followers pray,
v. 11 "Give us this day our daily bread,"
If God knows what we need before we ask, and He loves us, why should we need to pray? The context of the Lord’s Prayer suggests that God is pleased with our asking. Our Father God, who knows our needs before we ask, still wants us to ask. This form of prayer is called supplication or petition, and by supplication or petition, we demonstrate our “dependence upon and confidence in the one who is worshipped," (God with Us, p. 33) according to theologian Mark Allen Powell.
As our booklet says, “The first word is “Give,” which teaches us the ownership of God” (p. 19). Andrew Murray, the great South African church leader of the nineteenth century, reminds us, “The desire for independence was the temptation in paradise, and it is the temptation in each human heart” (The Best of Andrew Murray, p. 30). In praying, "Give us this day our daily bread," we are saying to God that we recognize our everyday dependence on Him. The Christian faith rightly admits that there are no self-made men or women. It is God who gives us our daily bread, and notice the “us” in this petition. As our booklet tells us:
The word us implies that prayer is not about you. This means that
you are to pray unselfish prayers. After all, prayer is not just for
me, or for you. Prayer is for us – the world, our nation, your
church, your family, your friends, the missionaries you know, and
many other people. [p. 20]
While what are booklet says is true, I believe, along with a good number of commentators, that the “us” in “Give us this day our daily bread,” refers to the church. After all, Jesus is giving the Lord’s Prayer to His followers. Those who pray this prayer should understand that all that the earth produces are gifts from the hand of God. All the abilities of "memory, reason, and skill," as Eucharistic Prayer C puts it, are likewise gifts from God. These understandings come from the faith that we have received from our Lord.