Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It seems like such a simple thing. Throw away words even. "I'll pray for you." A bit like "Hello, how are you?" The question asked when we greet someone but we really don't want to know the whole story. A bit like Andy Warhol's (im)famous Campbell's Soup can painting. When people see it they say things like. I have a can just like that in my kitchen! It's too simple. I could have done that! That's not art!
How can prayer do anything? It's too simple. Words spoken into space. Our Sunday prayer list is long. We don't know most of the people on it. We've heard the names so many times. How can these short petitions mean anything. Wouldn't a long meditation in the heart be more meaningful to God then speaking these prewritten words? And besides, often our well meaning promises of prayer go unfulfilled. "Please pray for me", "of course" slips off of the tongue as easily as "The Lord be with you." is answered by "and also with you."
To pray is a part of what it means to be a Christian. Christians pray. And yet prayer is difficult. St. Paul urges young pastor Timothy to lead his congregation in prayer. And not only that, but he tells him what should be prayed. He uses four words that are similar but have different nuances. Prayer is to cover all the bases. Supplications are asking for things. Prayers are speaking to God about our thoughts and desires. Intercessions are praying for those in need. And thanksgivings well, that's why we're here this evening. We give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings that he's given. We are to pray for all people, says Paul, especially those in authority. We are to pray that God would move them to do what he has given them to do to care for their people. Prayer is about all these things.
It's next though, that Paul gets to the heart of the matter. Prayer is pleasing to God because he wants all people to be saved. At the heart of our prayer is to be prayers for God's word to be proclaimed to all people. At the heart of our prayer is for those that we pray for to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus after all who prayed for you and me. He actually desires our salvation more than we do! During his life on earth and even still at the right hand of the father he continues to pray for his church. And those prayers were answered whenever faith was given to you through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and water. Those prayers are answered every time you open your mouth and Jesus Christ passes over your lips as you eat the bread and wine and, in, with, and under is his very body and blood.
But as faithful as Jesus is, and was, in prayer we are not. In fact most often our prayer comes at the point of necessity. And most often our prayers are self-centered. We only pray for those in need when we are asked and even then our prayers are lacking. Paul gives instruction on prayer because we are unfaithful in it. He tells us what to pray and who to pray for because we need to be told. And he tells us why we pray. We pray because Jesus is the faithful mediator who lifts our prayers to the Father. Through faith and the work of the Holy Spirit we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are children of God through faith and the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ on the cross. And God the Father promises to answer the prayers of his children.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave them the "Our Father." It is the simple perfect prayer. It asks for what we need and want. It's like Warhol's deceptively simple Campbell's tomato soup can. We pray for God's will and his kingdom. We pray for our daily bread. We pray for forgiveness. All of it in a simple way that we can remember. The Lord's prayer is always the perfect prayer. And when we pray it we pray for ourselves and all those who need the things that are prayed.
And at the center of that prayer too, is forgiveness. Forgiveness puts the "our" in "Our Father". Listen again to Luther:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What does this mean?
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
The Lord's Prayer isn't a backup prayer to pray when you don't know what else to pray. The Lord's Prayer is prayer as St. Paul commands Timothy. It's the tomato soup of prayer. Simple, nutritious, easy to use. These words are words to pray because God, our Father promises to hear. These words are words to pray because we, as Christians, live them.
This is what St. Paul means when he says:
that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
No matter what words we pray, weather the Lord's prayer or other prayer, our lives become the prayers we pray. We pray for God's will and daily bread. God uses us to provide these things to our neighbors. We pray for forgiveness, and God uses us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ here, in our community and around the world.
We shouldn't dismiss prayer (especially the Lord's Prayer) simply because it seems too simple. Like those who dismiss The Soup Can painting. It is a simple but necessary part of our Christian life. So, as you gather at the Thanksgiving table this week, remember to pray. Maybe pray the Lord's Prayer this year. It is everything that Paul tells us here to do and it recognizes all the gifts we have received so graciously from God, our Father's hand. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.