The Lord’s Prayer
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
That’s the first prayer that I remember saying as a child. Maybe you said that – or a different one. The last two lines of the one I recited are meant to be comforting words:
“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” But, when we had children, we didn’t want them to pray that prayer. At that time, I didn’t want to hear my children reciting a prayer about death and salvation – I wanted them to know they were in God’s care. So instead of this prayer from my childhood, we taught them the Lord’s prayer.
Jesus’ prayer is a prayer that can be prayed at any time – morning or evening, at the start or close of a meeting, or any other times. And we do. Here at Faith-Lilac Way, we pray the Lord’s prayer at every worship, council meeting and many other times besides. And this is a good thing! The blessing of knowing a prayer “by heart” is that it is available anytime of day or night. The danger is that it can become “rote” –easy to say it without thinking. So today I want to look at the Lord’s prayer – hopefully with “fresh eyes.”
The prayer begins with an acknowledgement of our relationship with God: Jesus calls God “Father” and invites us into a relationship that is so close that it is like a child and their father – or their mother or grandparent or someone else who cares for them, someone who loves them no matter what.
I was blessed to have had a great dad. But I also know that the name “Father” doesn’t, unfortunately, always conjure up good images for everyone like it does for me. I remember, as a kid, my dad swinging me up in the air and putting me on this shoulders, a place where I felt safe and secure. I remember my dad calmly teaching me to drive. I have lots of good memories. But some hard ones too. And that’s because human fathers are… well… human. They make mistakes.
But there are some men who, instead of being loving, have been mean or abusive to their children. So sometimes, the name “Father” doesn’t bring to mind someone who is worthy of trust and an example of someone who loves you unconditionally. If that’s the case for you, the Bible describes God in many other choices: I AM, Holy One, Lord, Comforter, Redeemer, Creator, and Mother. God cannot be contained or defined by a name. What God wants is a loving relationship with you.
In the next petition, when we say, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are reminded that even God’s Name is holy. And when we pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done” we are saying that we desire God’s will – and not our own. Sometimes, when we are praying this prayer, I don’t think we realize what we are praying for, because what we are doing is setting aside our own desires and asking that God’s desires become our desires and not just in heaven but here on earth.
So what is God’s will? God’s will is that we love the way that God loves us. That means that we love God and share God’s love with all of God’s creation. That doesn’t sound so radical. But it becomes harder when it starts including people who don’t look like us, who come from other countries, who have needs. Then the fear mongers start saying, “those people are coming to take the jobs of your kids,” or “those people are coming to hurt you” or “those people are coming to take your money, use your resources.” Unfortunately, that’s when good people like you and me respond in fear. That’s when good people start to draw in close and start excluding others. That’s when we start putting our own will or security or fears first.
And yet we pray to God, “THY Will or YOUR Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In praying this prayer, we are asking that not only do we want God’s will – and not our own – but we want God to guide us so that we do God’s will. It’s a pretty radical prayer.
Give us this day our daily bread. Martin Luther talks about “daily bread” as anything our bodies need – including food and drink, medical care for our bodies, money to buy the things that we need, shelter, good government, honorable relationships with our spouse, children and other people. It’s not only OK to ask for health and wellness and care for others – but Jesus encourages to care for ourselves too.
Then comes a hard one: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others. Or as another version of the prayer says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus forgives us freely and asks to do the same for others.
At Vacation Bible School this past week, I was teaching the Bible stories. One day, I invited them each to pick up a rock.
I told them: a rock is hard – kind of like sin. One isn’t so bad – you could put one in your pocket and forget about it. It wouldn’t wear you down much at all. But if you kept putting rocks in your pocket, soon those pockets would be full. Maybe you would put them in a pail. But if you were never ever able to set down that pail – but instead kept adding more rocks, more sins… it would be wearing on you. That’s what it would be like if you were never able to give or receive forgiveness. It would simply wear you down.
Not forgiving someone else wears you down just as much – or maybe more – than carrying around your own sins – your own rocks.
Now I know that forgiveness can be hard. Maybe someone has hurt you – or someone you love-- deeply. And they haven’t asked for forgiveness. So why should you forgive them? Why should you let them off the hook? They don’t deserve forgiveness, right?
Maybe not. But… the problem is this: When you don’t forgive someone – you haven’t stopped holding onto that rock. Maybe you put the rock in your pocket and forget about it for a while. Maybe it doesn’t bother you at all. Except maybe at night. When you roll over in bed and there is this great big rock jabbing you. And then the anger comes back… and you are stuck with the problem again. You haven’t released it; you haven’t forgiven yet. Worse yet, when you are holding onto one rock, it’s hard not to hold onto another, and another, and another. The weight of those rocks/ sins adds up.
Now there are times, when the pain is so great that you can’t forgive someone right away. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Sometimes it takes time. It certainly did for me. I was really angry at a doctor in a local hospital who gave up on my mom when she was first hospitalized. I don’t get angry often but I was furious. But… as I look back on that situation, if I hadn’t gotten angry at that doctor, I would never have insisted on a second opinion – and my mom would most likely have died five years ago. Sometimes God works through bad situations to bless us anyway.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that bad behavior to you or to anyone else is OK. God wants you and all people to be safe, healthy and whole. Never ever ever does God justify people being abusive or manipulative or cruel to another person.
The Bible sometimes talks about someone being hard of heart. Being hard of heart is what happens when something comes between a person and God’s way of love and justice and righteousness. Hardness of heart means that you are following your own will – and not God’s. It’s what happens when people close themselves off from the love of God and refuse to receive it or to give it. It’s hard on them and sometimes it’s even worse for those who love you.
A neighbor of mine has tended toward seeing the glass half empty for a long time, but when she fell a couple of years ago, her rage at the world increased. Right now, she is not able to see any blessings, anything that is positive in the world. It’s hard on her; it’s really hard on her husband. He is at his wits end. It’s not the way that God wants her or him to live.
The way out of that kind of despair and negativity is forgiveness. Forgiveness means forgiving both the other person – and yourself. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting completely. But it does mean that you are free from holding onto the pain and sorrow that the action caused. Because after forgiving someone, the deed that caused you sorrow no longer has power over you. And… while you don’t dwell on it, you also have become wiser, and hopefully develop some appropriate boundaries so that you become more resilient.
At the end of the prayer, Jesus tells a parable and a story. He explains that God is better than the best father or the best neighbor – and wants the best for us. Even in those times when it feels as if God is not listening, God is not hiding. God wants a relationship with us.
Prayer is a gift – from God. It’s a way to be in relationship with God, to bask in God’s love ad God’s grace. Prayer is a journey of discovering that you are the apple of God’s eye every day at every stage of your life… And that’s a promise you can hold onto. But prayer does not always come naturally. Like any habit, it takes time – and practice. And there are many ways to pray – but that’s a different sermon. So… if prayer is something that you struggle with – and would like help with – please let me or Deacon Kirsten or Vicar Becca know – or write it on your green sheet. Whether it is in a sermon series or in a workshop or class, we want to help you as you seek, ask, yearn for a deeper relationship with God.