Year C - Trinity 7/Proper 12 Luke 11:1-13 - The Lord's Model Prayer
A little girl came home very excited. When her mother asked her why she said that she had discovered God's real name. 'What do you mean ?', asked the mum. 'Well, we learned a prayer today, Our Father in heaven, Harold be your name...'
Even today, children at school are taught the Lord's Prayer. Yet they, and perhaps we, tend to learn it off by heart and then repeat it as a habit. Yet we forget that it was given as a pattern prayer by Jesus to his disciples. In Matthew's gospel it is given after Jesus had warned his disciples about the dangers of praying without sincerity and praying endlessly. It is ironic that this prayer is sometimes used in these ways. Without sincerity because those praying do it as a habit and without understanding. Praying endlessly because the Lord's Prayer is repeated again and again. For example in the B.C.P. Communion service it is at the start and the end of the service, although we just say it at the end of our 8 a.m. service !
Jesus taught his disciples to address God as 'Our Father in heaven'.
We can say this because we have a relationship with God the Father, through Jesus the Son, by the actions of God the Holy Spirit working within us. We can say 'Our' because we share a close relationship with God as Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father. God sees you and me and Jesus in a similar way. Because Jesus lives in us. So we can say 'Our Father' with Jesus because he is my Father and Jesus' Father.
We can also say 'Our Father' alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ who also have access to God the Father through the Son, by the work of the Spirit. It reminds us that we are not in isolation. We are all God's children ! It also reminds us that, whilst private prayer is very important, so is it important for Christians to get together to pray. Something that we do on most Tuesday mornings at Graham and Dorothy's home.
In contrast with the culture of today, the idea of addressing God as 'Our Father' was foreign, almost offensive to the Jews of Jesus day. They would address God as 'Sovereign Lord', 'King of the Universe', concentrating on the greatness and distance of God rather than an intimate, almost familiar image, of God as 'Our Father'. Perhaps today we tend to concentrate more on the familiar, and less on the awe that our great God should bring out of us. The words 'Our Father in heaven' reminds us that whilst God has come to earth as a man, Jesus, He is separate and separated from us. The word 'holy' means set apart. But at the same time, we can pray confidently because we have a loving, heavenly father who wants the best for us and has the power available to grant our requests. Unfortunately, not everyone has had a loving and generous father, but everyone has a loving and generous father in heaven who is ready and able to answer prayer. When we look at prayer in this way it becomes less formal and more like a conversation.
There are six parts to this prayer. The first three concern God: His name; His rule: and His will.
The next three concern humankind, our need for :food; forgiveness, and freedom.
1) God's name.
'Hallowed be your name'
We pray that God's name will be hallowed, respected, honoured.
In the Jewish world your name told people something about yourself. So a name would be chosen to reflect something about your physical features, your personality, or what you did. Today some of our surnames tell us something about the trade of our ancestors. For example 'Smith' tells us that this persons ancestors were a type of smith, a worker of metal. e.g. Blacksmith, Silversmith etc
The Jews, therefore, associated the name and the person very closely. That name stood for the person. If they deserved honour, worship, respect, so did their name. They gave such respect to the name of God that a Jew of Jesus' day would not even use the word 'God'. That is why Matthew's gospel, which was written for Jews, talks of the 'kingdom of heaven' and not the ' kingdom of God'.
This is why the fourth commandment prohibits the misuse of the name of God.
How can we hallow God's name ?
We can hallow it by not misusing His name. Today some people blaspheme using the name of God or Jesus like a swear word.
We can hallow the name of God when we do His will. We bear God's name. We are known as 'Christ-ians'. We represent God to the world. Together we are His body here on earth. Therefore, we have a responsibility as individuals and as a church to act in such a way that we bring honour and praise to God by doing His will.
We now consider, 2) God's kingdom.
Your kingdom come...
A King rules in his kingdom. God is in control of everything, yet he currently gives freedom of choice to humankind. Therefore, we can go against his perfect will and that is why the world is in such a mess. Even nature is operating in a way it was not intended to be because of man's abuse of the planet. Yet we still have some people who bury their heads in the sand, or rather they bury their heads in the wallets of large corporations who are more interested in short-term profit than people's well-being. You may have seen on television last week a programme that showed there are some areas of the United States where, because of pollution, asthma and other diseases are widespread amongst the population, yet this problem is ignored because of the economic consequences. We see this irresponsibility affecting President Bush who seems unwilling to admit that their is a problem and to make any promises that would compromise material prosperity in his country. ( Sorry, North American readers, but this is how it appears to us ! )
When we pray your kingdom come we are asking God to bring the whole created order under his direct control. Both today and in the future. To do away with sin and disruption, pain, suffering, grief, death, and disorder.
But we are also asking God to judge sin. He has already done this once when Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for other people's sin.
When sin is judged next time people will have to stand by the decision they have made in how they live their lives. Those who have trusted and followed Jesus will be acquitted because Jesus has paid the penalty for these people's sin. Those who have not trusted and followed Jesus will have to bear the penalty for their own sin. This is separation from God. For ever.
When we ask for God's kingdom to come we are asking for the blessing of Jesus' return to bring in the fullness of God's rule. This will also bring about the judgement and condemnation to everyone living and dead who does not trust in Jesus. Therefore, it can be an incentive for us to share the love of Jesus with others in word and in deed and to pray for people to come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
3) God's will.
'your will be done on earth as in heaven'.
Here we are praying for God's perfect will to be done on earth in the same way that it is accomplished in heaven. That is, without being affected by sin. We are praying for the type of things that happened in the time of Jesus. People to be healed, evil spirits driven out, the dead raised , people come to faith, be filled with God's Holy Spirit, live lives showing the fruit of the Spirit.
It is freeing in one sense. For we are saying to God this is your burden.
Yet it has to affect us, because God needs people as His agents to carry out his will. This is a two stage process. First we have to know what God's perfect will is for us and for others. How do we do this ? We read and study the Bible privately and in groups, listen to sermons, read Christian books, and so on.
Once we know God's will we then do it. Enabled and inspired by God's Holy Spirit
So we release things to God in prayer, but also need to be prepared to be the one whom God will use to answer our prayers.
We have looked at praying for God's name, God's kingdom, and God's will. We now look at humankind's needs. First of all,
'Give us this day our daily bread.'
Where do you get your bread and food from ? How often do you get paid or receive your pension ? Things have changed a lot since the time of Jesus. Then labourers were paid at the end of each day that they worked. You may remember that Jesus told a parable about this. Some days they would not work at all, especially if there had been a crop failure. The labourers wages were very low. Not enough to save any money. Therefore, their pay purchased their food every day.
This prayer is not just about trusting God for bread, but also employment and the necessities of life. Because we do not get paid or seek provisions in this primitive way there is a danger that we lose sight of the fact that every good and perfect gift is from God. This includes our wages and what we need to live. So next time you go to Normid, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Safeway or Sainsbury's think of God and his provision for you. Maybe put 'Thank God' at the top of your shopping list to remind you !
Think of the 5 million people in Afghanistan who are starving and would be aghast at what we keep in our cupboards, never mind what can be found in a supermarket. We have much to be grateful for, and with God's gracious provision for us comes a responsibility to share with others.
2) We now look at our need for forgiveness.
'and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us'
The word translated sin or trespasses literally means debt. We all sin and fall short of God's perfect standard for us. This is to love God with our whole being, and to love other people as we love ourselves. This failure is sin. The penalty for sin is death, separation from God.
Jesus has paid that penalty when he was on the cross. That is why he said, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?' Through this separation he secured forgiveness for the sins of all who trust in him. To truly trust in Jesus is to realise that we are not good enough for God. To realise that Jesus has died for us personally, and the pain and suffering that our sin caused him. To respond in gratitude by putting our life under his control.
God's offer of forgiveness is undeserved. We are sinners pardoned by God through the death of his Son. Therefore, we are to forgive other people. Not because it earns us a place in heaven but because it shows that we realise the basis of our own forgiveness. As soon as we condemn someone else, we condemn ourselves.
We are forgiven, so we can be forgiving. If we are unforgiving it calls into question our own forgiveness. The third verse of Make me a channel of your peace illustrates this.
Make me a channel of Your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving to all men that we receive,
And in dying that we're born to eternal life.
Our need for food, our need for forgiveness, 3) our need for freedom.
'and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'
Oscar Wilde said, ' I can resist everything, except temptation.' But where does temptation come from ? Does God tempt people ? James 1:13, "When tempted no-one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone." So God does not, cannot lead people into temptation.
Where does God lead people then ? To do good.
We need to pray for freedom. This part of the pattern prayer has two aspects:
1) Asking God to lead us away from temptation. He frees us from doing what is wrong. Christians are no longer slaves to sin.
How can this be ? We are to consciously rely upon the moral triumph and spiritual victory that Jesus has achieved for us. If we are unaware of them we should ask God where we are weak and vulnerable to temptation. When we are aware of this we can then pray specifically for protection in this area. We should also do all that we can to avoid unnecessary temptation.
For example if someone has a gambling problem he/she should not walk into a betting shop, or go somewhere that sells Lottery Tickets late on a Saturday afternoon.
Similarly someone with an alcohol problem should avoid visiting an off licence or pub.
2) God also leads us into the right way. He frees us to do what is right, enabled by his Holy Spirit and guided by the Bible. This will involve us in conscious effort and sometimes it will not be easy. But it will have its rewards, both in this life and in the life to come.
We have a loving God who wants to answer our prayers. He will give to us, forgive us lead us, and will fill us with joy as we follow his way.