Text: Matthew 6:9 | The Lord’s Prayer
God, Our Father
Have you ever noticed that when you say a word over and over it starts to lose its meaning, like its not even a word. Let’s try it. I want you to say your name out loud, over and over until I tell you to stop. Ready. Go. Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve.
OK, stop. First of all, that was really obnoxious. Secondly, do you see what I mean. How did that feel?
Today we begin a new series for the summer on a topic that can be a lot like what we just did. We are going to spend the next five weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer. We say this prayer every single week. My guess is that the vast majority of you could stand up right now and rattle it off without much difficulty.
When you repeat something over and over like we do, we run the risk of losing its meaning.
Before we dive into that, let’s take a moment and look at the big picture for the summer. This year we have been using the Narrative Lectionary instead of the Revised Common Lectionary. I don’t know about you, but I have really enjoyed it. The Narrative Lectionary walks through the Bible chronologically from September through Pentecost, telling the story–the narrative–of the Bible. In the summer it tries to do two things. First, it takes the first part of the summer and reconnects to a part of the catechism. This summer we will look at the Lord’s Prayer. Second, it looks at a section of the Old Testament and a section of the New Testament that is not in the story line, but is, obviously, an important part of scripture. This summer, when we have finished the Lord’s Prayer, we are going to look at some wisdom literature–specifically Proverbs and Ecclesiastes–in July, and then we will finish out the summer by studying Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It should be a great summer!
So, today, we begin this first section by asking, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The Lord’s Prayer is recorded in two places in the Bible. I invite you to open your Bible to the Gospel of Luke, chapter eleven. In Luke 11:1 it says, “He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Then he gives them this prayer. It is slightly different than the version we usually recite.
The version we are most familiar with is in Matthew chapter six, beginning in verse nine. I want to show you how important this prayer is. In Hebrew literature there is a pattern called the chiastic structure. It’s probably been a long time since you studied poetry, but poetry has form to it. The chiastic structure looks like this. A-B-C C-B-A. So A one and A two have parallel meanings, B one and B two have parallel meanings, the significance of this structure is that whatever sits in the middle is the main point and focus of the whole piece. Here’s what’s really interesting about the Lord’s Prayer. It is at the center of the Sermon on the Mount. And the sermon on the Mount is at the center of the entire Gospel of Matthew. In other words, if you want to understand the Gospel according to how Matthew understood it, then it can be summed up in the Lord’s Prayer.
Today we are going to look at the first two lines. Let’s say them out loud, together. “Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed by thy name.”
There are five key words to these lines. I want to quickly walk through each of them in order to, hopefully, help these words have deeper meaning for you when you say them in worship.
The first word is “our.” OUR father which art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name.
Whose Father is it? Did Jesus say, pray, “my father in heaven, give me my daily bread?” No. He said “our father.” This is a communal prayer. We are the boday of Christ. We are the children of God. God is our father. Look to the person next to you and say, God is our father. Now look to the other side and say it. God is our father. Now look to someone in front or behind you and say it. “God is our father.”
The second word is “father.” Our FATHER which art in Heaven, hallowed by they name.
Here it is easy to get tripped up in gender issues. Let me first say that I am completely sympathetic to feminist movements that rightly cry out against the male domination of women throughout the Bible. Completely. I also want to acknowledge that God is not gendered. God is not a man or a woman. Gender is a human thing. And gender roles are culturally constructed. What it means to be a man or a woman is different from culture to culture around the world.
We can just as easily call God Mother and we can call God Father, because God is neither a man or a woman. Anytime we refer to God like this it is simply an analogy from our human experience to attempt to describe one aspect of what God is like.
There is a really significant difference between a Mother and a Father that has helped me think about our relationship with God. Think about this. In our world of modern technology it is possible for a woman to conceive a child without ever having physical contact, or personal knowledge of the father. She can go to a company and purchase a donated sperm cell. In other words, it is possible for a biological father to have absolutely no connection or relationship to his child.
This is different for a mother. The child grows inside of the mother’s body. The mother is literally the air the child breathes. The child emerges from her body and then the mother is designed to be able to provide all the nourishment that the child needs for the first few months of its life. I realize that a woman can technically hire a surrogate and be a mother without this, but the surrogate mother still has a physical connection to the child that the donor father does not.
A child with its mother is a natural relationship that the child takes for granted. Mother is very much the child’s entire world. She is the face that the child first sees and feels connected to. The relationship with the father is different. The father is out there. There is no logical or obvious connection between the father and the child’s existance. The father must walk across the room to engage with the child. The path of maturity for the child is to grow in her understanding that she is as connected to the father as she is to the mother, but that relationship is one that requires movement toward and a leap of faith to believe that the father is as much the giver of life as the mother.
Here’s my point. We have a relationship with God as both Mother and Father. The mother aspect of God is the fact that God created and continues to create us. In God we live and move and have our being. God is literally the air that we breathe. This is the Spirit that gives us life and that connects all things in the web of life. But, just like a child with her mother, so do we tend to take this relationship for granted. Our relationship with God as father is different. We must call out to God the Father. The beauty and the mystery of the Gospel is that God the Father reaches out to us and invites us into the conversation and the relationship.
The third word is “heaven.” Our Father which art in HEAVEN, hallowed be they name.
Point to Heaven. Where is it? My guess is that most people would automatically point up in response to that question. As descendants of European Christianity, most of us have been conditioned to think of Heaven as a place and a time. Heaven is up there, out there somewhere and is where I will go when I die. What if that is not at all what Jesus meant when he said “heaven?” What if the question itself is flawed. Rather than ask where is Heaven, we should ask “What is Heaven.” Heaven is anything that is in line with who God is and how God works. Heaven is a way of life, and so is Hell. Heaven is the way of God’s love and justice. Hell is the way of selfishness and destruction. We’ll talk more about that next week when we pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The fourth and fiftth words are “hallowed’ and “name.” Our Father which art in Heaven, HALLOWED be they NAME.
The word “hallowed” is a word we don’t use in our everyday language. It means holy, set apart, special, honored, sanctified. Here’s something that I’m guessing most of us totally miss when we repeat this prayer over and over. This is a request. Martin Luther, in the catechism, calls it the first petition. Notice that it doesn’t say, “Your name is holy.” It says Hallowed be, or, put more in our language, “let your name be made holy.”
Why would we have to ask God to let his name be made holy? What is a name? A name is not just a label. A name is a reputation. It is a word or phrase that summarizes the character and quality of that thing. The prayer asks, “Father in Heaven, let your reputation in the earth be set apart and made holy.”
I want to tell you a story about something that happened to me this week. My kids are involved in music at Coon Rapids High School. My son Ethan is a junior and he is in three different choirs at school. This past week they did a concert called BRAVO! that was performed Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night. This year the choir directors did something different and they invited parents to be involved in a parent/student choir. Lona and I love to sing, so we were excited to join this group. For the past four Monday nights a bunch of us parents got together with the students and we learned a song and dance routine that we performed during BRAVO on Wednesday night. It was so much fun. On Wednesday night all the parents sat up in the balcony together and we watched the concert, did our number, came back and watched the rest of the concert. Ethan had a huge part in the concert and did a phenomenal job singing and dancing. It was so much fun.
After the concert was over, one of the dads who was in the parent/student choir came up to me and said, “You must be so proud. Your son is so talented. But, I have to tell you, it not just his talent that impressed me. Ethan stood next to me in the choir and I said that I wasn’t going to be able to get all this dancing down, and Ethan said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I got you. Just follow me.’ His attitude was so positive and so helpful. You’ve got a great guy there. Good job.”
Do you know what happened there? Ethan hallowed his father’s name. Ethan’s attitude and behavior caused another person to think of the Thomason name in an incredibly positive light. So much so that the man came to the father and acknowledged it.
When we pray to our Father, we ask “let your name be hallowed.” I think the best way to understand this is to add to simple words to the end. “Let your name be hallowed…through us.”
The most obvious way that people see God in the world is through the way God’s children act in the world. Next week we will look at what this means a little further as we explore the kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.
This week, may we, brothers and sisters, children of God, make the name of our Father hallowed in the way that we interact with our family, friends, co-workers, and even our enemies this week.
Let’s stand and pray together.