Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Meditation on Luke 11-13

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 24, 2022

Link to recording of livestreamed service: https://fb.watch/exzE_CkDDf/

On Thursday, Jim and I visited the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. We worked alongside Marci and Alexis from our congregation and other faithful women to help neighbors struggling with food insecurity.

I was amazed at how our local food pantry, which relies completely on donations and receives no government funding, is so well organized and equipped to care for the needs of families, small and large.

 The ministry isn’t just about food for bodies. It is a ministry with a kind heart, for those who volunteer have come to know the “regular visitors.” They are welcomed and greeted by name. Volunteers and visitors chat like old friends.

On that hot day, when we drove home sweaty and dirty after serving just 3 hours at the food pantry, I dreamed of a cold shower and Carvel ice cream.

I thought about how in The Lord’s Prayer we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

And how that day and every day the food pantry works to help people struggling with food insecurity, we are an answer to someone’s prayer.

***

Today, in our gospel of Luke, the disciples watch and listen to Jesus as he speaks with God, and they ask him to teach them how to pray. This is a prayer for all God’s children, all Christ’s followers, to pray together in every time and every place.

Christ’s teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and in this passage in Luke reveals that there IS a right and wrong way to pray. And Jesus wants us to learn the right way.

“And whenever you pray,” he says in Matthew 6, “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

From the beginning, the disciples notice something different about the prayer Jesus prays because he prays in Aramaic—the common language spoken by Jewish people in their day. Jesus lives in a world where the public reading of Scripture and the offering of prayers to God are always in classical, biblical Hebrew. Jesus teaches us that while Judaism and Islam have sacred languages for their scripture (Hebrew and Arabic); Christianity does not.

Jesus inaugurates a new age when he begins his prayer with the Aramaic Abba, translated Father, but closer in meaning to our modern use of Daddy! In at least four Middle Eastern countries today, says scholar Kenneth Bailey, Abba is still the first word a child learns to say, much like our children say, Da da! Daddy!

The one line at the center of the prayer that I couldn’t get off my mind this week when I worked at the food pantry is, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Bread is the staple food for Middle Easterners. In the Bible, bread symbolizes all that we eat.

What seems like such a simple phrase, turns out, isn’t so simple. The word translated daily appears nowhere else in the Greek language! Scholars aren’t sure what it means. Some argue the word refers to time, such as the bread of today or the bread of tomorrow. Others say the word refers to amount not time, such as just enough bread to keep us alive, and no more, or the bread that we need.

Still others say there’s a problem with the translation from the Aramaic to the Greek. Bailey says that Jesus may have been saying in Aramaic, instead of daily bread, the “lasting, never-ceasing, never-ending bread.” In other words, Jesus is teaching us to pray, “Give us today the bread that doesn’t run out.”

“One of the most basic human fears is the dread of economic privation,” Bailey says. “Will we have enough? We are managing now, but what about the future? What if I lose my job? What if the kids get sick? What if I am unable to work? How will we survive? One of the deepest and most crippling fears of the human spirit is not having enough to eat.” Jesus is teaching his disciples to be released from that fear of not having enough to eat, a fear that can destroy a sense of well-being in the present and erode hope for the future. Jesus is praying, “Deliver us, O Lord, from the fear of not having enough to eat. Give us bread for today and with it give us confidence that tomorrow, we will have enough.”

Two more treasures are offered from this one line of the Lord’s Prayer. One is that we ask for bread, not cake. “Consumerism and the kingdom of mammon have no place among those who pray this prayer. We ask for that which sustains life, not all its extras.”

And we ask for “our” not “mine.”

Mother Teresa, in her book, The Joy of Living, writes of an occasion from her life in Calcutta.

“I will never forget the night an old gentleman came to our house and said that there was a family with eight children, and they had not eaten, and could we do something for them. So I took some rice and went there. The mother took the rice from my hands, divided it into two and went out. I could see the faces of the children shining with hunger. When she came back, I asked her where she had gone. She gave me a very simple answer. “They are hungry also.” And “they” were the family next door, and she knew that they were hungry. I was not surprised that she gave, but I was surprised that she knew… I had not the courage to ask her how long her family hadn’t eaten, but I am sure it must have been a long time, and yet she knew—in her suffering… In her terrible bodily suffering, she knew that next door, they were hungry also.” (337-38).

“This woman with 8 children may not have known the Lord’s Prayer, but there was only “our rice” not “my rice” even when her children were hungry. The prayer for “our bread” includes our neighbors.

“It is ‘our Father’ and ‘our bread.’”

***

I started out greeting visitors on Thursday at the food pantry, but I quickly realized my calling was serving the regular workers. I filled grocery carts with lists of items for large and small families and restocked pantry shelves. The most important part of the ministry was left to the core workers who are there, day after day, never growing weary of doing good, serving our neighbors with bread, as The Lord’s Prayer stirs us to do.  

For this is the thing about The Lord’s Prayer, my friends! We ask our Father to provide for us—and God will answer that prayer for us through others, and for others through us.

The Lord’s Prayer has the power to change the world, beginning right here-with us who are sent out to be Christ’s Body and witness through our generous giving to the coming Kingdom that Christ ushered in.

As we pray that prayer that Jesus still prays with and for us, may the Lord grant us release from the fear of not having enough of anything we need in this world, a fear that sometimes stops us from sharing what we have with others in need. For the prayer for our bread includes our neighbors.

May we pray with Jesus, “Deliver us, O Lord, from the fear of not having enough to eat. Give us bread for today and with it give us confidence that tomorrow, we will have enough.”

May we come to trust and obey the One whom Jesus called Abba! Daddy! The One who listens to all who ask, seek, and knock, persisting in prayer until the door of blessing opens wide, and thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Father who wants to give good gifts to all God’s children desires to give us this day the bread that doesn’t run out, the bread that is ours, not mine.

Will you pray with me as Jesus taught us?

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 forever. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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