Last Sunday Dr. Forbes spoke eloquently about community and how we welcome the other into it. When the sermon ended, we continued the service with the pastoral prayer and the Lord’s Prayer. I personally love the version we sing after communion, as it’s both beautiful and has the advantage of being sung at pace where we linger over the words. The rest of the time we say it.
At approximately 120 miles an hour.
Okay, maybe 100 miles an hour. But we do say the Lord’s Prayer like we say “Hello, how are you.” The answers are just as automatic and range from “Fine” to “Oh, so busy!” or the always-useful “Good.” “How are you?” is shorthand for “I see you.”
In the lexicon of worship placeholders, the Lord’s Prayer is shorthand for “The service is almost over!”
Ourfather, whoartinheaven, hallowedbethyname, thykingdomcomethywillbedone, onearthasitisinheaven.
(Deep breath here, then round the curve for the home stretch…)
Giveusthisdayourdailybread, forgiveusourdebtsasweforgiveourdebtors, leadusnotintotemptation, butdeliverusfromevil….
Then the big finish before we launch into the last hymn. If I’m feeling obstinate, I’m still sitting down when the last hymn begins, somewhere back in the forgiveness phrases, lost in the language, asking for something I really need.
But for the purposes of this blog, I’d like to highlight not the daily bread, or the debt/debtor relationship, or even temptation and evil. I want to highlight the pronouns.
Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil….
While Christianity today often focuses on a personal relationship with Jesus, about individual salvation, in the beginning it was about community. Paul walked across Turkey to reach communities of house churches. He wrote letters not to individuals but to the Ephesians, the Colossians, the Romans. And the prayer Jesus taught the disciples (a group) and therefore us (another group). Jesus went off by himself to pray, but he brought the results of those prayers back to the community of the disciples.
Who do you pray for when you pray for our daily bread, our forgiveness, our deliverance? I’ll go first. I’m usually thinking about me. At the rate we go through the Lord’s Prayer, I’m lucky to extend that awareness to everyone else in the pews. (Sorry, everyone.) I do better during my weekday prayer times, when I can turn the sentences over in my head, take the time to remember individuals or groups in need of prayer.
There’s a darker side to prayers like this, because for every “us” or “our” or “we” there’s a “them”, a “their”, or “they”. Who would you, consciously or subconsciously, exclude when you pray this prayer? Can you pray for your annoying family members, or the person at work who makes your life harder, not easier? What about people who make you question and doubt yourself, or actively preach hate and anger?
What about people who live lifestyles you believe to be “sinful?”
When you pray the Lord’s Prayer knowing that when Jesus taught the disciples, the “us” was Jews like him, not Gentiles like we are, how do you feel about including and excluding? And if God’s grace expanded to the Gentiles two thousand years ago, then why not whoever you consider to be a “them” today?