The Lord’s Prayer is well known to so many people, even some who have not been to church for many years. It is the pattern for prayer that Jesus gave us and can teach us how to pray. It can also be used as a prayer to recite, though the danger is that we say it without thinking about the words if we are too familiar with it. In our services in the Anglican Cathedral of SL, we have shared this prayer together using several languages, as we did in the 2pm SLT service yesterday. It’s a reminder of the worldwide family for whom this is the family prayer, the prayer we address to our Daddy God.
The readings were Psalm 111, 2 Corinthians 11:1-11, Matthew 6:7-15. Thank you to Cephus for reading for us.
A priest had an appointment in the centre of a large city. He allowed enough time to get there as he knew it would be difficult to find somewhere to park. Despite this, time rolled on as he drove round and round trying to find a space. In the end he knew he would be late if he didn’t do something soon. In desperation he parked in an area marked ‘No parking’ and put a note on his windscreen: ‘I have driven round this area 10 times. If I don’t park here I will miss an important appointment. FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES.’
When the priest returned to his car, he found he had been given a parking ticket from a police officer along with a note which said: ‘I have circled this area for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I will lose my job. LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.’
I imagine few, if any of you, heard this gospel passage for the first time when it was read here. The Lord’s Prayer is probably the most well known part of the Bible. People who haven’t been to church for years are likely to know it. I have heard that some stroke victims can say it even if other forms of speech are badly affected. You hear of people in difficult circumstances who pray this prayer when they are frightened, in danger or simply don’t know what to do.
We tend to use the prayer as one to recite but it’s also pattern for prayer that Jesus recommended. He advised his disciples not to do as the Gentiles do and use lots of empty words, perhaps in the hope of impressing God or of wearing him down so that he will answer. We’re assured that God already knows what we need; we don’t need to convince him by talking for hours and hours.
The Lord’s Prayer was part of early Christian worship, so when we say it we are saying what Jesus said and what countless Christians down the ages have said in their turn. At whatever time of the day we say it, we can be pretty sure that somewhere in the world someone else will be saying it, probably in a different language, but meaning the same. Of course, despite what some might say, the prayer didn’t arrive in Elizabethan English but in Aramaic. I heard it spoken in Aramaic when I was in the Holy Land. It was an amazing experience to be in Bethlehem, listening to Jesus’ prayer in his own language. All other versions are translations, but the pattern is the same. Perhaps here in SL we are particularly aware of the way we are connected worldwide when we pray. We have had the Lord’s Prayer prayed here in different languages in our services in the past which I find quite amazing and wonderful.
There is a risk that we become too familiar with the Lord’s Prayer and say it without thinking what we are meaning. Perhaps, as it’s said much more slowly here it may have a chance to mean more to us. Apart from saying it as it has been given, we can also use the prayer as a model to show us what should be included in our personal prayers. If we follow Jesus’ instructions, our own prayers are likely to be complete.
First of all, it’s worth noticing that God is addressed as ‘Father’. This doesn’t mean a formal kind of address that keeps someone at arms length, which is possible even in families. This word ‘father’ is Abba in the original. It is the word a child would use – ‘Daddy’. Immediately we see the intimacy of the prayer. So many people think they should use stiff, polite, formal words when they pray. If they consider that they can’t come up with such words, they think that they don’t know how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer shows that prayer is a conversation between a child and his or her Daddy. I know for some people their Daddy was not a person to trust, and that can be an issue for them. I pray that God helps them to find a way to trust him and come to him to talk things over.
I remember talking to a very new Christian one day. She was asking why God allows suffering. She was feeling so upset by all the terrible things she saw on the TV that she was sinking into depression. The trouble was that she felt she had to be polite and nice to God and so couldn’t be honest. I suggested that she go home and read some of the Psalms when the Psalmist tells God just what he thinks. The whole range of emotions are expressed in the Psalms. Once she had read some of these, I suggested she shouted at God and told him exactly how she was feeling, how angry, confused, upset and depressed she was. She did as I suggested and came back to me later to say how much better she felt as a result. Far from her relationship with God being damaged, it was improved. She had proved that a secure child in a family can say what they think. They are not worried about having to earn love by being good. They know they are loved regardless. This young woman flung all her angst at God and he held her and loved her and comforted her. His love is unconditional.
When we pray to this Daddy God, we are not praying as an individual in isolation. As I said before, people all around the world and across many centuries have prayed this prayer. We pray to ‘Our’ Father. It is a family prayer that holds us together. We are made to be in community and this prayer emphasises that. We are probably now more aware of the interconnectedness of people worldwide than we have ever been, and SL only serves to emphasise that even more.
Despite the fact that we can be honest with God, we also should treat him with reverence. We uphold his name, which includes his character, when we begin our prayer. We also align ourselves right at the outset with God’s priorities. It is too easy to become focused on our own small concerns. To us they are big, of course, but if we look at God and his purposes we get a chance to see the bigger picture, the overall plan. God’s will is that his kingdom will come on earth and that all will follow his ways here. It’s not a bad thing to pray for that, because had that happened our problems would cease to exist.
God should always come first. He is there at the very beginning of time, as Genesis tells us. When he gave the commandments, it was the duty of people to God which came first in the list. When Jesus explained the right way to live he put loving God first before loving neighbour and self. He told us to seek the kingdom, God’s business, first and everything else would follow after that.
Jesus tells us to ask for our ‘daily bread’. This reminds me of the manna in the desert which was collected daily to sustain the people of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. We too are journeying to our Promised Land and we need sustenance daily. We need to talk to God daily and we also have physical needs which must be provided daily if we are to survive. This is a very down to earth prayer, not all super-spiritual as some prayers can be. We are asking for bread, the most basic of foodstuffs in Jesus’ culture and in many cultures today. Notice that we are asking for needs, not wants. Not only that, we are asking for OUR daily bread. We are being told to pray for the needs of the world as well as our own. Once again we are pointed at the big picture.
At a recent evening on the Mission Shaped Ministry course I attend, Stephen Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, was talking about healthy churches. He mentioned that praying for the world didn’t happen in some churches and he questioned whether such places are really churches. I think here we do well with praying for the world and for individual needs as a church. The Lord’s Prayer makes that a priority for us as individuals too.
Not only do we have material needs but we have need of emotional health. Forgiveness is necessary for this. I suppose this part of the prayer seems like a threat: ‘Forgive others or you won’t be forgiven’ and might be quite daunting. I do think we have to work hard to forgive as much as we can but I’m sure God understands that it takes us time. In the end, forgiveness is necessary for us to be able to move on. It may not be easy to ask for forgiveness, to face our faults and those whom we have wronged, but that is the route to health. Notice again that we are praying for forgiveness of OUR sins. Isn’t this an echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’?
Finally we are to pray for strength in times of temptation. God is not the one who tempts us but the one who delivers us. As Paul says: ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’ In all the difficulties of life we are encouraged to ask God to be with us. Being disciples is not easy and we are weak and prone to making mistakes.
The Lord’s Prayer is a wonderful pattern and a source of inspiration for our own prayers. Archbishop Temple said of the Lord’s Prayer: “It is the prayer you would want to offer if you loved God with all your heart.”
Here, to end, I offer a version by St Francis:
Our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter and Saviour.
Who art in heaven.
You are with the angels and the saints, bathing them in your light that they may be enlightened by your love, and dwelling within them that they may be filled with your joy. You are the supreme good, the eternal good, from whom comes all goodness, and without whom there is no goodness.
Hallowed be your name.
May our knowledge of you become ever clearer, that we may know the breadth of your blessings, the length of your promises, the height of your majesty, and the depth of your judgements.
Your kingdom come.
Rule in our hearts with your grace, that we may become fit subjects for your kingdom. We desire nothing more than to dwell in your kingdom, where we can watch you on your throne, and enjoy your perfect love.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
May we love you with our whole heart by always thinking of you, with our whole soul by always desiring you, with our whole mind by directing all our intentions to you, and with our whole strength by spending all our energies in your service. And may we love our neighbours as ourselves, drawing them to your love, rejoicing in their good fortunes, and caring for them in their misfortunes.
Give us this day our daily bread.
In memory and understanding and reverence of the love which our Lord Jesus Christ has for us, revealed by his sacrifice for us on the cross, we ask for the perfect bread of his body.
And forgive us our trespasses.
We know that you forgive us, through the suffering and death of your beloved Son.
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Enable us to forgive perfectly and without reserve any wrong that has been committed against us. And strengthen our hearts truly to love our enemies, praying for them and striving to serve them.
And lead us not into temptation.
Save us not only from obvious and persistent temptations, but also those that are hidden or come suddenly when our guard is lowered.
But deliver us from evil.
Protect us from past evil, protect us against present evil, and free us from future evil.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor