Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Teach us to pray’
Acknowledge the goodness of God. Orient yourself to God at work in the world. And in that context bring your requests, in words, in silence, in drawing or singing or dancing – however it is that you best express love and reorientation of self. God be with you …
When I was a child I used to pray every night. My Dad would come into my room and hear my prayer: “God bless Mummy. God Bless Daddy. Sooty (my dog), Debbie, Karen, Julie, all my friends. Please God, help me to be a very good boy. Amen.” I don’t often think about this childhood ritual. But today it seems appropriate to wonder at the influence such a practice might have had in my life. Not that I still pray those precise words. Not that I can connect in the same way to the sentiments as expressed in that prayer. Still, repeating the prayer, making time and space for that ritual, over many years, means that the words “God” and “bless” and “good” ¬– that an honouring of family and home, a certain longing, striving – remain with me.
I remember discerning some kind of spiritual growth, coming to a greater maturity in respect of prayer. When I was a little older I used to pray fervently before I had an exam – a “test”. “Please God, help me to do well.” Then, “Please God, help me to concentrate.” And then, “Please God, help us all to do our best.” I remember a kind of shock at hearing that prayer take shape. The first time I’d really prayed the word “our”.
“The Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not ‘My Father’, nor ‘Give me this day my daily bread’; nor does each one ask that only her own debt should be forgiven; nor does she request for herself alone that she may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one …” I came later to learn from others in the church, such as second-
As a student of theology I came to learn that such prayer oriented to the Creator of all, whether spoken, in silence, through art or music or dance – or work – opens out, moves us into the world, as part of the world. We pray for food, for reconciliation and for deliverance from evil not just for ourselves “but for the entire human family, whose dignity and destiny as children of God [we try] to model and proclaim” (Brendan Byrne). Is this not what American artist, Lisa Salamandra, shows in her painting, Daily Bread: 365 works on French “bread paper”? We pray for food, for reconciliation and for deliverance from evil not just for ourselves but for the entire human family, whose dignity and destiny as children of God we try to model and proclaim.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer faithfully not by adhering to specific words (we have various versions in Matthew and Luke and early Christian teaching) but in grasping it as a model of prayer and life that orients and reorients our desires to the love of God as shared by Jesus. That means my childhood prayer for my family and for “all my friends” is ever widened to include neighbours in space and time, strangers, enemies – those whom I forgive, those most different from me – those Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, secularists, nationalists – and Christians – with whom I disagree.
And my childhood prayer for my dog is deepened, too. “[I]t is not only humanity that can lay claim to addressing God as ‘our Father’”, writes one biblical scholar, “the whole earth community lays claim to God as the source of life and as sustainer – the fatherly and motherly aspects of God (Vicky Balabanski).
The liturgical Prayer that we hold in our hands can symbolise that God has given the world into our hands, to care for it as one might care for a fish or an egg, or a precious word from someone we love.
And this is the precious word (humorous and dramatic) we receive from Jesus today. God is a thousand and more times over more hospitable than a neighbour who succumbs to your shameless pleading to give you bread for a guest. God is a thousand and more times over more generous and good than the best human parents – God delights in you and me, and wants the best for you and me. So much so, that what God gives to us and to all who ask is God’s Very Self – the Holy Spirit. What God gives is Hospitality, Generosity, Goodness – and more.
Praying the Prayer with Christ – eagerly, consciously and actively – we are participating in the saving of the world. We are helping to establish the reign of God on earth. Praying this prayer, and allowing it to rewrite our values and agendas, we are offering ourselves for the life of the world.
Let’s complete the homily together. Would you follow Jesus? Then pray like this. Allow this prayer to bring you to the altar-