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In 1963, Paul Simon wrote the words, “Hello darkness my old friend” while in the solitude of his bathroom, a favorite writing place. The song was recorded in 1964 with, of course, Art Garfunkle, on their first album Wednesday Morning 3AM, just two guys and a guitar, and folk song warning of loneliness and isolation if this generation didn’t learn to connect to each other on some deeper level. The album failed. Simon and Garfunkle broke up. Their producer, Tom Wilson, not willing to give up, went ahead, without the presence or permission of the artists, asked Bob Dylan’s band to record with the original recording of Simon and Garfunkle, making The Sound of Silence a folk-rock anthem of a generation that saw assassinations, revolutions and riots, and Vietnam fought on their TVs.
It was a great song when Simon and Garfunkle stood there singing harmonies with just a guitar, but it needed a little translation to be heard.
We return this week to Jesus, sitting on a hill with those who had joined him, followed him, were cautiously curious about who this Jesus was. His manifesto began with blessing the poor and the weak and those who shared what they had instead of the powerful and mighty. Jesus was talking about how they could live together.
Jesus is still there teaching! And he’s moved on to something that might seem completely different but is still rooted in the is what the law can be boiled down to: Loving God and loving your neighbor, he’s moved on to prayer, fasting, and worship.
It’s assumed that these practices will be part of the lives of those who are hearing Jesus teach–prayer with God of supplication and gratitude, fasting to bring focus and awareness, and worship that brings our attention and sets our values. Each of these practices remind us that we are not God, we are not in control, we are dependent, and what we will choose to be dependant on, where our values will be, our guiding principles.
We see it all in the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, that we recite every week. Jesus is doing something here, teaching the disciples, and us, and every generation in between, one way to be in relationship with the Divine. That relationship isn’t about grandiose words, and it isn’t about asking for the latest, greatest, and most things. This is a relationship with God that is personal, intimate, surrendering, and life directing.
It starts our shocking. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he opened with Our Father. It is Abba in the text, Aramaic for Dad, or Mentor, or Teacher. It’s a personal relationship. But it was in Aramaic at a time when Jews only prayed in Hebrew. Hebrew was the sacred language and Jesus was teaching prayer in the common tongue, language that the leaders wouldn’t consider worthy of God. I need you to understand how revolutionary this was. This is Catholic Masses said in not Latin. This is adding mother to the Our Father. It changed their relationship to God. For the disciples, these were probably old ideas with new words, new language, so completely different. Over time the words have become so rote that you haven’t thought about them. Or the words are so disconnected from our lives that they don’t hold any meaning. I have to have the Lord’s Prayer written out because I can easily lose my place or think that it should be longer, and that is just embarrassing.
Sometimes our prayers need to be translated for a new time, new culture, new people, a new generation.
In 2015, the Sound of Silence was covered, got a remake, a translation, by a metal band, Disturbed. If Simon and Garfunkle’s version was a warning through folk, Disturbed’s was a lament when the warning wasn’t taken seriously, sang with anger and disappointment, and then was opened up to a new generation who are still dealing with struggles and pain, violence and wars, riots and revolutions. This was from the Conan Show in 2016, and before you’re too upset about those young people and their new music, this is the only cover of The Sound of Silence Paul Simon ever endorsed, and talked to the band about how much he appreciated it.
Sometimes it takes a new way of hearing to bring out something new in a song or a prayer.
But we keep praying. “Uphold the holiness of your name,” or make your name holy, presumably here, on earth. How is God’s name, or reputation holy if it is not through the hands and feet, words and actions of those who claim this God as the God of their lives?
“Bring your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.” There is a way that this world is called to be, a way that we are meant to live in community and the world is broken and not living into it. But we are meant to leave that way here. 1: this earth matters because it is here that God’s kingdom is coming, and 2: we are to be in relationship with God, communing with them, so that we might learn how to live in community with each other, to be part of the bringing of the kingdom with our hands and feet, our words and actions.
“Give us the Bread we need for today.” We pray for enough for today. Trust that God will give you enough for today. Do you have more than enough for today? Can you share it? That is the “give us this day” and that is the kingdom come.
The world is going to tempt you to build up more than you need, to acquire and horde, that system of the world, that we are sold by the world, it is evil and it demands more and more.
Enough for today, lead us from what tempts us, and rescue us from eve.
And forgive. Forgive generously, extravagantly, often. Forgive as you are forgiven by God, which is a high bar. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had a method, of course, and it’s goal was going onward to perfection and grow in that way through love, acts of love, giving love, sharing love, being love. Through generosity, kindness, forgiveness.
But we can tell stories of when it is hard to love. And we can justify all the accumulating, saving for next month, next year, decades from now. Some days and some people are hard to forgive. You know those days, and those people. So, we are given this prayer. Prayer, at the least, reminds us. Because if we say again and again, “God, forgive me as I forgive,” and I realize I haven’t forgiven… As I learn to forgive someone, sometimes I have to repeat, practice, say that prayer again and again. As I learn to trust God every day, each day for what I need, just enough for each day, no more, no less, as I learn to be more generous, as I learn how to live in community, I grow in love, toward perfection.
This prayer is meaningless if all it is is words. Jesus taught his disciples this is then a call, a reminder, of a different way of living, a kingdom way of living. When you say this prayer again and again, year after year, week after week, it becomes more than words, it becomes life. It is the choices you make, the grace you show, the forgiveness you give, and the bread you share. The prayer lives in you.
Perhaps you learned this prayer as a child. Perhaps you have just repeated these words without much thought, but this pray lives in you.
Perhaps you are just hearing it here for the first time, searching for what the meaning is for where you are today, this prayer lives in you.
And as you go through life, and this prayer that Jesus taught echoes through, filled with the lessons you have learned, the love you have shared, the forgiveness you have given or withheld, the troubles, temptations, and evils. And maybe at different times in your life you’ll pray this prayer with more longing or hopelessness, gratitude or joy, with a different cadence or notes. In December, Paul Simon took to the stage, perhaps one last time, and sang again words that he had singing since he was a young man.
In the 60 years since, they carried a different weight. The words were the same but the song was completely different. The song was different because of Paul’s life and his life was different because the song lived in him for all those years. And it has echoed, giving meaning to many over those years.
May this prayer that Jesus taught, that has echoed through centuries and generations, echo through your life, your story. May you hear it in new ways, new words, new understandings. May this prayer be your call, your direction, your hope. May this prayer guide your choices, your generosity, your forgiveness. May this prayer change in you with time and change you in return.