A sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A bibliophile is a lover of books. And I am a lover of books. So, when there’s a subject I’m particularly interested in, I tend to collect books about it. So, as you might imagine, I have a lot of books about faith, religion, so forth.

This has been true since I was a teenager. But lately I’ve begun to collect old prayerbooks, and I brought a few of them today. This one is a Book of Common Prayer. It’s got a nice little clasp here to keep it shut. It’s from 1835, so, almost 200 years ago. That’s hard to imagine.

It’s quite a bit different from the prayerbook that we used there in the pew, but there are a lot of similarities. You would recognize it. It begins with tables of feasts days and readings. And the very first prayers in it are Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which have been the mainstays of Anglican worship since the 1500s.

I’ve got another Book of Common Prayer here, and this one’s got the same little cross of the front as ours. It looks more familiar. It’s from 1952 and it’s quite a bit like the one from 1835, closer to 1835 than to ours.

And this one belonged to my great-grandfather, Patrick Henry Burnes. It’s a Holy Name Society prayer book. It’s got his name inscribed on the front flyleaf: P.H. Burns, 523 North Patterson Park Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland. I know he used it because it has a service leaflet in it from 1916, and a holy card with a picture of Jesus carrying the cross. And by the way, there are a couple of what were once flowers pressed into the 1835 prayer book, so I know that one was used, too.

These books are all quite different, and they’re also quite different from ours. But what they all have in common is the Lord’s Prayer. Every one of them has a recognizable version of the Lord’s Prayer in it. The Lord’s Prayer has been ours as Christian from the beginning. The disciple in today’s Gospel says, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus gives them the Lord’s Prayer.

There’s a document—for anyone taking notes, it’s called the Didache—it’s one of the earliest Christian documents we have. It’s probably from around the year a hundred, some say a little before, some say a little after. And it’s manual about how to live the faith, with advice both for individuals and for the church, how to do sacraments, how do the Eucharist, and so forth.

For individuals, it says we’re supposed to pray, and we’re supposed to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. Which if you follow the routine of morning, noon and evening prayer in the prayer book—which not all of us do, but a lot of people do—that’s exactly what you’re doing. Following that ancient advice to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.

So, this has been a mark of identity and something that ties us together, down through history, and across the world today. No matter what denomination you belong to. If you do any chaplaincy with people nearing the end of their lives—people with dementia in particular, who have forgotten so much—if you start to say the Lord’s Prayer, even if they’re nonverbal, often times they’ll come in with you saying the words of that prayer. It’s so deeply ingrained in us.

So, today’s Gospel is from Luke. And Luke is really big on prayer. He shows Jesus praying many times. At very significant points in his life, Jesus goes apart from the group to pray. And that’s what he does in this Gospel. He goes off to pray, and then he comes back, and that disciple says, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

And he gives them the Lord’s Prayer: “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.”

It’s a prayer that brings us into relationship. It connects us, as I said, with other Christians across the world, down through time. But the first relationship it mentions is the connection with the Father. God, in this prayer is someone personal. Someone loving, someone who cares for us. Someone holy, holiness is in it. Someone who will hear our prayers: give us our daily bread, give us what we need.

Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. This is relationship with our siblings. If God is our Father, all of us, then we are siblings. And our relationship  involves mutual forgiveness, that’s key to it.

Do not bring us to the time of trial. Do not give us more than we can handle.

Now, you might have noticed that this is not quite the Lord’s Prayer that we say in church, that we’ll say here later today.

“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.

The Lord’s Prayer appears twice in the New Testament. It’s not in all four gospels. It’s in Luke and it’s in Matthew. And Matthew is the more familiar version to us. By the way, neither one of them has “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,” which we say today. That comes from the document I mentioned. The Didache. We could do a Bible study on why they’re different. But this isn’t Bible study, this Sunday morning.

And what I think is important to note here is that as we know, each of the Gospels was written at a different time, in a different place, to a different community. So, Luke’s Gospel we think was the third to be written, probably in Greece, not to a Jewish community.

I don’t know why their tradition has a different version, but I think it says to us that we don’t all pray exactly the same. We pray with our own voice. We pray in our own words. In the Anglican tradition, we use the common language of the people we’re with, but that means that we’re using different words than a Spanish speaking-community somewhere maybe not too far from here. We speak with our own voice and in our own words.

And as I thought about that this past week I began to wonder, what would our prayer be today if our goal was relationship and connection? If we really wanted to live that “your kingdom come” part, which is a prayer for the world to come closer to the way God intended it to be.

And prayer changes us. If we pray for that just world, we almost can’t help beginning to work for justice. If we pray for others, maybe people that we consider our enemies—even if that’s kind of a strong word—our hearts are softened to them. Prayer changes us, and then we change the world ,with God’s help.

What would our prayer be if we wanted to include all the things that are on our hearts, but basically following this same outline of basic points. Well, I’m not suggesting that we change the words of the Lord’s Prayer when we say it here later today, because there’s a lot to be said for tradition. But I want to share with you a version of the Lord’s Prayer that was written by a man named Jim Cotter. He’s a poet and a priest, and a lot of his words are included in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer, which has some really beautiful prayers.

This is Jim Potter’s version:

Eternal Spirit, Life-Giver, Pain-Bearer, Love-Maker,
Source of all that is and shall be,
Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The Hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your Justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your Commonwealth of Peace and Freedom sustain our hope and come on earth!
With the bread that we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

Preached at St. James the Greater Episcopal Church, Bristol, PA.