Vacation Bible School was this week. I am always encouraged to see children and youth gathered to hear how much God loves them. Each night, we offered prayer at the beginning and end of our time together. Someone from each of the churches offered prayer one of the nights of the week. I love that the churches and community pray together at events like VBS and other worship services. Joe from the CP church was great with the kids all week. When he prayed, he gathered the kids’ attention for prayer time. He asked the kids to close their heads and bow their eyes.
Throughout the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus prays. He prays with His Disciples or withdraws from the crowds to pray. He prays for His ministry and for His Disciples. The text today records the event of Jesus teaching His Disciples to pray, something they had witnessed Him do time and again.
The way Jesus taught His Disciples to pray is what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer appears in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. The prayers are similar in many ways, but are different. Scholars believe that while the Matthew prayer used more refined language, the Luke prayer is more likely traditional.
Luke’s prayer begins, “Father” where Matthew’s prayer begins with, “Our Father.” Luke may not have recorded the word “our,” but, the remaining language of the prayer shows the intent that this prayer is not about “individual piety” but about the community. Semantics aside, the address “Father” sets the relationship between the community and God. God is the Divine Parent of everyone who prays to Him. Luke does not address God in Heaven, that is part of Matthew’s prayer.
Next is the call that God’s name be hallowed or revered. In the Jewish tradition, God’s name was forbidden to be spoken. God was called Lord or Adonai the name Yahweh was unspoken. It was believed that saying the name of God invoked the Lord’s presence and attention. At the time of the Gospels were recorded and even today, the Jewish tradition does not invoke the name of God.
I need to say something at this point about how the Bible texts were recorded. There were multiple manuscripts of each book of the Bible. A couple may have been the original recording then there were copies made. In a large area, someone read the text and several scribes would write down what they heard. So, each manuscript varied some. When compiling the final language of the Bible, the early Church fathers took multiple manuscripts and used the language that was most common among the manuscripts.
Often, in your Bible, you will have footnotes that say that some manuscripts may include or said something. That is an indication that more than one manuscript included that language. Maybe not enough for it to be included in the final edition, but worth noting. The continued language of Luke’s recording of the Lord’s Prayer includes a lot of footnotes of what was recorded in many manuscripts, worth noting, but not included in the final edition. The Lord’s Prayer that we pray is a compilation of Luke’s words, Matthew’s words, and the footnoted words.
Your kingdom come establishes that God’s Kingdom exists apart from this world. The prayer expresses a desire for that Kingdom to come to earth with its peace, love, and God’s sovereignty. This is a dominion where God’s name is revered and all bow before God’s throne. This is the Kingdom that Jesus has spent His ministry preaching about.
God’s will be done on Earth as in Heaven is a phrase that is not included in the final edition of the Luke prayer, but does appear in enough manuscripts that it is footnoted. The request that the will of God be done on Earth as in Heaven is tied to the request that God’s Kingdom come. In the Kingdom of God, the subjects commit themselves to obeying God and His commandments. When the Kingdom comes to Earth, God’s will will be done.
Now begins 3 petitions for bread, forgiveness and deliverance. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our sins, and lead us not into temptation.
The request for provision of daily bread reflects the Exodus story of God raining down manna from Heaven for the Hebrews in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. God provided bread daily for the people of God. It was only enough bread to last for the day and fresh manna was available the next morning. The Jewish Disciples understood this as a request for the daily physical needs. This claim for daily bread versus a belief that it is a request for the bread of the Eucharist meal fits in with Luke’s concern for the poor. A petition for daily bread is one of a peasant relying on God’s sustenance for life and health.
The next petition brings us to a confession of sin. Different churches uses debts, sins, and trespasses. The Catholic and Orthodox churches use trespasses. However, among Protestant churches, even among Disciples, there is no consensus of using sins versus debts versus trespasses. The request for God’s forgiveness is directly linked to our forgiving others. Jewish teaching links one’s willingness to forgive to the acceptance of God’s forgiveness, that someone cannot receive forgiveness if they are not forgiving. Perhaps, someone may not know what it is to be forgiven if he or she doesn’t offer forgiveness.
Lead us not into temptation is in the Bible, but deliver us from evil or the evil one is not. Deliverance is in some manuscripts. An appeal to God’s providence is made. The prayer makes the statement that it is God who protects and delivers. The Old Testament and the New Testament vary on beliefs about whether or not God tempts or tries us. There are several strong texts that say that God tempts and tries us, like the case of Job. However, the letter of James states that God does not test us. Either way, the prayer ends the thought with the acknowledgement that God does protect us and deliver us from evil.
The end or the doxology of the prayer, “for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever” is not in the Biblical texts and there are not notes that indicate it was in the manuscripts. The Catholic Church does not use this doxology because it is not Biblical; however, there is evidence that the language was used in the early Church. In our case, we use it because it is part of the Christian tradition, rather than Biblical. The tradition of prayer and the essence of the Lord’s Prayer are more important than getting caught in semantics over what language to use.
The theme of the General Assembly I just returned from was “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” There was a little mention of prayer during one of the worship sessions. But, for the most part, there was a message of being a unified movement. All the preachers gave a message about the ways that the church works for justice for all of God’s people and treating our neighbors as we would want to be treated and how God treats us.
My first thought was that a more appropriate theme might have been Jesus’ prayer that the Disciples might be one from the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus’ prayer with the Disciples before he is arrested. After further reflection, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray” was a good theme. The preachers’ messages of unity did fit the theme of the Disciples learning to pray from Jesus because Jesus taught them to pray together as one. Jesus didn’t teach the Disciples to pray my Father in Heaven. Jesus taught the Disciples to pray, “Our Father in Heaven.”
Today, the Lord’s Prayer is a collective prayer of the Church that unites all believers as we petition God in the manner Jesus taught His Disciples. This prayer unites all those who pray to the One True Living God. All believers. That means those we agree with and those we don’t agree with. It means we pray with racists, with parents, with abusers, with children, with felons, with drug users, with alcoholics, with people in our church, with people in Bethany, with people around the world…with all who pray to God, our Father.
The thing that unites all believers, fat, skinny, young, old, rich, poor, sick, healthy, black, white, Asian, and all other categories we use to define people, the thing that unites us is sin and our dependence on God. No matter how often we confess our sins, we will continue to sin whether it be the sins we have yet to confess, the sins we don’t know we commit, or even the sins we just confessed. We can try our best not to sin, but we are sinners through and through. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we have sin in common and we all turn to God for forgiveness.
We have the propensity to rate sin in some varying degree of severity. Like some sin is worse than others. Your sin is worse than my sin. This sin is more easily forgivable than that sin. Sin is sin is sin. God forgives the sin we confess. At the center of the Lord’s Prayer is a confession of sin. We say, “forgive us our sins.” We don’t name our sins and rank them. We confess that we are sinners.
We can’t judge our sins or rate them. Sin is sin is sin. God is the judge of sin and all offenses are equally offensive in God’s eyes. All sin is falling short of God’s intention for us to love ourselves and one another as God loves us. It may be that sin unites us, but it is God’s intention that mutual love unite us. The unity of love begins with forgiving others as we have been forgiving recognizing that we all sin and are all in need of God’s continual unconditional forgiveness.