Sermon preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Hillington
Teach us to pray, said the disciples. And Jesus said:
Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that 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 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
We know the Lord’s prayer so well that sometimes it is hard to hear the words – and so perhaps it is helpful to begin with this version, from the New Zealand Prayer Book, which may help us to see the Lord’s Prayer afresh.
Our Father – “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all.” We pray to a Trinitarian God, who creates us and the whole world, the whole universe, who loves us, shares our pain, and sustains us in life.
Our Father in heaven – “Loving God, in whom is heaven.” Heaven is not distant, out there but here: eternal life is breaking into the here and now, into the world in which we live, with the potential to make of us also heavenly beings whilst yet on earth.
Hallowed be your name – “The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!” Let our lives be filled with a recognition of God’s glory and goodness.
Your will be done – “Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!” Let everyone, all things, act according to God’s will.
On earth as it is in heaven – “Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.” Let God’s order for the world shape our world, our society, and help us to work to bring that about. Help us to see beyond this moment to a larger picture which is not only about our own needs, our own hopes and our own fears.
Give us today our daily bread – “With the bread we need for today, feed us.” May we notice and give thanks when our basic needs are satisfied, and may we help to ensure that the basic needs of others are satisfied too, to bring food and clean water to those who are hungry and thirsty, and to feed the world in a sustainable, responsible way.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us – “In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.” May we be willing to offer forgiveness and to accept forgiveness. May we recognise when we have hurt others. May we seek to live in ways that do not exploit others.
Lead us not into temptation; deliver us from the time of trial – “In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us.” Help us to know that God is with us in difficult times. Help us to see how difficult and testing times can bring us new insights, new understanding, to recognise them as important times of growth, however deep our pain.
Deliver us from evil – “From the grip of all that is evil, free us.” Help us to have the clear sight to recognise evil, and the courage to name it.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever – “For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.”
There is so much in these few short lines we pray so often. And there is a lot here that resonates with our very imperfect world, our sometimes rather frightening world, our world that seems so often at the moment to be pervaded by hate, by belligerence, by instability. In the face of the news of attacks and death, we may feel utterly helpless. Can we do anything at all?
One response to that question is certainly: we can pray. But that can sound so trite. In the face of all the injustice and unpredictability in the world, what good can prayer do?
To offer a response to this question, I think it is worth considering what prayer might mean. Ten years or more ago, when I was preparing an intercessions workshop. I found an extraordinary reflection on the nature of prayer written by someone called Zoe Hancock. Let me share with you some of her thoughts:
Prayer is giving something to the people you love. It is an openness of spirit, willingness to go that extra bit, staying up that extra hour or two for a friend in need, or not in need. It is loving.
Each connection to your maker, your partner, your friend is prayer.
The intimacy of knowing your breathing is prayer. To feel the wellness of your soul, your spirit, your body. Expressing and sharing this gift in the present moment. This is prayer.
It is knowing the closeness of water as you swim, and are supported, and held by it. As you turn your head upward for air, as you feel the moment, each breath, each bubble, each stroke, and heartbeat, and movement.
To look upon work colleagues with gentleness and understanding when you haven’t understood a damn thing they’ve just said. To admit you’ve totally missed the point, and laugh at yourself, in kindness. This is prayer.
There is a profound recognition here that prayer is about a rootedness, a sense of self, a sense of understanding how each of us fits into the world and is related not just to ourselves, but to the world in which we live. Prayer as loving, as active loving, as taking the time to see, to understand where that active loving is needed and how we might be called to live it out. What Zoe Hancock writes is focused on an immediate community: the people you love, friends and family, colleagues at work. And that is surely where our prayerful living starts. But prayer encourages us to widen that circle, to understand that we are called to enlarge our definition of the people we love to encompass those we do not know personally, perhaps do not understand, perhaps have been taught to see as different from ourselves, even as our enemies.
A Palestinian prayer puts it like this:
We pray for peace, with justice, for the wounded and broken-hearted,
and dignity to be restored to all.
Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli.
But pray for yourselves, that you may not divide them in your prayers,
but keep them together in your hearts.
Prayer is a way of coming to help us to understand the needs of those around us, the needs of the world, or perhaps even of simply recognising that we do not understand. But prayer also offers space to acknowledge our failures of love, our transgressions, the places where we have offered or caused hurt, wittingly or unwittingly, where our lives are indebted to the exploitation of others.
O Lord, how clearly you know
the foolishness of humanity.
No-one has yet been found
who has not transgressed your way
From the first Adam to the present day.
Protect us, save us!
For you, Lord, are far from anger,
full of mercy and righteousness.
Prayer then, is not a kind of Christmas wish list, not about presenting God with a catalogue of orders, but about understanding more deeply our place in the world that God has created, and the responsibilities that our place gives us. It is important to remember this as we hear the end of our gospel passage today. “Ask and it shall be given unto you!” says Jesus. “Seek and you shall find.” And our response may be: “Really?” Especially as we remember all our prayers for peace and justice and then look at the world.
But what does “Ask and it shall be given unto you” mean in the context of the Lord’s Prayer? Sarah Dylan writes:
I find it quite scary to pray that God would treat my sins as I treat debt and other burdens that keep the poorest in poverty. Is that a prayer I want God to answer?
And when I pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that we each would have daily bread, I can’t help but be a bit nervous wondering whether my prayer will be answered as the rich man’s was – with a friend who, if need be, will expose how shallow my prayers often are if I will not participate in God’s mission to answer them.
But, she says:
I pray nonetheless. I pray, and I look for opportunities to participate in God’s answering that prayer, in God’s reconciling the divide between rich and poor. … I ask and I seek knowing that it feels risky to do so, and as I do that, I find not only friends … who will hold me accountable to my prayers, but also a God who is generous beyond my asking.
“What can we little people do?” asks Gerald Hughes in Cry of Wonder. His answer is to know ourselves better. “Our most valuable source of learning lies in our own experience” and it is through prayer that we understand our own selves. “The source of our violence does not lie in the existence of hostile external powers, but within ourselves, in our ways of thinking and behaving, in our minds and hearts.” Hughes points to the undercurrent of language in much human interaction, in much language, and calls us all to contribute to a more peaceful and just society by thinking about how each of us communicates. This is, he says,
not an instant remedy to finding peace in conflict … slowly it begins to change the way we see things, the way we see other people. We begin to meet ourselves in them, begin to see them as another self, begin to understand the meaning of “Love your neighbour as yourself,” not as a command, but as a deep need/longing in ourselves which brings us to life, a life we begin to delight in bringing to others.
And this is about prayer, for prayer brings us to recognise that each of us is “a human being, called to play a unique role in creation and to be at one with that power which Dante writes of, the power ‘that moves the sun and other stars,’ the power of Love. This power is nearer to each one of us than we are to ourselves.”
All this is to say that prayer is about understanding our place in God’s world and discerning what we are called to do where we are. This weekend I have been part of a celebration of the women’s peace crusade which began in Glasgow on 23 July 1916, when 5000 women gathered to march from George Square to Glasgow Green to protest against the terrible losses of the Great War and to call for peace. In the midst of the terrible losses of the Somme, those women had a vision of a world at peace, a world in which the carnage that surrounded them could be stopped.
In 1915, Maude Royden had written: “Truth is more than victory. … We cannot tell whether defeat or triumph is better for a nation, or whose success upon the battlefield is better for the world.” She did not know who would win or lose the war, and for here that as not the point. The point was to find the peace that God wanted to give. Her call to respond to the war was rooted in the recognition that prayer leads to action:
Many Christians find it hard to believe that they are called upon to enter into a political struggle. … There are times when our fight is the fight of the individual soul, but there are times also when the great forces of Good and Evil are locked in a tremendous struggle, and we are bound, publicly, to take sides. There was a time for St. Catherine of Siena to tend the sick of her city, and a time for her to heal the sores of Europe, and end the schism of the Church. There was a time for Joan of Arc to knit and spin in Domremy, and a time for her to lead an army, and save the kingdom of France. There was a time for Christ Himself to live in Nazareth with His mother; but if He has stayed—in Nazareth? 
Prayer will not give us all the answers, but it will give us new understanding and new perspectives. It will show us, if we let it, what we can do – what we are called to do – to help the world to become what God wants it to be.
Almighty God, Father of us all,
we ask you to inspire the people of this land
with the spirit of justice, truth and love,
so that in all our dealings with one another,
we may show that together we are one in you
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
 New Zealand Prayer Book (also online at: http://loddon-malleeuca.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/alternative-lords-prayer.html.
 I have been unable to find the source of this text. Please do contact me if you know it.
 We are US: Prayers for the world (London, n.d.), 51.
 Anaphora of Saint James of Suareg, in: We are US, 50.
 Gerald Hughes, Cry of Wonder: Our own real identity (London 2014), 241-242.
 Hughes, Cry of Wonder, 242-245.
 Hughes, Cry of Wonder, 244.
 Hughes, Cry of Wonder, x-xi.
 Maude Royden, The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace (London 1915), 16.
 Maude Royden, May Mission Speeches (London 1913), 7.
 Anglican Church of Southern Africa Prayer Book; in We are US, 50.