Hallowed Be Thy Name
Today begins a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. We call it the Lord’s Prayer because it is the only prayer prescribed by Jesus in scripture. As we begin a new season in the church with new classes, and as we continue to think about and talk about a new understanding of our calling as a faith community – that’s what it means to redefine our mission – it seems a position of prayer is a good place to start.
I think prayer is a good place to start because it seems intimidating to say that we need to redifine our mission. It seems confrontational to say that we need to become transformed into something new. Yet that is the calling of Christian faith – a life of constant transformation and renewal. That’s not neccessarily why most people come to church, though.
Most of us come to church because the world is so complex and frustrating, and we want something solid to hold on to. There is nothing wrong with that, and certainly the unchanging word of God offers us something we can depend on in this ever changing world. Certainly our community of faith stands for something different in a world so full of greed and struggles for power. Certainly we still have greedy power struggles in our faith community – and even in our families – but we also have the power to love and forgive and live in a different way from the world. Here, reconciliation is not only possible – it happens!
Still – as likely as we take our faith seriously – we also run the risk of going through the motions. Just like the ancient Isrealites who whined to God. “Look, God, we fasted. We prayed. We burned stuff. We did the ritual, and we are on a schedule – so, WHERE ARE YOU? Perhaps you haven’t noticed the armies gathering to the North.” In the same way, we often look at our faithful practice and wonder why it does not seem to be working the way it used to. Don’t we just need to do what we know to be right and true, only better? Don’t we just need new people to plug the holes in the damn? We pray the prayer. We call it the Lord’s, but how often do we consider what we are really praying?
[Lord’s Prayer Skit]
Søren Kierkegaard has been quoted as saying, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” This is something I often forget. I mean, I love to quote it. I just have a problem living it. It’s simply not our nature to want to be changed. We pray because we want results, but usually for someone else. We pray because sometimes we don’t know what else to do or to say other than, “I’ll be praying for you,” or maybe, “God, help us - please!” And we pray because we believe, or we want to believe, that God is listening.
In the prayer of Jesus, especially in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has one primary agenda – honoring God. He moves into other expressions of need, but it all flows from a desire to honor God. For prayer to be prayer you can’t call attention to yourself. Prayer is deeply private and personal. It can be done anywhere with anyone, but the point is not to be seen by others. The point is to understand that you are seen by God. It is time spent alone with your Creator. And Jesus tells us to begin by showing our appreciation for God.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” That is a statement from a people with a different experience of what the universe looked like. For God to be God, then God – who is holy, separate, other, and perfect – cannot exist in the same place as God’s imperfect creation. For us, the universe is too big for God to be on the other side and still be God. We want to know, and see, and feel the active presence of God. For God to be God – holy, separate, and other – we need an experience like no other to point to and to prove that God is with us.
And that, dear friends, is why prayer is so important – and this prayer in particular. It provides language to frame our experience of God. If you aren’t in the habit of prayerful conversation with God – or even if you are – try praying the Lord’s Prayer in a quiet moment during your day. It may even force you to create a quiet moment just to pray, which might not be a bad idea!
Prayer provides an open space in our minds and hearts to recognize that the God of the universe is with us. The Lord’s Prayer allows us to open the spaces of longing within us and say, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done right here, right now! Let us in on the secret of heaven! Let us experience your perfection in the middle of our imperfection. Let your will be done, because my will is just not enough.”
That’s a good place to start, as we continue to seek the transforming presence of God together through prayer. Over the next three weeks we will consider the providence of God, the nature of forgiveness, and the problem of evil.
As we journey together, may the name of God be hallowed in our lives which are lived together and apart, and may the Kingdom come near in our lives, together and apart. Amen.