Treasures in Heaven – Sunday, February 1, 2015 (NL Week 22)

Sunday’s Readings:
Complementary Text – Psalm 20:7
Preaching Text – Matthew 6:7-21

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

If you’re anything like me, your attention during this morning’s reading was immediately drawn to verses 9-13, which contain what is surely the most widely known prayer among Christians throughout the world. Those words – most often referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer” – are loved across the globe in large part because of their familiarity. Rare is the service of Christian worship that doesn’t include this prayer, particularly Lutheran Christian worship. I’d venture to guess that for many of you, this prayer was among the first that you learned by heart. For his part, Martin Luther once wrote the following about the Lord’s Prayer:

Furthermore, we should be encouraged and drawn to pray because, in addition to this commandment and promise, God takes the initiative and puts into our mouths the very words and approach we are to use. In this way we see how deeply concerned he is about our needs, and we should never doubt that such prayer pleases him and will assuredly be heard. So this prayer is far superior to all others that we might devise ourselves. For in that case our conscience would always be in doubt, saying, “I have prayed, but who knows whether it pleases him or whether I have hit upon the right form and mode?” Thus there is no nobler prayer to be found on earth than the daily Lord’s Prayer, for it has the powerful testimony that God loves to hear it. This we should not trade for all the riches in the world.
(Martin Luther, “The Lord’s Prayer”, Large Catechism, in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert [2000], p. 443, para. 22-23)

Yes, the Lord’s Prayer is an incredible gift to us as individuals and as the church of Christ. The danger, of course, is that this incredible gift would become familiar in precisely the wrong way – that is, that we use it so often that we fail to reflect on the significance of these powerful words. I know I’ve been guilty of this at various times in my life. In fact, I’ll confess that when I was growing up I often smiled on Sunday mornings during the Lord’s Prayer – not because I was happy to be reminded of the promises it contains, but because I knew the service was almost over. If we’re not careful, this prayer can lose its significance and its potency.

That’s no small thing, either, because the Lord’s Prayer can be difficult and dangerous. If you’ve ever been brought up short by the depth of division and disunity in the church and in our world, then you know that calling God “our Father in heaven” is both a word of hope and a stinging indictment of the way things are. If you’ve ever looked out at the world and been heartbroken over the ways that God’s name is used to sow the seeds of hatred and prejudice and violence, then you’ve undoubtedly realized that “hallowed be thy name” isn’t a given among God’s people. If you’ve ever acknowledged that this world doesn’t conform to God’s design and been led to “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, then you’ve surely come to know that “thy kingdom come” is not an idle sentiment, but a fervent plea for radical, earth-rending change. If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation of uncertainty or fear or doubt, you know the anxious feeling that can come from praying “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. If you’ve ever paused to reflect on the reality of hunger and poverty in our community, our state, our nation, and our world, then perhaps you’ve been struck by the sheer number of people who ask God to “give them this day their daily bread” – even though they have more than enough – while their neighbors barely make ends meet. If you’ve ever struggled with feelings of resentment and anger and frustration toward someone who wronged you, then asking God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and realizing the relationship between our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness toward us might give you pause. If you’ve ever felt weighed down by the power of sin and death that this world seems to wield against you at every turn, then the prayer that God would “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” can be difficult to swallow.

This is not a prayer for the faint of heart, and I wonder if that’s precisely why Jesus tells us to pray this way. In a world in which prayer all too often looked like a test of endurance or a show of skill, Jesus gifted his disciples with a prayer that is stunning in both its compactness and its depth. In just a few short sentences, we convey all of our needs, all of our dreams, all of our fears and longings and sighs, and we do so in chorus with countless other Christians throughout the world. When we allow ourselves to be captivated by these words again, to understand exactly how meaningful they can be, we can rediscover what an incredible gift this prayer is to the church and to each one of us. They aren’t always easy words to pray – not by a long shot. But they are important, because they represent our identity, our mission, our need, our calling, and our hope.

As this morning’s reflection ends I’d like to read an alternate translation of this familiar prayer. I would ask you to listen carefully to just what it is that we’re asking, and to hold these thoughts in your hearts as we prepare to join together in the words our Savior taught us later in the service:

Our Father in the heavens, may your name be held in holy awe.
Let your royal reign come.
Let your will be established – as it is in heaven, so may it be on earth.
Give us the food we need for today, and release us from our debts [to you], just as we release others from their debts [to us].
Do not bring us to a time of testing, but rescue us from the evil one.
For to you belongs power and might and glory throughout the ages.
Let it be so!
(Matthew 6:9b-13 and doxology, my translation)

Let it be so indeed.

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