Sermon for 8 Pentecost Yr C, 25/07/2004
Based on Lk 11:1-4
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“The Lord’s Prayer”
Our modern age, in many respects, is a very practical one. In North America especially, we are known for our utilitarian philosophy of life. We ask, “Is this useful in some practical way?” If it is not, we tend to say that it has no meaning or purpose for us. Many people tend to make fun of or even scorn the academic world with all of their theories and principles. The academics are viewed as too “stuffy” and “sheltered” from “the real world” because they live in their “ivory towers.” Most people want to live in a very practical way. The bookstores are filled with best-seller, practical “How To” books: everything from how to live a happy life, to how to find the job you want, to how to fix your car, and you name it—the list goes on forever.
The life of Jesus was also a very practical one. He was able, more than anyone else, to blend the theoretical perfectly together with the practical. In today’s gospel, Jesus answers the request of one of his disciples by showing them how to pray. This prayer, known as the Lord’s Prayer, has proven to be so practical that over 2,000 years later it remains an endless source of power and influence for millions of Christians who pray those wonderful words. Unfortunately many Christians do not experience the power and influence of these wonderful words because they are so familiar that they pray the words by rote. That is why to be grasped by the power and influence of the Lord’s Prayer it is necessary to meditate and ponder the meaning of these wonderful words, which Jesus has taught us.
The Lord’s Prayer appears in two of the four Gospels: Matthew’s and Luke’s In Matthew it is part of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and—as you can see—Luke’s version is shorter than Matthew’s. In the Luke the prayer begins: “Father, hallowed be your name.” The Good News Bible states it this way: “Father: may your holy name be honoured.” When Jesus calls God Father in this prayer, he is revealing something very unique and marvellous about God. In many of the world religions god or the gods were transcendent—that is, they were far removed from human beings. Many of the gods were to be feared because they could bring people tragedy or death or some terrible curse at any time. Some of the gods had to be appeased and cajoled before human beings could benefit from the gods. Fear and superstition dominated the relationship between human beings and the gods. But Jesus changed all of that; he called God Father, and by doing so he was showing us how close and intimate a relationship we human beings actually have with our God. He was saying that our relationship with God is like the most close and loving relationship between a parent and a child. The care, the tenderness, the trust, the confidence that we place in a loving earthly parent is like that which we can have in God only multiplied so much that we cannot even begin to comprehend how great. God our loving heavenly Parent supplies all our needs, protects us, guides us, comforts us, gives us such a perfect friendship that we are able to tell God everything—especially those things that we are not able to tell any human being. To call God Father is to know and rest in the confidence of a relationship which is totally loving and trustworthy.
That is why we pray: “…hallowed be your name.” If we know and rest in the confidence of a totally loving and trustworthy relationship with God; then we shall want, more than anything, to keep God’s name holy, revered, awe-inspiring and honoured. In this life we don’t throw our most valued earthly treasures on the manure pile. We usually find a special place for them out of pride and respect for them. The same is true with God’s name. We need to always guard and discipline our lips and tongues so that we don’t throw God’s name into the garbage. God’s name is very special and if we are to keep it that way then we shall want to care for it as we would a precious treasure. Most of us prefer to keep a good reputation for our name. We do so by living a lifestyle worthy of respect. When people spread rumours, lies and gossip about our reputation they no longer respect us and can even seriously damage our reputation and name. When someone swears, curses and uses God’s name as garbage they are damaging God’s name and reputation. If we really love and trust God we will want to keep God’s name holy.
Next, Jesus teaches us to pray: “Your kingdom come.” This may however be translated as “reign” or “sovereign rule.” The kingdom, the dominion, the sovereign rule of God is viewed in this prayer as both present and future. Now, today, the rule of God is breaking into this world. Jesus also said in Luke 17:21: “…the kingdom of God is within you/in the midst of you/among you.” It is, in part, here, now, already. We need a passion for God’s reign in our time. It is unbelievable that some 2,000 years after Christ our world would still have as much hatred, violence and evil as it does. If we had maintained Christ’s passion for God’s reign in our lives and in the world, it would not. Remember God’s reign is over our hearts, lives, minds—everything that is ours—we are Christ’s feet, hands, and mouth in this world. He is counting on us to be loyal subjects of his commonwealth and to do our part so that one day the dominions of this world shall become the Dominion of Christ.
Jesus goes on by teaching us to pray: “Give us each day our daily bread.” The Good News Bible has: “Give us day by day the food we need.” This petition begins with, “Give us…” NOT “Give me…” We are not praying here for getting my selfish wants at the cost of other people going hungry. We are family; we are Christ’s body; if one member suffers, we all suffer. “Daily bread” does not mean an endless supply of extravagant luxuries, while two-thirds of the world’s people don’t even have enough food let alone any of the other things that we enjoy in this country. “Daily bread” means receiving not what we want but what we need—the basic necessities of life. We pray for our daily bread, remembering that Jesus travelled light, had no place to lay his head, yet, at the same time had all he really needed. We pray this with thankful hearts and do not take our daily bread for granted. We pray that everyone shall have the daily bread they need.
Jesus goes on by teaching us to pray: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” Jesus knew that no prayer would be complete without asking for forgiveness. We are all sinful people in constant need of forgiveness. Jesus our Great Physician knew that nothing could kill our souls as well as our bodies like grudges, unforgiven sins, stored-up anger and resentments and feelings of guilt. Isn’t it interesting that an increasing number of medical doctors are saying the same thing today?! Many people would enjoy better health if they could truly forgive. If we pray this petition and still continue to have stored-up anger, resentment and hatred towards others then we need to ask Christ for the grace to have the ability to forgive and we need to really want and mean that with all of our heart. Forgiveness requires effort on our part as well as Christ’s grace. Here are some practical steps to healing and forgiveness. First, pray for the well-being of the person you have a hard time forgiving. Second, if possible, unload the problem and guilt together with the offender. Third, negotiate the difficulty in a caring, friendly way. Fourth, trust each other and live in forgiveness. Fifth, encourage each other. Jesus our Great Physician performs major surgery on our sin and wants us to have a healthy mind, body and spirit—that is why it is so important that we forgive one another.
Finally, Jesus teaches us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation,” or “do not bring us to the time of trial.” The Good News Bible has: “And do not bring us to hard testing.” The reality of life is that we are all tested in one way or another. In school we must write exams. Certain jobs require apprenticeships, internships and probation periods. Then we have other tests, which often come without warning when things have been going well—a sudden illness or death in the family, that unexpected job lay-off, the relationship that seemed good turns sour and somebody you trusted slanders you. How do we respond? Do we become bitter, angry, resentful and drown ourselves in self-pity? Do we fight fire with fire? Or do we remain patient, kind, loving, faithful and endure these things with a view to a hope-filled future? Most of these tests come in order that we may be more firmly anchored in Christ. Without his help we will most certainly fall and crumble; that is why we need to pray each day, “and lead us not into temptation.”
May our Lord’s Prayer continue to be a constant source of power and influence as we seek to put into practice the meaning of those wonderful words. May our relationship with Christ continue to grow and be strengthened as we draw close to him by praying the prayer he taught us. Amen.