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The Lord’s Prayer


“The Lord’s Prayer,” Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for July 24, 2016. Scripture: Luke 11:1-13.

To listen to the sermon, click here.

Have you ever listened to children first trying to memorize the Pledge of Allegiance? In many cases it comes out: “One nation under God, invisible… with liberty and justice for all.

It will be a long time before they know what it means. Many children never ask about its meaning. Even so, there is meaning in the practice. There is power in taking time to stand up in class and do that every day.

There are things we memorize in the Church as well. Many can recite Psalm 23. And when the Creeds were recited each week, people knew them by heart. We all know the Doxology and here at Cedar Cross I think most of us have memorized the Closing Song.

But that which we memorize the most is the Lord’s Prayer. And much of the time we are a lot like the children in school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

I know I have to be careful here because the Lord’s Prayer is one of those sacred things that it is best not to touch. There is a great deal of feeling attached to it. It moves us physically. It touches the infancy of our faith.

So the first thing I want to say is that I am not suggesting that we change the Lord’s Prayer. I understand that the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as it is, is meaningful, so don’t sweat your socks.

However, at the same time, there are people who occasionally will ask about what it means and I do think that it is a good thing to ask these questions. Another thing I have to say is that the Lord’s Prayer is a scripture text like any other and as such it invites our curiosity and investigation. As we know with other texts it wasn’t written in stone, metaphorically. As with other texts there are variations.

How did you like hearing Luke’s version? It feels like something’s missing. That’s because there are things missing. Luke’s version is shorter than Matthew’s. In general, between the two, Matthew embellishes while Luke gets to the point because scripture wasn’t written in stone… It was meant to be alive. And as a living thing to move us to incorporate it into our lives. And one of the best ways to do that is to write our own versions.

But I get ahead of myself… First let’s look at the Prayer:

Our Father

Has become a name rather than a metaphor. We say it without really imagining our father’s or a father. It’s just what we call God. Which is fine… I don’t intend to change it. But the word Jesus used, Abba, meant more like “Daddy” than “Father”. So we miss a big part of the message Jesus is trying to make saying “Father”.

“Father” connotes distance and authority. How often do we call our dads, “Father”? Only when something’s wrong. What Jesus is saying by using the term “Abba” is that God is close and intimate – precisely not far away, as the word “Father” implies. Not the father who has authority over us, but the father who holds us… much like a mother.

So, why not “Mother” then?

Because it was a patriarchal society and women were essentially less than men and therefore it would be demeaning to use “Mother”. I am sorry to say this…. But it is simply the way it was. The surprise in the text is not that God is referred to as male; the surprise is that God is considered to be close like anyone who would hold us when we hurt.

Who art in heaven

First notice that this is not in Luke’s version. I think Matthew and Luke had different images of God and Matthew wanted to balance intimacy with some detachment. Yes, we can feel intimate and close to God, but God is much greater than we are, and our goal is not to BE God. A reminder some could use these days.

Hallowed be Thy name

When’s the last time we heard anyone use the word “hallowed” outside of the Lord’s Prayer?           Try it sometime when someone asks you how you’re doing? “How are you doing today?” “Just hallowed, how about you?” It means something like Awe, or Wonder – Holy.

I recall at a summer camp once when a pastor was asked to pray. He began with, “Hey God, you’re really Awesome.” It fit the setting – but still people gasped.

And what about the word “name?” What does that really mean? We use it all the time but does it carry any real meaning? I would venture to say it doesn’t.

In biblical times, a person’s name carried his/her very being. That is why some people didn’t have names, because they were not considered real persons. Slaves, for instance… and women and children. And one didn’t fool around with a persons’ name making fun of it… “Sticks and stones will break will break my bones, but if you demean my name I’ll kill you!”

Like everyone, I usually finish prayers by saying, “In Jesus’ name…” But honestly, it doesn’t mean much to me. For me, it would be more meaningful to use other words, like, “spirit,”  “being,”  “image”.

Imagine if we altered the words to a few favorite hymns:

#171  There’s something about that Image

#154  All Hail the power of Jesus’ Being

#174  His Form is Wonderful

#536  Precious Essence

#63    Blessed be the Nature

#193  Jesus, the Heart high over all

#168  In the Presence of Jesus

Instead of “at the name of Jesus”. I would be more excited about singing them.

“Sent Out is Jesus Spirit

“Forth in Thy Spirit O Lord I go”

Thy Kingdom Come

Here’s another word that doesn’t have much meaning any longer. How many “kingdoms” do we know? Brunei and Saudi Arabia? “Kingdom of God” is a metaphor used because there were actual kingdoms in the world. Well actually, scholars say that “kingdom” isn’t the best translation and it should be “Empire” because the Roman Empire was the most powerful, reality, in the world.

I believe the way we make this and other metaphors come alive, and really mean something to us, is to re-signify them and to do that would be to consider the most powerful thing in our world today. And what is that?

The Nation of God…. Would be good. But that is passé now. The Economy of God would be better…more meaningful. And then it is for us to ask, what would the Economy of God look like?

What are we saying when we ask for God’s economy to come? It isn’t about lower interest rates, taxes or consumer spending. In the Economy of God, would children be starving? Would there even be a 1%? What would be the minimum wage? What would the national budget look like? Asking these sorts of questions is much more meaningful and simply reciting, “Thy Kingdom come..”

Thy Will be Done, on Earth as it is in Heaven

None of this is in Luke – and once again in Matthew. I think we have this more robust image of God.

“The WILL OF GOD.” To me has sounded like a judge. God has made His decision (and it is “His,” no Mommy God here).

I prefer the word “intention”. It sounds less like a court of law and more like a small group meeting. Less a judgment and more an invitation. I also like “aim” “purpose” and “passion”

Give us this day our Daily Bread

The Greek word for “daily bread” is clearly about “daily” bread and not weekly, monthly, or annual bread. And it is a reference to the story of the manna in the wilderness when the people of Israel had to learn to trust that God would provide the dewy substance the next day, saving none.

This is, therefore not only a request for sustenance bread, and once in a while sushi, it is a refutation of the Prosperity Gospel. It means to say, “God give us what we need and then remind us that all things belong to you and help us to live a simple lives.” This is not simply a petition for comfort, but a declaration of lifestyle of trusting God and not amassing wealth.

Forgive us our Trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

As a Presbyterian, I grew up with “debts,” saying “debts” instead of “trespasses“ in the Lord’s Prayer. One may assume that this is because Presbyterians are more focused on money. But as it happens, it is the Bible they are more focused on, because “debts” is closer to the text than “trespasses”.

The weight of debt was far more onerous at that time than trespassing – as is true for us today.     Did you know that when clergy are about to be ordained, we are asked John Wesley’s traditional questions. One of which is, “Are you in debt so as to embarrass the Church?” And everyone snickers.

“Forgive us our debts” – for taking out too much debt because we spend too much or because we had to go to school and now we don’t have enough money to take care of our families and to give generously.

“As we forgive our debtors” – which I assume to mean those who owe us money… Forgive us for usury – for burdening others by charging interest which is forbidden in the Old Testament.

But I read this as an example: And I would invite us to open the door to many possibilities that could be used – “sins” obviously. But why not also:  intrusions, invasions, errors, wrongdoings, transgressions, abuses, crimes, violations. Take your pick

Lead us not into Temptations

And here’s where the Lord’s Prayer we recite is simply wrong. The Bible says nothing about “temptation”. What it mentions is the “time of trial” and these are very different. What do we think of when we say “temptation”? Sex and chocolate?

But a “time of trial” could be many more things. Not restricted to our moral failings, but inclusive of bad things that happen to us that are not our fault. Any experience that is hard, where we suffer or are in pain so as to separate us from God and others?

How would this sound different to an addict? Instead of just asking God for our desire to go away, we are asking God to save us from the whole experience, including using and detoxing. It is much more compassionate. This is about depression as much as it is about sex. This could be about a soldier in Iraq or a person who suffers from chronic pain.

Deliver us from Evil

It is quite all right for us, in the face of that which we fear, to drop to our knees and plead with God for safety. Prayer may be dignified in a worship setting. But if we are praying to Daddy or Mommy God, it follows that we pray from the depth of our hearts. The Pharisees would have found such a plea too emotional too assumptive and selfish.

But prayer at its core is about being our naked selves before God; no pretenses, no walls. And there is evil in the world, make no mistake. We often look for evil in the wrong places; in the felons rather than in the powerful. Clearly ISIS is evil. It is less clear how evil relates to how we respond to climate change. The most dangerous kinds of evil in the world comes clothed like angels.

For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever.

All of this was added centuries later. It isn’t a part of scripture, so we can forget about it if we wish. Or make our own ending

Once again, don’t misunderstand me. I make no proposal to change how we practice the Lord’s Prayer in our worship. As I said at the outset, there is power in memorization and recitation. But there is also power in reflection and we can approach the Lord’s Prayer as we would any scripture: Thinking about it as well as feeling it.

Theologian N. T. Wright has pointed out that the Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be a single prayer, but was to be a pattern for prayer. “When you pray say…. “Pray then in this way… (MT) means “like this” not just literally “this”.

With that in mind, my invitation to all is to write your own Lord’s Prayer. Follow the pattern and choose the words. Although it may feel sacrilegious, it is actually, to my mind, more biblical than memorization in general. And the Lord’s Prayer we write isn’t set in stone either.         It can change too.

Here is mine:

Mommy God

          Your image is wonderful to me.

May your economy come

          and your intention become real to us in this world.

Give us what we need for our daily lives.

          Help us to distinguish between what we need

                   and what we want.

Forgive us our personal wrongdoing

          As well as our participation in systemic evil.

          And help us to forgive the wrongdoing of others.

Save us from despair, and anything that would cause us

          To feel separated from You.

Save us from the evil in the world, we plead.

For in you we live and move and have our being.  Amen.

 And, Amen


Pastor Jilm closeup

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