Sometimes I give thanks that I’m not rich.
Having grown up with very little and sharing a lot – and always having to watch every penny and being told about that a lot as we grew up, always made me look down a little on rich people. I have been sort of smug in my ‘I grew up poor’ rhetoric. And I created stories in my head about how crazy rich people must be, how it’s not good for people to have access to too much, how it makes people lose touch with reality. I gave myself a narrative that allowed me to be better than or at least perceive myself as better than. Also it helped me feel a little self-righteous because I had this really great story about who I wasn’t and how much better I was for it.
Here’s the truth – I didn’t grow up with much – but I was just fine. And now I’m no different now, from most of my neighbours. By global standards I’m looking pretty wealthy. But when I’m tired, or irritated or if I want to prove a point, I retreat back to my origin story and the smugness that I can feel about how grounded it made me – which I’m not really sure it did.
So when I read the Gospel for tonight – I totally heard myself in the prayer of the Pharisee: Dear God, Thank you that I am not that…’
Some of us are doing the Animate Practice series on Sunday afternoons and the first session was on prayer. In the session there were questions like: What do you expect from prayer? If you say you’ll pray for someone, do you? What does your practice of prayer look like? And we looked at prayer specifically through the lens of the Lords Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught his friends to pray when they asked how to do it. Which in Luke happens in chapter 11, right after he visits the home of Martha and Mary.
This prayer is so helpful in thinking about prayer and how we pray – and really Peter should be talking about this because he and Ellen have done a little book on the Lords’ Prayer as a daily meditation, which is really worth a look.
So let’s walk thought his prayer which shows up in chapter 11, for just a minute, so that we can think about our own prayers and what we say. This prayer which begins with calling on God – Hallowing – honouring as Holy, God’s name. And then inviting God’s kingdom to come here on earth – all the things that we would hope for in God’s kingdom to be true here on earth.
Give us each day our daily bread – give us what we need, just enough so that we are not wanting for more, but not so much that it takes from others. This is where I have to stop myself from making any assumptions about others and what they have and also look at myself with clearer lenses.
And forgive us our sins and help us to forgive those who would sin against us. Help us to be forgiven and to live into forgiving others – a tall order in many cases. We are a people with long memories and we know how good it is to be forgiven.
Lead us not into temptation. Help us not to be tempted by the world around us – help us not to live into a world that is led by values other than love. This is also really hard and requires attention.
But what I notice about this prayer is that at no point does this prayer divide people into us and them. At no point are we giving thanks that we are not someone else. This prayer is said from where you are and the life that you lead. It invokes the Holy one, invites God in, asks for God’s presence here in this place, for God’s kingdom to come here on earth, asks for enough for each day and then for forgiveness and the ability to forgive others and then ends asking for help to not be tempted by the world around us.
In tonight’s parable when Jesus is talking about the prayers of the two men in the temple I could not help but go back to this prayer. It is so easy (at least for me) to find my own righteousness, to give thanks for what I am not – which neither invites the kingdom, reminds me that I need forgiveness, nor leads me away from temptation.
The tax collector, who knows that he is a person who needs forgiveness, who goes before God and asks for mercy – this is the one who Jesus holds up. And then Jesus says, ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
And I think, humbleness is a tricky thing, unless I try to see it through the eyes of the prayer that Jesus taught us. There is a quote that we looked at last Sunday by Soren Kierkegaard which says: ‘The prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who offers it.”
God is God, but I am changed by my prayer, by opening myself to God in a genuine way so that God can change me. But that isn’t going to happen if I don’t lay myself open and invite God in, which isn’t going to happen if I am giving thanks for what I am not. Which puts someone else as ‘other’ rather than as God’s own and beloved as well.
And if I don’t come to God also aware that I need forgiveness, probably in part because I want to hold onto who I perceive myself to be over who I think someone else is. If I’m not clear that God’s kingdom does not look like a division between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Then I probably won’t be changed by my prayers and I probably won’t make room for God’s kingdom to come here on earth and that’s a problem when I claim to follow Jesus.
There has to be room for everyone in the world that Jesus works to bring about should they want it, and I will have to get over my own bias and prejudice, which is hard and uncomfortable and will change my own story about me.
I like my origin story as I tell it, but it has helped me see myself as a part from others and it has helped me feel justified where I should not. And thanking God that I am not rich is not about stuff, but is about wanting to see myself as better than others, which as it turns out does not bring about the kingdom of God.
Being humble before God, means laying ourselves open or being willing to be broken open by our encounter of God in those around us and through prayer. Being humble before God also means being humble before one another and not giving thanks for what we are not, but laying bare who we are, fully human, beloved, in need of forgiveness and yearning for the kingdom. We cannot be changed by prayers that leave no space for God’s movement or don’t invite God in, but we can be changed and in fact I would contend that we are changed whether we like it or not when we are lay ourselves open, invite God in and acknowledge where we need help, forgiveness, mercy and God’s love.
So when you pray – what does it look like? And what does it feel like? Do you pray giving thanks for who you are not? Do you pray for God to come and be where you are? Do you pray to offer thanks? Do you remember the prayer that Jesus taught his friends when they asked him how to do it?