Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lord's Prayer: Who is Our Father – Exodus 3:14-15 and Matthew 6:9

Today we are going to begin a new preaching series on the Lord's Prayer. So often we pray this prayer, but how often do we take time to truly learn, remind, or understand what it is we are saying. Each week we will take a portion of the prayer and unpack what it is we are professing. Today we are going take the first section, Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, and explore not only the meaning of the words but the importance of this introduction as well.

From the Mouths of Babes
Parker has been going to church, since he was six weeks old. After all, with both parents as pastors, he really doesn't stand a chance does he? And as a pastor's kid, or PK as they are often called, he sees and understands a great deal about church. He also is under a tad bit of pressure from expectations that are place on him as a PK. Debbie and I try very hard to alleviate those expectations, as necessary, like some impossible role he must fill as a PK, or the idea that he will be a Bible Scholar by age 9. Now we do work with him on understanding certain things, like the importance of church, the stories of the Bible, and who God is, but one day he really threw us for a whirl.

It was the first pulpit swap Debbie and I did after we arrived in Ocala and the three of us were at Belleview's early service. Since that starts at 8am there is an opportunity for us to worship together, Debbie, Parker, and I. Well we all sat on the front pew and I had turned to face the congregation so I could lead them in prayer. I began with my pastoral prayer and lead them right into the Lord's Prayer as a response. Parker was about a foot and a half away from me, and I began to hear him talk. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, he began. My boy was reciting the Lord's Prayer. He said it word for word and did not miss a one. I was astonished! We had not worked on that with him, but by being in and around church, he had heard it enough, he memorized it.

For the most part, Parker does not understand most of what he is saying. And that got me wondering, how many of us do either. We recite this prayer every week, some of us for decades. But do we truly know what we are saying? Do we know but maybe do not give it much thought? Do we earnestly focus on the words each week and pray them or have we fallen in the habit of just reciting them?

What is the Lord's Prayer?
Before we can answer those questions I think we need to better understand a little bit of background behind this extremely popular prayer. As the Scriptures point out this was an answer from Jesus Christ when asked by his disciples about how to pray. It is important to note that it does not tell us what to pray, just how to pray. And this prayer, otherwise known in Latin as the Pater Noster, has revolutionized the way we pray. This prayer was originally recorded in the written word in Aramaic. It has since been translated into Greek, and from there into hundreds of different languages and dialects, including English. Therefore there are many different variations of this prayer.
This prayer is also laid out in a very systematic way or pattern. It begins with the opening, “Our Father who art in heaven”, moves into God's place in our lives, and concludes with requests for our own personal needs. That is a very basic outline of this prayer. It is important to understand that what we call the doxology, the phrase, “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” is not in Scripture. There are various hypothesis as to why, with one preacher making the case that, “Most people who study these things are convinced that [the doxology] was added at some later time by a pious scribe who felt that the ending was too abrupt. Regardless of the reason it is important that we have that understanding.

But regardless of the translations, the differing hypotheses, or any of the other plots in this story, the true importance of this prayer is the same. The emphasis of how to pray is unaltered. And this is what I want us to focus on for the next few weeks. But for today I want us to just look at the beginning, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name”.

What is it that we can take from this opening stanza? Let us take this a part a bit more and concentrate on the section, “Our Father, who art in Heaven”. Up until this point in time, God was not referred to in a personal manner. God was referred to mostly by analogy and by ascribing titles to God's name. In fact, Jewish people would even say the name of God, Yahweh, for fear of being seen as disrespectful. As a general rule, there was not a personal type of relationship with God during the times of the Old Testament. But here we have Jesus, telling his disciples, to refer to God as Father. This sets up a type of familiarity, a personal type of communication, that was new to the Jewish people.

The past rituals, rules, and human contrived regulations were thrown out the door. Jesus was trying to get them to understand something about God. Mainly, God is personal. God was no longer to be thought of as unapproachable or uninterested in human affairs. God was to be spoken with, approached, and involved in our lives.

And all of this is reinforced by the phrase, “who art in Heaven”. The more I think about this phrase the more convinced I am about the love it is tying to portray to all of us. This new, personal opening is not prayed simply to Our Father, but to Our Father, who art in Heaven. Reminding us that this does not come from some earth bound, sinful, imperfect being. But from God, perfect, transcendent, incredible. This love is so deep, wide, and all encompassing that we cannot comprehend it. Thankfully, we do not have to understand it to accept it.

With God now being made approachable, and his perfect love being expressed, let us take a look at the next section, “Hallowed be thy name”. An old, old story has a minister going from Sunday School class to Sunday School class one morning to meet with the students to see how their studies were going. He came into one first-grade group and began to question them as to what they had been learning. They had been studying about God and eagerly, the youngsters shared their knowledge. One little boy said God created the whole world and everything in it. A little girl said that God loves us very much. Another little girl said that God had a son named Jesus who came to earth to save us from our sins. Needless to say, the pastor was quite pleased with all the responses until finally one little lad piped up, "I know what God's name's Harold, same as mine." The preacher looked askance at the little fellow prompting the boy to continue: "Sure, we say it all the time. "Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be Thy name..."

In all seriousness, this is probably one of my favorite parts of the prayer. To begin with, what does hallowed mean? It means holy, sacred, or revered. And in our case it is referring to the name of God, hallowed by thy name. So what's in a name you might ask? For most, everything. Back in the times of the Old Testament your name was usually given to you not from the family tree but from some event that was associated with your situation or birth. For the context in which this prayer was given, the name of a person told their story and revealed who they were. So for us to say, hallowed be thy name, we are basically saying everything about you, your character, your actions, they are holy, sacred, and to be revered. And to say that God's name is holy, sacred, and to be revered, means God is more than ordinary, more than typical. God is higher than any other. And the fact that before we get into any of the other aspects of this model, we call God our personal Father, and make it known that we believe God to be higher than any other, so just how serious we are about these beliefs. The location of these claims is paramount! This is also our place to shine. This is our chance to tell God, just how much we love God. Our chance to tell God that God holds the premier place in our lives. Our chance to tell God, that our complete allegiance belongs to God.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name!” Next time you pray this prayer, do not simply recite it, pray it. And do not put a comma at the end of that stanza, put an exclamation mark. Emphasize it, shout it! Tell God that God is your all in all.

Folks I know this is called the Lord's Prayer. But this prayer was not recorded for the benefit of Christ. It was not created for the benefit of God. This prayer is for us. To show us a new way, a better way to communicate with our Heavenly Father. But do not be satisfied to stop here. This prayer, this model, is only the beginning. Let this be a guide to strengthen your prayer life, shape your prayer life, expand your prayer life. This prayer was never meant to be the end all of prayers, but a beginning. This prayer was meant, in part, to teach you that God is personal, interested, and provide us the chance to tell God just how much God means to us. Please do not let another day go by, without expressing your thanks for God's presence and love in your life!

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