Readings for this Sunday are: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 105:1-6; Colossians 2:6-14 and Luke 11:1-13
“Lord, teach us to pray…”
There’s something about the disciples’ plea that touches me deeply. After all that time with Jesus, travelling together, sharing life together, learning from the Master, they still watch Jesus pray, and say, “I want to pray like that….Lord, teach us.”
Jesus responds by teaching them this prayer – the prayer that has become THE PRAYER of the Church – all churches, in all times and all places.
One of the things that struck me when I first started going to a Lutheran Church was how often the Lord’s Prayer was prayed. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer in worship. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer to start meetings. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer to end meetings. Just about any time a group of Lutherans gather together for any reason at all – we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
I think a big part of the reason we do this is because the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer that Jesus gave us:
- we know it’s got to be good,
- we know it’s how God wants us to pray,
- and we know it covers all the bases.
“Jesus, teach us to pray…”
Jesus gave his disciples this prayer as a model on how to pray. So what does the Lord’s Prayer teach us about God, about ourselves, how we pray? We’re going to spend the next few weeks praying the Lord’s Prayer, and thinking about what each part tells us about God, ourselves, and prayer. We’re going to be asking these questions;
· What do we think each petition of prayer means?
· What new insights can we find about the petition?
· And what does it mean for us today?
Finally, we’ll spend just a little time in prayer, using that day’s petition as our model.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Let’s look at the first three big words and this prayer: our, father, heaven. These words frame and set the tone for the entire prayer:
“Our” – Have you ever noticed that all the pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer are plural: our, we, us? This is a not prayer for me and my – although when you pray this prayer by yourself certainly your concerns, the cries of your heart are wrapped up and included in the “Our”: this congregation wherever we may be at that moment, and the prayers of the whole church. The “our” connects us to each other and to the world as we pray with and for our communities, and especially with for those most vulnerable, “the least of these.”
“Father” – If ‘our’ reminds us that we are a community, ‘father’ speaks volumes about relationship. We address our prayer to a God who loves us as parent loves a child. God who is adopted us as children and heirs.
“Heaven” – “heaven” further defines “father.” Our father is God the creator of the whole universe. God the provider. Jesus tells us that God is more faithful than even the most loving human parent to respond needs and requests of God’s children.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”
What does this mean?
(What do you think it means? Take a moment to answer.)
Praise God. Be thankful. Remember God is holy. Keep God’s name holy.
In the Small Catechism, Luther answers the question this way:
“It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we asking this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.”
Luther linked it to keeping the second commandment: to not take the Lord’s name in vain. Luther went on to say that when we pray “hallowed be thy name,” we are asking God to turn our hearts more and more to God, so that our lives reflect God’s love and holiness.
“Hallowed by thy name” can be heard as a request for God to help us rejoice in and praise God’s holiness and to make our lives show that holiness.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
What insights can we discover?
Let’s look a little deeper.
“Name” goes a bit deeper than just the name of God. Name means reputation – like somebody’s good name. Name also was identity - who someone is, what their character is like.
“Hallowed” is a word we really don’t use a lot anymore. It means to make something holy – which is to set it apart, make it special, make it exclusive. And the way this is worded in the Greek, is that we’re asking God to make God’s name holy. In other words, we’re asking God to be God.
That’s in effect what Abraham was asking God in our story from Genesis today. Abraham starts out appealing to God’s justice and righteousness and mercy – surely God will not destroy the righteous with the sinful! That’s not in keeping with God’s righteousness or God’s mercy. Abraham’s plea for God to save Sodom for the sake of the righteous living in it – including his nephew Lot and his family – was a request for God to act in keeping with God’s character. For God to hallow God’s name.
Jesus tells us that we can trust God to be God. He tells the story of the sleeping friend reluctant to get up and answer the door and meet his papers need. To those listening to Jesus, it’s an absurd story – no one in that day would ignore the demands of hospitality and not get up and answer the door and give what was needed.
The next story is equally absurd - no parent would give his child a poisonous scorpion instead of bread! In laying out these two totally impossible, ridiculous scenarios, Jesus reveals to us just who our heavenly father is: the giver of good things, the one who knows our need before we ask, the one to whom we can confidently go to in prayer.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
What does this mean for us today?
Prayer is powerful stuff. Prayer changes things.
My friend Martha, from Revgalblogpals, said this about the power of prayer: “Prayer works on God, works on us and it works on others.”
That’s what ‘hallowed be thy name” does. Our prayer works on God, asking God to be God. And God comes near with justice and mercy and grace and love, bringing peace and wholeness and healing.
“Hallowed be thy name” works on us, opening our hearts and turning us into people who live in such a way that God’s justice and mercy and grace and love is revealed to everyone around us.
We pray “Hallowed by thy name” our sake, and for the sake of a world that desperately needs God’ peace, justice, mercy and love.
And God listens.
So, let us pray…
We’re going do a little exercise that I often do with my confirmation students – we’re going to restate this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer in our own words. Here’s how this works:
1. As a congregation, we’re going to pray, “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
2. Next, we’ll take time for each of us to pray a prayer praising God, thanking God, or asking God to be God and to help us live in a way that reveals God’s love.
a. You can pray this out loud or silently.
b. If you’d like to, and I encourage this, turn to someone next to you and take turns praying your prayer of praise out loud.
3. After a few minutes, we’ll close with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”
“Jesus, Lord, use this time to teach us to pray…
“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
Time for prayer of praise
“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
We continue our time of prayer and praise with the hymn “Thine the Amen,” 801 in the blue hymnal.
(If you're reading the blog and don't know this hymn, substitute a hymn that speaks to you of God's holiness and what God has done. Two ideas - "How Great Thou Art" or read the Psalm for the day.)