St. Nicholas Episcopal Church
July 28, 2013
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to hem, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come...’” Luke 11:1-13
In the first chapter of his book The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, the historical Jesus scholar, John Dominic Crossan, talks about his near weekly visits to airports as he wings his way all over the United States and Canada, lecturing at different churches.
As he waits for his flights, he is always in search of electrical outlets for his MacBook Pro; an incredibly powerful computer, he says, but absolutely dependent on getting its battery regularly charged.
And therein he has found his metaphor for prayer. In that metaphor he says we are all laptops, and prayer is about empowerment by participation in and collaboration with God.
This God-as-Electricity is always there, whether discovered or not. Even when found, my human freedom allows me to connect or not to connect. It never forces itself upon me...
Furthermore, God-as-Electricity is equally available to all comers. You do not have to merit it by your action or deserve it by your character. You can be rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, female or male, or anything else you can imagine.
God-as-Electricity works just as well for game and movie players, cell phones, and digital assistants; it even works equally well for Apples and PC’s. All we laptops have to do is find an outlet and plug ourselves in; empowerment is the free gift of God-as electricity.[i]
Well, I might prefer a more warm-blooded metaphor for prayer, but it works well enough.
Crossan then goes on to argue that God-as-Electricity—that is, prayer as empowerment by participation in and collaboration with God—is a biblical notion, found especially in the Hebrew prophets, and later in Paul and the earliest strand of teachings in the New Testament.
He says he sees an evolution of what prayer is understood to be in the biblical literature, a kind of flow from one way of praying to the other. The mysterious secret of prayer he writes is that—like all other human matters—it must mature over time and through practice. And, of course, immaturity is as possible in prayer as anywhere else in our lives. But there is a path forward...
A path forward or, as I have described it, a flow: from prayers of request, to prayers of gratitude, to prayers of empowerment. Request—Gratitude—Empowerment. Kind of like, but not quite, Anne Lamott’s three essential prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow, which I preached about earlier this year.
There is nothing wrong with prayers of request, writes Crossan. There is everything right with taking our hopes and fears under the shadow of transcendence. Neither is there anything wrong—but rather everything right—with prayers of gratitude for the mystery of existence, the challenge of life, and the glory of creation.
But it is an immature view of prayer that addresses a Supreme Being radically apart from us who thinks and wills, knows and hears, grants and refuses more or less as we do, but with infinite broadband.[ii]
Crossan argues that at its heart, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of empowerment; and, if the metaphor works for you, a God-as-Electricity prayer, a prayer that we plug ourselves into every week.
So, in the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus prays Abba, Father! it is the Spirit praying within and through him. It is a prayer of mutuality and reciprocity, an interaction between the divine and the human or, in Matthew’s version, as in heaven so on earth or on earth as it is in heaven. And so it is for us who pray this prayer week after week, throughout the year.
To call God Abba, Father is a mode of address that is undeniably rooted in a male-oriented, patriarchal culture and is increasingly problematic for many of us. And yet, Crossan argues, the term Father was used as a metaphor that had a particular meaning. He notes: Despite its male-oriented prejudice, the biblical term “father” is often simply a shorthand term for ‘father and mother.’
Which is to say, it’s an inclusive term. And it indicates not just fathers and mothers of children, but a householder in charge of a home and extended family—it contains brothers and sisters, male and female slaves, animals, land, and tools.
As in biblical times, we all know what a well-run household looks like, says Crossan. We know what a good householder looks like. Walk in and look around, he says. Are the fields well prepared and the livestock well provisioned? Do dependents have adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Does a sick child [or elder] get special care? Does a pregnant or nursing mother get special concern?...Does everyone have enough?[iii]
So to call God Father in heaven is to call God Householder of earth. By participation and collaboration with God, we are householders of earth, caregivers of one another and of the whole creation.
And so Crossan dares to call the Lord’s Prayer the greatest prayer; a uniquely Christian prayer, yes, but a prayer for all the world and for all the earth.
As Christians, we have a particular responsibility to be God’s blessing and healing for all who suffer; by our manner of life, we are a prayer for all the world and for all the earth. We claim grace for one another.
Steve Charleston, the former Bishop of Alaska, and citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, addressed us all in his morning Facebook reflection. He wrote:
I am not so proud that I think I know what you need, or that I could give it to you even if I did. But I am so faithful that I know God is aware of your need, and so certain of grace that I claim it for you.
I do not know how many times I have needed a breakthrough, a turning point, a moment of deep change. How lonely the vigil at that crossroads.
But each time I was discovered by grace, helped by grace, given a path forward to follow. I claim that for you too. I pray it with an assurance that only comes from knowing the broken times.