Homily – Sunday, the 24th July 2022
It is the best-known Christian prayer shared all around the world between Christians. It is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and has become since then the Lord’s prayer. We pray it every Sunday during the service in our own language. The words have become so familiar to the churched ones among us that we didn’t even display them for a long time. But do we still hear the words of the prayer, can we still truly pray with these words, or has it become more like a Mantra? The familiar words come across our lips but may not necessarily come from our heart or touch us anymore. How can we refresh something which had been so dear to us but we have gotten so used to that it has become routine? How can we kindle the original excitement and rediscover the beauty of it again and again as we pray?
Today I want to share with you the questions and excitements I experienced about this prayer as I was preparing for this service.
I was surprised to find the Lord’s prayer in only two of the four gospels. Today’s version is the shorter of the two and the more familiar version we find in Matthew 6, in the middle of the sermon on the mount. Jesus was introducing the new kingdom and its fabrics during his early ministry at the sea of Galilee and there he says: you don’t need to come up with fancy babbling prayers, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray. Interesting, isn’t it? Why do we pray then aloud when the Father knows it already?
Today’s story is a bit different, it occurs long after the sermon on the mount, much later in the ministry of Jesus, probably in Judea after he had already sent out the twelve disciples, after feeding of the five thousand and sending out an even larger circle of disciples All this has happened during the last days, when he is asked by one disciple ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’
Surprising after all this time with Jesus. He has probably seen Jesus starting the day often by retreating for solitude prayer, he has probably witnessed the blessing over the many shared meals, the prayers that empowered miracles, isn’t it a bit surprising that only then one of his disciples asks Jesus the simple, yet fundamental question how to pray.
What did the disciple ask for?
The disciple didn’t just ask Jesus: Rabbi teach us how to pray? No, he asked teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. Why would he want to learn a prayer like John taught his disciples? Why would he ask such a question?
I can imagine two reasons. For once the disciples had experienced the power of the prayer when John’s disciples prayed, and he was asking to learn how to pray more powerfully from the one who has already demonstrated the power of his prayers in so many occasions.
In addition, and not exclusive to the first possibility he was asking for a new identity in a shared prayer between Christ’s disciples which would unite them and mark them as His disciples; a shared confession of faith which would give them identity against a hostile outside world. Something like Freiburg fans experience when they hear the sound of the Badener Lied in Dortmund’s football arena. You stand up together, you belong, and in prayer not only to a soccer fan club or nation, but to Christ’s disciples.
What did Jesus offer him?
Jesus, gave him and us six prayerful lines reminding us of our bigger identity in our relationship with God, the responsibility which grows out of this, the request to cover our basic needs, the central role of forgiveness in our relationship with God and others and our daily need to remain righteous before him.
Let us look at the six petitions within the Lord’s prayer together.
This must have been mind-burgling to all who listened. God, the creator of heaven and earth, the sustainer of life, the judge of world, the one whose name was not allowed to be written or spoken, the one whose presence within the temple was deadly to enter into, this God we are offered to call him Abba, Father?
Having grown up in a Christian world with the image of a loving father figure as God, the incredibility, the utterly amazing truth that you and me have a God we can call Father, has been overgrown with familiarity and a loss of awe of His eternity, power and majesty.
Immediately, when we approach God in prayer, Jesus wants to set us into the right relationship with the one we pray to. He wants us to be fully aware of our status as God’s children. The bible is full of passages pointing towards our status not as slaves but as children and heirs within God’s kingdom.
So, we read in the beginning of John’s gospel:
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12/13
And later in his first letter John writes: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
Your memories of your father may not be positive and therefore the image of a father may not trigger memories of security, of strong arms wrapped around you when you were afraid until your fears died down or a father who listened to you when you were excited about the girl you met or who lifted you up when you came home with your school report and made you feel like the best may be even when your grades were not the best.
But for all of us it is important to realize that the Father’s love in the bible is described as strong and as emotional as a mother’s love when she breast-feeds her child in her arms. His love waits patiently for the prodigal son to return running towards him and wrapping his arms around him, a love which doesn’t avoid any cost, even not the cost of the life of his own son to bring many sons and daughters to glory which is us.
This is the Father we are praying to. Do our hearts hear this when we pray Our Father? Do we experience the spirit of sonship, His love, His arms wrapped around us? Have we learned to rely on this intimate relationship? Whenever we pray in His words let us seek to set our hearts and minds right and trust that by faith in Jesus we are children of the resurrection.
Hallowed be your name
This may sound strange to a non-believer or most modern people as we don’t hallow names. The images which came to me reading this line are pictures of adoration with lifted arms, awe of God’s holiness, worshipping God.
This prayer is not so much about God’s holiness as he is holy independent of our actions, but about us as his ambassadors in this world. As an ambassador represents his country so we are asked to represent His name to the people around us.
Paul writes to the Corinthians: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. (2Corinthians 5:19-20). Jesus prayed for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23) It is in our reconciliation and unity that we will honor our God and his name.
Calvin pointed out that also our ingratitude and indifference toward God fail to honor His name. Christians have left bad imprints in world’s history. Are we honoring His name through our words and actions today? Do we truly lift him up on high?
Your kingdom come.
The world has seen many kings and queens and not only good ones but I still feel a beauty in the strong allegiance and a devoted willingness to follow and serve your king. Maybe I read too many books about brave knights taking on their quest, loyal, faithful, but also empowered and bold because they knew whom they were serving.
Here we sense more of the power, the glory and the majesty of God’s character. By praying, your kingdom come, we offer our allegiance and service to God and ask Him to take control and direct our lives.
Are we truly ready to surrender and say your will not mine be done? Too often do I fail to accept His lordship and rebel. This is a prayer for surrender to bow before the king the creator and ruler of this world. It is such an important reminder in my life so that I remain humble and faithful before God in royal robes I don’t deserve. Following Christ, we can experience His kingdom already present now and here. Paul writes to the Colossians: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Corinthians 1:13-14)
A kingdom already, but also not yet, as we experience the reality we live in quite different from the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.
Therefore, this is also a prayer that His kingdom may become more and more visible and real in this world; asking for an end for the atrocities of injustice, of war, but also of sickness and pain. Your kingdom come calls us to be co-workers in building His kingdom also for others here and now. We as individuals, as a local and the worldwide church cannot remain idle in the presence of the needs of this world. We are asked to spread the good news the gospel of His kingdom throughout the world through words and actions.
But finally, it is also a prayer for His future kingdom as we are promised that there will be no more tears and we will be in His presence. A hope that has given many Christians over centuries the strength to run their race to the end.
Give us each day our daily bread.
This petition is concerned about the very basic needs of life. Living in a rather rich part of the world, prayer for bread may seem lightly said as most of us have not experienced famine. The current Corona and war situation has however painted a darker picture, when suddenly even basic needs might be affected. I think it is good to be reminded that even the basics of life are not granted but a daily gift. This reminds us to thank for food and drink every day.
As the further passage says “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” We are asked to boldly pray about our basic needs, only for as much as we need like the Manna God provided the Jews in the desert just enough for each day.
And for us at least as important it is a prayer to be mindful of the many people in this world where even basic living conditions are not granted. Famine is an outcry against this petition. The prayer says our and not my bread. We are called to make sure that also the other people have enough to eat and drink and cloth themselves with. We need to face this challenge in a world of plenty yet poor and unjust distribution.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
According to Martin Luther, realizing our daily need for forgiveness allows us the necessary humility by which we can approach God and the liberating power of forgiveness through which we will experience the confidence and joy in our relationship to Him. Nelson Mandela said “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.” and “There is no future without forgiveness.” This is especially true in Christian eyes because only through the loving sacrifice of Christ we received forgiveness and righteousness before God. This was done once for all but we will ask for forgiveness in our daily prayer, to remain in an honest and authentic loving relationship with the father.
In the same way we need to forgive. The parable of the servant who was forgiven a major debt but was not willing to waive the minor debt of a fellow servant is a strong and clear message. As we can experience the power of forgiveness it is not right to hold this back from others. We are asked not only to forgive once but 7 times 70 times. As hard this may seem in sight of the experienced wrong there is no other way and therefore, we need to pray for His strength to forgive even when it hurts. Only then will we experience the freedom God wants us to have.
And lead us not into temptation.
I don’t know what tempts you. Only you and God know. There will always be temptation in our lives, but the question is whether we allow us to stay around or even enter into whatever tempts us and to leave our path with God. We may be tempted to do things which are wrong or we may be tempted not to do things we know we should have done. Every day we are tempted, but we can choose to avoid enticing situations. We need to avoid blurring our conscience by gradually giving into a behavior that separates us from God. We need to be very clear about the consequences of temptation by giving in to the desire to engage in short term urges for enjoyment that will threaten our long-term goal in life. Therefore, we need to set our long-term goals right and clear before our eyes and not to compromise them. Only when we set our goal straight before our eyes, we will not be waving whether we just may this one time not pay the due taxes, talk bad about the other person or not care about the injustice around us. We need to examine ourselves honestly in order to avoid temptations. If it is pornography or wrong relationship it will require to shut down the contact with it, if it is powerplays with your colleague you will need to identify the triggers not to fall into the game. Only when we realize the blessings in our status as God’s loved children we may have a chance to withstand the temptation of envy, greed and grumpiness. It is as simple as this and still remains a huge hurdle in our lives. Therefore, Jesus reminds us that we can pray for God’s help to withstand entering and remaining in temptation. When Christ was tempted, he quoted three times scripture about his relationship with God and it says the tempter left him and God’s angels came and served him. As Christ told his disciples in Gethsemane, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” We can call on our Father, who will never tempt us but wants us to prosper and have life, life to the fullest.
In this prayer Jesus reminds us of our status as God’s children, its blessing of love and security.
We are called to unity as we all are children of the same God, we are one family.
The Lord’s prayer has given identity and unity to Christians across time and around the world.
It is our hands, our feet, our mouths and their grateful service as ambassadors of the good news of His kingdom which will glorify his name.
We are serving a king, humbly, yet bold and empowered through His spirit. His kingdom has already and still not yet come. We need to live in this tension, full of assurance and hope.
God will provide us with our basic needs, but we cannot close our eyes to the unmet basic needs of others.
Forgiveness is central in God’s kingdom. It is on the cross when love and righteousness came together in the sacrifice of Christ. It is when righteousness and the will to peace kiss that forgiveness can unfold its power.
And finally, the conscious prayer for God’s support not to fall to temptation so that we can remain in him and he in us.
Lord, thank you for your love for us which has given us our new identity, the royal robes we don’t deserve, help us to live to serve your majesty
June 24, 2022