Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 11:1-4, 9-13
2nd Sunday of Lent
St Barbara’s 13.03.2022
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Long ago, Christians preparing for baptism as adults would do so over the course of two or three years. The final part of their journey would be in the season of Lent, preparing for their baptism on Easter Sunday.
During the final part of the journey, the bishop or pastor would hand over to them and teach them some of the greatest treasures of the Christian faith. One of the most important was the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
This prayer was only taught to and said by Christians. You couldn’t look it up in a book (there were no printed books then). It was one of the special things you were given during Lent as you prepared for your baptism. You would learn it by heart and teach it to your household.
Now, 2000 years on, the Lord’s prayer has become possibly the most recited prayer in the world. There is not a moment in the day or night, when someone, somewhere, is not praying the Lord’s Prayer. There is not a language in the world which has not spoken its words. Whether at baptisms, weddings or funerals, whether in huge cathedrals or sat alone in one’s back garden, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed. Whether silently at one’s work desk, or whilst queueing in line for water in a refugee camp, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed. It is the prayer that Jesus taught us.
And during the next few weeks, during our own journey through Lent, we are going to reflect upon that prayer.
In Luke’s Gospel, one of the disciples, seeing Jesus pray, asks to be taught “how can we pray?”. It is in response to Jesus’ own prayer life that the disciple wants to pray. And encouragingly for us all, Jesus does not dismiss the request. He does not tell him to disappear to a hermitage or to the wilderness for several years to await enlightenment. Neither does he say “Prayer is whatever you make it”, leaving the disciple to fumble around in the dark. No – Jesus gives him some words, simple words, that can act as a prayer and as a framework for prayer.
He begins with “Father”, or in Matthew’s version, “Our Father”. It is an extraordinary start.
Jesus invites us to call the creator of heaven and earth, the one who created the galaxies and the universe, the one whose holiness and majesty is beyond all our imagining, to call him “father”. In the Jewish faith, God was seen as so holy, his name of any kind could not be said out loud. And yet here, Jesus encourages us to pray “Father” – a term of intimacy and love. The disciples were so amazed by this, so treasured this term of address for God, that when the rest of Jesus’ words were later translated into Greek, they kept this term in the original Aramaic, the language Jesus himself spoke. They would call God “Abba” – a term used by a small child addressing their father. Our nearest equivalent would be “dad”.
The term Jesus used to address his father he encourages us to use too – to pray to God as one who knows us intimately, who loves us and cares for us, as one who delights in us and has time for us.
But this is not a relationship of cosiness or over-familiarity, this is not a relationship of near-equals. For we are to pray “Our father in heaven”. Our father is God of heaven; he is way beyond anyone we can possibly comprehend or imagine. He is holy, he is awesome. We come as sinners into the presence of the all-holy; we come as weak into the presence of the all-mighty; we come as ignorant into the presence of the all-knowing; we come in awe into the presence of the God of majesty. We approach God with reverence for it is only because of Christ that the God who is unknowable becomes our father.
My grandfather was at one time a well-known figure in the church in Africa. Even after he retired to Germany, his house would always be full of guests, people wanting a few minutes of his time. As a little boy, I could tell that he was special, important, that there was always a slight degree of nervousness amongst those waiting to see him. Even as a young child I knew that time with him was something to be treasured, to be valued, not to be taken lightly or for granted. But unlike the many guests, I knew that I was always welcome to wander into his study and sit quietly with him, and just enjoy his presence. Our relationship with God is not dissimilar – we are children of a holy God. We are invited, we are given unfettered access, we are welcomed, into his holy presence.
Jesus taught us to pray not “my father” but “our father”. When I pray to God, I pray not as one individual, but as a member of a family, as one of many who call God their father. When I pray, I am praying with hundreds, thousands, millions of Christians who are praying this prayer today, who have prayed this prayer over the last two millennia. I am praying this prayer with Saint Paul and Saint Peter, I am praying this prayer with the early Christians who endured such horrific persecution, I am praying this prayer with the Christians of Syria and Ukraine, I am praying this prayer with each of us gathered here this morning. I am not alone, I am not some single-handed arctic explorer searching for the south pole with no human support or guidance. I am part of a family, a team that is working together, supporting one another, encouraging one another, showing each other the way. When we pray “our father” we know we are not alone.
And that sense of being part of a world-wide family shapes how we pray this prayer. This is not my own private prayer – solely asking God to meet my needs, forgive my sins. This is a prayer in which we pray with solidarity with others. When we pray “give us today our daily bread”, we pray alongside and for our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, where the rains have failed, and with Leonille and the people of Rwanda that we heard about in our Lent Appeal last week. When we pray “deliver us from evil” we pray those words alongside and for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Russia. That very first word of our prayer has radical implications for how we see our own lives and our connection to our world.
The prayer continues: “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Names are important. Most parents spend a long time poring over baby name books, or thinking about which relatives they want to remember, before they name their child. And in many cultures, the name is seen as shaping the character of the child: thus, Charity, Grace. (I knew a Loving-Kindness once). But in the Bible, the name is even more than that. To speak of the name of someone is not just to speak of what they are called, but to speak of their nature, their identity, their very essence.
So Jesus is teaching us to pray that God’s very nature, who he is, will be reverenced. It is not just about praying that people won’t take God’s name in vain, the idle and lazy blasphemies that have become such a part of many daily conversations, but that God will be acknowledged as holy by the way we treat one another. That we will be people of love because God is love; that we will be people of forgiveness because God is forgiving; that we will be people of fairness and justice, because God is fair and just. It is a prayer for God’s holiness to be known in all the earth.
That prayer – “hallowed be your name” – is maybe one worth praying at the start of any new activity, whether that is the start of a new phase of life – a new job, retirement, a new home, a new role (parent, grandparent, carer) – and at the start of the smallest chores. As I wash the dishes, clean the house, put out the bins, how do I reverence, how do I honour, the holiness and love and mercy of God. Jesus taught us to pray, “hallowed be your name”.
Over the coming weeks, we will unpack this prayer a phrase at a time, but just from these opening eight words – “our father in heaven, hallowed be your name” – our prayer lives can be transformed. To know that we can come before a God who is loving, tender, holy and mighty, desiring that in all we do that he is recognised as such, and coming before him not as disparate individuals, but as a worldwide family, drawn together by his love.
What a privilege! To call the God of heaven, whose name is holy, “our Father”. Amen.