As we continue our march through Matthew, I want to turn our attention to the well-known passage in chapter six, known as the Lord’s prayer, or the ‘Our Father.’ As always, I must for the sake of time limit my remarks to only a few brief comments. I expect to finish my very brief remarks about this prayer next week, in part two of this message.
Here is the text: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:7-15)
The Lord Jesus, in instructing His disciples how to pray, encouraged them (and us) to address our prayer to our FATHER.
I think this is very important. Jesus did not teach them to say, “Our God who is in heaven.” He used the word, Father. And the difference between the two words is most significant.
Yes, of course, God is glorious, magnificent, holy, gracious, loving – on and on we can come up with appropriate adjectives. But for many people, even though we know about God's character, the word ‘God’ carries for some the idea of a distant relationship. God is ‘out there’ somewhere, unattainable, unknowable, unreachable. The word might even suggest to some as aloof. Indifferent.
But the idea of Father – at least to many people – the idea of Father is one of close intimacy. We all know what a father is like – or what a father should BE like. Loving. Approachable. Caring. Accessible.
And THAT is the relationship Jesus wants us to know we can all have with our Creator who is our knowable, approachable, loving, merciful FATHER.
It is a tragic truth that too many men and women have grown up never knowing the closeness, the warmth of a loving human father – and that ‘not knowing’ often spoils their own relationship with the Father in heaven because they think the Father in heaving is like their earthly father – absent, distant, cold, cruel, apathetic, and so forth.
I know the feeling of one who never had a father who loved him. Some of you know my story, but many of you do not, so please be patient with me as I share it. I tell the story again in hopes that it will illustrate an important point.
The one whom I used to call, ‘Daddy’ abandoned me, Mom, and my sister when I was four years old. That was sixty-eight years ago. I still remember when Mom told me Daddy wasn’t coming home anymore. I was sitting on our black and silver specked couch. When Mom wasn’t looking, I went to their clothes closet to hide his wallet. I thought if I hid his wallet, he would not leave.
It was very hard to grow up without a dad. So, when Mom met and married Tommy some eight years later, and he agreed to adopt me and Andrea, I could hardly wait to tell all my friends and sixth-grade classmates that I now had a father.
The adoption took place in a judge’s chambers. It was a small ceremony with only Mom, Andrea, me, mom’s best friend, and her son. I don’t now remember what the grown-ups in the room talked about, but I do remember when the judge smiled at me and said, “Tommy is now your father.”
At the words from the judge, I ran to Tommy with my arms lifted so I could hug him, and I called out, “Hi, dad!”
Those were my exact words. I will never forget them. Neither will I forget what happened next. Tommy held his arms straight out – not to embrace me, but to hold me back from getting too close. He smiled sheepishly at everyone in the room. I don’t remember what he said to me – if he did say anything. I was too desperately disappointed that my new father didn’t want me to hug him, and he didn’t want to hug me.
Again, why do I tell that story? Because our Father in heaven would never, never, ever hold out His arms to keep us away. I mean, He is the one who tells us repeatedly throughout the Bible, “All who come to Me, I will never cast out.”
Our Father in heaven is like the running father of the Prodigal Son story. When he saw his son on the horizon making his way home, the father ran to him, embraced him, clothed him, and celebrated his return.
THAT is why I tell the story – to encourage you to know that our Father in heaven is waiting to embrace you – to ADOPT you into His family as His son or daughter. All we need to do is step toward Him.
Adoption. Ah, yes. He wants to adopt us as His very own child. Here is how St. Paul tells it:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Yes, Tommy signed the papers to legally adopt me. But his heart was not in it. OH! But our Father in heaven – when HE adopted me – and YOU – into His family, He swung open His arms to embrace you. And even now, even now, His arms remain wide open – as if spread wide on the cross beams of a cross – even now His arms are wide open to embrace you.
“Our Father who art in heaven . . . .”
Are YOU a child of God? You can be certain you are because of promises such as John 1:11-13 “ He [Jesus] came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Then there is this one: “These [things] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
And if you are a child of God by your faith in Christ, then there is this promise of adoption into His family: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6
And yet another: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:14-16)
Think of it! Adoption into the family of our holy, holy, holy God and Father.
What amazes me each time I take the time to reflect on our Father’s love is this question: Why would He love me after all the terrible, terrible things I have done in my life?
I mean, think of your own life – all the things you’ve done in your life to offend Him. Why would He love you?
Which is why the lyrics of a song comes to my mind: Why me Lord, what have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I've known? Why me Lord, what did I ever do that was worth love from you, and the kindness you've shown? Lord help me Jesus, I've wasted it so, help me Jesus I know what I am. Now that I know that I've needed you so, help me Jesus, my soul's in your hand.
Our Father who art in heaven loves me. He loves you. Don’t ever let the enemy of our souls seduce you to forget that ineffable truth.
And now, let’s more forward to the next phrase of the prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.”
Just as God is utterly holy, so is His name utterly holy – and that, of course, includes the name of Jesus. That is why St Paul wrote: “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)
And if we love Him as we want to love Him, then we want to be careful about how we use His Holy Name because His name is synonymous with Himself, with His character. Therefore, as we would treat God, we must also treat His name.
I often listened to a conservative radio talk show host. I very much respect the man’s views on our decadent and darkening culture. The man is a practicing Jew. He attends synagogue each week and leads many of the services, such as during the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement.
But as religious as he may be, he has a terribly diluted understanding of the Third Commandment as to what it means to take the Lord’s Name in vain.
So diluted is his view that, for example, the common exclamation, “OMG” or “Oh, my God” -- when spoken simply as a ‘toss-out’ comment, would not, according to this talk show host, qualify as breaking the third commandment.
Really? Think back to the moment Moses met God in that burning thorn bush. When Moses, in curiosity, approached the fiery bush, God called out and warned him, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
Holy ground. Do we not realize that because Jesus Christ is IN US (Colossians 1:27, etc.), that because Jesus Christ is ever WITH US (Matthew 28:20, etc.), that we, therefore, are ALWAYS on Holy Ground? So, shall we not therefore live and speak as if God is our constant physical companion – because that is what He is? As I just reminded us: We are ALWAYS on Holy ground.
And besides, and more to the point, if we even have to ask the question about whether our words, like OMG, or Oh, my God, or Jesus, or any other such use of God's Name – if we even have to ask if we are taking His name improperly, then we have a long way to grow in our maturing faith.
How are we living? How are we conducting ourselves day by day with others? How are we presenting the holiness of Christ to others?
When my wife and I attended St Benedict Catholic Church in Johns Creek, I served for a time as Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. What that means is I assisted the priest in distributing the Eucharistic wafer. Catholics believe that at the consecration of the wine and the wafer by the priest, they actually become the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.
This is an important point, that I am now about to make and I must first reiterate what I said a moment ago: Catholics believe they are actually, physically in the Presence of Christ and are actually and really receiving the very Body and Blood of the Savior in the Eucharist.
Having now said that twice, let me tell you what once happened to me:
One Sunday as men and women approached me to receive the Eucharist, I did a double take when a young woman stepped up to receive. She was wearing skin-tight flesh-colored leotards and a see-through blouse that looked remarkably like a negligee.
My brethren here at Ashwood Meadows, I use that example – and sadly it is not an isolated one in Catholic and Protestant churches – I use that example to illustrate how flippant so many in the pew and the pulpits have become with the Holiness of our God and the Hallowedness of His Name.
Why has such a thing happened? Because we have forgotten whose we are and to whom we belong. We have forgotten the absolute and unbounded holiness of God. There is good reason the Psalmist prayed – and we should pray as well:
“Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be upright and innocent from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14)
Christian, you and I are responsible to live holy lives before a Hallowed God, because we are always on holy ground.
Let me bring this part of my message to a close with yet another example of how easy it is for us to lose sight of whose we are and to whom we belong. This story also demonstrates how even the most sublime prayers can devolve into rote words recited without thought or meaning.
Many years ago, my wife and I regularly attended a local synagogue for Sabbath services. I enjoyed the Jewish liturgy and rhythm of the service because they reminded me of my Jewish upbringing.
During each Sabbath service, Jews sing the Sh’ma – an ancient declaration of Jewish faith taken directly from Deuteronomy chapter six: Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echod – “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The Sh’ma is so important to Jewish faith that persecuted Jews have died with those words on their lips in a final testament to their faith.
One Sabbath as we sang the text I noticed a middle-aged man a few pews to my left singing with the rest of us, but his attention was focused on his fingernails. I watched in disbelief as he cleaned his nails with a toothpick – yet all the while singing Israel’s most profound declaration of faith.
Like the Sh’ma, the Lord’s Prayer is a profound declaration of our relationship with God. The full meaning of that prayer has still not yet been plumbed, although volumes have been written about it over the millennia.
Christian, beware. Like the Sh’ma, the Lord’s prayer can lose its vibrancy in the dullness of rote recitation.
Let me close this review of the first lines of the Lord’s prayer by reminding us: God is your most intimate and deeply personal ‘Father.’ He cherishes you and embraces you and seeks you every moment of your days and nights – even while you sleep. But never forget, He is also utterly, completely, supremely, perfectly holy. Never take Him for granted.
The next time you recite the Lord’s Prayer, take the time to do so from your heart – even if you have to stop reciting after the first sentence – let the congregation continue without you. But you, take time to think about what you’re saying. It will change the impact of the prayer for you.
We will continue to part two of this prayer next time.