Lord’s Prayer – Our Prayer
July 28, 2019
Scripture: Based on Matthew 6:9-13
‘Oh Lord, teach us how to pray’, the disciples asked Jesus, and Jesus taught to them a prayer which has become a cornerstone of our Christian faith. What we know as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is found both in Luke and Matthew’s gospel accounts and seems to be an adaptation of an old Hebrew prayer that Jesus drew upon and made His own. In Matthew’s account there are a series of seven petitions, the first three of which are asking for God to act in a certain way in order to accomplish the plans and purposes of God, and the last four of which are seeking particular actions for our own benefit…three for God, four for us. For today we are going to look at the first part of the prayer, including the introduction and the first three petitions, and then next week we will look at the second set of four requests.
So, to start with, let’s look at the very beginning of the prayer, the greeting…in fact the very first word of the prayer, the word ‘Our’. Notice that the prayer does not begin with ‘My Father’ but rather with the word ‘Our’. While it can and should be prayed often as a personal prayer, at its heart, the Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer…a prayer intended to be prayed and understood from a group perspective.
So, what does ‘our’ really mean? It means we are the church…we are the ‘called out’ ones…called out first to live, and then to share the love of our God. The word ‘Our’ in the beginning of this prayer means we are the ones called to be a beacon of hope, a light shining on a hill for all to see…a word of encouragement, a loving touch, a shoulder to lean on, or when needed, to cry upon…
To call ourselves those for whom Jesus is ‘Our Lord’ is to accept that we are the ones called by Jesus and set apart to be living examples of the love shown to us by this foot-washing, servant, carpenter, shepherd Lord.
So, we truly are ‘Our’…called to be our family…called just as we are…in fact fully as we are…with our hearts open to share and to receive…called as people ‘put together’… or ‘broken’. ‘in control’ or ‘not so much’, ‘healthy’, or ‘maybe not’, all certainly with needs…all certainly with some degree of brokenness…all called fully as we are into this peculiarly wonderful blessing of ‘our-ness’ by Jesus. Truly we are, and there is no shame in being a bunch of ragamuffins so much in need of a Savior…at least that is who we are when we are being completely honest with ourselves. So, the ‘our’ of ‘Our Father’ is us…Christians in communal life…caring for and supporting one another.
You know, Jesus presumed all along that we would pray…that is why He said ‘When you pray’…not ‘if you happen to be praying’…no, he said, ‘When you pray say, ‘Our Father’’. The word ‘Father’ is one that has lots of meaning attached to it. In this day, in our language and culture it is most often a formal address…however in the language Jesus spoke, in Aramaic, he actually used the word ‘Abba’. Now Abba is a much more informal name than ‘Father’ and the relationship it implies is one of deep intimacy, love, and trust…sort of like ‘daddy’ or even better yet, ‘papa’. By using this informal and intimate name in speaking to and addressing God, Jesus was trying to share with his followers, and with us as well…that our God is first a God of love, a God of comfort in time of need, a God who can be found in the crazy hustle and bustle of life as well as in the quiet of our own heartbeat. Our God is one who seeks to embrace and to hold us as we try to walk along our daily path…through the joyous times…as well as in times of loneliness, fear, or perhaps lack of understanding. Jesus spent much time speaking and sharing with his ‘papa’ and he wanted us to be just as comfortable in reaching out to ‘Papa-God’ ourselves…
For indeed, this truly is ‘Our’ ‘Papa’ too!
That was Jesus’ introduction to the prayer he taught his disciples…an informal greeting to Papa God…our ‘father’ or loving parent in heaven. From that opening address we then move on into the first petition, ‘Hallowed be thy name’.
I must confess that for most of my life I had not seen this phrase as a ‘petition’, as something we are asking God for…but rather as a continuation of the opening greeting…as part of the description of ‘Our Father’…like ‘Our Father…has a holy or special name’…but that is not it at all…the word ‘hallowed’ comes to us from the old English and is really better understood as ‘sanctified’. And in order for God’s name to be sanctified, it requires some action on God’s part. We are not the ones who make God’s name sanctified! ‘Hallowed be’ or ‘sanctified be’ is not something we do to God’s name, but rather a petition directly to God that he will make his own name holy here on earth.
And do not forget that in the time of Jesus, a name carried much more weight than just being a means of identification. For Jesus, the ‘name’ of God included the presence, the fullness, the whole realm of all that God was and is for him. So Jesus was trying to teach us, that in this portion of the prayer we are asking that God would make his fullness and presence holy amongst us here and now…that the name of God, the awesome reality of God would be seen in our lives, in this time, and in this place.
So our prayer so far reads, ‘Our Lord, God of ours, God of this family gathered here, our papa…may you make your name, your presence known in the midst of us…make your name holy here, and now’.
Next we have the second petition, ‘Thy kingdom come’. Now that too is an interesting phrase. What exactly does it mean to ask that ‘God’s kingdom come’? It surely meant different things to Matthew’s intended audience than to Luke’s…for Matthew was writing primarily to a Jewish community, seeking to convince them through an extensive opening genealogy and birth narrative, to his very liberal use of scriptures from the Torah inserted throughout the gospel, that indeed Jesus was the long awaited and promised Messiah of God. The One come to save, to redeem and to restore the former glory and power of Israel.
For Matthew’s original audience, ‘Thy kingdom come’ was for them a nationalist cry for God to restore them to their ‘rightful place’ as inheritors and distributors of God’s favor and grace. Perhaps not all that different from the same feeling of smug entitlement some privileged folk have when they see a ‘God bless America’ bumper sticker and take it to mean, ‘God bless the actions of this nation and not the fortunes of anyone else’…sort of like ‘God bless us’…and ‘let the rest fend for themselves’.
Luke’s original audience on the other hand was a whole different set of people. These were not Jewish but rather Gentile believers. City dwellers who felt blessed to be included in the grace and generosity of this God who formerly only seemed to favor the Jews. ‘Thy kingdom come’ for them meant the establishment by God of an open and equal society, a reign of God in which all peoples would be blessed and under the loving care and grace of this risen Lord Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior for all.
These are two very different ways of interpreting these prayerful words of Jesus…two viewpoints that continue on even to this day. Some time, take the time to ponder this fact. Look to see how you pray this line of the Lord’s Prayer…do you want God’s kingdom to be one that is very specifically one for a certain kind, nation, race, or class of people? Or is your idea of God’s table, big enough so that all may find their place to sit down together in the grace of God?
Moving forward, the word ‘kingdom’ is interesting in and of itself, and probably would take another hour to fully discuss it. At the very least though, we need to acknowledge that the term is very foreign to our experience today, as well as being very burdened with connotations of dominance, control, power, might, conquest, and other problematic concepts. It is a shame that the English language can be so inaccurate, insufficient, and leading at times. As you all know, I have always preferred, when talking about the ‘Kingdom of God’ to use the term coined by Ada Maria Isazi-Dias, a Latina liberationist theologian or Mujerista. When speaking of the incoming day of God’s glory and realized love she refers to it as the ‘kin-dom’ of God. Now, doesn’t that seem more in keeping with a prayer addressed to someone known as ‘Papa’? ‘Your kin-dom come, the full realization of your community of loving brothers and sisters come into being Lord…make it happen here and now we ask…here in our time’.
So far, we have looked at the first two petitions of the prayer. The third is not as difficult to understand and is actually pretty straight forward. The third request of God reads, ‘Thy will be done, here and now, just as it is in Heaven’. This is the part of the prayer where we ask that God would continue to work through the series of choices that we make and to continue to push forward His divine and unfolding plan of salvation and redemption for all of Creation. While God honors our free will, he still is a God of love and wants to draw us ever nearer to his love and purposes. So, in a very real sense, to pray this line of the prayer is to ask God to bless us and to care for and provide for us in spite of ourselves!
And thank goodness God seeks to do just that. Oh Papa God, may thy will…thy purposes…thy plan of unconditional and extravagant love continue to unfold amongst us your children, we who are so much the apple of your eye, and so undeserving at the same time. Yes Lord, thy will be done….in our lives and by your love.
And so, we pray this prayer thus far in this way; Our papa, make your name, your fullness present in our sight. Hasten the day when all can see and be a part of the holy and blessed kinship of your family. Work through our stubbornness and weakness to bring the flower of your love on earth into fullest and fairest bloom for all to see. Papa God in heaven, hear this our prayer…
May our Lord continue to bless this our understanding of His holy word as next week we take up the notion of asking God for ‘daily bread’…amen