In Luke chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.
He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’(Luke 11:2-4, NRSV)
This is not exactly the prayer we recite together each week when we gather. The one in our weekly service more reflects Matthew 6:9-14 combined with the way it appears in the Didache.
The sermon title, “An Instruction Manual, Not a Script” alludes to the idea that Jesus was teaching them how to pray, and not providing a script that needs to be repeated verbatim. Not that liturgy and repetition is a bad thing at all — indeed, I’ve been at the bedside of dying saints who haven’t spoken in days, weeks, months, yet when the words of the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed are spoken, their lips begin to move in unison with my words. It’s a beautiful thing — the power of liturgy. It provides peace and order in the midst of confusion; it provides a framework for our belief even in the midst of doubt.
But what we need to be wary of is just saying the Lord’s Prayer rather than praying the Lord’s Prayer. The difference between saying and praying is that we can say things or recite things without engaging our mind or feeling it in our heart. And empty words are useless to Jesus. He calls the priests who pray loudly on the corners, rocking back and forth “hypocrites” — the Greek word used for a stage actor who wore a massive mask, exaggerated costumes, and elevated shoes to make them appear bigger, taller than they were.
So to combat this, he proposes this ground-breaking prayer.
But Pastor Paula — The Lord’s Prayer. . . groundbreaking?
I imagine you’re looking at me with some amount of skepticism, aren’t you?
Because to us, the Lord’s Prayer is anything BUT ground breaking. It is just The Lord’s Prayer — one of the first things any child memorizes through repetition. You probably can’t even remember a time when you didn’t address God as “Our Father.”
Let me shed a little light on this, though. Our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was Psalm 85. An excerpt:
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation towards us.
Will you be angry with us for ever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:4-7)
Do you hear the fear with which our ancestors approached God? They are praying that God’s anger would be calmed; they are praying that they may receive God’s salvation and that God would show God’s steadfast love.
As Christians we recognize that God has shown us steadfast love in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have received salvation. In Jesus we do not see God’s anger — only God’s grace and mercy in living, breathing, human-form.
So right from the start, when Jesus suggests to his disciples that they approach God in prayer with “Father,” he is breaking ground. He is shattering the people’s view of an angry and distant God, who metes out punishment in the form of infertility and other physical limitations (blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc).
So for the disciples, addressing God as “Father” indicated to them that God was not just distant and powerful and holy. . . God knew and cared for the one praying as if he or she was their beloved child.
Is it possible that we are beloved children of God? Indeed, we think of ourselves that way often without understanding what an amazing concept it is! For the disciples it was a major shift in perception, and it was a game-changer. It has led all of us to understand that we can approach God in prayer wherever, whenever. That is an incredible gift.
The rest of the prayer is pretty ground-breaking as well. We are praying for “God’s Kingdom to come. . .” Friends — this is way different than us praying to God, asking for “things” or favors or whatever it is that catches our fancy at the time. NO — we are to pray for God’s kingdom, which looks a lot different than the world we live in. Jesus taught about the kingdom all the time. He made comparisons like:
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
Again Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. (Matthew 13:33)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)
Are you sure you want to be praying for such radical things? Do you really want to be that tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree? Do you want to be the yeast that leavens the entire sixty pounds of flour? Do you want to give away everything you have so you can enjoy the treasure of the kingdom of heaven?
Maybe if we understood the gravity of the things we are asking for, we would pray for them with a little more care. As we continue to honor these words in our weekly service, let’s promise again to never SAY the Lord’s Prayer again. Let’s vow, together, to PRAY the Lord’s Prayer from this time on and forevermore.
In Christ’s Love,