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
“Lord, teach us to pray.” It was a simple request from one of Jesus’ disciples. I imagine they weren’t confused as to the proper time of day for prayer, the posture of their bodies, or what they should do with their hands while praying. After all, they’d been praying since they were young boys in the synagogue. So, Jesus answers this request, and gives a form of what we, today, know as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” It’s pretty familiar to us, and I hope it should be - we pray it every Sunday in worship, and maybe even a few more times during the week. We probably have it memorized. If you were around when the 1993 Hymnal “Christian Worship” came out in our synod, you probably noticed the addition of a “contemporary version” of the Lord’s Prayer - minus the thee’s, thy’s, and thou’s. If you attended Lutheran catechism class at any point over the past five centuries, you’ve studied the Lord’s Prayer in depth.
And it’s that last point I’d like to think about for a moment. Do you remember what follows each of the petitions in the catechism? Luther’s explanation of what each petition is all about. The way Luther explained each of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer might lead us to believe that we have no reason to pray at all. Dust off the memory work, and see if you can follow along. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. And Luther says, “God’s name is certainly kept holy by itself.” Thy Kingdom come, Luther says, “God’s Kingdom certainly comes by itself even without our prayer.” Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And Luther keeps up, “God’s good and gracious will certainly is done, without our prayer.” Give us this day our daily bread. “God surely gives daily bread without our asking, even to all the wicked.” So far, it seems like we’re praying for things that God is already doing and will continue to do without our input – so why pray? Next, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But hasn’t God already done that without asking me whether I thought it was a good idea or not? Now, we transition from praying for things that God’s going to do even without us asking to praying about something that God can’t do, anyways, Lead us not into temptation. Luther says, “God surely tempts no one to sin.” It seems that the Lord’s Prayer, and maybe prayer in general is a perfunctory exercise when an Almighty God is involved. Has it ever occurred to you that you have no reason to pray?
So, is Luther tacitly teaching in his catechism that we really have no reason to pray? Of course not! He doesn’t leave his explanations there. Yes, God’s name is holy in and of itself, but we pray that it may be kept holy among us, too. Yes, God’s kingdom comes and his will is done, even without my effort, but I pray fervently for it to be done among me as well. Even though I forget to thank him for it, God gives daily bread, and his constancy of giving reminds me to remember his goodness and receive my daily bread with thanksgiving. God has forgiven my sins in Christ, and now I pray for his strength to forgive others. God never tempts me to sin, but I know that I find myself there anyways. So I pray that he give me victory over the devil, the world, and my sinful flesh. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are holding God to what he’s promised to do, and to take action and keep his word, not just to the world at large, but to me as his dear child. After all, that’s why Jesus started the whole thing off with the words, “When you pray, say: Father.” With those words, Jesus changes everything we know about approaching the Almighty God of the universe. By nature and by our sin, (pun intended) we didn’t have a prayer to stand before a holy God. We would presumptuously saunter into his presence and receive the wrath we deserved because of our sin. But Jesus has removed the dividing wall of hostility and the sin that separated us from the holy God. And now? Now, we call him Father. We approach this God as dear children come to their dear Father, who has their best interest at heart.
First and foremost, the Lord’s Prayer is about who God is and what God is doing for you before this is about who you are and what you’re doing for him. If this gospel lesson about prayer teaches us anything, it teaches us about the kind of God we have, the God we get to call “Father,” because of Jesus. Isn’t it true that the things we pray for are, on some level, a reflection of what we believe about the kind of God we have? For example – if we pray for healing, we acknowledge that God is able to do it, and has our best interest at heart. If we give thanks before a meal, we acknowledge that God is the Giver of all things, and I’m the recipient of his goodness. When we pray for forgiveness, we say that this God is gracious and merciful to me on account of Christ. On some level, the things we pray for are a reflection of what we believe about the God to whom we pray.
So what does it say when I don’t pray at all? I’ll confess to you that my almost daily confession to God is, “Lord, forgive me for my neglect of your Word and prayer.” And why is that? You know all the excuses. I’m too busy. It’s not like it’s going to do anything anyway – you can see the writing on the wall just the same as I can. What if Abraham had thought that way in our Old Testament lesson? Well God, I know you’re going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah anyways, so I won’t bother praying to you on behalf of those people and my nephew, Lot. Or how about what Paul says to Timothy in our second lesson? I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority. But he’s not my president! I didn’t vote her into office! Or take it out of the political realm - I hold a grudge against a fellow soul for whom Jesus shed his precious blood, because my pride has been wounded. It becomes easier and easier to neglect prayer – whether for reasons political, personal, or preference. And so we cut ourselves off from this unfathomable access we have to the Father, because I think I know better than God.
First and foremost, the Lord’s Prayer is about who God is and what God is doing for you before this is about who you are and what you’re doing for him. If this gospel lesson about prayer teaches us anything, it teaches us about the kind of God we have, the God we get to call “Father,” because of Jesus. Look at the illustrations Jesus uses to express the kind of God we have, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” If your friend finally caves in and gives you stuff to get you to quit banging on their door at midnight, how much more do you think your heavenly Father rejoices to give you all that you need? And again, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Every dad, even though they’re sinful humans, knows to keep snakes and scorpions away from toddlers. So, don’t you think your Father in heaven will give you what is best for you?
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us what kind of God we have. So, what kind of God do we have? A God who keeps giving. Prayer is all about giving - not your giving to God, but God giving to you! Look at the number of times in this gospel lesson we hear about giving: it’s God who gives daily bread and forgiveness of sins; God is like the friend who’s awoken in the middle of the night and gives food to his friend; it’s God who gives to those who ask, who brings finding for the seeker, and opens for the one knocking; it’s God who is the ultimate Father who gives good gifts to his children; it’s God who gives the Holy Spirit. God keeps giving - in a world that tries to tear down God’s name, he keeps it holy. In a world that wants to snuff out the kingdom of God, we see Jesus faithful to his word and growing his sphere of influence through the gospel. In a time when daily bread and personal well-being seem to be in utmost doubt for many, we look to this God, the one who opens [his] hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing. And see him provide not only your daily bread, but your eternal salvation, as Jesus opened his hand to be nailed to a cross for you.
So, has it occurred to you that you have every reason to pray? “Lord, teach us to pray.” In this seemingly simple prayer, we have everything we need. We are shown a God who delights and promises to provide for all our physical and spiritual needs. Isn’t it remarkable? The Almighty God not only commands us to pray, but he promises to hear us, and even gives us the words to say! But it’s not really so much about the words themselves, is it? It’s about Jesus telling us, “When you pray, say: Father.” And the rest kind of blessedly falls into place. This is not just the nameless, faceless, abstraction of a divinity far off and unconcerned about puny humans. No, this is your Father in heaven, who rules all things for you, and who lives to keep his every promise to you.
Are there times in your life when you struggle to believe what God’s promised you? You know there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but that sin of your past or that sin of last week is one you simply cannot shake from your mind. You remember all that God says about how in all things, he works for the good of those who love him, but you stand with a medical report in your hand or a past due notice on your counter and almost defiantly say, “How’s this going to work?” You know in your heart and in your head that God promises new mercies every morning and grace sufficient for each day but your life circumstances make you wonder if he’s forgotten to send those your way. You hear Jesus’ repeated promise that you’re worth more than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air and he’ll take even better care of you, but maybe you’d like to see a little more of a stockpile in your house or bank account. Sometimes, often in fact, God has to empty us of ourselves to see how true his promises really are.
Prayer is all about holding God to keeping the promises he’s made. What has God promised me? What does our giving God delight to give? God hasn’t promised that I’m going to be rich or famous; or that I’m going to have that house on the hill or that sports car. But what can we demand of God in prayer? We can demand of God that he keep every one of his promises to us. What is the promise of God that makes us bold and persistent in our prayers? Christ – the promise that his perfect life and innocent death paid for your every sin. Christ – the promise that through faith in him, you can approach the Almighty God with freedom and confidence. Christ – the one mediator between you and God who ushers you right to the throne of God Almighty and invites you and urges you to pray. When you pray, say: Father and know that your heavenly Father delights to hear and answer.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.