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Sermon illustrations

The Lord’s Prayer

Can a Prayer be Bad?

The Lord’s Prayer, like all prayer, is part work and part rest, Perhaps the only work we do is getting ourselves there. Once we’ve gotten ourselves there—to prayer—whatever mains of productivity is God’s job.

As I recently read Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit,  was reminded that no sincere prayer could be considered bad prayer. Misguided? Yes. Self-interested? Yes. Irreverent? Absolutely. And all of these would describe Karr’s first attempts at prayer on her journey to getting sober and sane. Everyone tells her to pray, which she insists she cannot do. She doesn’t even believe in God. Her friends tell her to pray anyway.

“Yield up what scares you. Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry. Enter into that quiet. It’s a cathedral,” her friend says “[But] how does getting on your knees do anything for you?” Mary asks. “It makes you the right size.

Mary finally takes up the suggestion to pray after she’s checked herself into a mental hospital, having abandoned her planned suicide by which she would widow her husband and orphan her son. How many prayers, I wonder, are driven by this anguished state of soul bankruptcy?

…“In the hospital, I have this urge to kneel,” Karr writes. “I tiptoe to the bathroom and bend onto the cold tiles. Thanks, “whoever the you are, I say, for keeping me sober.”

Can we pray profanity? Grace may be as bold to suggest that we can. And it’s grace that I find in hearty measure in the Lord’s Prayer.

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Daily Bread, The Great Banquet, and the Kingdom of God

At the heart of [his prayer for daily bread] stood a central biblical symbol of the kingdom: the great festive banquet. Which God has prepared for his people— The whole point of the Kingdom…isn’t about shifting our wants and desires on to a non-physical level, moving away from the earthly to the supposedly “spiritual.”

It is about God’s dimension coming to birth within ours. The Kingdom is to come in earth as it is in Heaven. Daily needs and desires point beyond themselves, to God’s promise of the kingdom in which death and sorrow will be no more. But that means, too, that the promise of the Kingdom includes those needs, and doesn’t look down on them sneeringly as somehow second-rate.

Those who feel deeply threatened by God knowing all our desires will naturally want the Lord’s Prayer to be about “spiritual issues.” If I’m ashamed of my desires, and would prefer God not to know them, then it will be much more comfortable for me if the ‘daily bread’ for which I pray is for the soul, rather than the stomach. ”

N.T. Wright, The Lord, and His Prayer, Eerdmans, 1997.

A Change of Priority

The Lord’s Prayer is designed to help us make this change: a change of priority, not a change of content. This prayer doesn’t pretend that pain and hunger aren’t real. Some religions say that; Jesus didn’t. This prayer doesn’t use the greatness and majesty of God to belittle the human plight. Some religions do that; Jesus didn’t. This prayer starts by addressing God intimately and lovingly, as “Father”—and by bowing before his greatness and majesty. If you can hold those two together, You’re already on the way to understanding what Christianity is all about…“The danger with the prayer for bread is we get there too soon.

N.T. Wright, The Lord, and His Prayer, Eerdmans, 1997.

How’d You Know My Name

My Sunday school class of youngsters had some problems repeating the Lord’s Prayer. One child prayed, “Our Father, who art in heaven, how’d you know my name.”

Clara Null in Humor for Preaching and Teaching, p 76.

Teaching Us What it Means to Be Human

In her engaging work, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes the nature of The Lord’s Prayer:

To borrow from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lord’s Prayer is our “yes to God’s earth.” The Lord’s Prayer is incarnational in the same way that Jesus is incarnational. It teaches us what it means to be fully human and pictures for us the good life.

To pray it again and again is to imbibe the holy teloi of God. But that plunge into holy desire doesn’t remove us from earthly life; it implicates us, gets us busy in the business of loving and worshiping God in our neighborhoods and churches and cities.

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Where Our Owning Habits Become Selfish

Medieval Dominican friar Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the fourth petition (“give us this day our daily bread”), points out several ways that our owning habits can become selfish and sinful. His discussion helps put things in perspective.

He says that we become selfish and sinful in our owning when we (1) want things beyond our state and condition of life, (2) abuse and defraud others in our acquisition of these goods, (3) are never content with what we have but must have more, (4) consume or spend too much in a day when it could last for many days, and (5) become proud in our possessions and forget that they come from God.

Kyle David Bennett, Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World Baker Publishing Group, 2017, pp. 51-52.

See also Illustrations on Gardening/Farming