As we begin the new year we will be entering into a series on Sunday mornings which focuses on what we commonly call The Sermon on the Mount. This is a lengthy collection of Jesus' teachings about how to live. Notably, it is in the book that concludes by defining disciples as those who learn to obey everything Jesus has commanded. This is probably pretty important stuff!
One section of this sermon on the mount is what we have come to know as "The Lord's Prayer." Rather than unpacking that part of the Sermon on the Mount over several sermons, we are going to explore it in our weekly e-mail. For the coming weeks, I'd like us to slowly and patiently reflect on this prayer that Jesus prayed and taught. To help us orient ourselves, here is the prayer as translated in the New Living Translation:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don't let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
It begins with Our Father.
Father is a word rife with baggage - both good and bad - for many people in our world. If your father is good, present, loving, caring, and protecting - to think of God as our father can be heard as an invitation into something wonderful.
If your father is abusive, neglectful, cruel, addicted, or absent - to think of God as our father can be heard as a threat.
If your father was good, but has died, it may feel unimaginable to consider anyone else as your father - even God.
And yet, this is where Jesus begins and invites us to begin our prayer - to God as our father. What does it mean to acknowledge God as our father?
- God is the giver of life. In the ancient world, the father was the one through whom life was given. Israelites saw themselves as children of Abraham. To call people to pray to God as our father was to invite people into an inheritance, relationship, and life that was defined by something much greater than a national or family heritage. (See John 1:12-13) Ultimately our life doesn't come through a man - it comes from God. For those with difficult experiences with human fathers, this can be a lifeline - to know that my real life is given to me by one who loves me unconditionally and will never leave me. For those with positive human fathers, it can be an amazing gift to know that as great as our human father was, his love was only a glimpse of the love of our father, God.
- Prayer is relational. To begin a prayer with our father reminds us that our approach of God begins not with obedience or doing enough good things or through penance. Our approach of God begins with him welcoming us as a loving father welcomes his children. That doesn't mean that our approach to our father will never include correction or even discipline. It means that it will always include love. And love (1 Peter 4:8) covers a multitude of sins.
- Prayer is communal. The prayer begins our father, not my father. That doesn't mean he isn't my father. The personal nature of the prayer is included in the communal nature of it, but it is important to recognize that this is a community prayer. It is scattered with plural pronouns - our, we, us. This means that my life with God is not a solo affair. I am in this with a myriad of brothers and sisters who join together in praying our father. I cannot and was never meant to live this life in relationship with God alone. The very nature of this prayer brings me together with all those also approach God as their father . . . whether I like it (or them) or not!
In the very opening address of this prayer, Jesus taught us he is reminding us that our life is from God, a father who loves us and invites us to come to him. And that our life is one lived in community - in family. Let us meditate on that foundation before moving into all that is to come in this prayer and all that is to come in our life as we continue to learn to love God and love each other.