Welcome to Christ Lutheran and welcome to you if you’re listening on the radio.
Last week Pastor John got us started with our new sermon series, Lord Teach Us To Pray. That’s what the disciples said to Jesus---and his response was to teach them what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
In Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, there is a church with a Latin name. It’s called the Church of Pater Noster.
A long tradition holds that one of the places that Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer was in the cave under the church. When the crusaders built a church here in the 12th century, they called it Pater Noster. Pater Noster is Latin for “Our Father”.
On the walls around the church courtyard, translations of the Lord’s Prayer in 140 languages are inscribed on ceramic plaques.
Many of us know the Lord’s Prayer. You may have said it thousands of times. Of course anything that we do that often, can be just like going through the motions. But when we focus on the power that Jesus packed into these few phrases, saying the Lord’s Prayer can be an incredible blessing.
This prayer has a way of touching people’s hearts and connecting with them when nothing else can.
I have seen the power of the Lord’s Prayer in many situations---
You may have heard me tell about Betty. She was in the last stages of cancer. She had battled it for months but for the last 5 or 6 days she was so weak she hadn't said a word. I said a prayer with her husband as we sat next to Betty and then we started to pray the Lord's Prayer. And just loud enough for us to hear, Betty said every word with us.
Bob was in a psychiatric hospital, the result of brain damage from drug abuse in his earlier years. He seldom said much when we would visit. It would be one-word answers and not much more. One time when I was about to leave, I said, "Let's say the Lord's Prayer together". And he did, and didn't miss a word.
Earl had a speech impediment since birth. It was hard to understand him much of the time. But when we got ready to say the Lord’s Prayer together, he’d say, “Go slow. I want to say this too!”
Elise had an amazing faith and vision for the ministry of the church. One of those people you are truly blessed to know. But then she had a major stroke. Almost didn't survive. After the stroke, her mind was still strong, but she could hardly speak. She would struggle to put words together and though you could see she knew what she wanted to say, it would take great effort to say even a simple phrase. As we were having communion together at her home one day, I started to say the Lord's Prayer knowing she couldn't join in--but she did. And said every word without pause---crystal clear!
That’s just a few examples of the incredible impact this prayer has on people! I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at that power, since Jesus is the one who taught this prayer as a model of what prayer can be!
When people study the Lord’s Prayer, they often divide it into requests or petitions.
And the very first words that we are going to study today are---
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
In 1528 and 1529, Martin Luther visited congregations around his region and he was appalled at how little pastors and lay people knew about the basics of being a Christian. So he wrote the Small Catechism to be used in churches and especially in homes---to teach the 10 Commandments, the Creed---to teach about Baptism and Communion AND the Lord’s Prayer
“Our Father who art in heaven.”----This phrase is not a request, it’s the introduction, a statement about who it is we pray to.
“Our Father who art in heaven.” In the Small Catechism, Luther asks---What does this mean?---“Here God would encourage us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children in order that we may approach him boldly and confidently in prayer, even as beloved children approach their dear father.” The Small Catechism
And here we encounter a problem. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks of their father as “their dear father”. Some of you may be in that boat. Of course no human father is perfect. And there are a few that are horrendous. But it is essential that, in any case, you don’t confuse your heavenly Father with any human father that you have known---Because even the best human father pales in comparison with the power and love of our heavenly Father.
But because Jesus refers to God more than 100 times in the Bible as “Father”, we can’t just dismiss that term, no matter what baggage it may carry for us. Instead I would suggest that if you have a negative experience with your own father, that you try to set that aside and look at what the Bible says about the love and compassion of your heavenly Father. And then use that to lead you to a view of what human fathers are meant to be.
And if you have a positive experience with your own father, I would suggest that you take all the good in him and multiply it by a million. Then you’re at least a little closer to an accurate view of what your heavenly Father is like.
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
In this short phrase, Jesus has packed tremendous meaning. “Our Father who art in heaven.” tells us some important things about the nature of God.
Luther’s Small Catechism emphasizes that God is truly our Father and we are truly his children. God is closer to us than a faithful earthly father. He cares for our individual needs, pain and joy. He has created us and revealed himself to us so we can know what he is like. And he came to us in Jesus to make sure that we can understand his personal love for us. He is near to us as our Father.
And yet at the same time he is our Father who is in heaven. God is close to us and yet he is distant, different, distinct from us. This is important because it helps us to keep some things straight about God. If all we think about is how close God is to us, we can fall into the trap of thinking of him as a heavenly genie who will give us our every wish, if only in our prayers we say the right words.
There was a guide who was taking some tourists through Jerusalem and he stopped and pointed to a wall along the street ahead. “Here is one of the greatest miracles of all” he said. You pray at this spot and money pours out of the wall. Many pilgrims come here to benefit from the miraculous power.” As the tourists came closer they saw the guide was smiling and pointing to an ATM machine. That’s not what God our Father is – He is not a heavenly ATM machine.
He is our Father in HEAVEN which means that as close as he is, as full of love for us as he is, he is also the King of the universe the King of heaven. And that means that he is far different from us. Just as we read in Isaiah 55---
Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”
The one who is our Father is also the one who is in heaven. Which also helps us with any baggage we’ve got with earthly fathers. Jesus is saying that your thoughts about your heavenly father should not equal your thoughts about your earthly father, no matter how bad or good they may be. Jesus is saying---begin with a human concept you are familiar with---fathers---but then let your heavenly Father expand exponentially on that and take you to a far broader and deeper understanding of who God your Father is.
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
This phrase also points us to our true identity as sons and daughter of God, created to enjoy his heavenly kingdom. But we need to pray the Lord’s Prayer to remind ourselves where our true home is---because things here and now are not what God intends them to be.
Romans 8:22 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
We all groan as we experience the pain and failures of life, as we hear the latest news report. But thanks to our heavenly Father, we have hope, because this present struggle is not all there is.
Romans 8:23 ”Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Jesus is the direct “son” of God. We, who rebel and walk away from God our Father, are given the opportunity to be reunited with him as his adopted daughters and sons, by what Jesus has done for us in his death and resurrection. That clears the board for us to experience that adoption, an adoption that we begin to experience now. but will only know fully in God’s heavenly kingdom.
“Our Father who art in heaven.”---
---teaches us that we can live not as slaves to sin but as heirs of our Father’s heavenly kingdom.
And one more thing that this opening line to the Lord’s Prayer teaches, among others, is that God desires a relationship with us. And it’s one that does not depend on what we do to make it happen.
Think of what Jesus said to Mary when she met him in the garden after his resurrection---
John 20:17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
First of all he calls the disciples, “my brothers”. The same ones who denied him. The ones who deserted him. The ones who gave up on him. They are still his brothers. And we are his brothers and sisters even when we deny him and give up on him. Because he doesn’t deny and give up on us.
And look how Jesus refers to God---“my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Our relationship with our heavenly Father doesn’t depend on our successes, our triumphs. Our relationship with God depends on what Jesus has done for us to reunite with his Father and our Father.
And so we can live as daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, not in fear, guilt and regret, but in thanks for the forgiveness with which he heals us, in hope for the kingdom he has prepared for us, and in joy that the King of the universe wants us to call him---
“Our Father who art in heaven.”