1st Sunday in Lent February 18, 2018
2 Peter 1:2-11
166, 140, 329:1-3, 528:1-3
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
#1) The Address
“Our Father, who art in heaven.”
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly encourages us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that we may ask Him boldly and with complete confidence as dear children ask their dear father.
The love of God the Father be multiplied to you through Christ Jesus.
In the name of Him who suffered, died, rose, and sits at the right hand of God, giving us access to His Father as fellow sons of God,
How we think of God drastically affects the way we pray to Him. For instance, if God seems like a divine being who is far removed from our daily lives, praying to Him will seem empty and probably be done for nothing more than a last resort. A study of American youth done by Christian Smith showed that the majority of American youth think of God in this way. In a manner of speaking, they see Him as nothing more than a cosmic therapist. He is there to help, but only by appointment and only as a last resort. Once you’ve done everything else you can think of, then at last, you decide to go see the therapist. Of course, his office hours are only once a week. You look for him Sunday morning and go to. You expect a little advice, a little sympathy perhaps, and something to help you on your way. You figure He doesn’t work for free, so you throw a few dollars in the plate, but that’s as far as it goes. His involvement in your life is at a distance and He can’t always be counted on to be there.
On the other hand, some think of God as more of a sovereign computer programmer. This is the watchmaker analogy. As philosophers since the renaissance have argued, God is the Great Cause of all we see and experience. He is the One who set it all in motion. He builds it, puts it together, and winds it up. Then from a distance He watches it unfold. He is like a divine computer programmer, who sets the algorithm in motion with such foresight, that all the events of time are already decided and working their way out according to His design. For what reason, then, should we pray? Why pray, if He already has decided what will happen?
Still others picture God in a much darker and more negative way. To these, God is more of a sovereign tyrant. He rules only to serve Himself. He sits upon His grand throne and cast downs commands and punishments. He demands our allegiance and our tribute. Whether we want to serve Him or not does not matter, we will bow or else. And He is never satisfied. So then our prayers are a great burden and a demand we cannot live up to.
Prayer is heavenly. Prayer engages us in the workings of the heavenly realm. In fact, it asks of us the impossible. It expects us to take part in God’s divine work: to stand in His presence, to rule with His kingdom, to know and follow His will. This is God’s work, and it is right for us to feel overwhelmed at times with the impossibility of praying the way we ought or thinking that we deserve God’s answer.
So we find ourselves often frustrated. We are frustrated that we can never pray enough. We can never put enough effort into it. We can never do it well enough. So often we think that for prayer to work, it needs to be spontaneous not scheduled, it needs to be passionate not passive, it needs to be made up not memorized. This is the spiritual struggle that leads to the conclusion: “Why pray?” And so we don’t. Or we do, but it is filled with doubt, or anger, or guilt. And the devil has done his deed. His work is accomplished. He has led you to become disconnected from God and imagine that God is far away and has no time or help for you.
The disciples are dead right to say, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This sermon begins a series of sermons that will lead us to the cross and to the resurrection. In our series we will consider the prayer which our Lord taught us to pray, “the Lord’s Prayer.” Not only does our Lord teach us, but He does more—He prays it with us. So we will see Him praying it first and watch how He faces the trails of the cross with this prayer on His lips and in His heart.
My number one prayer is that you would never receive these teachings on the Lord’s Prayer as a burden or guilt to be shoveled on your conscience, that is the devil’s work. Instead, find from the spiritual frustration you are going through by letting Jesus pray first. Let Him pray for you and then learn to pray with Him.
You are right to think that prayer is a heavenly experience. Prayer has to do with God’s work in the heavenly realm. It involves His name, His kingdom, His will. It involves a spiritual battle that takes place in the heavenly realm. So we pray to “Our Father who is in heaven.”
Immediately we should realize that this is outside our realm of understanding and abilities. The right perspective for prayer is to see how far beyond and above us this task is. In this way, we join Luther’s dying words, “We are all beggars.” We are like the man on the corner with a cardboard sign, unkempt and disheveled, looking from car to car for the chance that someone might roll down their window. Our praying hands are empty.
What if God were nothing more than a Cosmic Therapist? He might hear our request. But then again, He might be busy and He’ll have to call us back. We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out if He is free to meet with us. What self-help advice can He offer? What drug can he prescribe to make the pain go away?
Or what if God were the Sovereign Computer Programmer? All things are set in motion already. Do you know what will happen if He has to stop everything and find the glitch? And if He changes things for you, what will happen to everyone else? He isn’t really interested in beggars because they have nothing to contribute. More likely they are a virus in the program that should just be deleted.
Or what if God were the Demanding Tyrant? Your petty questions and problems are no concern of His. Rather, He wants to be sure you will not bother Him. Just do what you are supposed to, and you’ll be ok. But cross Him, disobey Him, dishonor Him, and He’ll have it out with you. So yes, you better pray and hope that He is having a good day.
But Jesus does not teach us to pray to these gods. They are the gods of the world. Rather, He wants His disciples to know the God who He calls His Father. He not only teaches us to pray as beggars, but as children—infants, actually. Among all the creatures created on the sixth day, human beings are the most vulnerable. Those of the animal kingdom usually have some sort of defensive instincts, they can walk or hide or recognize danger. Not human babies. They can only cry. They don’t know danger. They only know how to cry. They are completely and totally dependent on their mother. They must accept the fact that their mother knows what is best.
Compared to God we are mere infants. He is our Father and He knows what is best. By His providential care we learn to trust Him. We learn to love Him as the One who loved us first. Jesus speaks of your friend who has gone to bed, yet because of your persistence, answering your request. Or of earthly parents, though they are evil, still will giving bread, a fish, or an egg to their children. Jesus concludes, “How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11)
When God says, “Pray,” it is both a command and a promise. He wants us to think of Him as a loving parent who says, “Talk to me.” It is like a mom who says, “Let me know when you get hungry.” He is like a dad who says, “If you get stuck, ask me for help.” He is like a grandparent who says, “If you get yourself in trouble, call me.” This is a command, but not a demand. This is a promise to be there always, a promise to come and help when you ask Him.
Imagine for a moment, approaching a great and grand palace. It is a great temple where a king or god must reside. We come to the tall entrance covered by curtains and it is guarded by towering angels who hold flaming swords. To get in, we say, “I have come in Jesus name.” This brings us into the first part where a baptismal font stands. There we call on our baptism as our right to meet with God and there Jesus meets us. From that first room, He ushers us through a second curtain into the second hall, a grand hall with stained glass windows, arched ceilings, and a throne. Jesus brings us to the Father and because He is with us, we can go directly to God’s throne and take part in the heavenly work of God.
The Lord’s prayer is Jesus’ prayer. The address to the Lord’s prayer teaches us this. Jesus says, when you pray, say this: “Our Father in heaven.” Whose Father is He then? He is first and foremost Jesus’ Father, not ours. But now we are invited to join Jesus. He prays in the plural: “Our Father.” That means we have been given Jesus’ status as children of God. He is saying: “Join Me and pray with Me and I will pray with you.” In fact, this is fundamental to all Christian worship. We cannot get through the first curtain without it. “In Jesus’ name” is the key. It brings us into the heavenly throne room, and brings heavenly power into our lives on earth. So it has been argued that the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” actually applies to all three of the first three petitions.
As you look at the Lord’s Prayer you see this truth built into the structure of the prayer. There are seven petitions all together.
The first three are called the “Thy” petitions: Thy name… Thy kingdom… Thy will. Each little prayer calls is about God’s heavenly work. So in these first three prayers learn to pray with Jesus in the heavenly realm.
The last four petitions are called the “Our” petitions: Our daily food… Our trespasses… Our temptations… Our deliverance from the evil one. Here, now, Jesus comes to us and prays with us on earth. He enters into our earthly needs and struggles to help us in our earthly realm.
What a friend we have in Jesus who invites us to pray with Him to God in heaven and take part in the heavenly work of God, and who then joins us in “our” struggles on earth. He bears our burdens, and frees us from the feeling that prayer is something we have to do. Jesus frees us from the belief that the success of our prayers rests in us and He lets us rest in Him.
In many ways it is good for us to be frustrated. This is part of our learning process. When we least want to pray, when it is hardest to pray, when we don’t know what to say, when we pray but don’t see results right away—in all of this we learn the devil’s schemes. As soon as we are frustrated, we can know the devil is at work. The Enemy reveals himself for his evil intent, which also should teach us to turn to God. We are all beggars.
The God we turn to is not a far away Cosmic therapist, but the God who is near-at-hand, daily present, always looking for our best interest. Our God is not a computer programmer who has no influence in the course of events before us, rather He is waiting to hear and answer your request. Nor is our God a demanding tyrant who only wants to force us into submission, rather He is a loving Father who looks upon us with love and mercy, and invites us to participate with Him in His divine rule.
As we’ll be exploring in the weeks to come, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to know God through Jesus Christ and to pray to God with Jesus. That means, let Jesus lead the prayer. Let Him do the hard work. The Lord’s prayer teaches us to let Jesus do the impossible for us and with us. He makes us acceptable and makes our prayers worthy and desired by God. Do not worry about being spontaneous, listen to Jesus daily in His Word and He will prompt you. Do not worry about a certain level of passion you need, but be passive so that you can receive the energy you need to pray. Do not worry about what words or how many you speak, but be quiet and learn from Jesus. Learn His word, so that His promises will be part of your prayers.
So Jesus defeats the devil’s work in His prayers. He takes us to the cross and there we join Him in His gracious suffering and victorious resurrection. He reconnects us to God through His Spirit. He teaches us to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“The Address” and Explanation are from “Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, A Handbook of Christian Doctrine,” by Michael A. Sydow; Published by the CLC Board of Education and Publications, 2006.