The Lord’s Prayer is familiar to so many of us. We may have learnt it as a child, said it often since and have almost come to take it for granted. Books, lectures and studies have been written about this prayer by some of the great minds of our faith. So what was a lowly Lay Pastor to do when faced with the task of putting together a reflection on the Lord’s Prayer? I shouted for help to our Father God and he supplied my needs. You can read the result below.
The readings for the Thursday service in the Cathedral were Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 97:1-8, Matthew 6:19-23.
For nearly two years now I have led services in this cathedral. It’s an immense privilege to stand here (if you refer to my avatar) or sit here (if you refer to the person behind the avatar) in front of you. It’s also both a responsibility and a challenge. A responsibility because I recognise that my position as worship leader means that my hearers and readers will probably take notice of what I say and I want to make sure that I am true to God’s Word, rather than leading anyone astray. A challenge because I need to find something to say in response to the readings of the day. I purposely nearly always stick to the set readings from the lectionary. I could pick and choose my texts but I want to engage with the whole of Scripture and the lectionary makes sure we cover most of it over a three year period. It also makes sure that I can’t wriggle out of readings which I find challenging!
There are occasions, such as yesterday when I read what the gospel is for today, when my heart sinks at the thought of putting together a reflection on that particular passage. It may seem odd of me to feel that way about the Lord’s Prayer. I have lots of memories associated with this prayer from right through my life. I don’t remember learning it but I know we said it daily at school. I do remember very clearly how much slower the new students at my high school said it compared to those more practised voices! Hearing the prayer said in Aramaic when I was in the Holy Land, in Bethlehem, was one of the highlights of my trip there. I love it when we see members of this congregation add the prayer in their own language. The Lord’s Prayer is special, so why the problem?
I read the passage and I said, ‘What should I say about this, Lord?’ I know that greater minds than mine have put together sermons, books and lectures on this prayer over many years. What chance is there that I can say something different or more profound? God has a habit of popping up and gently reprimanding us and he did that to me. I sensed him saying, ‘It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what I want to say that’s important.’ Then God gave me a picture which I’d like to share with you.
A picture from God? Something otherworldly perhaps could be expected – angels, strange beasts, future battles. In fact this picture was absolutely down to earth and ordinary, something you have probably seen yourselves. I saw a little child standing next to an adult man. Suddenly the child started to tug at the man’s sleeve saying, ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!’ The man turned from what he was doing to talk with the child who obviously needed his father’s attention.
It didn’t seem to be much to go on but this morning I read the passage from Isaiah and there is the picture again. Isaiah is showing Yahweh as a Father to Israel. He is a Father who shows steadfast love, one a child can trust, one who gives good gifts to his child, one who will pick the child up and carry it on his shoulder. By the time of Jesus, many of the Jews seemed to have lost this picture of God as the loving Father. It is there to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures but the influence of the Pharisees meant that God was more like a hard task master who was checking all the time to see if rules had been broken. The relationship with God was not one of intimacy.
Jesus came to show us in human flesh just what God is like. He said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father. Jesus was approachable otherwise children would not have come near to him. Children are very perceptive and can see behind any deceit to the true character. I know that pictures of Jesus often show him in a brilliant white robe but that has never seemed authentic to me. There must have been times when Jesus had to sleep rough; as he said, ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Sleeping rough and white robes just don’t go well together. Also, I tend to think that he would often have had children scrambling over him. So many people followed him to hear his teaching and that must surely have included children. While the parents were listening the children would wander and play. To me it’s inconceivable that some didn’t find their way to Jesus. Rabbis sat down to teach so Jesus would offer a convenient lap on which to snuggle. I used to wonder if I was the only one who pictured Jesus this way until today. I received a magazine in the post and in it was an advertisement for a book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu called ‘Children of God’ which is a story book bible for children. The front cover illustration shows Jesus with one child on his knee, nestled into the crook of his arm, and one sitting on his shoulders while he sits to teach. Now I know I’m not alone in how I see Jesus.
Jesus restores the picture of the loving Father God in what he does but also in how he teaches us to pray. We are to address God as the little child who tugs his or her father’s sleeve: ‘Daddy, Pappa, Abba!’ Just as happened for the child in the picture God gave me, our heavenly Father will turn his attention to us so that we can let him know what we want to share with him. This is in marked contrast to the experience our children sometimes have with their human parents. I remember being busy preparing a meal and our daughter was chattering away to me. I made the mistake of answering, ‘Mmmm.’ Immediately she moved so that she could look up to my face and said, ‘Talk to me properly, Mummy!’ Less than full attention just wouldn’t do. With God we can be sure that we always get full attention.
What follows addressing God as ‘Abba’ (Daddy) is essentially a prayer of dependence. We strive so hard to help our children become independent, but God wants us to depend utterly on him. In the Lord’s Prayer we acknowledge that God is worth looking up to; we accept that it is he who gives us the necessities of life; it is he who helps us to face up to the mess we make of our lives and offers us a fresh start; it is he who will walk beside us, holding our hands and keeping us away from danger if we choose to let him.
In Luke’s version of this Jesus follows the teaching on prayer with an assurance that God wants to give us good things. He sums it up this way:
Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.
I think he could easily have added:
Tug, and you will have Abba’s undivided attention.
Next time you have something on your mind, tug God’s sleeve, climb up on his lap and snuggle in the crook of his arm as you share your joys, sorrows and needs with the parent who gives you all his attention.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor