I don’t make a habit of playing offensive material in Church. But the following 60 second advert was banned from Cinema’s in the UK last Christmas before the ‘StarWars: The Force Awakens’ movie as it was deemed that it would offend some people. So I apologise in advance if you are offended.
After some criticism the cinema company defended their decision to ban that ad by saying that as a commercial consideration they didn’t play religious or political adverts. But that is different than deeming it offensive they had to back down somewhat. This year the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who appears at the beginning of the advert, picked up this incident when he describes the Lord’s Prayer as (click for words to appear on screen)
“ reassuring enough to be on the lips of the dying, but dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas, famous enough to be spoken daily by billions in thousands of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us every closer in our friendship with Jesus Christ, simple enough to be remembered by small children and profound enough to sustain a whole life of prayer.”
Maybe on one level the cinema company was right in banning the advert because this prayer is revolutionary and is dangerous… praying it and praying like it, not just saying or parroting it, will change your life and will change the world.
We are working our way through Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel. The journey that will ultimately lead to the cross, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel narrative (ch 10-19), a journey narrative that focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means for us to follow him ‘walking the Cross road’. Today we are looking at Jesus teaching on Prayer… that to walk the Cross road with Jesus is to walk the prayerful path.
..And it’s highly appropriate that in a section that has to do with right relationship with God…which we’ve seen in the go and do likewise of the good Samaritan and the sit and listen to what Jesus has to say of the Martha and Mary encounter that we should turn to look at prayer. Prayer is such an important part of the Christian faith. In fact we took a whole month to work through this passage in our season of prayer last October and in September this year we’ll come back to it as we look at the nuts and bolts of prayer… simple everyday help for our prayer life. One commentator said that the Christian life without prayer is like a marriage where after the vows are exchanged at the altar the couple go about their lives together and no more words are spoken, no real communication takes place. It’s not really a marriage. Prayer is the way in which we communicate with God. We deepen our knowing of God and our being known by God.
I just want to make three quick observations about the revolutionary nature of Jesus teaching on prayer that help us on the prayerful path following Jesus.
The first is that the most radical and revolutionary and dangerous thing about Jesus prayer and his teaching on prayer; what it tells us about the nature of God. The passage is split into three parts: The first is Jesus prayer, the second is a short parable about a neighbour in need in the middle of the night and finally a two part exhortation to pray. In these Jesus presents us with the idea of fatherhood and friendship together to tell us about God.
It starts by Jesus saying we should Prayer to ‘Our Father’ and finishes with Jesus saying if we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children how much more will our heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask”. We are presented with God as a loving Parent, God who hears and cares for their children. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ you and I and all who would come to Christ are welcomed back as John puts it to be sons and daughters of the most high God’. God is not a distant, disinterested deity way out there who just does not care, he is not cruel or capricious; you know a diabetic deity, who has mood swings and acts out of character depending on how much sugar is in the system. I know today many people will say they can’t relate to God as father because of their own earthly experience of an abusive or absent father, but here Jesus says that when we think of what a father we should look to God’s care and provision, forgiveness and protection as the mark of real fatherhood. Coming to know God as Our Father is a healing process.
In the middle parable, God is presented as a friend and good neighbour who even if we disturb him in the middle of night with our needs, won’t just roll over and go back to sleep, but despite the ruckus it will cause, in an ancient near eastern house this could have involved waking children and animals and all that that entails, will answer and help. The person in need isn’t just using his neighbour as an alternative to the local dairy or service station by the way, in the ancient near east being able to provide hospitality to a traveller was a serious matter, if you couldn’t it was a matter of great shame. But the man’s neighbour is a friend and while not a life saviour definitely a face saver.
We see In Jesus teaching on Prayer a God who loves us. Darryl Bock summarises it by saying “ Jesus stress on God’s proximity and the access believers have with him for his provision and care make his view of God deeply personal in emphasis.” Mind you this does not mean we should fall into the trap of simply having a buddy Jesus mentality Bock continues “Closeness does not destroy respect we start our prayer “hallowed be thy Name” acknowledging the unique holiness of God. When we have this understanding of God in Christ it is revolutionary.
Secondly, there can be a sense that we see prayer as a way out of the situations we are in. To pray ‘thy kingdom come’ is not akin to standing at the train station waiting for the train to come and take us out of the cold dark night and darker pain and evil round us, off to some better place, for the curtains to close on history and us to be whisked off to be with Christ, rather it is to invite God into the situations and world we live in: to have Christ be with us here and now. Our hope, our salvation our healing and wholeness our seeing our way through, justice and righteousness are dependent on the fact that when we pray we invite God into our lives and into our space and place to bring his transformation.
We see the whole of the trinity involved in our Praying: We pray to the father, through Jesus who teaches us to pray, we receive the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence within us. It is this presence that makes the difference. We see this in Jesus coming into the world, the word made flesh, living out what he calls us as his disciples to pray: Living to glorify God, ushering in the kingdom of God in his life and death and resurrection, providing for our physical and spiritual needs, making a way for us to be forgiven and reconciled with God and one another, making a way for us through trial and temptation, defeating evil. When we pray forgive us our sins we are asking for God to come and bring reconciliation to our relationships, we partner with God in doing it by forgiving others. We pray give us our daily bread and we are asking for God to be in our daily existence and part of the care and concern for the world around us, by which he provides. Thy Kingdom come is asking God to come and reign and rule in our lives and in all that goes on around us… as the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us it enables us to be agents of that Kingdom coming. It’s interesting songs about that ‘train to glory’ in blues music and gospel was not that God would take us home to be with him it has its roots in the underground railway where people would risk their lives to bring slaves in the south out of bondage and suffering to new life, justice and hope. WE are looking to God to do the same.
Lastly, Jesus teaching is very practical about how we are to pray. He gives us a template for our prayer life. We start with worship.. Adoration: not because we can butter God up with our words, but because as we worship God we see who he is, it puts everything else into perspective. We see what God desires and it gives us a way forwards. Confession: when we see God’s glory and goodness we are aware that we need to put ourselves right. In many situations that is part of the solution we see our sins and wrongdoings and we put them right, we mend our broken relationships and it is the start of peace and reconciliation in the world. WE give thanks for what God has done… It helps us to see that God is indeed active and present. We bring our supplications and needs before God, we can trust him to provide for all the basics of life and can then look to see God move amidst greater things.
It calls us to be both confident in coming to God, knowing that God hears and God cares, trusting that God can and God does answer. Jesus calls us to be persistent and regular in our prayer, there is the wonderful phrase in the NIV version of the parable of the needy neighbour “shameless audacity”. That we just keep on bring it to God. Keeping on knocking… we can make a nuisance of ourselves, and you know God is never annoyed by it. He calls us to bring all things all ways and all times to God.
But also we can pray knowing that God is not hard of hearing or off on holiday or like me on a Sunday afternoon, at home with his feet up fallen asleep in front of the Rugby highlights that I really wanted to see. But if we seek and knock and ask he will respond.
I have a gift for people today… Just a little business sized card with the Lord’s prayer in it… as a reminder for us to stop and to pray in the business of our day… put it in your wallet right next to your lightbulb give it to a friend or family member or a stranger… But be careful because it’s dangerous. It seems appropriate to finish today with a quote from NT Wright on the importance of prayer. He says of Jesus prayer,
“This isn’t a routine or formal praying, going through the motions as a daily or weekly task. There is a battle going on, a fight with the powers of darkness and those who glimpse the light are called to struggle in prayer for peace, for reconciliation, for wisdom, for a thousand things for a world and a church, perhaps a hundred or two hundred for their own family, friends and neighbours, and perhaps a dozen of two for themselves.” It’s so important and essential that we shouldn’t leave it to the whim of the moment but be disciple and regular… we should pray… we should pray we should pray.” Lets pray.