Year C; Proper 12; 7.24.2022
Luke 11:1-13. Lord’s Prayer, Pater Noster
Five years ago, I spent three weeks in Frankfurt, Germany filling in for my dear friend, the rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church while he and his spouse vacationed. The church was founded by Episcopalians who were stationed in and near Frankfurt after WWII. It was built near the former IG Farben campus that the US Army captured and was known later as the Pentagon of Europe.
The former IG Farben campus is now part of the University of Frankfurt. The headquarters building was built in the 1920s and is in pristine condition. It is now used for the student union, classrooms and the administration. There is a plaque out front that describes the infamous IG Farben research and development of deadly Cyklon B, the chemical that was used to gas millions of Jews and others during WWII. This terrible shame the Germans do not forget.
I got my exercise each day by walking along the University of Frankfurt campus to the adjoining park. The IG Farben building was open to the public so I’d enter and walk around. You can see signs of the American military presence, like a sign on the door to the student union with General Colin Powell’s name who had command there.
On the second floor, I found a rare invention from the 1920s still intact and still in operation. It is a lift that takes people from floor to floor called the “Pater Noster.” I knew that “Pater Noster” meant “Our Father” in Latin, like, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and I learned quickly why the lift had that name.
The Pater Noster runs on a vertical conveyer-like chain belt. There are wooden box compartments attached along the conveyer belt room enough for two adults. [demonstrate] You don’t “call” it to your floor. You just wait for the continuous belt to bring up a box flush with the floor you are standing on. The open box compartments appear at regular intervals on the conveyer belt as it goes from floor to floor. Most importantly, IT DOES NOT STOP ON YOUR FLOOR! When the box arrives at your floor and it’s flush with the floor, you step in while it is moving up. You stand in the box until the next opening, and if that’s your floor, you step off, while it’s still moving!
I could see how it scared people. And I could understand why it’s called the “Pater Noster,” “Our Father,” because it can be terrifying to step into or off of a moving lift like that. If you miss your step getting on or off, it could be deadly. And so, to calm the nerves and call on God in the terror, you say the “Our Father…” What else can you do but pray??
There was no “Pater Noster” lift that terrified the disciples when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. But they had observed the power of prayer in Jesus. They had also observed the power of prayer in John the Baptist. They had seen Jesus frequently go away to pray. They saw the serenity and clarity of vision after he emerged from prayer.
From his baptism in the River Jordan to the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Jesus went alone to pray. He was a faithful Jew, formed in prayer. And at this point in his ministry, the disciples had observed in following Jesus that his work and ministry depended upon frequent times away in prayer. They observed the healings. They listening to the parables. They experienced his compassion for the poor. They saw that his ministry was based on his prayer discipline. It sustained him and they wanted to learn to pray like Jesus.
If you look at the words in the Lord’s Prayer, you can see that Jesus teaches his followers to make demands of God. In this signature prayer, Jesus actually teaches us to use imperatives: Give us. Forgive us. Save us. He went on to share God’s promise, “ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” And so, we audaciously trust in this promise and command God for daily food, forgiveness and to NOT be tempted. Ask, Seek, Knock.
What I love all these years later is that it was the Lord’s Prayer that people invoked from their terror as they stepped onto and off of that Pater Noster lift. It was the Lord’s Prayer that Christians prayed as they laid in a foxhole. It’s the same prayer that my family and I prayed with my dad as he lay dying in his bed. It was prayed at Civil Rights marches and it is repeated every single Sunday in church.
Most importantly, it is central to the formation of the newly baptized. Godparents and parents alike are called to pass on this prayer as foundational to our children as we teach them to trust God. Sarah, Patrick, Kate and Mark, as witnesses to George’s initiation into the Christian faith, soon you will promise on George’s behalf to “…continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and IN THE PRAYERS.” Learning to pray will serve George well as he grows to trust God.
Jesus gave us his prayer, that when we do not have our own words, we can pray the one he taught us. But sometimes, we just can’t even bring ourselves to pray in the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes, we have been brought so low or there are too many worries, fears, responsibilities or world sorrows, that all we can do is groan. As the late Eugene Peterson writes, that’s when “the Spirit comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit…pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.”
A couple of weeks ago after my sermon on loving our enemy, several of you referred me to author Anne Lamott’s OpEd in the New York Times. Anne Lamott’s article was titled, “I Don’t Want to See a High School Football Coach Praying at the 50-Yard Line.” Lamott is objecting to the Supreme Court ruling that coaches can publicly pray, as she writes, “sanctimoniously on the fifty-yard line holding his players hostage while an audience watches his piety…” This is my sentiment, too, but I’m never as clever as Anne Lamott.
Anne Lamott is a Christian in the best 12-step sense of Christianity, and in the best “praying without ceasing…” sense of St. Paul and Jesus.
I’m helped by the rest of her article because she comes clean about what and who angers her, and the temptation she fights in herself of “being a hater.” She named Marjorie Taylor Green as the object of her hatred, and shares this prayer: help me “…remember that God loves Marjorie Taylor Greene exactly the same as God loves my grandson, because God loves, period. God does not have an App for Not Love.”
Lamott concludes her article with these words, “I have the theological understanding of a bright 8-year-old, but Jesus says we need to approach life like children, not like
cranky know-it-alls, crazily busy, clutching our to-do lists. One of my daily prayers is, ‘Slow me down, Girlfriend.’” (and the “g” in ‘Girlfriend’ is capitalized!) She then writes, “The prayer changes me. It breaks the toxic trance.” [
OOO! “Prayer breaks the toxic trance!” I do believe that’s true!
I can imagine we all would be helped by prayers in the days when the world’s woes, and our own troubles are too deep for words and we find ourselves in a “toxic trance.” I can imagine God would be delighted to hear us pray one more demand, “Slow me down, Girlfriend.”