Hosea 1:2-10 Psalm 85 Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) Luke 11:1-13

Proper 12 (17) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
25 July, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library

Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C / Pentecost 9
July 25, 2010

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

Having just heard the gospel reading, there’s an obvious opportunity to look more closely at Prayer and the place of the Lord’s Prayer. However, we still also have the echo of the first two readings and Sunday by Sunday there’s a sense that those other readings link to and lead us to the Gospel.

The reading from Hosea contains imagery that is difficult to apprehend and to appreciate in the context in which it was originally set. However, it did serve in its day, to give understanding to the circumstances and the socio-political situation into which it was spoken. The people of Israel were drifting away from their covenant relationship with the Divine. The chosen were now making choices that had a different orientation to the covenant with Abraham and the freedom made real through the person of Moses in the Exodus, choosing another orientation and a different life direction. There was separation between Israel and Judah, the northern and the southern kingdoms; there was the Assyrian threat. So there was war there was turmoil, and those who had a covenant relationship were choosing another path. That little background just gives us enough to appreciate that there are plenty of parallels with today. In our culture we too know that there is, and has been, a drifting away from a commitment of the common toward the Divine.

Hosea speaks into this very situation. Hosea's marriage to a prostitute symbolizes Israel's relationship to God. The people of Israel have become unfaithful to their covenant with God.
It’s quiet a stark beginning to Hosea’s story and yet that story unfolds – next week we’ll hear some of that unfolding – and it unfolds to a place of forgiveness. Hosea's wife leaves him after bearing him three children, and then Hosea – bare in mind she was a prostitute to start with - takes her back publicly, something utterly unheard of within the culture. His personal life parallels and reveals the activity of the Divine in relationship with and to humanity.

In a time of turmoil, the prophet is offering an alternative future; it is not a prediction, prophecy is not about gifted people knowing what is going to happen tomorrow - it is not fortune telling. Rather it is speaking into being a new orientation, and so another world is spoken into being. What we see in today’s readings is that the prophet not only speaks, but his life intimately parallels the orientation that he speaks. And maybe that’s the echo that we might hold onto as we approach the gospel.

On the way we listen to Paul, and once again Paul gives affirming encouragement to others to experience the reality of Christ: ‘continue to live your lives in Christ....abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive; you have come to fullness in Christ. Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. The substance belongs to Christ. Paul’s letter reads as if it is addressed to each and to all, when he says “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus” it is as if he speaks to both the ‘me’ and the ‘we’.

So as we continue to live our lives in Christ we might ponder what it is that ‘one of the disciples’ is asking of Jesus when they ask, “teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Is it an asking for a mantra? Is it asking for a language in which one can communicate with God? Is it asking for an expression that will enable one to be like their teacher? Or perhaps they are really saying ‘I want to be like you’, or ‘I want to do what you do’. Maybe. Maybe some or all the above are valid and valuable appreciations of the text. But a more valuable reflection however is for us to ‘hear the gospel’ – hear the gospel. Luke is seeking to reveal to others and to us what he sees as having been revealed in Christ, and he uses the conversation about prayer to reveal the orientation and the dynamic of the dialogue between us and the divine, the interchange, exchange, the encounter between creator and creature.

The response to the question is a very short prayer. "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."

“Hallowed be your name” echoes the first commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God’. “Hallowed be your name” speaks of a relationship that makes sacred, that sanctifies and acknowledges holiness; it speaks of an orientation toward blessing and consecration. It’s almost an opposite to the world encountered by Hosea, a ‘land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD”. It’s looking in another direction altogether.

“Your kingdom come”. This could be an ask, and equally it could be an invitation or a welcoming. It is not about heaven, it’s not about after death or it’s not about judgement; rather it suggests a movement of the Divine, a coming of the Kingdom of God. And it leaves open the direction of the movement, again suggesting perhaps that there’s a coming together, or a meeting in one place - Your kingdom come.

“Give us each day our daily bread.” Sustenance, that which is needed for Life, and so an opportunity to strip away the distractions. A sustenance echoed by Paul when he says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” Maybe we find freedom in receiving that sustenance.

“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” If we take the first part separate from the second - forgive us our sins - it becomes an ask, a demand, a want with an expectation that it will be done for us. But taken together with for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us it takes on the shape of something known, a process that is familiar. We can look in anticipation for the results of our own activity, for it is in giving that we receive. There is not an ask, rather an expectation of outcomes from the actions we engage in.

“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Many of us have still to overcome the baggage of earlier translations of the Lord ’s Prayer with lead us not into temptation etc. But here there is again a voice of expectation based on faith - do not bring us to the time of trial. Christ overcame the sting of death - Christ reveals an orientation that conquers, or goes beyond death.
Death was (and in many traditions still is) understood as the time of God’s judgement, the time of trial. Here we find a plea that seeks also to go beyond the anticipated end.

Today’s gospel opens us, or invites us to look again at prayer. We also might ask that question. ‘teach us to pray’. However, to ask it again we must let go of that which we have held onto for a long time. We cannot ask ‘teach me to pray’ if we hold in our hands a knowing how to pray. And we will be asking the question from a place quite different to the place recorded in the gospel. So we begin with our image of God; or maybe begin with a less formed image of God – go back to the sheer silence or the burning bush, and then direct our question in that direction: ‘teach us how to pray’. Ask it of the silence, ask it of the fire.

Consider the quote on the front of the service sheet: “Intercessory prayer is a type of self-constitution by an individual. This self-constitution becomes a direct influence upon God’s self-constitution, on the one hand, and a direct influence in the self-constitution of all other individuals.”

As we seek to pray, so we engage in an activity that is formative of ourselves and each other. And what we find in that activity is that we are imitating the Divine activity. Prayer becomes a place of Creation and a place of re-creation.

Jesus was praying ‘in a certain place’. Seek that certain place.

Peter Humphris<