Sermon of the Week
The Lord’s Prayer:
To Whom do we Pray.
So a few months ago, I was on a plane returning from a meeting in Louisville.
It had been an uneventful flight
which was a relief, compared to the topics of the meeting
and I just vegged out a bit.
I read the news,
cued up a movie in my ipad
even closed my eyes for a bit. It was glorious.
After a few hours, I heard the sound and felt that gentle jolt
that marks the final moments of landing on a plane.
The landing gear drops.
The flaps fully extend.
And the plane seems to slow itself so much
that it is barely crawling through space
as it makes its way safely back to earth.
I don’t know how many airplane trips I’ve taken.
They number in the hundreds, most likely.
And I love to fly. As a kid, I marveled at the technology
that enabled tons of metal and glass to soar.
I didn’t want to be a policeman, or a firefighter. I wanted to be a pilot.
I’ve always enjoyed it.
So this wasn’t about a fear of flying or anything,
but I noticed something about myself, when I heard that sound and felt that jolt.
I noticed myself reciting the Lord’s Prayer:
Our father. Who art in heaven.
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done.
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom.
And the Power.
And the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.
Truth is, I’ve been saying that prayer, under my breath with lips barely moving
every takeoff and landing, for decades.
Sometimes I don’t know that I’m doing it.
But most of the time I do: I stop what I’m listening to
and I give myself a moment to center myself.
To remind myself of who I am,
of whose I am I,
of the God who loves me.
I thought maybe I was the only one with this little quirk,
but then I remembered back to that time
once, several years ago,
when I was bedside at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
This is a busy, urban, 670 bed trauma hospital,
and I was making rounds as a student chaplain
checking in on the patients in the wings
to which I had been assigned.
I was checking in on Eleanor, who had been a patient there for weeks
from well before I started my three month program.
She was in the “multiple acute conditions” area of the hospital
and that was pretty accurate
she was dealing with organ failure
liver, lung, pancreas
and, when I was visiting her, she was barely responsive.
She was awake, clearly.
Her eyes were open when she was not sleeping.
She could eat, even if with some labor.
She just was not communicating: no real eye contact, no words,
no sense that she heard or registered much of anything going on.
I spoke with her family, who were concerned, of course
and prayerful…glad that the spiritual care office
was there to be with them during this time.
They explained that Eleanor was Methodist
a member for more than 30 years at a church on the west side of Chicago.
I told her that the Presbyterians got along nicely with the Methodists.
This visit, Eleanor was alone,
except for the nurse who checked her vitals occasionally
or the orderly who came to straighten up the room.
And I was sitting next to her, talking with her a bit
to her, sure, but with her, I was hoping.
Even as she was looking into a blank space on the wall ahead.
I went through a few things: my latest conversation with her daughter
a word about the horrible snowstorm the city had the week before
that sort of thing
and then I took out a pocket bible
and flipped it open to offer a quick reading
before I would leave, write in her chart,
and move on to another patient.
I read her something, I don’t even remember what it was, really.
And then it was time to pray and conclude our visit…
And I started:
Whom art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name…
It was right about then that I noticed I wasn’t praying alone.
I looked up, and to my astonishment,
Eleanor was repeating the words of the Lord’s Prayer with me…
Thy Kingdom Come
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…
And she smiled. And a moment later, it was over.
After that prayer, she returned to her prior, quiet state,
at least for a few weeks, before she left for another rehabilitation hospital.
No other words, or eye contact, or much of anything.
But there was something about this prayer, these words, that comfort
that she could access, when all other words were gone.
And in that moment,
she felt, I felt, grace beyond measure…
a sure sense of God’s reliable presence
That God was THERE, surrounding us with God’s love.
Some call this prayer the greatest prayer, or the prayer of prayers.