Real Faith for a Real Life in a Real World.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Lord's Prayer

I'm using the Lord's prayer as the theme of our service today.  Please rest assured that all the normal elements of a traditional service will be incorporated but will be ordered a little differently so as to follow the sequence of the Lord's prayer more closely.

Call to Worship


'How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!' 1 John 3:1 (NIV)

Hymn: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty MP564


Prayers of Adoration

Our Father in Heaven

You are enthroned on high, far above all powers and dominions; unassailable, unimpeachable, unimaginable.  We are on this Earth: lowly, vulnerable, weak, surrounded by troubles and threats.  Yet we know you, the unknowable, as ‘Father’.  We can approach you without terror; and, with you, face our foes with unshakable hope.

Hallowed be your name

Your name proclaims your nature: you were, and are, and are to come, the ever-living, eternal and almighty God.  Your name marks our lives and sets us apart for ever as yours.  We take your name on our lips and whisper it with reverence. Amen

Hymn: Our Father, who is in heaven MP552


Offering


Reading

Matthew 6: 5-15
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NIV)


Hymn: Father in Heaven, how we love you MP135


Hymn: Be still for the presence of the Lord MP50


Sermon

Introduction

When I was at university, more years ago than I care to acknowledge, we had a saying about lectures: lectures are the means by which information is transferred from the note-paper of the lecturer to the note-paper of the student, without passing through the mind of either.  That was never more true than for the nine o'clock lecture, especially when I lived on campus and could fall out of bed at twenty to nine and still be there in time, in body if not in mind.

Have you ever had the experience when driving of leaving home and then arriving at your destination but being unable to remember any of the journey in between?  It's so easy to drive on automatic pilot, especially on familiar routes.

The Lord's Prayer can be a bit like that.  We are familiar with it, and steer easily past the challenges it contains.  We recite it week by week, too often without thought, and how many preachers have you heard go wrong in the middle?  Even when it is just a piece of ritual that we follow week by week, woe betide the preacher who doesn't include it in the service!

The context of the Lord's prayer here in Matthew is what's known as the Sermon on the Mount.  It's a long sermon in which Jesus challenges and corrects the traditional views of the day.  Time after time, Jesus says, 'You have heard it said … but I say …' and he goes on to reveal how God looks for truth in our hearts, not merely outward show and the following of rules.

In this section on prayer, Jesus knocks the people who like to make a show of their religion right off their pedestals.  Prayer is not something to project at other people so as to impress them with our piety.  It's something to be directed towards God, in private; it's a precious and intimate part of our relationship with him.

He also warns his hearers not to be contaminated by pagan ways.  God doesn't respond to us because we talk him into it.  He responds because he loves us and already knows our need. 

But Jesus doesn't just tell us what not to do.  He give positive, practical advice on the best way to pray, a way to be sure that God hears.

The Lord's prayer is a model primarily for personal prayer in a private place.  It was never intended to be a liturgical device.  But corporate prayer is also important, and the model for the prayer life of an individual is also a good model for the prayer life of any group of christians.

The Lord's model prayer teaches us to pray with clear focus and with strong faith.  When we pray, we are to
  • Look up,
  • Look out, and
  • Look in 

Look Up

The first half of Jesus' model prayer is almost exclusively about God.  I say almost exclusively because it begins by declaring the true nature of our relationship with God and with each other.  Jesus tells us to address God as 'Our Father'.  He is our father, and we are family.

In the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke, the word would be 'Abba', the word that children used for their fathers.  In English, the word is, 'Dad'.  I realise that some might think that far to familiar a way to address God, but it is actually scriptural (Romans 8:15).

It's also a very honouring term.  I call my natural father, 'Dad' because I am in a very special relationship with him.  He's my Dad.  I don't call him 'Father' because we're more intimate than that.  It's a very special name for him that only my brother and I can use of him by right.  My wife calls him 'Dad' by way of honouring him, and he enjoys her calling him 'Dad'.  It's interesting that, out of respect, I never call my dad by his real name: it's always, 'Dad'.

I'll be honest with you: I'm not entirely comfortable with addressing God as 'Dad'.  I'm much happier with 'Father' or 'Lord' but I do relish the fact that I have access to God in this intimate way, and that he welcomes me into his presence as a son, and actually listens attentively to what I have to tell him.  I'm learning to call him, 'Abba', which grates less that 'Dad'.

God is, of course, our Father in heaven.  And the Lord's prayer from the outset reminds us that we have a friend in the highest of places.  He is enthroned on high, far above all powers and dominions;  he is the God who created everything, who reigns over all, and is well able to handle any problem we may throw at him.

So we pray to the one who has absolute authority in our world, and lovingly-exercised authority in our lives.

However we may address God, the Lord's prayer reminds us that his name is something we must consider holy, something that is not for ordinary, everyday use.

In the Old Testament, a name very often defined the nature of the person whose name it was.  Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau?  When these twins were born, Esau came out first, and Jacob came out quickly after, with his hand grasping Esau's heel.  The name 'Jacob' means, literally, 'He grasps the heel.'  Figuratively, to the Hebrews of the day it meant, 'He deceives', and we know what a twister Jacob turned out to be! 

Esau just means, 'Hairy' – not a name I'd like to go through life with!

Just so, the names of God all tell us something about his nature.  He introduced himself to Moses by the name, 'I Am', a name that speaks of his eternal existence.  He is the one who was, is now, and is to come; the one who never changes, who is always faithful, always dependable.

Look Out

The next part of the prayer is where we begin looking outward and asking God for things, and Jesus makes clear what our priorities must be. 

Priority Number One: Transformation.  We are to pray for the full entry of God's kingdom into this world, to the extent that God's will is done on earth in exactly the same way as it is in heaven. 

How do you think we're doing?  Are we there yet?  Or do we need to do some more praying?

For God's will to be done on earth as in heaven we have to see some enormous changes, don't we?   Malachi 3:6 tells us, 'I the LORD do not change,' (NIV) and Hebrews 13:8 says, 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.' (NIV)  Clearly, God is not the one who will be changing.  So where do we think the change has to take place?

Change is something that we are not overly fond of.  Let's be honest, when it comes to change, we are quite happy to take our place at the back of the queue.  And, if someone pushes in, we don't mind much at all!

But the fact is we cannot even get into the Kingdom of God without we change.  Jesus began his ministry with the words, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  The Greek word translated 'repent' is 'metanoia'.  It means 'change the way you think'.

Jesus teaches us to pray for
  • change in this world
  • change in Europe
  • change in the United Kingdom
  • change in this region
  • change in this town
  • change in this church
  • change in your life, and
  • change in mine,
all so that God's kingdom may come and his will be done.

I was amused when I was reading through Luke's gospel recently.  At the start of chapter 10 we read, '...the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.' (NIV)

Jesus was saying, there's work to do but not enough people to do it.  Pray God sends more workers.  Now go and be the answer to that prayer.

I wonder, when we pray, 'Your kingdom come', are we willing to be the answer to our prayer?  We, as God's church are called to be the agents of change in this world and to lead the way, especially in doing his will on earth. 

Can I invite you all to put a hand on your heart? … This is where the change must begin.

Look In

In the second half of the prayer, we begin to look inward, and Jesus gives us priorities  for that too, so we can be fit to be involved in what God is doing.

Priority Number Two: Provision.  If we are to be committed to what God is doing, we need some assurance that our needs won't be neglected.  And so we are encouraged to pray for our human needs (not our wants), recognising that we are dependent on God.  Jesus has already told us that our Father knows our needs before we ask, but we live in relationship with God, not at the end of a conveyor belt.  And so we are encouraged to ask.

Priority Number Three: Forgiveness.  We need forgiveness, and God's promise is that he'll forgive us if we ask.  But note there is a condition.  It's true that God's love is unconditional.  Whatever we do, he never stops loving us.  That's why there is always a route back to him when we've strayed, even like a prodigal. 

Forgiveness, though, is not unconditional.  Jesus makes very clear in the prayer itself and in the verses that follow it that we won't be forgiven if we won't forgive others who wrong us. 

Is anyone here bearing a grudge, harbouring unforgiveness?

Speaking from personal experience, forgiving others is not always the easiest thing to do, and there can be a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to forgive someone who's behaved intolerably—especially if there's no evidence they'll ever change.  Forgiving people like that doesn't mean putting yourself back under their influence or control.  There's no time to go into the detail of it now, but we must find ways to forgive, not least so that we can also be forgiven.  Sometimes, we need help with that.  If you need help, please don't struggle on by yourself.  Get help.  Find peace.

Priority Number Four: Protection.  Thank God for his forgiveness when we sin.  But better yet to avoid the sin in the first place.  The last part of the prayer is for God's help to live the holy life he calls us to: 'And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'  I take the sense of asking God to lead us away from things that tempt us – which again implies a willingness on our part to change.

We recognise we have weaknesses.  We also recognise we have an enemy bent on our downfall.  And we realise there are bad influences at work in this world, and ask for God's deliverance to safety.  We acknowledge we need grace to help us in our time of need, and we recognise that God is the source of that help and that he is ready, willing and able to give us that help, and so we ask him for it. 

With God's help, we really can overcome temptation and escape from the grip of those things in our lives that pull us down time after time.

Conclusion

And so we arrive at the end of the prayer, and the end of this sermon!

The Lord's prayer is not just something that we say in church.  It's not a magical formula that somehow imparts grace to us. 

It challenges us to look up, and reveals to us something of the nature and of the heart of God. 

It challenges us to look out, calling us to change and action, to live lives that demonstrate the qualities of the Kingdom.

It challenges us to look in, to recognise our need of God to provide, to forgive and to protect, and of our need to forgive others.

The Lord's prayer is a beautiful thing.  Let's remember always to pray that prayer with conscious thought about its meaning.

Hymn: Make me a channel of your peace StF 707


Prayers of Intercession

Your kingdom come

Abba, this fallen world needs renewal. Its people live under the Tyrant’s heel.  It needs to feel the impact of your kingly reign and rule of love.  Hasten the coming of your righteousness in our sin-sick world.  Amen.

Pray for the strengthening of the church worldwide.

Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

Abba, let not our will be done because we cannot see all the consequences of our choices.  Let not man’s will be done because that will only perpetuate our plight.  Let no worse will be done because that leads only to destruction.  Let your perfect, all-knowing will be performed on this planet that we may see the wholeness of heaven reflected in our lives.  Guide our choices, that we may play our parts in your plans.  Amen.

Pray for governments, leaders of industry and business, those who have so much influence in our society.

Give us this day our daily bread

Abba, let's be honest.  We want more.  We are reluctant to share.  We hoard against the unpredictable short-fall of an uncertain future; we waste what we cannot use or what will not fit in our storehouses.  These words challenge our greed and deal a death-blow to our injustice.  May we be satisfied with enough and the fulfilled longing that others, too, have enough.  May we have faith in your continuing provision and be open-handed with what you give.  Amen.

Prayer for your needs, and also the needs of others you know about.

Confession and Forgiveness

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Abba, in viewing the wrongs done to us by others, we could ask for justice.  We are mindful that others could justly demand the same vengeance for the wrongs we have done them.  As we need mercy, so must we offer it - how dare we not?  May our desire to impart forgiveness outstrip our desire to receive it, and may our need of it not stay far from our thoughts.  Amen.

Ask for the forgiveness you need.  Give the forgiveness needed by others. 

Receive the forgiveness of God, freely given to those who forgive.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

Abba, we are prone to wander, distracted by shiny stones set in dangerous places by our enemy.  Draw us away from such paltry rewards by the brightness of your radiance.  Keep our course true.  Purify our hearts and disarm the traps set even there for us.  Amen.

Ask for help with the temptations you face every day.

Hymn: I the Lord of sea and sky StF 663

 

Benediction

For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever

Abba, we think it’s all about us but we are wrong; that we are supreme, the pinnacle of all that is but we are wrong.  There is One, and One only, who is worthy.  All things are through Him and for Him.  He alone will have the final say.  He will never be usurped, never supplanted, never outshone.  Through all the endless ages of Eternity, He, and He alone, will be Our Father.  Amen.

And now may the grace of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit remain with us all, now and for ever. Amen

So let it be!