Virtually every time we have a funeral or wedding at our church, there will be a non Lutheran person in attendance who will approach me with something they’ve noticed in the worship service. Most of the time, they are people who have been or are active in another Christian denomination and they are surprised to find that many parts of our worship service are so much like their own. Once, a person commented, “So many of your prayers are just like ours! I just didn’t expect that!” A good deal of our liturgy comes from the Roman Catholic Mass. The same is true for Episcopalians and other liturgical traditions as well. If you really study it, you would be just amazed at how much we all have in common.
The Creeds, that’s the Apostle’s and Nicene, which we say each week and that we will speak together today is spoken in every Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Episcopalian, Anglican, Roman Catholic church every single week. There are possibly many more denominations as well that I just couldn’t think of. The past two Sundays we’ve had people joining the church and in that rite we ask if those joining believe the words we say in those creeds because it is here that we state what we believe and what we have in common with so many Christians.
But there is one thing that, as far as I know, pretty much all Christians have in common; one prayer that is universally Christian regardless of denomination and that is the Lord’s Prayer. This is the Prayer Jesus taught his disciples and us and it is a prayer that unites all of us in our worship of God.
The Lord’s prayer occurs twice in scripture: in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke, which we heard today. What a wonderful treasure! To have a prayer that Jesus gives us to use.
Having a prayer given to us is a precious gift, not only for what it is but also because of our fear of somehow thinking we might be praying “wrong”. There certainly are a few of us who have no particular fear of praying in public but, on the whole, many of us have at least some level of fear associate with praying out loud. Some of it may be just speaking in public but a large part of this fear comes from the fact that we often are afraid that we aren’t doing it right.
My mother often talked about her prayers as something she struggled to get “right”. She would start of praying one thing and then correct herself as she went along. “When I’m praying in my head,” she told me once, “I start saying something about please take care of this or do that or help me with something or another. Then I think, maybe that isn’t right or what I should be praying for, so I say, ok back up and let me re state that. Please do what you think ought to be the right thing. But then I start to wonder about that, too, and so I start all over again and fumble around with who and what and why and all sorts of things. I can’t imagine doing that out loud!”
I think that God appreciates all of our prayers, organized or not. He hears every last syllable, be they silent or whispered or sung or shouted. He hears the prayers of our hearts and minds even when they are wordless altogether. I’m also fairly sure that the disciples may have shared, at least in some way, our insecurities about prayer. Besides, if you’ve got this amazing Rabbi, this incredible teacher, the one everyone says is the Son of God, well, why not ask HIM how to pray. And that is just what they ask of Jesus.
One of Jesus’ disciples says to him, “Lord, teach us to pray” And so, he does.
Jesus gives us two very important things in this prayer. First, he gives us words that we may use; an actual set of words and a structure that we can use for prayer. But he also, gives us the freedom to approach God in prayer.
First, there are the words themselves. When you pray say: Father Hallowed be your name. We get to address God as Father! What an amazing treasure that is! The Jews had, for centuries, never been allowed to speak the name of God. They could only call him Adonai—the LORD, or El, which is another name for God in Hebrew. They may have sometimes referred to him as a father but to actually address God by the NAME Father was nearly unheard of! Father, hallowed be your name. Holy is your name. So holy are you that your very name itself is holy.
Your kingdom come; your kingdom which is what Jesus is talking about when he says something about the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. In the prayer, we’ve first addressed God, acknowledged his holiness and now we declare ourselves to be members of his kingdom by saying, your kingdom come. Not ours. Not a kingdom of this would. Not the kingdom of Rome or of Judah or even of the United States. Bring about, o Father, the kingdom of heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread. We ask God for our daily support; our daily sustenance. There’s so much that falls into the category of daily bread! Everything we need to survive on a day to day basis is in there. It is here that we are asking God for our basic needs in this world. It is also where we are acknowledging that our basic needs are fulfilled by God and not by ourselves.
Forgive us our sins as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. Forgive us Lord, and we, too forgive others. In the heart of this part of the prayer is the greatest commandment: loving the Lord with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is one of the big ways in which we show this love; we forgive others in the same way God forgives us.
And do not bring us into the time of trial. When we say this prayer in worship we say ‘lead us not into temptation.’ We pray for God to keep us away from things that will test our faith or things that will be difficult. Keep us, Lord from ever entering into temptation at all. Save us from our own weaknesses.
In addition to the words of this priceless prayer we are given something else along with it: Jesus’ assurance that God is listening. That is what the rest of this text is all about. Jesus tells us that God cares about what we want and need. Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. The great gift Jesus gives the disciples and us is not only the words to this precious prayer—this prayer that is on the lips of virtually every Christian in the world—but also the reassurance and confidence that our words do not and will never fall on deaf ears.
Think about this, he says, if even you, who are just average people, if even sinners and people who lack faith know how to treat their children properly, then you can certainly believe God knows how to treat you! If your child asks for a fish, do you give him a snake? If your child asks for food for dinner, do you just give him poison? Would you give your child venom instead of dinner? Well, of course not! So, knowing that, then all the more can we have faith in God, our good, loving and caring God, will give us all that we need. We do not need to fear to ask God for what we need because our God is a giving and generous God looking out for our welfare and contentment.
Sometimes, when we come to this place in scripture which states over and over that if you ask you will receive, we may wonder about “unanswered” prayers. What if you pray and what you ask for doesn’t happen? Why are some prayers not answered? These are really good questions but honestly, I do not know why this is the case. I do not know why it seems that some prayers are answered the way we wish and it appears that some are not. What I do know is that no prayer goes unheard. And, actually, I doubt that any prayer goes unanswered either. It may not be what we wish the answer would have been but who knows? Maybe, we were asking for poison instead of fish in our prayer and didn’t even know it and God, like a loving parent, would not give their child poison even if they begged for it.
There is no place in what Jesus says, here or anywhere else in scripture, that indicates God is a cosmic vending machine ready to spit out what we wanted for our coins. God isn’t a wish-factory or a magic genie in a bottle. God isn’t an ATM. There isn’t a slot that says “insert prayer here and make your selection of ice cold coke a cola products”. Instead, we get something much better than that. Instead, there is the Son of God who promises us that God does not turn away from our prayers. Instead, he promises, God will always hear your every word; be they stuttering or confused, the ancient formal prayers of the church used for centuries or the simple words of a heart that says “Hey God, thank you, help me, help them, please”. If they are they silent or whispered or sung or shouted. God is here and hears them all!