After every meeting, whether it was contentious or delightfully blissful, we would conclude by standing up, holding hands and praying the Lord’s Prayer. This was at former church I served. Even the trustees, which for all intents and purposes, was an ‘old gentlemen’s network’ would get up and pray it together, holding hands.
Except for Dirk, well sort of except for Dirk. Dirk was from the Netherlands and he could only pray the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch. So finally after a few months of trustees meetings under my belt I suggested that he bring in copies of the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch so that we could all read it and pray it in Dutch together like Dirk. Well, it was a good idea except that Dutch is a language all of its own where, if you are an English speaker only, you can’t seem to make heads or tails out of some of the characters or just how to pronounce words with double vowels all over the place followed by the letter ij.
But we all muddled through it with Dirk and had a few chuckles. You see Dirk who was fluent in English said that there are some things that he just cannot say in English. Not because he cannot pronounce the words but because the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch has a different cadence and intonation. It was more comforting to him to hear it and pray it in his native language and because that’s what is in his heart. (Irena, you know what I’m talking about!)]
But it sort of doesn’t matter how our voices blend together does it? What matters is that our unique voices DO blend together in acknowledgement that we are in the same boat upon the sometimes placid and often times torrid waters drifting our lives away.
As it is, the mount from which Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is a dramatic incline from the shore of the Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee. We have been entertaining scripture from this very famous sermon for a couple of weeks now.
And snuggled right smack dab in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount is where we find our scripture reading for today about the Lord’s Prayer. Before it comes an invective about being ostentatious in our praying and following it comes two more diatribes about fasting and almsgiving. In this day and age where there are absolutely no positive images of religious people in the media we need to be mindful of this.
From the extreme religious right or left of our Christian brothers and sisters to the forces of radical Islam, we see it all. The duplicity, the arrogance, the overly confident assurance that God is on ‘their’ side and no one else’s…..Matthew is clear about the expression of religion. Don’t be hypocritical and do not be flamboyant in your expression of it. Be sincere. Be honest. It’s between you and God only, not you and the world around you which is why the Lords Prayer is so important.
Why? Because the Lord’s Prayer is central to our life as Christians; if it is important enough to us that we pray it together on Sunday mornings then it begs just a bit of our time for reflection. While we could spend weeks on it we will not but we will use our time today to focus very specifically on the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is a simple prayer really. There are two parts to it.
The first part focuses on God’s holiness and calling upon God’s kingdom, that is God’s sovereign divine rule to come and for the will or intention of God be a reality here on this earth just as it must be in the heavens. So we corporately acknowledge first our beloved God by whom all things are made possible.
Then there’s the second part, which focuses on our needs. We’re asking God to give us just the food and necessities we need for today, no more. Because what would we do with more? All we need is enough for today and then we are to ask God for forgiveness because heaven knows that we miss the target, fall off the path, do and say things that really shouldn’t have been done or said.
Now what is unique about the Lord’s Prayer is that it is written in the plural. From the very beginning it starts out with, “OUR” Father not my father. We recognize that we all share in one common source for our lives and livelihoods and that this one God is God to us all. Not just some, not just Roman Catholics or Protestants or UCCer’s. Not to just one group or one individual but God is for all of us. Quite a departure from what our individualistic societal norms dictate.
And the rest of the prayer follows suit. Give US our daily bread, forgive US our trespasses. My needs are connected to your needs and it is God who can and will provide for all of our needs. It’s us, together. Not me alone or you alone.
This passage that acknowledges our commonalities teaches us about living and relationship. We are connected through this prayer of life, you and the person next to you, the one in the pew in back of you, the homebound person, the hospitalized, the youth off at a workcamp, and even the person who might disagree with you. When we say ‘Our Father’ it brings us together to admit that, we are all in the same boat! It is an intensely human kind of prayer. [i]
It is about living into an ongoing conversation with the divine source of creativity and love, realizing and accepting that we will receive what is necessary and beneficial to our living. Trusting that God will provide for all of OUR needs can free our spirit for a clearer vision of what’s in store for us ahead.
We are in a rather precarious position right now as a congregation. Budget talks, while not easy, are essential. It’s been my experience that when the budget rolls around each year, just like tax time, it makes everyone nervous. And when we get nervous we tend to hunker down and hold tightly to things that are near and dear to us. This leaves no room for the creative spirit to be a part of us and God’s spirit is what we are about.
We need to cast a vision together about the future of this church realizing that the church is not about just one group, just one person, just one committee or just about the four walls. It is about us, together deciding what future and ministries we believe and discern that God is calling us to. Us, together. These conversations are hard but sacred and we need to have them and to hold each other in prayer. We will get there. I promise you. We will get to where GOD wants us to be.
The reason I brought this tradition of praying the Lord’s Prayer after every meeting here to OCC is because I believe that you care about one another. So that after every conversation we have, in the end we can stand united through the Lord’s Prayer and be in relation with one another. And most importantly we can stand united before our loving God, accept our imperfections and acknowledge that our most basic common needs together, is Christ.
[i] Douglas, John Hall. Feasting on the Word, p. 288, Proper 12, Year C Volume 3.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“Pray then in this way: Our Father 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 bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.