July 28, 2013
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
There is far too much in the morning’s Gospel lesson to try and tackle
in one sermon, so I want to focus upon the Lord’s prayer. I will be
leaning heavily on John Dominic Crossan’s work, “The Greatest Prayer.”
We could spend hours on each line. Relax. We are not going to this
morning. You may follow along in your bulletin if you wish.
“Our” – the very first word (in English) draws me out of myself and
into community, into relationship, not just with God but also my world
of neighbors, especially with others who are praying.
There is something profoundly liberating about “our.” We are not
alone. Whenever we find ourselves praying, in a time of needing help
or a time of giving thanks, we are not alone. We do not suffer alone.
Nor do we rejoice alone.
“Father” – this word has gotten a lot of attention lately. Part of
the problem is that earthly fathers, however present or absent,
however loving or unloving, are all too human. The other problem is
that American fundamentalism has absolutized the gender of God to be
male, and the word “father” is part of their proof. It has been
rightly pointed out, I think, that if we make God male, we make male
divine. We can so easily fall right back into males lording it over
females that Jesus came to free us from. So we have some difficulties
and legitimate concerns here.
Two things that might help us reframe the word. The first is that
Caesar, not unlike George Washington, was referred to as the father of
the nation, in this case Rome and its empire. In its continuing
overturning of the world, the Gospels take the title of Caesar and use
it not for Caesar, but for God.
The second is that father had implications beyond male parent in the
Hebrew scriptures. Several places in the Old Testament, father is
used to mean both parents, mother and father. It had a more inclusive
In addition, the word comes out of a time when father also meant
“householder.” The one whose house it is. So when we say, “Our
Father…” we are acknowledging not only our relationship to one another
and to God, but also stating whose house creation is, to whom all of
this belongs. Namely God.
Mercy, care for the poor and the needy, conservation of natural
resources, compassion for our neighbor, seeking justice that is more
than “just us,” protection for foreigners in our midst, leaving off
greed for generosity, these are some of the ways the Bible talks about
caring for that which belongs to God.
Translating the Lord’s Prayer from Greek into English required
shifting words around. “Our Father…” sounds better than ‘Father of
us…” But “Father of us…” is the way it would have been said in Jesus’
day. In its original language, the prayer does not begin with us.
The prayer begins with God.
Growing up in the south, “Hallowed be thy name…” clearly meant no
cussing. But there is more here than feeling guilty about what we say
when we hit our finger with the hammer. To hallow God’s name is to
not sign God up for our agenda. We are supposed to sign up for God’s
Crossan points out that the next six parts of the prayer. Three of
them are before the “on earth as it is in heaven…” and three after.
This would be easier with a chalk board, but stay with me…
Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, and Thy will be done are
followed by the earthly counterparts Give us this day our daily bread,
Forgive us our debts (or sins or trespasses) as we forgive our debtors
(or those who sin or trespass against us), and Lead us not into
temptation but deliver us from evil.
The first three all speak of “Thy” meaning “God’s.” The second three
are about us. Just like the opening words, “God of us…” it all starts
with God and then moves to us. If we put the two parts together, we
see something remarkable.
“Hallowed be thy name” parallels “give us this day our daily bread.”
Echoes of Exodus? Remind you of Jesus feeding the crowds who were
hungry, that God might be praised? Jesus, and so also God, is in the
feeding-those- in-need business. The illustrations Jesus uses to
follow up the prayer in this morning’s Gospel are all about food.
There’s a reason for that!
“Thy kingdom come” matches with “forgive us for we have forgiven others.”
Oh, we could spend hours just on the word forgiveness, couldn’t we?
Is not the kingdom of God where and when we are freed from our past,
liberated from that which holds us down? How many grew up saying
trespasses? How many grew up saying sins? How many grew up saying
debts? In Jesus’ day, the word for sin and the word for debt are the
same word. Either way, forgiveness does not mean what happened is
okay. Forgiveness means that what happens next does not need to be
determined by what happened before.
“Thy will be done” is followed by “lead us not into temptation but
deliver us from evil.”
I am fascinated by the Biblical use of the word “evil.” In many
places it could easily be replaced with the word “violence,” and the
meaning would be the same. What if this is not just about do not let
me go near the donuts (lead me not into temptation) and keep me from
getting hurt (deliver me from evil), but also help me Lord to not
practice violence against my neighbor?
It is all too easy to think, say, or do things that hurt others. What
if the prayer is asking God not to bring us to the test and to help us
stay away from trying to use violence as the solution?
Finally, added to we find in Matthew and Luke we say the ascription to God:
“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
We begin the prayer with God. We end it with God. And we find
ourselves taken care of in between.
Thanks be to God.