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7th Sunday after Pentecost - July 24, 2022

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

Im namen des Vaters, und des Sohnes, und des Heiligen Geistes, Amen.

What you just heard are not the only words I speak in German when I’m up here. As a matter of fact, to tell you the truth, I am so used to certain parts of our liturgy in German, I have to remind myself often to say them in English. And the Lord’s prayer most definitely falls in that category. Sometimes when I pray it in private, I might even switch languages halfway through. I’ll start in English and finish in German. Or vice versa. When you not only learn something by rote, but also internally and spiritually digest it to your very heart, it becomes part of you. It is ingrained in you.

I’m not much of a movie person, much to my husband’s dismay who loves movies. One day he insisted we watch Escape Plan together with Sylvester Stallone, and everyone’s favorite German who is actually Austrian, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is a scene in that movie where Arnold is so panicked and terrorized by his jailers, he reverts to speaking in German. When one of them finally shows up in his cell, he breaks down completely. He can’t even think anymore. In English or in German. That moment, when he can’t respond anymore, he prays. He prays the Lord’s prayer in German. When all language failed him in his dire time of need, all he could think of was this prayer.

Now, if you ask my husband about this movie, he’ll probably be able to tell you the plot. Not me. I remember that scene only. I actually had to google: Arnold Schwarzenegger praying in German, to get the title of the movie…This of course wasn’t a religious movie. I mean, it’s got the Italian Stallion and the Terminator, come on, it’s an action movie. But it stuck with me that scene many years now. Because it was so human. Arnold prayed the words like they were a lifeline. Panicked he spit them out, like he was hoping the words themselves would make his tormentor stop. They were the only words his brain could come up with. They were so deeply ingrained, that at a moment of such sheer terror where thinking was impossible, they were the only words that came to mind. That’s a pretty powerful testimony to the staying power of this prayer.

Ok, but this is just a movie. Correct. Another example of the staying power of the Lord’s prayer comes from my times visiting people to bring Eucharist. As many of our Eucharistic visitors can attest to, even when Dementia or Alzheimer’s have robbed the person of most their memory, when we start praying the Lord’s prayer you can hear them chime in. It’s a wonderful and powerful moment in that short liturgy.

Just think about it, over 2000 years Christians have been praying this very prayer. In every denomination. In every language. This prayer has a long history of being a lifeline. A refuge. A place to hide in. Because sometimes life can get us down so hard, we really crawl into our prayers, don’t we?

The question is of course: does prayer work?

After Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s prayer in our gospel today, he tells them a parable. That of a friend waking up another friend in the middle of the night to ask him for bread to give to an unexpected guest. Hospitality is a question of honor in these times, failure to provide it is unacceptable. We look at this parable with our 21st Century brain and we think: how rude to wake him up in the middle of the night. Who does he think he is? Also, who doesn’t have bread in the house at the very least? So, we take the side of the man who said: “Are you kidding me? I’m in bed, my kids are in bed, don’t bother me with this stuff. You’ll wake up the kids!” Who likes to be woken up?

But remember, hospitality was of paramount importance in this world. The fact that the neighbor is not getting up and helping to fulfill this obligation is indeed unacceptable. What to do? Jesus says that the man asking for the bread must use persistence. “Anaideia” is the word used in Greek. “Anaideia” can also be translated as shamelessness. I think that fits better. The neighbor has no shame waking up his friend and asking for help. And really, he shouldn’t have. It is everyone’s obligation to be hospitable. So, without shame then, “ask and it will be given you” Jesus says. “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” After the neighbor refuses to help, ask again. And do not be ashamed about this, because your need should be your neighbors need. Your need should be answered. That’s how prayer works, Jesus teaches. If even the neighbor will eventually get up at 0-dark thirty and bring us the bread we need to feed another, just imagine how God answers prayer!

Right. Does God answer prayer? Don’t we pray when our loved ones suffer? Don’t we pray for their healing? Don’t we pray for our governments to be wise, to avoid war, to protect those in need? What happens to those prayers? We know that they don’t always get answered, right? Loved ones die, wars are ongoing, protection is withdrawn. Where is God’s answer to those prayers? Are we being heard?

Maybe it’s not “where are the answers to those prayers” but rather: What is God’s answer to those prayers?

This is NOT to say that God’s answer is that your loved one should perish, or that wars are God’s will or that we no longer must protect those in need. God does not willingly afflict us.

Jesus teaches at the end of our gospel reading today that when we pray without shame to God, God will give the Holy Spirit to us. God will give the Holy Spirit to us.

The Holy Spirit, the advocate Jesus left with us after his death. And of course, member of the Triune God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God self comes to our aide we are taught. And how does the Holy Spirit answer our prayers? To my mind the Holy Spirit is quite unpredictable, wild even, and she lacks any boundaries. The Holy Spirit whispers in one ear gently and perfectly timed. Another ear she shrieks into at 0-dark thirty when your neighbor rudely asks for bread.

God is both of this world and not of this world. The Holy Spirit has direct access to this world, it is after all God’s own creation. Spirit makes use of creation itself to answer our prayers. When I pay attention, she whispers and shrieks, encourages and cackles, sings and yells. To what end? What is the ultimate outcome of our prayers? If we do not get exactly what we prayed for, and btw. how rude is that? Doesn’t God know we know best? If we do not get what we wanted, what does the Holy Spirit give us?

For this we must go back to the beginning of our gospel reading. Back to the Lord’s prayer. What does Jesus teach us to pray for?

Father, hallowed be your name. We are to address God not as a foreign ruler, but as a loving parent. We are to acknowledge God’s name as holy. Holy means “other than/to set aside”. In other words: Only God is God, and we are not. From this very first line, from this acknowledgement follows the rest of the prayer. It fleshes out what it looks like to keep God’s name as holy. We pray for God’s kingdom to come, God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. When God’s name is hallowed and God’s kingdom comes, there is daily bread for all, forgiveness is practiced, and God delivers the faithful from the time of trial.

The Lord’s prayer of course is not our only prayer. It is however the ultimate prayer, the prayer we can pray when all thought and language escape us. It is also the prayer that shows us how all other prayers will be answered: each prayer brings about God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. There are other powers about in this world, powers that make us struggle and suffer. Powers that do not serve God’s kingdom. And since God is God, and we are not, we cannot possibly know or even understand what it takes to bring about God’s kingdom in this world so influenced by these other powers. However, we know from Jesus’ teaching, that we can trust that God does answer our prayer by way of the Holy Spirit. Listen for her! Even when she wakes you up at 0-dark thirty.

I’m reminded of an old German folk’s tune: Gott macht es besser als wir es denken. God creates it better than we think it. We know what we want. Therefore, we think we know what we need. But our divine parent created us and knows us and our needs better and deeper and loves us with a fierceness stronger than death.

Hallowed be God’s name. Thy kingdom come.

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