THE LORD’S PRAYER
Matthew 6: 9-13
Prayer is something which most
Christians believe it is good to do, and some actually practice it. Children
may pray before a test, or when a friend of theirs gets hurt. Teachers may pray
before the start of a new school year, asking God for the strength and wisdom
to connect with the children. In the home people may pray before a meal, often
words that have been learned at some earlier time. Memorized prayers can be
just as effective as extemporaneous prayers if you, on occasion, stop and
consider what you are praying. I teach the Confirmation Class and our Elders
that there are five basic types of prayer, ones that can be remembered with the
mnemonic device ACTS I, or A.C.T.S. and I. A stands for “Adoration”: words that
heap praise and give glory to Almighty God. C stands for “Confession”: it is
acknowledging sinful actions. T stands for “Thanksgiving”: it is expressing
gratitude to God for any number of reasons. S stands for “Supplication”: it’s a
prayer to ask God to supply your own needs to face a particular situation or
time in your life. And I stands for “Intercession”: asking God to intercede in the life of someone
else with the hope of comforting, guiding, or changing an outcome.
Those brief instructions can be a helpful
guide to prayer. But faced with people
who offered up empty phrases and such flowery speech that they seemed to want
to be heard by others more than they cared if they were heard by God, Jesus had
an alternative to them, and it is instructive to us today. Jesus said, “Pray
like this” in Matthew 6:9. And then he said the Lord’s Prayer. It was an
example of how to pray. It puts my mind at ease a bit when the one prayer of
Christianity is said at least three or four different ways by different groups of
Christians. Still he did not say
“Pray exactly with these words;” he said, “Pray like this.” And so today we
take a look at the Christian’s prayer.
He starts with “Our Father.”
We remember that he called the first person of God his Heavenly Father; it was
a relationally descriptive title. And in this prayer, he invites us to pray to
his Father as well, and think of him as “Your Father” too; not in a literal
way; not in a human way; but in a relational way in which a true Father’s
wisdom, and love, and insights would be valued by a child of his. The title is
not intended to be offensive or even gender-specific about God; it is about the
person of God who is Holy- other; whose face is not seen; who dwells in Heaven.
Another person of God, who we’ve learned
this week was called “The Son,” longed to connect with mortality and did so in
the person of Jesus Christ; and yet a third
person, called “The Holy Spirit,” dwells with us even now on Earth and
enters persons at their baptism in special ways.
Our Father, who art in Heaven. Again, this phrase describes a particular
person of God and acknowledges his dwelling place. We are not praying to
someone on earth, nor to pictures of forms that are on the earth. We are
praying to the Holy One who is in Heaven. We are calling on the one who dwells
in the space that we might call “The Holy of Holies,” like our Jewish neighbors
used to call the most sacred space in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant
held the tablets of the 10 Commandments the “Holy of Holies,” the place where they believed God dwelled. That moves us
to the next phrase:
Hallowed be Thy name. This
states the obvious to us, and certainly to Jesus, but he says it anyway! That
is a phrase of adoration, and I imagine our Heavenly Father never tires of
hearing that! It is an affirmation toward God, yes; but it is a reminder for us
too, a phrase that needs to sink into our psyches through devoted repetition.
Followers of Christ try to be holy, that is, to notice and claim that we have
been set apart to live differently from the world, so that the world may be
conformed to Christ, not have us conform to the world. A reminder of who truly
is Holy is a good thing. God is Holy; we are tarnished images of holiness.
Thy Kingdom come. That short sentence is
a bit of a pledge from us. Since we were reminded this month that Christians
are the Body of Christ, it is through us that Christ acts. If we are working to
bring God’s kingdom in—so that the kingdoms, empires, democracies, republics, and even the anarchists may be
transformed –then we need to see evidence that nations are truly seeking
justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God as the prophet Micah
preached. We need God’s Kingdom, but God expects our collaboration toward that
Thy will be done.
This is a phrase that relinquishes our need for power and to control situations
in ways we think will work out best.
It is most difficult for some people to let someone else’s will be in control.
But this is an act of prayerful submission; it is giving God the acknowledgment
of what God could do already. We will work to both listen for God’s will and work to carry it out.
On Earth as it is in Heaven. In Heaven we believe
that angels (messengers of God) and saints (lower case” s,” those who have gone
to heaven) are part of a gracious and glorious Kingdom, a state of being that has perfect order because it is in
keeping with God’s will. We want Earth to experience what Heaven has, and who
is better to promote that than those of us who believe in the communion of saints,
and who seek to take seriously the Godly messages that have come through
prophets and angels? Earth needs what
Heaven has. And in the Lord’s Prayer, we not only pray for it and long for it,
in our praying for it we pledge to, again, work toward that glorious time. We
do not put these prayers at the foot of the cross and say: “take care of this
please.” We ask God for this and God says: roll up your sleeves, let’s go!
Give us this day our daily bread. In
the Holy Land as in America and elsewhere, bakers are up before dawn preparing
new bakery products for hungry humans. The aroma can be enticing and the flavor
is almost addictive. But bread without preservatives gets quickly hard or
moldy. Daily bread is a perfect metaphor for supplication; “Dear God, supply
our needs for today.” We cannot get greedy and horde bread, for it does not
keep. We need to come back to the state of hunger, and to new days, and to make
or find bread again and share it with others. It is not just a one-time
activity, it is a continuous one.
Here is the phrase where so many
Christians differ: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. That’s
what the Lord’s Prayer says. As much as some love to say, “Trespasses” the
whole Lord’s Prayer is not printed that way in any Biblical version. There is
an explanation, however, to Jesus’ listeners that says “If you forgive people
their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not
forgive them their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your
trespasses.” That’s an explanation; but the prayer only says debts. Why is
that important? Because in Jesus’ day getting to forgiveness followed a set
pattern. The one who sinned against the other was first supposed to show remorse for his actions; a sense of
sorrow. Second, the one who sinned had to show true repentance; to turn from the sinful action and put into place
actions that would lead him in a new direction. Third, and this part most often
gets left out, the one who sinned had to give restitution, or payment, for the sin committed. In Biblical days if
you killed a man’s cow, you had to get him one of equal quality to “square the
account.” In our day if a child practicing baseball breaks a neighbor’s window
with a fly ball, the child may be sorry, but the neighbor is only truly
appeased when the child’s father or mother replaces his window. When it comes
to sins of the world, we often skip this step because we remember that Jesus
himself paid the price for our sins on the cross. And in the Roman Catholic
Church, works of penance in response to a confession of sins to a priest are,
in a way, a means of paying for one’s sin. Finally then, after those have been
accomplished, there can be the final “R” word, reconciliation, when we reconnect, sinner with neighbor, and sinner
with God. But it must include the payment in some form. That’s why the prayer
says “debts.” In this prayer notice that we are asking God to forgive our debts
or sins in the same way as we forgive those who have wronged us. If we want forgiveness from above, we have
to offer it to others on earth.
And lead us not into temptation.
We know we are tempted every day. But there are accounts in the Bible that seem
to show God putting faithful people to the test: Abraham, Job, Peter, and Jesus
to name a few. Although we admire them, this prayer says, “We don’t relish the
idea of being tested by God like them.” This prayer asks God not to test us,
knowing that the world will test us plenty.
But deliver us from evil. Instead
of tempting us, we turn to God as the one to whom we cling, to God and to the
cross of Christ, to be delivered from evil; to cross over to the other side
that is far away from evil. Evil can have a field day with weak or gullible
people, even well-meaning Christians. These words implore God to land us safely
on Canaan’s side, to the promise land of glory, rather than slip-sliding away
into the bowels of darkness.
Some prayers stop there since some
manuscripts stop there. But many add words that are similar to David’s in
1Chronicles that were read today: it’s an ascription of praise. We addressed
God, we adored God, we asked for things from God, and now we ascribe praise one
more time; For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. “It’s
all about you, O God. Even after all the other words, it’s all about you,” we
say to God. And so it is. The last word “Amen,” is “so may it be,” or
“may it be so.” That is our prayer; may our actions undergird The Lord’s Prayer
each time we offer it. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 25,