For the season of Lent we will be focusing on the Lord's Prayer. We continue with the Introduction.
Lord’s Prayer – Our Father in Heaven
Today we begin a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer – Newsletter will have an article that will talk about the background of the prayer. So dive right with what Luther calls the introduction – Our Father in Heaven.
In many ways this opening is like the “salutation” of a regular letter – “Dear John” or “Dear Mary.” These words open the prayer but they also set the tone for all this is to follow. And especially those first two words – Our Father – they are powerful words that are like a foundation upon which the rest of the prayer is built. It is those two words that I would like to focus on this morning, we’ll leave the 2nd part of that 1st line – the in heaven part for when we consider the 2nd petition since they are related. So…
Our Father – Who’s Father? OUR Father. Right off the bat with the very first two words we are making an extremely important and profound statement of faith. The God whom we worship – the God who is the object of our prayers is not just MY God, not just MY Father – or His or Her God or Father – The God whom we worship is OUR Father. We live in a society that more and more tends to see faith and religion and prayer as private or personal. More and more of us are claiming our Christianity to be a completely personal or private matter. And as a result more and more of us have come to reject the importance of the community of Christ, the church. Who needs it if my entire religious life is just me and Jesus or me and God. Why do I need the institution of the church? Why do I need any one else? I can just go up on a mountain, or out in nature or on a golf course and pray to God by myself, right?
No. For with these two little words that stands at the beginning of this prayer – OUR Father – Jesus points us in a completely different direction. With these words Jesus not only rejects the idea that our faith is totally and completely a private matter but Jesus challenges us to see ourselves, our faith and our prayer life in the context of the community of faith. We cannot be Christians all by ourselves – we are a part of a community and we need each other. We are all a part of the Body of Christ, to use an image from Paul, and we are linked together – we are interconnected with each other. Right away this prayer reminds us that we are an important part of a community and everything that follows in this prayer is based on this understanding of faith in the context of community. The Lord’s Prayer is not an I prayer – it is a WE prayer. It is not a prayer FOR ME – but a prayer FOR US. If we come before God in true prayer we do not simply come before the God who is our own private God, but before the God who is the God of us all.
This then brings us to the next word – FATHER / OUR FATHER. The use of the word FATHER I think for some of us may feel a little formal, patriarchal or even distant. Some folks have expressed that they feel pushed away from this opening for many of these reasons. So let’s take a minute and explore this 2nd word a bit.
As you all know the Gospels and actually all of the New Testament was written in Greek. But Jesus did not speak Greek. His language was Aramaic, which is related to Hebrew. In the Gospel accounts then all of Jesus’ words - his teachings, parables, prayers and so on - have been translated from Aramaic into Greek by the Gospel writers. And then, in order for us to be able to read them, these words have been further translated into English. So when Jesus originally gave this prayer to his disciples the Aramaic word that stands behind our formal English word “Father” is the word ABBA. And this word literally means “Daddy” or “Papa.” One of the first words that an infant would have learned to speak would have been either Abba (daddy) or Imma (mommy). And these words were reserved for the closest and most intimate of family relationships. No one in the 1st century would have dared to use the word ABBA to refer to God, but Jesus did. And more than that, Jesus even urges his followers to use the word too. Jesus is suggesting a new way of understanding of the relationship between God and God’s children. No longer are we to be to feel separated or distant from God the Father; no longer are we to be intimidated or afraid of the eternal Patriarch who sits in judgment. Now, in Jesus, God has initiated a new relationship with us that is intimate, that is close, caring, understanding and founded upon Grace.
To better understand how Jesus himself understands his own relationship with God the Father and how Jesus understands his use of the word ABBA in this context, let’s look for a moment at the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There, the overwhelming love of the Father leads him to behave in some very un-patriarchal ways.
1. He gives in to the request of the son to divide up his estate, before he is even dead.
2. Once the son has gone off on his own, he doesn’t write him off, but rather continues to wait for him in hopeful expectation.
3. When the Father finally sees the wayward son afar off he RUNS to greet him because he cannot contain his joy.
4. The son had practiced up a nice little speech, but the Father doesn’t even let him get out much of it before interrupting him with forgiveness and welcome.
5. The son does not have to earn his way back into his Father’s favor, he is restored completely without hesitation.
6. And to celebrate the Father throws a big, expensive party!
Scandalous would have been how this story would have been received by those in the 1st century who heard the story the same time. Incredible behavior on the part of the Father – unheard of – improper.
But this is Grace unbounded! Grace and love so vast and deep that it cannot be contained or comprehended. When we say those words – Our Father – we are affirming all of that. God is OUR ABBA – the one whose love for us knows no bounds.