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St. John's Presbyterian Church

Our Father

One of the many ‘traditions’ or routines that I’ve come to love at this church is how we recite the Lord’s Prayer towards the end of each of our services.  I was reading on the internet how on Easter morning, approximately two billion people recite the Lord’s Prayer around the world

 

So this morning I’ll be speaking on the Lord’s Prayer—many of you know, I’ve been taking some courses at McMaster Divinity, and one of the courses is called “The Lord’s Prayer and Christian Spirituality”.  I want to start by reading a quote from Cyprian, a third century church leader from North Africa

 

The Lord’s Prayer, he says, is nothing else than divine teachings,—foundations on which hope is to be built, supports to strengthen faith, nourishments for cheering the heart, rudders for guiding our way, guards for obtaining salvation.

 

God, willed many things to be said and to be heard from the prophets; but how much greater are those which the Son speaks, which is the Word of God.

 

What Cyprian is saying, here, is that the Lord’s Prayer isn’t just a mantra that we say over and over to God, or a really handy way to end a sermon, but it’s a foundation for us, it’s nourishment for us, it’s a rudder for us.  In other words, as we are praying the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not only asking God to change things around us, we are opening ourselves up to be changed.  God, change my world.  God, change my heart.

 

The Lord’s Prayer is written in two different forms in the New Testament; the one we read in Scripture was shorter, and from Luke 11, the one we recite weekly after prayer is from Matthew 6.  The ending we read, ‘for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory’ isn’t in the text, but is a later addition that’s accepted in most Protestant churches.

 

The two lines I want to focus on are the Our Father and the hallowed be your name.  I don’t think these two are any more important than the other lines, but to talk through the whole Prayer would take longer than we have.

 

 

So first, ‘our Father’.  My father, who is named Jim… was born only a few years after his parents moved to Canada; he lives in the small town of Russell, only 20 minutes from the pig farm he grew up on, and is a chartered accountant in Ottawa—he’s kind of like a grey-haired, chubbier… Murray Bain. 

 

As you can imagine, having an accountant as a father means that from some time in middle or late February until about the end of April (the tax season), he pretty well ceases to exist.  Deadlines and meetings pile up, meaning he has long hours and stressful days.  When I was much younger, he would be gone before I woke up, and wouldn’t be home until after I was in bed.  My dad is a busy and hardworking guy not just because he likes working, but because he’s committed to providing for our family.  He grew up in a place where there wasn’t very much money to go around, so as a father he sacrifice in order to provide.

 

Our God, our Heavenly Father, doesn’t need to sacrifice anything in order to provide for us.  Our God has everything that we need, and gladly provides for us when we ask.  In Luke 11 Jesus is talking to fathers specifically when he says:

 

11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

 

So first, God as Father provides. Jesus teaches us to begin our prayers with ‘our Father’, he’s asking us to trust that he’ll provide for our needs, and give us good gifts the way a father does for His children.

 

But of course, He’s not just teaching us to come to God as provider, in the same way that kids aren’t supposed to approach their parents as ATM machines.  He’s also teaching us to come to God as someone we are really familiar with, as someone we trust, as someone we can approach with comfort and confidence. 

I heard a story, from my classmates about his flight home, from a trip to Israel.  He said that a couple rows back there was an Israeli family with a little boy sitting on his father’s lap.  This little boy, with complete childish innocence, was looking up trying to catch his dad’s attention—abba, abba, this little boy called.  ‘dad, dad’.

This small word, abba, is Aramaic for dad, or father, and is the same word that Jesus teaches us to begin our prayers with.  Abba is a term of endearment and a personal address to the dad that they know deeply and intimately, someone who’s love they’re completely wrapped into.

 

I can’t understate how much of a challenge and shock it would have been For Jesus to suggest that they address God using the word abba.  God’s name—Yahweh, the word translated as Lord with the small caps, was a word so holy that the people would never speak it out loud; they would skip over it, saying instead ‘elohim’.  Some scholars believe that once a year in the Jerusalem temple, the high priest would pronounce the name Yahweh when asking for the forgiveness of sins.

 

So you’ve got this holy, holy, holy name of God; Jesus tells us to call Him Father.  Jesus tells us to approach the omnipotent Creator of the universe with the same familiarity, the same loving trust as that little kid on an airplane.

 

This sort of abba address to God is also an absolute trust that our Father God will protect us.  A couple of years ago I was refereeing a house league soccer match that my younger brother was playing in.  Since I was reffing and Dave was playing, my dad took the flag as linesman.  Long story short, I ended up giving a kid on my brother’s team a red card, and he was kicked out of the game—this was complicated by the fact that this kid was the coach’s son, and the coach didn’t really believe that his son should be kicked out. 

 

So I was handling this tense situation of an angry teenager and an angrier father, and I remember looking over at my dad who was talking with the teen

I remember knowing, even though I was 19 that my dad both trusted me to handle the situation on the field, and also that with his presence and the authority he carried, that nothing could possibly get out of hand as long as he was present. 

 

We can trust that although God gives us free will to handle the situations that He brings us to, God will never give us more than we can handle… 1 Cor. 10:13 says:

13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

 

So, when we approach God as Father, it means that God is someone who provides, he’s someone who we can approach, and he’s someone who will keep us safe.

My dad is a pretty cool guy so I’ve been telling stories about him this morning;

 

I say this humbly, knowing that not all fathers have given good examples or are good representatives of who God is.  God is not only our heavenly Father, but also the model and example for fathers.

 

In other words, we don’t look to our fathers as models of God, but rather we look to God as the model for who our Father should be.

 

So, right after addressing our Father in heaven, the first request Jesus makes is “Hallowed is Your Name”

 

In Hebrew tradition, names were given in order to convey some sort of truth about the person, or some sort of truth about God.  For example, in Genesis when Isaac named his two kids, one as named ‘Jacob’, a name that literally means ‘grabs his brother’s heel coming out of the womb, and his brother Esau meant ‘hairy child’, because he was hairy…. Likewise, the name Joshua means literally, ‘God saves’, and Joshua lived that out by helping Israel to get into the Promised Land.  So when we are praying that God’s name would be hallowed, we’re praying to God that one of His characteristics would be that he is Holy.

 

This is getting into a bit of deep water, but there’s something really interesting about the phrase ‘hallowed be your name’… The ancient Greek phrasing of the verbs is 2nd person, imperative, passive verb. 

The imperative tense is used to give a command, something like ‘go over there’, or ‘sit down’… It’s the kind of word people use to order around, or tell others what to do.  So the prayer is us literally telling God, ‘go be holy’.

 

Since it’s a passive verb, we understand that the action all belongs to God.   We’re not using our power to make God be holy; rather, this prayer is a humble request that God would prove Himself holy.  We ask, we implore, that God could be shown to be holy in the world around us, and in our own lives as well

I came across this quote from a pastor in Seattle who really nailed what it is we’re talking about. He says

The primary point of prayer is not to get god to do what we want him to do to – the primary point of prayer is to come into alignment with the will of our dad, with the will of God. 

Praying the Lord’s Prayer is not moving God to any place that He’s unwilling to go or forcing him to do anything that He’s unwilling to do; it is instead coming to God in a way that we meet with Him, and are changed in the process.

Our Father in Heaven… Hallowed be your name

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