December 14, 2017

The Homily

Prayer-faith-God-stonesBlessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust is the Lord. (Jeremiah 17:7, NASB)

Pray, then, in this way:

‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6: 9-13, NASB)

Our Gospel reading today is a very familiar passage, or at least should be to anyone familiar with Scripture. We know it as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ response to the request by his disciples to teach them how to pray. And while I have recited this prayer time immemorial, I have just begun to see how it is a declaration of our trust in God.  For so long I prayed it as a set of religious items I was to accomplish. It’s not, however. It is our declaration of our trust in our strange and mysterious Father. Let’s look briefly at each line and see if you agree.

Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.  To know someone’s name, goes the theory, is to have power over him. I know those who want to attribute names of God to his various characteristics. (El Shaddai: God Almighty. El Roi: The God who sees. El Olam: The everlasting God.) Yet there is a part of this that, to me at least, seems to be manipulative. “I know your name, God, so you now have to act in a certain way toward me.” Knowing God’s name, however, is not something to take lightly. Moses asked God his name and was told simply, “I AM.” The ultimate in mysterious names. In asking God to hallow his name, we are trusting that he knows the meaning of I AM. We are trusting that he will know how to bring glory and fame to his mysterious name.

Thy kingdom come.  Kingdoms come from kings. And when a king establishes his kingdom, he brings in his way of doing things. Are we willing to trust our King to do things in the right way?

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. We are called to trust one who does not share his thoughts with us. God’s will is shrouded in clouds and mystery, and we are to trust him in this. It’s not easy.

Give us this day our daily bread.  Daily bread. I want a lifetime supply of bread. Or at least annual bread. Daily bread? You mean I have to trust God every day for my needs to be met? Is that really fair? Fair or not, it is how our Father works.

Forgive us our debts.  The foundation of our faith is our trust in the forgiveness of our sins. To believe that God has forgiven our debts based on nothing we do or pay or earn is the incredible grace of God. We receive this forgiveness by faith alone.

As we forgive our debtors.  At first I was going to say that this is the one part of the prayer where we need to step up and do something apart from trusting God. And we do need to forgive others. “How many times do I forgive, Jesus?” According to my public school math, at least 490 times, according to Jesus’ instruction. But can we truly forgive someone if we don’t first trust that we have been forgiven?

And lead us not into temptation. Again, can we trust God to lead us, no matter how dark and twisting the road is before us?

But deliver us from evil. Evil in this world is rampant and powerful, too powerful for us to deal with on our own. We must trust that truly greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.

Trusting God is not for the weak of heart. It is not easy by any means. It will take a lifetime. But we need to begin, and there is no better place to begin than with the prayer Jesus taught us.

Let us pray.

 

Comments

  1. The one line that stood out to me most was on forgiveness. Can I truly forgive if I don’t believe I have been forgiven? I think it applies to other things too. For example, can I truly accept other people and learn to understand them if I don’t trust that God y Christ completely understands and accepts me? If we won’t believe those things about ourselves then we won’t believe that about others, and we’ll act accordingly.

  2. As Dr. James Nestingen says, “The Lord teaches us to pray against ourselves in The Lord’s Prayer.”

    That doesn’t come natural or easy for us (just doing it – let alone believing it).

  3. David Cornwell says:

    When we pray this prayer at Sunday worship in our church, we use the word “sins” rather than other common translations. Personally I like this rather stark term because it brings home the reality of the human condition.

    In praying this prayer we need to be in constant remembrance of it’s communal nature. While it’s personal in that it applies to each one of us and needs to be prayed from the heart, it is communal in that it joins with others in it’s praying. And herein lies most of it’s power. We are praying a prayer that extends far beyond our personal felt needs of the moment and embraces the totality of the Church and indeed the Kingdom of God. Doing so it excludes selfishness. We pray for “our daily bread” we are casting out beyond our own hunger and joining voice with the hungry of the world.

    Having said that, I’ll confess that this prayer is very personal also. In my own days of deepest need, days of stark darkness, this is a prayer that brings comfort for it comes to mind easily and I feel that I’m joining with Jesus himself in the praying.

  4. “Trusting God is not for the weak of heart.”

    But it is for the weak of heart. I’m weak of heart; my faith is as a particle of anti-matter.

    Weak as my heart is, it’s no weaker than Lazarus’ dead heart. He he was raised; I hope to be raised, too.

    Christ’s weakness is stronger than my weak heart.

    This, too, counts as faith.

    • My red-headed babysitter, Susan, taught me the Our Father (as she called it, good Catholic girl) when I was maybe four or five years old. As a child, when I recited the Lord’s Prayer it was with almost total incomprehension; I might as well have been a Buddhist tot spinning a prayer wheel in the hills around Dharamsala.

      Still, there it was; the model of prayer the Lord had left us had taken up residence in my heart. My weak heart.

      It’s just possible that I understand the Lord’s Prayer better now than I did as a child, or across many of the years since then. But then again, maybe I don’t. However that may be, I’ve come to believe that it’s the Lord’s Prayer not only because it’s the one he taught as a model, but because it’s the one he prays with and for us, with and for me, when I’m unable, in my weakness and sin, to believe that God is any Abba of mine.

      “Our Father,” he prays, “which art in heaven….”

      Sometimes I answer… Hallowed by they Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done….

    • …so when did you stop being an Anglican? 😛

  5. forgiveness . . . a story of Christ-like forgiveness that got the world’s attention:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_D_Z9bskqM&list=TL0Lu7dprdYkWu_4KFPQpoFvCD8fRfPxrc

  6. Though many of our dementia residents no longer read, are often confused in speech, yet when it comes to praying, there is an amazing work of the Spirit as they flawlessly say this prayer together or as they sing a simple hymn like ‘Jesus loves me!’ As one of our residents was end of life and I prayed this prayer with her, she repeated the phrase, “as we forgive those who trespass against us’, was silent for a considerable time, then repeated it again and again with periods of silence in between. I couldn’t help but think that she was doing a final visit in her mind’s eye to each one who had trespassed against her and forgave them! This went on for almost 20 minutes and then she smiled and rested peacefully and died the following day. Thought I’d share….

  7. Thank you for sharing that touching story.

  8. Jeff, this is a most excellent meditation on the greatest prayer. Your explanation of the most difficult line, “…as we forgive” is the best I’ve read. It always sounds to me like the Lord’s Prayer sets usp our being forgiving as a condition of receiving forgiveness. I’ve heard to many people try to explain this by jumping through theological hoops and performing linguistic contortions. Your explanation is simple, and imo, accurate. I will always feel better about praying it because I read this. Thanks!

    The prayer itself really is an exercise of faith. I think that the very praying of this prayer, apart from any contrived or sincere fervency on my own part, does things for us spiritually. Whether we realize it or even feel different, these words have power to inspire hope in a hopeless world.

    We receive this forgiveness by faith alone.

    …are you sure you’re a Catholic, not a Lutheran? Just sayin…