The Lord’s Prayer – Jan. 26, 2020

The Lord’s Prayer

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matthew 6:7-15

January 26, 2020

Main Idea: Jesus teaches us how to pray.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today our worship has been built around the Lord’s Prayer.  This is a prayer that we know by heart, a prayer that we say every Sunday, a prayer that is holy and revered in all branches of the Christian faith, a prayer taught to us by Jesus himself.   We all are at least a bit familiar with this prayer, yes?  And yet how often do we stop to consider just what this prayer is all about?  For what are we praying when we pray it?  This morning we will take some time to consider this beloved prayer and to recognize the gift and the challenge that it brings to us.  With this prayer, Jesus teaches us how to pray.

Our Scripture text comes from the middle of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  The Lord’s Prayer is the center piece of the whole sermon, grounding all of Jesus’ teachings into relationship with God.  The prayer itself comes from the Q source, a collection of sayings from Jesus that are found in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark.  In the Gospel of Luke, the prayer is shorter and is placed in a different context.  But the prayer comes from Jesus and so we will focus just on the prayer itself.  Not only does Jesus give us words to say in prayer but through the prayer he reveals to us how to align our lives with God.

The Lord’s Prayer was an important prayer in the early church.  Coming from Jesus himself, the prayer is similar in content and structure to other Jewish prayers such as the Kaddish and the 18 Benedictions, which makes sense since Judaism was Jesus’ faith tradition.  Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples in Aramaic rather than in Hebrew, using the common language that all would know rather than the formal liturgical language. It is a prayer for the people, not only for the religious leaders. The prayer’s structure consists of an address to God followed by two sets of three petitions.  The first three petitions concern God and the second set concern the people, (which is also the structure of the 10 Commandments).  [I encourage you to look at the Scripture itself as we move through it as we will see that it is a bit different from the prayer printed on our bulletin cover.]

The prayer begins with “Our Father”.   Notice that the prayer is a collective one, addressed to Our Father, not My Father. All the pronouns throughout the prayer are in the plural.  This is an inclusive, not an exclusive, prayer.  Addressing God as Father was and is common in Jewish prayer.  For Jesus, Father had a special and intimate meaning.  Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba which translates as a less formal Papa or Dad.  By encouraging his disciples, and us, to pray to Our Father, Jesus invites us to recognize ourselves, and all of humanity, as God’s children, and also as brothers and sisters to Jesus himself.  The point of calling God Father is not to say that God is male but that God is a parent who loves all of us and seeks our wellbeing.

“Hallowed be your name”.  This is the first of three petitions concerning God and the coming of God’s kingdom.  To hallow God’s name is to recognize and honor God as holy.   Jesus calls God Papa but also recognizes God’s unlimited holiness, power, and love.  We hallow God’s name by gathering for worship, by singing God’s praise, and by acknowledging our complete dependence on God’s providence and grace.

“Your kingdom come”.  This petition is the centerpiece of the prayer.  “For Jesus and his disciples, the kingdom was not only a future reality at the end of the world, but a present reality” (M. Eugene Boring, NIB, Vol VIII, p. 203).  Jesus saw God’s kingdom breaking into the everyday.  He proclaimed that it was here among us as well and he looked to the future when all would live in peace.  We talk about the kingdom being here as already/not yet.  We see glimpses of God’s kingdom in the midst of our daily lives, moments of grace in the midst of struggle and hardship, and we look forward to a day when the world lives together in justice and peace.   When we pray “Your kingdom come”, we commit ourselves to work with God in bringing about God’s will for the world.  This is a big commitment.

This leads us to the third petition “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” “Thy will be done” is an important theme in the Gospel of Matthew. The whole gospel was written to show that Jesus’ life and teachings are God’s will.  Jesus prays “Your will be done” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:42).  Jesus sees our lives on earth as intimately bound up with God.  Through God’s will, heaven and earth are reunited and our lives are transformed from our sinful striving for power and survival to harmonious life with God. Sometimes we think about what heaven might be like but what if we lived here and now as if we were in heaven?  How might our decisions change? When we pray “Your will be done” we align our hopes and wishes with God’s plan.  We acknowledge that God’s will for our life is the best life we could live. 

The first set of petitions are for God and the second set of petitions are for ourselves; prayers for help and support as we strive to do God’s will.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  This petition speaks to the human need for sustenance.  It recognizes and stands in solidarity with those who are hungry and in need.  One interesting bit is that the original text actually says “Give us this day our bread for tomorrow.”, asking not only to be fed but also for some reassurance that there will be bread tomorrow as well.  Jesus and his disciples knew the Exodus story of Manna in the Wilderness.  The Israelites needed to trust that God would feed them.  This prayer requires the same trust of us, that God will provide what we need.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”  Jesus understood that all of us fall short and are in need of forgiveness when we approach God.  God does forgive, so prayers for forgiveness are heard and answered.  BUT we cannot presume God’s forgiveness if we will not extend forgiveness to others.    Like the petition “on earth as it is in heaven” this prayer links human action with divine action and the already/not yet nature of God’s kingdom.  We have received forgiveness and yet we can not hold onto it while withholding forgiveness from others.  Jesus talks about this throughout his ministry both in parables and direct teachings.  God’s love and forgiveness are free gifts that we cannot keep from others.  This prayer encourages us to open up our hearts and allow God’s love and strength to enter in.

The final petition is “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” As one who was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted, Jesus knew that his disciples, and we, need to depend on God in all circumstances, both good and bad.   We can pray that God will guide us around difficulties.  But when difficulties arise we can have confidence that God is with us.  We recognize that there is evil in the world that needs to be confronted.  We trust that God is with us as we stand against it. 

The ending of our prayer, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”, you will notice is not here in Matthew nor is it in Luke.   The early gospel manuscripts could not agree on how this prayer should end.  The tradition includes “10 different endings to the Lord’s Prayer, testifying to its frequent use and adoption in the life of the church.” (M. Eugene Boring, NIB, Vol VIII, p. 205) The beautiful doxology that we know comes from King David’s final prayer in I Chronicles 29:11.  It connects the prayer of Jesus to his ancestor David and the rich tradition from which he came.

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to be in relationship with God. Jesus models for us a prayer that brings us ever closer to God; a prayer that reminds us of God’s true nature and our true selves.  Prayer is not the same as wishes. It is not only for emergencies or celebrations.  Prayer can be, is designed to be, an intrinsic part of life.   Prayer is a particular kind of language in which we speak our deep truth and faith to our God who hear us and responds to us.  When we pray we align ourselves with God’s will. We see God’s blessings, we listen to God’s guidance, and we act on God’s behalf. 

Today, after worship we will have our Annual Meeting where we will look to the year ahead. We have decisions to make, service to do, and ministries to share.  May all our work together be grounded in this prayer that Jesus taught us.

As our closing prayer let us pray the Lord’s Prayer again, slowly, with gratitude for Jesus who has taught us to pray, saying…