These next four Sundays, we will be taking a closer look at the Lord’s Prayer. Many of us have it memorized…maybe even more than one version. Martin Luther thought it was so central to our understanding of faith, that he included it in his small catechism to teach children the faith…which we now use in confirmation. Week after week, Sunday after Sunday, we pray it together…but for a few Sundays, we want to take a deeper look into what exactly we are praying for here.
We find two versions in the Bible — one in Matthew’s version and one in Luke’s. We’ll read both over the next four weeks…but their differences are very slight. It’s clear these words had already made it into the memorized prayer life of Jesus’ followers in the early years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is how Jesu taught his disciples to pray…and they followed his teaching. So, what is Jesus teaching us through this prayer about our life and faith? Matt, when leading the Lord’s prayer, often says…”teach us to live as well as to pray”. How is this prayer a guide for our living and our relationship with God?
Well…let’s begin at the beginning. It begins with “Our Father”. If you grew up Catholic…that’s how you learned the prayer…it was called the “Our Father”. But what is the significance?
Jesus, throughout his life, calls God “Father”….and he was referred to as “Son of God.” When Jesus is baptized…the voice thunders from heaven…”this is my Son, with whom I am well pleased…listen to him.” Well, Jesus, we believe is God incarnate…our savior and lord…the messiah…the way, the truth and the life…so of course, he is God’s son. But here, Jesus is including us in this relationship. He says “Our father”. That means we are God’s children, too. We have a relationship with God…we belong to God. We are beloved. And we can come to God as children…to be guided and cared for…loved and taught. Jesus invites us to trust God as a child…as he trusts God…even in the midst of things we cannot understand. Even in the midst of things that are harder than we’ve ever faced before. Jesus models that trust in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested and condemned to death, doesn’t he? Father, if it’s your will…take this cup from me….make this suffering end. But not my will…by yours be done, Lord.. Jesus trusts God with everything…to be a loving Father. A Father who indeed knows best.
Now, there are a couple things we should probably remember here….especially since all of us know that our fathers were decidedly imperfect…and made mistakes, even if they loved us. And some of us may have never known a father’s love…either they were absent…or abusive …or so drunk or wasted that they never cared for you the way a father should. So…when we call God “father”…it doesn’t mean God is like your earthly father. And it doesn’t mean God is male….a white haired old man in the sky. The reason Jesus used “father” instead of “mother”…wasn’t to indicate God’s gender or characteristics. Because in Scripture, God broods and nurses God’s people…decidedly feminine acts. God gives birth to a people …which again…is a mother’s job. God is the creator of the universe… but is also in an intimate relationship with us…..like a loving parent….her life within us…his imprint upon us.
No, Jesus didn’t use “father” because God was a dude…Jesus used “father”…because in their culture…as in most patriarchal cultures throughout history…the father was the one who gave his name to the household. The father was the source of security and identity…the one to whom all the people in the household “belonged”. That’s why widows and orphans were at such risk in that culture…they had no “name”…no “security”. They belonged nowhere. Jesus calls God “our Father” because we belong to God…we bear God’s name. We are not abandoned or left at the mercy of the world. We are part of a family. The family of God. The truth is God is our father…. .and mother….our beloved parent…the divine householder….the family matriarch and patriarch all rolled into one. And just as surely as that was true for Jesus….it is true for us. We are God’s children…and we can trust God with our lives. We belong to God.
But let’s talk a bit more about that word ‘our’. We pray this prayer together at church…and claim that God is “our” father. But what if the “our” isn’t just those in our church or who are directly in the room or on the lawn with us when we pray? What if the “our” isn’t just Christians who think like we do…but Christians we deeply disagree with? What if the “our” isn’t even actually just Christians, but all people? What are the implications of that kind of inclusivity in the Love of Jesus? Remember…God so loved the whole WORLD…that’s why Jesus came. Not just for us. And though it’s true that, in some ways we live in the most inclusive society that’s ever existed; in other ways we’re still extremely divided. We’ve all seen the ugly signs and bumper stickers and posts and memes about those “other” people who don’t agree with us.
Who are you tempted to think doesn’t belong? Who do you wish wasn’t part of the “our”…in “our father”? Maybe that’s something to think about this week…and maybe we can do something about it this week. What if this week we began each day by asking Jesus to allow us to see everyone we come in contact with as our brother or sister in Christ. What if we started each day with the prayer —
“Dear Jesus, let me see people today as you see them. In their beauty as well as in their brokenness. Open my heart just an inch more today to make my “Our” just a bit more expansive than it was yesterday.”
I challenge you this week…. as you interact with people whether online, at work, in the grocery stores, at the doctor’s office… say to yourself “He is part of ‘our.’” “She is part of ‘our.’” What happens when we start seeing everyone around us as part of the Body of Christ, as our brother or sister…a member of our family?
What Jesus claims in this prayer is that we are all children of God…the good, the bad, and the ugly. And God is “our” father….the one who loves us all…who brought us all into being…who gives us all a place of belonging in God’s household. A place that no one can take away from us. A place we cannot deserve or earn…but is ours simply because God has given us life. And we can trust God…with everything. No matter how hard…no matter how painful…no matter how infuriating. God will be with us….ALL.
I’d like to close this morning with a prayer from “The Gathering”.
Even the mailman who kicked my dog that one time.
Even the teacher in 5th grade who blamed me for cheating when I didn’t.
Even the woman with a needle in her arm,
the man with the leering gaze,
the kid who talks back and won’t brush his teeth.
Even the guy at the grocery store with the expensive suit who refuses to wear a mask,
Even the tv preacher asking for money and selling snake oil to old, poor people.
Even the family member who always forgets to invite my partner to Christmas dinner.
Even the friend who always seems to say the wrong thing when I’m hurting.
All of ours.