Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 24, 2016

2016.07.24 “The Prayer That Shapes Us” – Luke 11: 1 – 13

Central United Methodist Church
The Prayer That Shapes Us
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 11: 1 – 13
July 24th, 2016


Grace, from a photograph by Eric Enstrom, 1918

He 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 them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

– Luke 11: 1 – 4, The New Revised Standard Version


The things you learn when you prepare a sermon every week; I highly recommend it.

This week while thinking about prayer and specifically the Lord’s Prayer, a version of which we hear in today’s Gospel, I was looking for a graphic to use in the weekly email update. I immediately thought of that picture posted in Fellowship Hall, to the left of the kitchen window, which if you remember portrays an elderly man praying. It’s right next to our AED (Automated External Defibrillator), which I’ve always thought to be an appropriate placement, as that’s what we’re all going to be doing should we ever have to use that AED, God forbid. I confess that I did not know the story of that picture until this week, so if you do, bear with my telling of it. I think, after learning the story, you will never look at the picture in the same way again.

The picture is entitled “Grace,” and was taken by Minnesota photographer Eric Enstrom in or around 1918. According to the story, it came about when a bearded “saintly-looking” old man showed up at the door of Enstrom’s photography studio in Bovey, Minnesota, selling foot-scrapers. Supposedly, like Enstrom himself, the man was a Swedish immigrant named Charles Wilden, about whom local stories centered more around drinking and not accomplishing much, than being saintly. But then again, who says they can’t go together?

At that time, Enstrom was preparing a portfolio of pictures to take to the Minnesota Photographer’s Association convention. He said, “There was something about the old gentleman’s face that immediately impressed me. I saw that he had a kind face … there weren’t any harsh lines in it.” Said Enstrom, “I wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war (WWI) they still had much to be thankful for.”

So, on a small table, Enstrom placed a family book (which was a dictionary not a Bible), some spectacles, a bowl of gruel, a loaf of bread, and a knife. Then he had Wilden pose in a posture of prayer, with his folded hands to his brow, as though saying grace before a simple meal.

As soon as the negative was developed, Enstrom was sure he had something special. It was a picture that seemed to say, “This man doesn’t have much of earthly good, but he has more than most people because he has a thankful heart.”

Enstrom first licensed the photograph to Augsburg Fortress in 1930; in the 1940s, his daughter, Rhoda Nyberg, colorized the photo by hand, which became the most widespread and popularly known version. Enstrom earned a modest sum from the photograph for the remainder of his life until his death in 1968.

As for what happened to Wilden after the photograph, no one knows. In 1926, he was paid $5 by Enstrom in return for waiving his rights to the photograph, and he disappeared thereafter. After the photograph became popular Enstrom attempted to track him down but was unsuccessful, as family members and local historians have been ever since.

And yet, still today, Wilden’s image in “Grace” hangs in homes, restaurants and in churches like ours, not only in America but around the world, still inspiring us to pray. (You may read more about Eric Enstrom’s “Grace,” at the authentic website of the family of Eric Enstrom, or also on Wikipedia, Eric Enstrom, “Grace,” (photograph):

If you like that story, here’s an even better one: in today’s Gospel, it is not a picture of someone praying that inspires us to pray, it is the example of Jesus. And not only does Jesus inspire us, he teaches us how to pray, in the words of that prayer we pray together every Sunday and which most of us pray every day, the Lord’s Prayer

In the Gospels, there are actually two versions of The Lord’s Prayer, one in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6 (the one we most commonly use), and another slightly different version in Luke, chapter 11, which we read today. In this version, Jesus shares the prayer because his disciples often saw him praying, and – inspired by his example – they asked him, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”


Church of the Pater Noster

Though there are two versions, there are of course even more translations. Remember, Jesus spoke it in his native language of Aramaic, but it was translated and transmitted in the Gospels in Greek, and – unless Koine Greek is your language – therefore has to be translated again. In Jerusalem, The Church of the Pater Noster (Latin, “Our Father”), has plaques of the Lord’s Prayer in 100 different languages.

When you pray it in a Catholic Church, you may have been surprised that they omit: “Thine be the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” That’s because, in both of the Gospel versions, that ending is not included, but was added later. At funerals, I can usually tell if those gathered are Catholic or Protestant, by how long they pause to see whether I will add the doxology.

Just last Sunday, while praying it with Presbyterians at Lou Haase’s memorial service at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, I said “trespasses” while all those Presbyterians said “debts.” As a Presbyterian friend of mine once said, “I prefer ‘debts’ because I always had more debts than trespasses.” Perhaps, to keep it fresh, we should do what Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C. does, which I discovered when I worshipped there a few years ago: they have in every pew a “Lord’s Prayer card” with seven different versions of the Lord’s Prayer, which they alternate praying. Another alternative would be to do what I’ve always wanted to do, just memorize it in Greek or Aramaic. Perhaps some of our Assyrian brothers and sisters could teach us.

But as we know, it is not the details of the Lord’s Prayer that make it so meaningful and important to us, it is the substance of it. It is a prayer, deeply rooted in the Jewish faith, that shapes us in our faith even as we pray it.

We don’t begin with ourselves, but with God, our Heavenly Father. The word Jesus used is “Abba,” more like “Papa.” And it is not a personal prayer but a communal; we do not say “My Father”, but “Our Father.” According to Jesus’ prayer, we can’t even pray to God without remembering our connection to our brothers and sisters. After that, it’s still not about us: first we pray for God’s holiness, God’s kingdom, and God’s will to be done on earth – in my life – as it is in heaven.

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

In contrast, what we’re praying is the exact opposite: that God’s will be done in Texas, and in Illinois, and all over the earth, as it is done in heaven. Only then, after we ask for God’s holiness and God’s kingdom and God’s will to be done – only after we get that right – do we pray for ourselves. Which is likely the exact opposite of how we’d likely pray if left to ourselves, apart from Jesus’ example.

Even then – when we pray for ourselves – Jesus teaches us to pray not for what we want, but what we need. Not – “Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz” – but bread for the day; forgiveness for the past, TO THE DEGREE THAT WE EXTEND IT TO OTHERS (got to watch that fine print!); and – for the future and whatever may come – deliverance from temptation and evil, in whatever forms they present themselves, both personally and socially.

Because the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that shapes us, both as a community and as individual followers of Jesus, have you found – as I have found – that one of the most inspiring of spiritual experiences is to say the Lord’s Prayer with Christians in churches around the world, even when spoken in other languages? Do you find – as I find – that our praying of the Lord’s Prayer together every Sunday is one of the most inspiring parts of our service? Do you find – as I find – that regardless of whatever tradition or form of prayer I am using in my personal prayers – whether spoken or unspoken – it is the praying of the Lord’s Prayer that makes me Christian, a follower of Jesus, praying not for my will but God’s will to be done.

A few years ago I had the privilege and honor of meeting the British New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright in London’s Westminster Abbey. In his book, The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright said this about the Lord’s 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.”

Thus inspired – not by a PICTURE of someone praying as in “Grace” by Eric Enstrom – but by the example of Jesus and the prayer HE gave us, so we pray, even in the crazy times in which we live. We name God as our God. We yearn for God’s reign. We ask for that which sustains us. We ask for the hard stuff, like forgiveness and forgiving others. As we pray, we expect to be held, challenged, blessed, lead, and changed by the Holy Spirit of God. So may it be – Amen and Amen!


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