Our Father in Heaven

The first in a series exploring prayer through the lens of the Lord’s Prayer. Primary passage: Luke 11:1-4.

One of the requests I got for sermon topics this summer was for us to take a look at the Lord’s Prayer.  Early on, I penciled this in as a series for August, and I’m thankful I did.

We are at a moment in the life of this nation, in the life of this community, our congregation, and quite frankly, the world, when prayer seems to be the most sane activity in which any of us might engage.

There has been so much violence and hatred unleashed in so many different ways and in so many directions in the past several weeks that I can hardly bear to pick up a newspaper or turn on the news.

Our New Beginnings momentum teams are forming and beginning to meet, talking about how we can grow in discipleship, make ourselves known in the city, and identify a core mission for us to pursue longer term.

These three teams are working the sort of process that we really need to bathe in prayer, so we are also working to build a prayer team.

Do you know which of these team has been hardest to get built?  

Our prayer team.
N0… I don’t think this is a coincidence.   Think about it…

Prayer is our means of talking with God.
Our means of communication with the one who created the world and all that breathes.
Our means of listening for God’s direction, and the channel by which we make known the fears, hopes, desires and needs of our hearts.  Not just as individuals, but also as a collective, as a community, as a body of believers.

So, if you were hoping to keep a congregation from knowing God’s hopes and dreams for them, to keep a group of people from understanding who they are and what they are called to do… which tool would you hope to remove from their tool shed?   

Prayer.

Remember, Jesus taught that God knows our needs before we speak them. And that God even places the desires in our heart  that match those in God’s heart.

If you wanted to disrupt a loving relationship between a group of humans and the one they are trying to follow, the first thing you would do is block the communications stream, make the people feel like they are not being heard, not being valued.  

Right.  You would disrupt their patterns of prayer.

So, no.  I don’t think it is a coincidence, nor do I think that our slow start is the whole story when it comes to prayer here at First Pres.  In fact, this delay presents us an opportunity to study together – as a body – why we pray, what we pray and even to whom we are praying.

Let’s go back to basics… What is the first prayer you remember saying out loud?

If you prayed as a child, it might have been a blessing for a meal like:
God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.  Amen.

Or perhaps a bedtime prayer like this one:
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…
And then that other part I don’t like to say out loud because I remember how much it scared me to say when I was little.  But when I got past that scary bit, there was a whole  list of people I asked God to bless each night.  God bless mommy, daddy, gramma, grampa, my teacher, my friends, the dog.  

I’m pretty sure even the teddy bear got blessed time to time.

Because that’s how kids pray.  There is something very sweet and natural about the way children pray. They aren’t afraid to ask God for something – anything.

They are accustomed to asking.
And asking.
And asking again.
And again and again.  Until someone responds to their request.  Even if it isn’t the answer they want. 

This is what Jesus was talking about as he moved beyond the model prayer he offered his believers…   listen a little farther into Luke 11

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’

8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

I mean seriously, how many time are you going to get out of bed and answer the door before you hand over some bread…

9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”

This segment of Luke’s gospel starts with a request…

“Lord, teach us to pray…”  which he does. And then he goes on to remind them that the words are not nearly as important as the heart behind the request… and the heart of the one who will answer.

Ask honestly, boldly and bravely.  With the faith of a child.
Ask because God is God, because God is good, because God is ours.

That is where the prayer Jesus taught starts,  Our Father in Heaven.  

I don’t know what you picture as we say those words together week after week…
Perhaps something huge – like the Christ of the Andes sculpture floating in the clouds or Touchdown Jesus.  

Or maybe it’s one of the Old men with a beard images, like the depictions from the Renaissance painters. The God of the Sistine chapel – the one with flowing hair who reaches out with a single finger to animate Adam. Or the one animated into Monty Python and the Holy Grail (or Spamalot) For some people, God is standing in the clouds, for others, God is seated on a throne.

In each of these images, there is a sense of God’ other-ness, God’s place apart from us, God’s being different from us. God is known but not completely.  We acknowledge an unknowable mysterious nature at play here… a paradox.

God who is so much more than any of us can imagine is our father.  

Our father…

God is our connection to the divine, to the power of creation to the power of resurrection.
OUR father, not just Jesus’.
OUR father, not just mine, not just yours,
Not just each of us…. All of us together.

We share one father.
One father who gave life to every cell in our bodies
One father who sent Jesus to display the great height, depth, length and width of the love that God has for the world
One father who sent the Holy Spirit to place the spark of faith in our hearts and souls that we might see and understand the believe and live the good news of that great love.

When we pray to our shared father, we are reaching out, not to an unknown and unknowable God, but to one who longs to be in relationship. We are reaching out to the one who created within us that same longing to love and be loved in return.

We are known by and we are bound to God. Like Jesus, and through Jesus, we claim God as our father, which means we are not orphans in this world, we are never alone.

It also means we bear the imprint of the one who claims us, we are the ambassadors, the “brand managers” of the world as it should be, the world as it will be.

We are in a covenant relationship with God, a covenant that reaches back through Moses and the prophets, past Jacob and Isaac to Abraham. For many many generations, we have called upon God as father. And yet, in the next breath, we use the word hallowed…

Hallowed be your name.
May God’s name always be holy, set apart, not tossed about as a word with little meaning,

God’s name is precious.  Honored above all names.  God’s name is not to be used in vain, as we see in the 10 Commandments.  But we are to call on God, by name. Another paradox…

Jesus is not pointing here to the ancient tradition, that God’s name was so holy that it should not be spoken.  After all, his followers must find ways to talk about their God, our God, as distinct from the other gods that clamor for our attention.

In historical context, he would be speaking about the gods of the near east, the Roman and Greek gods, These deities that were not relational, who had incredibly human qualities… Of the most unholy sort.

Our God – Jehovah- Yaweh  – is not capricious.  God keeps covenant. God provided the law and the prophets to help us remain in right relationship, those clear guidelines of how to live in community with one another and in communion with God

But the truth is that our lives, our work as the representation of God here on earth, our holiness never been holy enough, has never been consistent enough. Our humanness overshadows the divinity we carry in us. Our lives, our calling on God’s name, under our own power do not – cannot – make God holy.

Jesus was pointing back to these words that God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 36):

23 I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.

24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.

31 Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your dealings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds.

32 It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel. 33 Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the towns to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.

God’s holiness is revealed in our repentance
God’s holiness is revealed in our humility,
God’s holiness is revealed in God’s power to reclaim, redeem, reboot, and reform our messy, individualistic,  hearts and make us into one kingdom, one beloved community.

Our father, not the fallible human one, but the one who has promised life abundant, the one who is above all, deserves all the glory and honor.

When we pray, “hallowed be your name”, we are saying to God, do whatever it takes to make your people holy again.  We say, to God, “Gather the ones who know you together, form us into a force against which the gates of hell can never stand.”

We are saying, “Make us into the church that reveals the true nature of the God who took on flesh, fed the hungry, released the captives, healed the blind, sat at table with those most reviled by the church and those rejected by polite society.

When we pray to our Father in Heaven, and set his name apart, we are praying that we would be set free from the gods that distract us…

We may not put them on Mount Olympus and name them, but they are all around us… Our gods and idols take the best parts of us, our energy and intellect, our creativity, our loyalty and trust,  and they twist us into anxious, fearful, self-centered, grasping humans who are unable to see the humanity in our neighbors, much less encounter in them the divine.

Teach us to pray, Lord.  

Such an innocuous request… Made to a rabbi whose teachings we have repackaged and sanitized almost beyond recognition

But that rabbi, he never played it safe.  He never trusted the rules more than the reality of who God is and what God can do. He trusted in the truth that children know how to ask – and he challenged God’s children – US – to start there. By asking.  

Imagine the power that might be unleashed in God’s church, in this church, if we – together – moved beyond placing our faith in spiritual life support, just hoping for survival and instead we prayed for revival, no… resurrection for this church.

Imagine the power that might be unleashed in God’s church, in this church, if we – together – were to pray it as boldly, clearly, honestly and faithfully as we each prayed those first trusting prayers as children.

That’s what it’s going to take.

Let’s start now… together…

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