Not your typical Father
Sermon 1 on the Lord’s Prayer
January 19th & 20th, 2008
You may have seen the bumper sticker, “Life is fragile, handle with prayer” or a church sign that says “God answers Knee mail”. Our own sign presently says “Can’t sleep counting sheep, talk to the shepherd”. All these statements encourage prayer. Prayer in and of its is alive and well in this country. One particular survey said that 87% of Americans pray. Another survey states that 20% of Atheists and agnostics pray on a daily basis”. It is not uncommon to hear medical professionals, psychologists, and health experts tout the importance of meditation. Articles and books on prayer abound. Prayer is alive and well in our world today, which is why our look at the Lord’s Prayer over the next seven weeks will help us sift through what is helpful in our walk with God and what is not. For in the Lord’s Prayer, right from the first phrase, we learn something about this powerful and merciful God, who sent Jesus that we might have access to his mercy. You have probably heard the phrase “the power of prayer”, this prayer shows us the power and mercy of the Father who hears our prayer. In the religions of Jesus day, rarely was the term Father used to describe a deity. Yet Jesus does, because he ultimately is about reestablishing and keeping a relationship with us. In a world filled with chatter to so called divinities, our Lord gives us a prayer that is firmly based on the powerful loving God, who responds to the prayers of his dear children. Luther once said about this prayer. “this prayer is far superior to all others that we might devise ourselves….Thus there is no nobler prayer to be found on earth”.
The Lord’s Prayer is found in two places in the scriptures. In Matthew 6: 5-14, and in Luke 11:2-4. The Lord’s Prayer as we know it, is a combination of these two sections of scripture, and that the ending is actually found in the Old Testament, but more on that later. Prior to giving this prayer, Jesus makes some distinctions between the way most religious folks pray and how his followers pray. The first distinction is that prayer is not to be directed toward others but toward God. He says don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street to be seen by men. Now frankly, I’m not sure there are lot of Hoffman folks running around on the street corners praying in public, so that others could say “wow, that is impressive”, look at his spiritual life. However, the temptation for regular “religious” folks to be more concerned with what others think, rather than communicating with God is always there. We want to look good, and have good standing before others. Even prayer in a public place is not first about being a good witness, but about asking God to bless and guide a particular situation or blessing ones food. Prayer is to be directed toward God and not others. Secondly, Jesus says don’t go on babbling like the pagans, who think by their many words they will be heard. In other words, this prayer is not about manipulating God. There isn’t a special method, a special length, a special language, that will really get God’s attention, and finally get us what we want. The followers of Jesus are to pray differently, because in terms of God knowing, and God hearing/answering prayer, in a sense he does this even before the prayer is started. You see thirdly it says he knows what we need even before we ask it. For those that are not sure of their deities response, they try all kinds of approaches to get a hearing sot that their deities or deities know that they are sincere. With an unbelievers prayer there is a tendency to think that the louder one shouts, the longer the mantra, the more precise one is in wording maybe the gods or whatever will pay attention to you. Hoow different it is for the followers of Jesus. In John 10 Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and nothing can snatch out of my hand….no one can snatch them out of my Father hand. How wonderful that we can come before our Father in heaven as dear children. You know how it is with children and their parents. Many times children are not precise with their request, sometimes it takes a lot of effort on the parents part to read in between the lines, just what ones child wants. Other times children just come out and say what they want. Might it be that this is the way it is with our Father in heaven. He takes our imprecise, rather blunt (not well thought out) requests and responds/answers, hears. He even sneds His Spirit to help us pray. As a good Father then he gives us not just what we want but what we need. Romans 8:26 says “The spirit helps us in our weakness. WE do not know what we ought to pray for, but he Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
The first phrase of the Lord’s prayer, is really the most important phrase. “Our Father, how art in heaven”. It is the phrase that stands behind everything that follows. Someone has said that every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we should pause after the first part “Our Father who art in heaven” to remember who it is we are praying too. Not some unreachable God, but our heavenly Father. And not some weak God, but one who is in heaven, controlling heaven and earth. Right from the start we have mercy, and we have power. There are many terms used for the divine in the world. Such as the reference to God as “big guy upstairs”, yet Jesus doesn’t use this. There is a very popular term especially in groups like AA, finding ones “higher power”, yet Jesus doesn’t use this. In years before Christ, philosophers used to speak about God as the “Unmoved mover”, today philosophers will use the phrase the “Holy Other”. A Harvard Theologian by the name of Gorden Kaufman says this about the name of God he calls upon. “We have to think of God much more in accordance with the general picture of the world where scientific laws govern the course of events, making the idea of a transcendent personal God untenable, I prefer to think of God as creativity rather than as creator.” How said!!!!! God gave us his name precisely so he could be personal, and not merely a “Holy Other”. Praying to the Father according to Martin Luther means that he “Tenderly he invites us to believe that he is a true father, and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear Father.” Psalm 103 says “As a Father has compassion on is children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. Latter in Matthew Jesus himself invites the petitions in these words ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”. After all how w could one pray with confidence and boldness, joyfully expecting only good things and believing firmly these words if you did not know who it was you were praying to, or what he thought about you.
Another great gift of this prayer, is that we say “Our Father”, and not “My Father”. Jesus followers not only have a relationship with him, but through him we have a relationship with each other. Which is why we say “our Father. Through the Son, who connects us to the Father, we have more in common than we have different. After world war II their were two students at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. One was a German anti-aircraft machine gunner, and the other was a U.S. bombing Pilot. After talking with each other they realized that they were both in battle against each other on the same day, and that probably the American was on a bombing run while the German ani0-aircraft gunner was trying to blast him out of the sky. They both prayed that day, and when asked what they prayed. The German says “Vader undser, der du bister himmel” or “Our Father who art in heaven”. The American said it in the same prayer, albeit in a different language. Even two antagonists that were visibly enemies took their prayers to their Father. Even for them bitter enemies in the war, they had more in common as they prayed this prayer in faith, then apart. God took their prayer, and at least in this instance spared their lives here on earth.
We all gather as his redeemed children, praying to the one who loves us. Sadly those who plead to God without the covering of Christ are like a dog who when left at home by itself after his master leaves on a long trip, barks and barks thinking that the louder they bark, and the harder they try, they will be heard. Yet, no matter what the effort, this dog cannot be heard by the master who is away. Our master, our Father is not far away, and the proof of that is the Son he sent. He sent him to atone on Calvary’s cross even for our shoddy prayer life, our doubts, our attempts to manipulate God and others.
This is not your typical Father. To often Father’s on earth do not fulfill their callings in life. Yet this Father is Oh so different. . Listen to these words from Psalm 27:10 “Though my Father and mother forsake me, the Lord will not forsake me”. He also is an inviting Father and seeks us to receive his gifts. Luke 11:11 says Which of your Fathers if your son asks you for a fish will give him a snake instead “If you though you are evil give good gifts to your children, how much more will the father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.
We pray this prayer in the congregation over and over again, because this is what Jesus has called us to pray. We start out with “Our Father, who art in heaven”, because we know that as siblings under the heavenly Father we are united in the personal, loving Father, who spared not his own son for the saving of the world. Therefore, with this relationship established. Let us pray confidently this prayer. Life is fragile, handle with the Lord’s Prayer.