Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 25, 2010

2010.07.25 “Teach Us to Pray” Luke 11: 1 – 13

Central United Methodist Church

“Teach Us to Pray”

July 25th, 2010

Luke 11: 1 – 13

Pastor David L. Haley

     “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Master, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” So he said, “When you pray, say, Father, Reveal who you are. Set the world right.  Keep us alive with three square meals.  Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”  – Luke 11: 1 – 4, The Message

     One of the perks of coming to Skokie was that I again get to practice one of my favorite forms of exercise, swimming, which I do at the Leaning Tower Y. 

      My inspiration to swim came back in the eighties, when I was serving Berry Memorial Church in Chicago, not far from the Wells Park pool. I used to go there and find men and women, many in their 80’s, swimming a couple miles a day.

      Over the 17 years I was in West Chicago, I was only able to do it sporadically, because I either had to either drive too far or use the only pool in town, the high school pool, which was either always occupied or had difficult hours, like 5:30 or 6 in the morning. The thought of hitting cold water at 5:30 or 6 AM in the morning, always did for me what William Rainey Harper, the late 19th century president of the University of Chicago, used to say lying down did for him: “Gentlemen, whenever the urge to exercise comes, I lay down and rest until it passes…”

      Unfortunately, what I’ve discovered about swimming is that – having never had lessons – I really don’t know how.  How, that is, to swim correctly, efficiently.  Over the last 20 years, a lot has been learned about swimming form and efficiency, and it’s now possible to kick bad habits and learn to swim correctly through courses in remedial swimming.

      One such program, for example, is called Total Immersion.  (You can check it out at  Usually taught over a weekend, Total Immersion purports to turn strugglers into skilled swimmers. They don’t even want you to practice before you attend, because after all, you’re only reinforcing the bad habits you already know.

      About now I’m sure you’re thinking, O.K., what does this have to do with anything, and especially with prayer, the theme of our Gospel today.  Well, apart from praying, “Lord, please keep me from ever hitting cold water at 5:30 in the morning,” maybe, like some of us who swim, we could use a course in remedial praying.

      Because really, don’t many of us pray a lot like we swim, with a lot of flopping around in the shallow end of the pool?  Maybe a prayer before we go to bed at night, grace before meals (when company is present,) and of course, emergency prayers for those facing disease or surgery, especially when it’s us.

      For example, last Wednesday after one of our parishioners had emergency surgery, I saw her in the morning and again in the evening, but in the afternoon I went to the Cubs game.  Really, I prayed for her most of the time I was there, in that way we remember those dear to us in need, even in the midst of distractions. When the game, tied, went into extra innings with men in scoring position, Becca wanted to know if we should say a prayer for the Cubs, if that would help?  No, I told her, it will do no good, because history has shown that God is definitely not a Cubs fan. Yankees, maybe.

      Does it strike you as odd that we resort to lessons for almost everything else in life, but never think seriously about lessons in praying? We take lessons to learn music, for all kinds of sports, to speak foreign languages, but who has every signed up for lessons in prayer?

      But, if we have or desire any kind of spiritual life, most all of us wish we knew more about prayer, and were more faithful at it.

      Let me give you an example.  One of my spiritual heroes and mentors is religion scholar (and Methodist), Huston Smith. Smith, author of the 1958 book The World’s Religions, is now 91, and finds it increasingly difficult to get around. About 15 years ago, an interviewer asked him, “Tell us how you start your day.”   Smith replied:


      “I began with the Islamic morning prayer to Allah. That was followed by India’s Hatha Yoga, and after that a chapter from the Bible – this morning it was the Gospel of John – which I tried to read reflectively, opening myself to such insights that might enter.  Then I was ready for coffee.”


      You all know the Islamic prayer, right, the prayer prayed by faithful Muslims five times a day? (Neither did I, before this)  The version Smith uses is this:

            “Praise be to Allah, Creator of the worlds.

            The merciful, the compassionate,

            Unto Him all things return.

            Thee do we worship, and thee do we ask for aid.

            Guide us on the straight path,

            the path of those on whom thou hast poured forth thy grace; 

      not the path of those who have incurred thy wrath

             and gone astray.”

      The interviewer then asked Smith, “What do those practices do for you?”  Smith replied:


      “Rabbis say that the first word you should think of when you wake up in the morning is the word God. Not even thank-you should precede it. I began my day with the Islamic morning prayer as an extension of that point. I say it in Arabic. Not that I know Arabic, but I learned to pronounce the prayer phonetically because Islam is one of the three religions that require their canonical, prescribed prayers to be said in their original tongues; the other two are Hinduism and Judaism.  And, of course, I know what the Arabic syllables of the prayer mean.”


      And “What do they mean?”  “What do they mean to you?” the interviewer asked?

      “A great deal.  That so much of what is important in life could be packed into just seven short phrases is almost proof in itself that Islam is a revealed religion.”

      One last question the interviewer asked: “How long have you been saying the Muslim prayers – the same prayer, five times a day?” “About 25 years,” said Smith. (Interview originally published as “The Way Things Are:  A Conversation with World Religions Scholar Huston Smith,” by Timothy Beneke, in the East Bay Express, March 8, 1996.)

      Amazing, isn’t it?  Examples like Smith’s make me want to be more faithful, make me want to move into the deeper end of the pool in praying.

      But if Islamic prayers are not for you, and Arabic about as likely as Total Immersion swimming, don’t worry, as Christians, we have our own prayer to pray: the Jesus Prayer, or, as we most commonly know it, The Lord’s Prayer.

      There are two versions (actually three) of The Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels, one in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6 (and the one we most commonly use), and the slightly different version in Luke chapter 11, our text today.  In this version, Jesus shares the prayer because (guess what?) his disciples saw him praying, and, inspired by his example, and perhaps longing for the intimacy with God which they saw in him), requested, “Master, teach us how to pray.” 

      Remember, I said three versions. I’m sometimes asked, “How come Protestants end the prayer with “Thine be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever,” and Catholics do not?”  The reason is, is because in both of the NT versions, you’ll note that ending is not included. The doxological ending was likely added later, though at an early date. After liturgical reforms, Catholics usually do not add it. At funerals, I can usually tell if those gathered are predominantly Catholic or Protestant, by how long they pause when we get to that last phrase.

      Of course, there are many translations from the language it was recorded in (Greek), even though Jesus would have spoken it in his language of Aramaic.  Just as with the translation of the Islamic prayer from Arabic, versions differ. Some, for example, say “forgive us our debts”, some “forgive us our trespasses.” One Presbyterian I knew said he preferred debts because he always had more debts than trespasses. Rarely, from one language to another, are there exact word equivalents.

      Today, after hearing the version offered by Eugene H. Peterson in The Message, you may have found it almost unrecognizable:


            Reveal who you are.

            Set the world right. 

            Keep us alive with three square meals. 

            Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

            Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”  

      “That doesn’t sound like the Lord’s Prayer I know!” That’s because what Peterson is doing, and which he does maybe better than anybody else, is to translate not just the words but the concepts, asking, “How might we say this in contemporary English?” 

      As much as you might not like it, in reality one of the best ways to keep The Lord’s Prayer fresh and insightful is to read it or pray it or sing it, in different versions. A few years ago, while in Washington, D. C., we attended Foundry United Methodist Church. I was so impressed that they had in the pew “a Lord’s Prayer card” with about seven different versions, of the Lord’s Prayer, which they alternatively pray.

      Because you know as I know, that the mind has ruts, like an old dirt road.  As soon as we say the first word, our mind goes on autopilot, and we blow through complete phrases without ever registering meaning. And, then, sad to say, like so much religion, then it becomes mere ritual.

      Unless, like Huston Smith, you want to learn to say it in Greek or Aramaic, sometimes what we need is use a different version, so that we can again hear and say and pray it with meaning.

      And there is so much meaning.  As simple and basic as it is, complete books have been written on the Lord’s Prayer, I myself have done a six-week series on it.  Have you found – as I have found – that it is one of the most awesome of Christian experiences to say the Lord’s Prayer with Christians in churches around the world, even when spoken in other languages.

      Briefly, what I like most about this prayer Jesus taught his disciples, is this: it gives us a format to pray. We don’t begin with ourselves, but with God, our Heavenly Father. The word Jesus used is “Abba,” more like “Papa.”  And note it is not, “My Father”, but “Our Father”, collectively: according to Jesus’ prayer, we can’t even pray to God without remembering our brothers and sisters.  After that, it’s not really even about us: our first prayer is for God’s holiness, God’s kingdom, and God’s will to be done on earth – in my life – as it is in heaven.  If that were to happen, we wouldn’t need the rest of the prayer.

      I once heard Dr. Zan Holmes, former Pastor of St. Luke Community UMC in Dallas, Texas, say he’d once seen a bumper sticker which said, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Texas.”

      No, what we’re praying is the exact opposite:  that God’s will be done in Texas, and Illinois, and all over the earth, as it is in heaven.  So when we pray The Lord’s Prayer, that’s the first thing we pray.  Pray it slowly.  Stop and go back if you have to, until what we are saying, and what we are asking, sinks in.  Because not until we do that, can we expect it to sink in and become more than something we just say, but rather something deeply embodied in the way we live, in our lives.

      Only then, after we ask for God’s holiness and God’s kingdom and God’s will to be done, may we pray for ourselves.  Which is, unfortunately, often the exact reverse of how we actually pray. And even when – through the Lord’s Prayer, we do pray for ourselves, it’s not what we want, but what we need. Bread for the day. (Peterson: “three square meals”); forgiveness for the past, in the degree that we offer it to others. (Got to watch that fine print!)  In the future, deliverance from temptation and evil. 

British New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright, (whom I once met in London’s Westminster Abbey), wrote in his book, The Lord and His Prayer:

“The more I have studied Jesus in his historical setting, the more it has become clear to me that this prayer sums up fully and accurately, albeit in a very condensed fashion, the way in which he read and responded to the signs of the times, the way in which he understood his own vocation and mission and invited his followers to share in it. This prayer, then, serves as a lens through which to see Jesus himself, and to discover something of what he was about.”

      Which, as his disciples, is what we are to be about, and daily reminded of, as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.   Amen.



  1. I think of this sermon as one of Pastor’s Haley’s great ones. I especially loved the song that Julianne performed as part of this service (“Better Than A Hallelujah”) because it was so appropriate! Her song served as a reminder that sometimes the actions that we perform are as much of a testimony to our worship of GOD as the hallelujahs that we speak.

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