Matthew 6: 7 When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. 8 Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.
9 You should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
help us to honor
10 Come and set up
so that everyone on earth
will obey you,
as you are obeyed
11 Give us our food for today.
12 Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
13 Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil.
14 If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 When you go without eating, don’t try to look gloomy as those show-offs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 17 Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then others won’t know that you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.
19 Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. 20 Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21 Your heart will always be where your treasure is.
How many times have you said this prayer? For some of us, every Sunday of our lives. For others, every day of our lives. It is so familiar that we could say it in our sleep. In fact, when I can’t sleep, this is my go-to prayer, over and over and over.
Many of us learned to say this prayer in the language of the 16th Century: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
We no longer use that form of is/are anymore, nor do we say thy or thee when we mean you or your. And when is the last time you used hallowed in a sentence? The reason we use those archaic forms is because for several centuries the translation ordered by King James of England, a contemporary of Shakespeare, by the way, was the preferred English translation. It is a beautiful translation, still the most poetic of all the English translations. But like much poetry, it is hard to understand when you’re most familiar with 21st Century English.
Language is like a river: it never stays the same. When you stick your foot in the Wapsi, pull it out, and stick it in, it’s the not same river. The water has kept moving, changing. A river like the Wapsi is a great comparison to language; if you go over its bridges as often as I do, you know that the banks, the sandbars, the logs and snags are always changing. Thus, the comparison to language.
Still, enough of these words are familiar to us that we know what we are praying. We are not reciting a foreign language. We are using words to stay in touch with God.
Let’s look first at the first two words. Both are significant.
Our. Our Father. Not my Father. Not just Father. Our Father. That little three-letter word defines God in a way that pulls us out of ourselves and into community. People like to talk about their personal Savior. But this is different. This is one of the most important concepts of Christianity.
\I am reading a book right now, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. The author examines how and why Christianity went from being persecuted by the Roman Empire to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. He offers a variety of theories, but one that applies here is that the Christians met and flourished in communities. Those who worshiped the Roman gods of the time did not meet regularly, or in each others homes, or make a big deal of taking care of each other, ministering to the sick, the alienated, and the poor. The sense of community, the caring that the Christian congregations practiced and modeled may have been one factor that drew pagan worshipers to Christianity.
Our. One of the strengths of this congregation is the sense of community. We gather for a number of reasons, but I know that one that draws us back week after week is knowing that we will be welcomed. We are in this together. We know that to thrive, all of us have to participate. We know that we operate as inspiration to each other, as comfort to each other. We know that this is a safe place to ask for help, to ask for prayer, to ask for advice. We know that this is a safe place to share sorrows and problems as well as joys.
Even when we can’t be here in person, we know we are a part of this group. This is our church, our congregation, our space, our place.
Now. The second word: Father.
We live in a culture that seeks to make a people feel welcome, to make all people feel safe. Hence, political correctness. What does political correctness mean to you? Does it mean a bunch of silly rules that cater to minority groups? How about this definition: the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t get me in trouble. That’s fine, as long as I don’t have to watch what I’m saying. Everybody else can be “pc.” I’m not hurting anything. If you don’t like what I have to say, don’t listen.
What does this have to do with the Lord’s prayer? Sadly, tragically, the word father does not mean the same to everyone. When I think of my father, I think of a wonderful, loving, faithful man who gave me so much that he still influences my decisions. But to some, father means a mean, brutal, abusive man who had power and could hit and hurt without consequence to himself. Father can mean fear and shame and anger to many men and women. So, in this “pc” age, what do we do about those who cringe when they try to imagine a heavenly Father?
Believe it or not, Martin Luther addressed this in the 16th Century. Abusive fathers are not a modern creation. Luther was very much aware of fathers who showed no love and much cruelty toward their children. But he kept the word “Father.”
Why? Luther himself had a demanding, judgmental father whose expectations for Luther did not reflect Luther’s own wishes. But when Luther himself became a father, he was amazed by the depth and intensity of his love for his own children. Luther discovered a God that was more like himself than his own father. He used the words, kind, loving, comforting, joy- giving and learned to know God, not as a judge, but as a source of trust and joy.
Luther recognized that some fathers, like his own, were not loving. But he reflected on Jesus’ prayers at Gethsemane before his death. Jesus was crying out to a God whose love he knew and trusted.
Additionally, Luther recognized the importance of the Christian’s relationship to God. He truly believed that we should ask God “boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father.”
Charles H. Spurgeon, a 19th Century Theologian remarked that…
“If the prayer of our text had not been dictated by the Lord Jesus himself, we might think it too bold.
Luther emphasizes that we should always turn first to God for help. No one else has promised to always hear us, to help us, to strengthen us. Luther also noted that we should be aware that God’s help comes in the form of humans sent by God.
Let’s look at one more phrase: Hallowed be your name. By praying to God we are acknowledging that he is holy to us and we are reminding ourselves that we want to live holy lives. If we hallow God’s name, if we respect God’s name, we are establishing a right relationship with God. The Contemporary English Version makes this clearer:
Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. This reminds us of the Second Commandment
7 Do not misuse my name. I am the Lord your God, and I will punish anyone who misuses my name.
The Lord’s Prayer is amazing. I sometimes think it should be the only prayer we use. Jesus taught it to us because he knew we needed help with praying. He put everything we needed in our lives into that one prayer.
7 When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. 8 Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.
Every Sunday, we have a part in our service that we call “Prayers of the People.” In some churches, these prayers are read from a book. They are long and cover every possible subject. In our services, I pray from the heart to address whatever is on my mind or brought to my attention.
Religion professor Richard Swanson points out that…
It matters that it is a little prayer. The storyteller says pagans are impressed by battalogia and polulogia. Babbling and long-winded wordiness are useful if the Deity demands groveling before deigning to respond. Babbling and long-winded wordiness are useful if what really matters is preening religious practice. I am the child of people who believe that directness and simple honesty matter, and that elaborate protocol is a sign of dishonesty. “Don’t try to snow me” might be our family motto. It’s refreshing to hear that Matthew’s Jesus could belong to our family. “God your father knows what you need,” he says. “He knows it before you ask, so don’t try to snow him.” Prayer trusts the nearness and readiness of God. That is worth remembering.
The Lord’s Prayer gives us something we need: a direct, immediate connection to God. And we know it is “politically correct” because Jesus taught it to us. Amen.