A Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer
August 17, 2014

A Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer

Passage: Luke 11: 1-4; Matthew 6: 9-13

A Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Tacoma WA

The Reverend Martin Yabroff

 

Proper 15, Year A-2014 (Lord’s Prayer)                                   August 17, 2014

I am glad to be back with you. I have been on vacation for a week and a half – the first part of my Summer vacation. The second bit will be in September, to fit with Eve’s work schedule.

This being my first official day back, I would like your permission not to explore our lectionary texts for this Sunday: Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, Paul’s recognition of God’s mercy in spite of our disobedience, and Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman (a very interesting story!). These are very worthwhile lessons, and I am happy to explore them with you more informally – let me know when and where.

Instead, let us explore the Lord’s Prayer. We say it often, in worship together and in private. I found myself thinking through it as I hiked up Mt. Zion in the Olympic National Forest at the beginning of my vacation. I, and we, run through it when we want to pray but don’t know where to focus. We say it in our hearts in the middle of the night and in crises, when we need something to hold on to.

It is a powerful prayer. It is pastoral and comforting and grounding. And it is radical – challenging us politically and economically and socially.

The Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says this about the Lord’s Prayer:

The more I have studied Jesus in his historical setting, the more it has become clear to me that this prayer sums up fully and accurately, albeit in a very condensed fashion, the way in which he read and responded to the signs of the times, the way in which he understood his own vocation and mission and invited his followers to share it. This prayer, then, serves as a lens through which to see Jesus himself, and to discover something of what he was about.

 

We live, as Jesus lived, in a world all too full of injustice, hunger, malice and evil. This prayer cries out for justice, bread, forgiveness and deliverance. If anyone thinks those are irrelevant in today’s world, let them read the newspaper and think again.

 

When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he was giving them part of his own breath, his own life, his own prayer. The prayer is actually a distillation of his Father’s purposes.   (N.T.Wright, The Lord & his Prayer, 1996, p. 2. The middle portion originally was placed before the first paragraph.)

 

There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible: in Matthew and in Luke, and they are slightly different. We have two versions in our prayer book: in traditional and in contemporary language. We use the traditional version in worship here because it is more familiar to more people, especially to visitors and guests. I use both in my personal prayers. For today, let us explore the six basic clauses or movements or postures of this prayer. I will try to offer just one or two comments on each clause.

The prayer begins: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Jesus teaches us to approach God as “Father.” That is, we look to God not like an employer or boss, or primarily as a Judge or King, or as some other impersonal figure or power. We approach God as Father, as Mother, as parent (God does not have gender, God is not male OR female) because that is our relationship to God. We are God’s children. God cares for us, and we care about God. We trust and rely on our loving father or mother or parent. We remember that we are family, not just products or numbers or merely creatures.

Second, this opening reminder of who God is for us and who we are to God also opens our hearts and minds to God’s greatness. This Father we turn to is in heaven – beyond our earthly limits – and God’s name is holy. This first clause thus orients us in prayer – to a loving God whose child we each are, who is also awesome and holy.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is radical and challenging. Let us be clear – Jesus is not teaching us to pray for God’s kingdom to be established in heaven or for God’s will to be done there. It already is! Jesus is teaching us to pray for and to work for God’s kingdom and God’s will to be done here and now, on earth, where we are. So we pray for justice and peace, for honesty and mercy, for healing and reconciliation, in all the particular ways we can locally and globally. And we commit ourselves to act and work for these persons and concerns, personally and politically. (Our Baptismal Covenant is a development of this.)

Jesus is teaching us not to settle for life on earth as a failure to be endured until we get to heaven. For example, the poverty and inequality that is growing on earth, and in our nation, is a denial of God’s kingdom and God’s will towards us all. Praying for God’s kingdom to be established and realized on earth challenges us to address these issues as Jesus’ followers and disciples.

Give us this day our daily bread.” I find that we must be careful not to rush through the first parts of the Lord’s Prayer in order to get to this clause, to get to all those things we want to tell God we need. This clause is not primarily an invitation to a shopping list. Remember how we begin every Communion service as Anglicans: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.” God knows our needs. Praying “Give us this day our daily bread” opens our hearts and minds to receive from God. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” “All things come from you, O Lord.” We open our hands and hearts in faith and trust, looking to God for “our daily bread”, for what we need.

Second, with that sense of receiving and of stewardship, we can and should acknowledge our needs to God, and not our own needs only. “Our daily bread” includes the needs of our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in need – in need of bread, of safety, of healing and peace. We acknowledge these needs before God, and are commissioned through prayer to address them, as instruments of God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Forgive us our sins / our trespasses / our debts, as we forgive those who sin against us.” I do not believe that God is manipulative, that God refuses to forgive us unless we behave ourselves and forgive others. Instead, Jesus knows that it is very difficult to know and receive forgiveness and mercy when we are holding grudges and counting offenses by others.

There is a marvelous Arabic proverb: He who will not forgive should dig two graves.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the man who was forgiven ten thousand talents – millions of dollars – but couldn’t grasp such mercy and went out to challenge someone who owed him a hundred dollars.

So we pray – forgive us our sins as we forgive – as we share and extend such forgiveness and mercy to others.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Someone once argued with me in all earnestness that we should use only the contemporary Lord’s Prayer with its phrase: “save us from the time of trial …” because God would not deliberately lead us into temptation. I disagree. God led Jesus into the wilderness, after his baptism, to be tempted by Satan. Indeed, as Mark tells the story, the Holy Spirit “drove” him into the wilderness.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, God gave Jesus a choice – to escape or to go to the Cross. Jesus was tempted by that choice and agonized about it. God gives us choices, and does not shield us from hard situations.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: ‘Father, take this cup from me’ – lead me not into temptation. And he continued, ‘let your will be done’ – deliver me from this evil, be my strength and my redeemer, even in this time of trial.

With these words, we acknowledge hard choices and situations – the valley of the shadow of death – and we are honest that they are hard and full of temptations and trials. And we pray for God to deliver us and guide us and save us and all our brothers and sisters – from evil, including the evil we are tempted to do to others.

Nathan Baxter, who was at that time the Dean of the National Cathedral, right after the attacks of 9/11, prayed that “we would not become the evil we deplore.” A sober reminder of our need for God’s guidance and deliverance.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever.” In this world and society where there is so much focus on power over others and on getting more power, on acquiring glory and justifying ours work by the glory that it seems to have in the eyes of others, Jesus teaches us to acknowledge and focus on God’s glory and God’s power. Even further, we recognize that the ultimate and truest glory and power are God’s.

As for the kingdom and the life and legacy we might seek, we seek God’s kingdom. This final clause is both a target to aim for, and a commission to take on and share in. Let us live for God‘s kingdom and God’s power and God’s glory – that is what Jesus was about. And we want to know and follow Jesus.

Here are three ways to go further in practicing this core teaching and guide which our Lord gives us in his prayer. One is to use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for daily praying. Take each clause at a time and with it gather all the particular things you want to pray for under that heading. For example, under the clause, “Thy kingdom come”, you would include the peace of the world and all the particular needs for peace on your heart. With ‘Forgive us our sins’, bring to mind what you would seek God’s forgiveness for, and how you need to forgive others.

A second way to use the Lord’s Prayer is like the Jesus Prayer in the Orthodox tradition. Repeat the Lord’s Prayer slowly, again and again, in the rhythm of your breathing. If your life is busy or stressful, that might seem especially difficult. But maybe that might be the most helpful and needful thing to do. It will take time – what else would you expect? Jesus did not give us any quick fixes, even in prayer.

A third way to use the Lord’s Prayer is for a prayer retreat in the midst of your regular week. Use each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer as a ‘prayer for the day.’

  • On Sunday – “Our Father”. Carry it with you through the day. Reflect on the implications of knowing God as a loving Father, Mother or parent.
  • Monday – “Hallowed be thy name”, or “Holy is your name”.
  • Tuesday – Thy kingdom come.
  • Wednesday – Give us this day.
  • Thursday – Forgive us our trespasses.
  • Friday – Deliver us from evil.
  • Saturday – The kingdom, the Power and the Glory.

Let these prayers for the day become a lens through which you see and live that day. (These suggestions come from N.T.Wright, ibid.)

 

May our prayers, as the Lord has taught us, draw us closer to him and to our Father in heaven. And may we and our world be transformed to be like him and his kingdom. Amen.