“Behold: A Sower Went Forth” (God’s Work: Our Hands) “Behold, a Sower Went Forth…” What may come as a surprise to some of you what was a surprise…
The Lord’s Prayer – Connecting with God, Part 1
This morning, we begin a new sermon series on “The Lord’s Prayer”. A mother was teaching her three year old daughter The Lord’s Prayer. For several evenings at bedtime, she would repeat it after her mother. One night the little girl said she was ready to pray alone. Her mother listened with pride, as she carefully enunciated each word right up to the end … “And lead us not into temptation”, she prayed, “but deliver us from e-mail, Amen.” And I would have added “text messaging too”. If you’ve seen those who are driving around while punching in a text message, you may agree.
The Lord’s Prayer is probably the best known prayer in the world. It’s included in almost every Christian worship service on Sunday morning. Its words are so familiar that there’s the chance that we may take its meaning for granted.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus includes this prayer in his Sermon on the Mount, warning the multitude that when they pray they should not heap up a bunch of empty phrases thinking God will hear them because of their many words, they should simply pray “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
In Luke’s gospel, having observed Jesus finish a time of personal prayer, one of his disciples asks, “Lord, teach us to pray. Jesus tells his disciples, “When you pray, pray like this: “Father, hallowed be your name and so on…. Thus we call Jesus’ prayer, the Lord’s Prayer.
Over the next six Sundays of Lent we’ll look at the six different phrases of the Lord’s Prayer each addressing various stresses we face in life including: feelings of isolation or loneliness, confusion and anxiety, guilt and resentments, and temptations and insecurity.
This morning we’re looking at the first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:9, “Pray then in this way: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Or as one little boy prayed, “Our Father in heaven, Howard be your name.” What many of us don’t realize is that when Jesus taught his disciples to address God as “Father” he was opening up a whole new and vital way for us to understand and relate to God.
Throughout the Old Testament, which covers over a thousand year period, the name “Father” was used for God only seven times. People just didn’t relate to God as “Father”.
Religious Jews were brought up to revere God as Creator of the Universe, the Almighty Deliverer Lord, and Judge enthroned in heaven, hidden within a cloud a burning bush or shrouded by a curtain. To see God’s face was to risk death. To approach him required sacrifice. To petition him was to come to him on bended knee.
In the midst of such fearsome and majestic images of God, Jesus comes, in the fullness of time, teaching us to address God as “our Father”, an expression of intimacy that he uses for God over a hundred and fifty times in the gospels.
The Aramaic word which Jesus uses for “father” is “Abba”, more closely translated as “Dad” Or “Daddy,” a term of affection or endearment.
What Jesus is doing is exploring all of the stereotypes which had been given for God. God is not an unapproachable, angry and emotionally distant impersonal force. God is like a father, a dad who is knowing and who wants to be known to be in a relationship.
This is why this morning we are calling the Lord’s Prayer “The Prayer of Connection.” Jesus knew the importance of connection, of relationships. He understood that relationships are what life is all about and did all that he could even dying on a cross to restore them.
It’s my belief that we are experiencing a great crisis of relationships in our nation today. We live in an age when families are more and more fragmented, when more and more people are choosing to live alone, when we appear to be living further and further apart and disconnected from one another.
Several years ago now when Mother Theresa had traveled to the United States to establish the work of her Sisters of Charity, having worked in the great tenement houses and city streets, she declared that while in her home country of India there was great material poverty, in America, she found a far worse kind of poverty, the poverty of loneliness.
In a survey done in 1970, people could name at least four people with whom they felt intimately connected. In 2000, when the survey was taken again people could name less than three. You would think with all of our technology, Email, text and instant messaging, that we would have grown closer to one another. But, the opposite is true.
Now, I can imagine that Jesus could have taught us to address God as our “mother” just as readily as he called us to address God as our “Father” because we know God is Spirit but that would have probably really thrown Jesus’ listeners for a loop in what was then a male dominated or patriarchal society.
What I believe Jesus wanted to make clear to us in addressing God as Father is that God is approachable that we love and worship a God who is relatable, knowable with whom we can have a connection.
We should acknowledge that for some people the word “father” is not a comforting term. My grandfather, my mother’s father, owned a service station in Berlin, New Jersey, where he worked 12 hours a day six days a week.
My grandmother, her mother, suffered from depression and was a difficult person to please. On the nights, when my mother and/or her sister had transgressed their mother they would listen from the top of the steps when my grandfather got home to hear whether or not she would report to him their misdeeds. While my mother barely knew her father while she was growing up, she was well acquainted with the strap of his black belt.
One afternoon I was visiting with a member of my previous congregation who was 89 years old at the time. Looking out her window she recalled how her father worked a dirty job in a factory making electric wiring. When he came home from work he would go directly up-stairs to take a bath. While she and her mother and brothers were eating, he would bang on the wall a signal for her mother to drop everything in order to go upstairs to scrub his back. “Hers,” she said, was not a happy household.”
Because many have not had the kind of connection they would have liked with their father on earth, they may struggle to find a connection To their “Father who is in heaven.”
The good news is as Jesus reveals and describes God as our heavenly Father, there is nothing for us to fear. The first thing that Jesus reveals to us about God, our Father, is that God is caring.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of the Prodigal Son. Many people believe that it should be entitled the Parable of The Prodigal’s Father because the Father in the story is really the main character.
A father has two sons. The younger son demands his share of the inheritance, his father’s livelihood, then goes off to a distant land where he squanders it on riotous and dissolute living.
Knowing that there was nothing he could do to stop his prodigal son from leaving,
his Father waits for his return. When his younger son finally comes to his senses and returns home, the Bible tells us seeing him in the distance his Father runs to him and embraces his son, kissing and restoring him to the family. He cries out
bring my finest robe and put it on him put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet and kill the fatted calf. “Rejoice and celebrate with me, for my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost, but is now found.”
When the older son learns of his younger brother’s return and sees the big fuss his father is making, he’s resentful and refuses to enter the party. His father goes to him and reassures the eldest that all he has is his as well, but that now they had to rejoice for his younger brother who had died, was alive again.
The repentance of a wayward son in Jesus’ story would have not been all that unfamiliar to his listeners. But what would have been scandalous, especially in the ears of the religious leaders whom Jesus was addressing, was that any self-respecting Jewish father would ever have tolerated or endured such shame and embarrassment by a son. Jesus reveals, not only are there Fathers like this, this is what God, our Father, is like. The first thing Jesus reveals to us about Our Father in heaven is that he loves us unconditionally. He cares.
In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus reveals to us a second characteristic of God, our Father who is in heaven and that is his love is constant, just and trustworthy.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to those seated on the hillside “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Jesus says that our Father in heaven is constant and just. That “He makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.”
We are often led to believe in justice as being punitive. This was the kind of justice which the elder son in the parable and the religious leaders who Jesus was addressing were expecting. In their minds the morally good and righteous were rewarded by God. The evil and unrighteous tax collectors and sinners punished. Jesus says, God, the Father’s justice is not like this. He makes no distinctions “he makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Jesus listeners would have been outraged.
In the story of the prodigal son, according to Jewish custom, the eldest son receives double the younger son’s inheritance. But, even still having received double his brother’s share he resents him. He loathes him because of his waywardness.
Jesus reveals to us a different kind of God, a Father whose justice is tempered with mercy in order that the lost may be found. In this, God is uncompromising, constant. So we sing “Great is thy faithfulness O God Our Father There is no shadow of changing with thee Thou changest not Thy compassions they fail not
As thou hast been Thou forever shalt be.”
The third characteristic we need to know about “Our Father in heaven” is that he is close by. Some of the most traumatic experiences I had as a young boy were when my father was away from home. On occasions, there would be a strike at the refinery in Philadelphia and because he worked in personnel he would have to sleep at the refinery overnight. Later, there were trips to Texas or the West Coast to negotiate contracts with the union. I can still remember watching him pack his suitcase. Well, actually, as my mother packed his suitcase and the unsettling feeling in my stomach that he would be gone.
Not so in the story of the prodigal Son God, the Father is ever-present, even when we turn away He is there waiting for our return. In Psalm 145, we read,
“The Lord is near to all who call on him.” The Apostle Paul writes “in him, we live and move and have our being.” Jesus said God our Father is so near that He knows the number of hairs on our head. For some of you, he can count them on two hands.
He knows when we lie down and when we rise up. That he is intimately acquainted with all our ways, and He loves and cares for us just the same.
Finally, God, our Father, is competent and able. Knowing God is competent and able is important when we’re facing problems. Whenever I was struggling with a math problem or trying to find the right words for a composition I could always count on my father for help. He was able.
Now, on the other hand, if my chain got stuck in my bike or I couldn’t get the lawnmower started, then I knew better, I went to Mr. Flannigan our next door neighbor. Jesus declares that God, our Father is competent and able
“Do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus tells us, “What you will eat or drink or what you will wear for your Heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things. But seek first thekingdomofGodand all of these things shall be given unto you. Do not worry about tomorrow because today has enough worries of its own … .”
With God, Our Father, There’s nothing too big or too small that we can’t go to him. The Bible declares “He is able to do far more than we have ever hoped or imagined.” That “We can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That “Nothing it too wonderful for God.”
Friends, The Lord’s Prayer is no idle prayer. It is the prayer of life. It is the prayer that is constantly being prayed when we do not know how to pray and the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs and groans to deep for words the same Spirit by which we cry “Abba, Father”
It begins with what we need the most to know. We are loved and cared for unconditionally by someone who is intimately acquainted with all our ways, who is able to make a way for us, who wants a relationship with us, a heavenly Father with whom we are connected.
Let us pray… Our Father…