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Posted by Elk Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunday, July 26, 2020
Matthew 6: 9-13
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
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Today we begin a new series on The Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer we recite every Sunday after our general prayers, and it is the prayer most known by those who have any connection to the church. I have vivid memories when working as a chaplain when it would come the time to say prayers to a dying loved one, this is the prayer we would say, and even though there were a few variances in some of the words, almost everyone was able to say this prayer by heart. I even remember this one experience where a patient very close to death…the family was wondering if he was conscious and able to hear anything.
As we started to say the Lord’s Prayer, I glanced down at the patient and could see him mouthing the words right along with all of us, and everyone in the room started to see his lips moving and the words of the prayer from all of us started to diminish in volume until we almost ended up whispering, I think with the hope of hearing this dying man’s voice. It was a holy moment for sure, as the family, one by one looked upon their loved one with amazement and love…it was a prayer sending him off to his new life with Christ. The Lord’s Prayer…a source of connection, a source of unity, a source of love.
Maybe you don’t remember this, but the Lord’s Prayer was the prayer taught to the disciples by Jesus and is found in both the gospel of Matthew and Luke as I just read to you. It was a tradition in that time that a Rabbi would teach his own disciples a simple prayer to be said routinely throughout the day and this is exactly what this prayer was meant to be. Jesus the Rabbi was teaching his disciples how to pray. In the gospel of Luke, it says that the disciples actually asked Jesus to teach them. it was them asking that gave us this prayer. You see they observed Jesus praying often, daily, even many times a day, they remember the times he went away to be alone to pray. Prayer was part of Jesus’s daily connection to God, the One he called his Father.
Whenever we study such an important passage as this, it’s critical to notice where this teaching of prayer fits into the larger picture of other teachings by Jesus. And it is also essential to see this prayer through the eyes of the Jewish community. William Barclay, a biblical scholar notes that “to the Jews, there were above all three great works of the religious life, three great pillars on which the good life was based–almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus would not for a moment have disputed that, but this is key here, what troubled him was that so often in human life the finest things were done from the wrong motives.” It is clear in the verses leading up to this prayer that Jesus lists ways the disciples are NOT to pray. For example: “when you pray don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners,” Or “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Jesus says, “do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
So, if God, already knows everything that we need, why do we pray? What is our motive? What is your motive? (purpose, motivation, intention, aim) I’d like to stop here just a minute and let you think about this, why do you pray? I’m sure if you could answer me right now, I would hear many different reasons why you pray. Many needs, many hopes, many heartfelt desires. Some with right motives and others with wrong motives. It’s ok! Jesus helps us to understand the right motivation for prayer when he makes clear that praying is not about what others think of you, those who might hear you pray, or those who observe you praying. But he explains the right motivation by saying, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Prayer is a private encounter with the living God! A private encounter believing that God hears you and knows what you need!
So, because it is private you can share your most intimate thoughts and minute details of your life to God…God is present and waiting, waiting to hear from you! There is nothing you have to hold back on, nothing you have to remain silent about. Everything about who you are and who you hope to become is a fair game for sharing with God. Now for some of us, this might be difficult; difficult to admit our faults, our mistakes, our inadequacies…difficult to even think that God would care about us and/or care to hear about our personal struggles
BUT God does want to hear, God does care about every aspect of your life. There is so much angst around prayer. Questions such as, what words do I use, how should I pray, how long should I pray, is there any wrong way to pray? I hear you! The thought of speaking to God; the One who created this world, God who is mighty, powerful, loving…it all seems beyond our comprehension. How does one begin to even think about approaching God? Jesus helps calm our fears, and our anxieties and all the questions around prayer that might prohibit us from even trying. He gives us a simple prayer and assures us that it is all we need to say, especially if we’re stuck in the miry pit of questioning our ability to pray. It is a simple prayer to the one who Jesus calls Father.
The Lord’s Prayer begins with these words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Or according to Luke, “Father, hallowed be your name.” The very first words tell us that in prayer we are coming to God not as someone who is distant, far away, someone who lives in another galaxy but rather to someone close, someone who knows us, someone who knew from the beginning of our existence and someone who will know us forever. Someone who knows us like our parents know us. Maybe for you thinking of God as your Father is problematic. Maybe the image of a male figure, your own dad, or others is not a picture of love. Please don’t let this stop you from connecting with the One who gives you life. God is beyond our own understanding of particular masculine or feminine roles. Think of God in whatever image brings you a sense of connection, someone who really knows you and really, really loves you. For Jesus, speaking to God as his father is what best revealed this intimate, loving connection for him. Barclay helps us by explaining that in the Hebrew tradition in calling God, Father, Jesus was saying that he trusted God and beyond just knowing God, he knew the whole character and mind and heart of God. Can you imagine knowing the character, mind, and heart of God? Perhaps this is what prayer leads to. Could this be our right motive? Our true motive? To know the character, the mind, and the heart of God? Could deep, honest prayer lead to knowing God in this intimate way?
The Lord’s Prayer begins with this hope, this desire while we also balance the reality that God is holy, divine, and revered. In prayer then Jesus recognizes God as his Father but also having these characteristics. For The Lord’s Prayer moves from recognizing God as our Father to hallowed be God’s name. Do you hear what is being said here with this prayer? That the One who Jesus knew, God’s character, God’s mind, and God’s heart…also recognizes that this same God who holy, divine, and revered.
The Lord’s Prayer begins this way because it places the one praying in the right frame of reference. And this very first line of the prayer we acknowledge who God is and what God means to us. we align ourselves with the right motive to then begin a conversation with God. The Lord’s Prayer was the prayer Jesus taught the disciples and it remains our prayer today. May you in your private moments discover the very character of God; God’s mind, and God’s heart. “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be your name…