The story goes that a husband and wife always had the same roast beef, cooked the same way. The wife always cut the ends off the roast beef before cooking it. One day the husband decided to ask why she always cut the ends off. The wife simply, responded "that's how my mother did it so that's how I do it." The husband insisted she call her mother and find out if it helps it cook faster or keeps it moist. His wife was sure it was the former and he sure it was the latter. Finally they would know the reason it was important to cut the ends off! So she called and asked her mother. The answer, it turns out, is that the mother's pan was just too small to hold a standard sized roast.
Sometimes we do something without thinking about why we do it. Prayer can be like that sometimes. One time that can happen is when we pray a memorized prayer, like the Lord’s prayer. Sometimes we just zone out. But it is possible to get more out of it than that. And there is a lot to this prayer worth taking a look at.
I spoke in week one about prayer as spiritual practice. Practice is something that we do over and over again in order to incorporate it into ourselves. What we do is important because it becomes our habit. Today I want to look at how Jesus prayed and how he taught his disciples to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. We will keep in mind that our understanding this prayer better might help us pray it with more meaning and also live out the values found within it. That’s important because this prayer teaches us both how to pray and also how to live.
When we look at the Gospels we see a picture of Jesus doing many things, but the majority of the time he was engaged in 1 of 4 tasks. So let’s look at these 4 tasks. Jesus was often found (1) teaching or preaching, (2) offering wholeness and liberation: which includes healing, performing miracles, and forgiving sins (3) Breaking bread in community or celebrating or sharing a meal (4) and praying. I want to propose that all four of these practices relate to how Jesus prayed, and relate to who we are called to be as a people. When Jesus ate, for example, he prayed for those he broke bread with. That’s important to note, but it is also important to note who he ate with. He was willing to eat with anyone and everyone…which means he was willing to pray with and for anyone and everyone. Our prayer practices relate to our Christian identity…because what we practice becomes who we are.
One thing churches and Christian communities practice together all over this world is prayer. When you look specifically at the Lord ’s Prayer you find that many Christian churches and denominations pray this prayer every time they gather for services. It is estimated that on Easter Sunday in 2007, throughout the world in various languages and various locations and various denominations, over 2 billion people prayed THIS prayer. Over 2 billion people on that one day. In that prayer we are united to the people who share our faith tradition.
So, why do we practice THIS prayer? Well, let’s keep in mind that this prayer is a response to Jesus being asked how one should pray. His disciples saw that he had a vibrant prayer life and they wanted to understand it. So Jesus taught this prayer…
It starts with:
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name”
This is Jesus’ statement on who we are praying to. This is the God who we are addressing in everything that follows. This God is in close relationship to us. A familial relationship…like a mother or father…This is a good parent who loves, provides, and protects. But also this is God who is Holy or sacred. Even the name of this God is holy. That’s what “Hallowed be thy name” means: it means your name is Holy. Holy and sacred also mean “set apart”. Something different, something unique. So God is near (like a loving parent) and far (like something utterly different from us). God is both knowable and mysterious. Jesus is teaching us about God by sharing this prayer with us. We are learning something about God when we reflect upon it. We are being taught and molded.
Next we pray:
“Thy Kingdom come.”
God’s kingdom come. We are asking here for God’s holy kingdom or reign to come to earth. With this prayer, I believe we should also resolve to become a part of bringing about that holy realm here on earth. God’s liberation and salvation is meant to burst upon our present world. We know that because the next thing we hear is:
“thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”
Now we ask that God’s will be done here on earth as it is already done in Heaven.
What is Jesus getting at here? What are we asking for, or being asked to do? We are being told that the kingdom of God can be here among us now. When we talk about Christ’s saving power, or that Jesus has saved us, we are not referring ONLY to something that happens after death. A God who is a resurrected and living God, who has sent the Holy Spirit, works in history and in our day to day lives and not just outside of it all. This God works in our world today through us…through the church, through individuals. Jesus calls us to be a part of the kingdom of God, but again, not just after death. In Luke 17:21, Jesus tells his followers that the kingdom of God is among them, or in their midst. So that’s a little different than Heaven. Sometimes the phrase kingdom of God gets associated with Heaven, but Heaven is a concept of something that exists or happens that we can be a part of after we have died. When we say that the kingdom of God is among us now, in our lived experiences, that is very different than saying, “I’m going to heaven.” What Jesus is advocating in the Lord’s Prayer is that the kingdom of God on earth should resemble the kingdom of God in heaven. Here we are again reminded of miracles, healing, wholeness, forgiveness, liberation, salvation --these are things we anticipate in Heaven, but they are the things that Jesus made real in the world he walked in and are the things we are called to do. We are called to do our part to ensure that God’s will is done on earth, as it is in Heaven. Jesus showed us what the kingdom among us should look like by taking people and situations that were broken, and making them whole. Like Jesus did, we partner with God. That is the practice of being a Christian, of being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Now we come to:
“Give us this day our daily bread”
We ask God to provide for our needs. We remember the last supper. We remember the importance of communion and communal meals. We remember Jesus feeding the multitude out of almost nothing. We look to a future feast with God in God’s kingdom in Heaven, and we ask ourselves how we bring God’s kingdom of feast and celebration and the ending of hunger into God’s kingdom on earth…May it be on earth as it is in Heaven. Just as Jesus cared not only for the spirit but also for the physical brokenness and hunger of this world, we are called to care for the physical brokenness and hunger of this world. Human bodies and their material needs mattered to Jesus, and to become more like Christ, they must matter to us as well.
Next is the line:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We ask God for wholeness, liberation, and salvation. We again turn to God’s kingdom on earth by asking God to give us this wholeness to the extent that we offer it to others. It is a request that holds within it a promise. It is a bold proclamation. “Lord, deal with me in the same manner that I deal with others.” Forgive my debts as I forgive those indebted to me. This is why Jesus says in Matthew that if you have an unresolved issue with your neighbor, you should resolve it before you come and make an offering to God. Right relationship with God does in fact have something to do with right relationship to neighbor. And we will see that again in the last section of this prayer.
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” –Another way of saying that: deliver us from the time of trial and temptation. Protect us from that which would harm us.
Now that we understand what the line means, what do we DO with this line? We have seen that this prayer calls for action. We want God to keep us from spiritual harm and death, but what is the action we can take here? How do we live this part of the prayer in our lives? Well, if we look to Jesus I think we see a way. When Jesus goes into the desert to be tempted by the devil, he fasted –which is a specific form of prayer—for forty days. Before he got to the test, or the trial, he prayed for forty days…to be ready…to be prepared. That was his practice. His practice was to pray and pray and pray.
Now when we get to the end of the gospel stories, and Jesus knows that he is about to be killed, he takes some of his disciples and goes to pray. He asks his disciples, including Peter, to pray with him…to stay awake and pray. When he comes back they are asleep instead of praying. He asks them, “can you not watch with me for one hour? I asked you to pray so that you may not enter into temptation.” According to the author of Luke, Jesus had already warned Peter that a trial was coming, and that Jesus was praying for Peter. Now Jesus wanted Peter to pray so that he would be prepared for the trials ahead. But Peter did not pray, and he was scattered with the other disciples, and he denied Christ 3 times. He was of course later forgiven, but he failed the test. He failed the test because he failed the preparation. He didn’t pray and he was not up for the task when it was before him.
Again, Jesus leads us into the practice of prayer; he leads us into the practice of relationship with God. This may not look the same for everybody. My prayers might have a lot of words, your prayers might have a lot of silence. We might talk or we might listen. Prayer can happen in a million different ways. But what Jesus leads us to with prayer is at least in part to recognize that our strength, like Peter’s, will not always be enough. We also need the strength that comes from right relationship with God and right relationship with one another on earth. And in those times when we don’t know what to pray, or even how to pray, this prayer is a really good place to start.
The final line is :
“For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory now and forever.”
What belongs to God? Everything. All of the earthly kingdom as well as the heavenly kingdom is God’s. God has all the power necessary to sustain us and the world. There are those on earth that try to hoard power, but the power is truly God’s. What does it mean that God has power, or more precisely, what can we expect God to do with that power? Interestingly, God shares that power with us so that we might bring God’s kingdom and Christ’s reign here to earth as it is in heaven. God wants our action in this world. When we ask God what all God’s power has done about the problem of hunger in our neighborhoods, God has in turn asked us what we have done with the power we have. We know we need God’s power here on earth, and so we pray and we attempt to be good laborers for the building of God’s kingdom and we look forward to that day when God’s power rules over all things, uniting us all once again to our source, God.
God’s glory is also complete. There is nothing lacking in the greatness and glory of God. We praise God’s greatness and glory.
We proclaim that God’s kingdom, power, and glory is true now and will be to come in a more perfect way. This will last forever.
I encourage you to pray this prayer in a thoughtful way, focusing on the meaning, both at church and in your personal practice. Meditate on the words. Imagine that kingdom that will come. And then go out and live into that kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.