I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Matthew. Matthew is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you are in Zechariah or Malachi you haven’t gone quite far enough. Matthew chapter 6, beginning in verse 9. As always, you are invited to leave your Bibles open as we read and study God’s word together. Matthew 6, beginning in verse 9.
This fall, we are sitting at the feet of Jesus as he teaches us to pray. Last week, we heard Jesus tell us how important it is to remember who we are talking to when we pray – we pray not to impress others or to seek their approval, but to bring our hearts before the LORD. Prayer is not a technique we have to master perfectly in order to be heard, but the LORD knows our needs and is eager to hear our prayers.
This morning, we will listen as Jesus teaches us how to pray in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer. It is short, simple, and yet, as we will see, every word is filled to overflowing with the grace of God. If you are new to the Christian faith or even wondering about it all, take and memorize this prayer with us. It’s Matthew 6, beginning in verse 9. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our only rule,
Your Holy Spirit our only teacher,
and the glory of Jesus Christ our only concern. Amen.
For our Scripture reading, I want to have a new friend help me. Her name is Evie. Evie, you can come forward. Evie Vlieger is 7 years old and just started Grade 2 at Woodman Elementary. She loves to color and do arts and crafts. The thing you need to know about Evie is that she is strong and courageous. It is my joy to have her share our scripture passage with us this morning.
If you are able, I invite you to stand as we hear God’s word. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God. (Go ahead, Evie)
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,
and we also have forgiven our debtors.
and do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
This is the word of the LORD. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)
Let’s give Evie a hand for speaking God’s word to us this morning.
Four words. The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, the prayer that has been on the lips of Christians since they first heard it from the lips of Jesus, begins with four words – Our Father in Heaven. This short prayer will follow with six requests – six petitions. The first three are God-centered – hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done. The next three are world-centered – Give us, Forgive us, Rescue us. But before we ask anything, whether for God’s glory or the needs of our lives and the world, this prayer begins with four words – Our Father in heaven.
Each word in this opening address bends our hearts toward the truth of God, toward the God who is the truth.
Our Father in heaven – every syllable is good news.
Through all of it, this opening phrase – “Our Father in heaven” reveals the God who both seated on high in power, but also near to us and calls us his children..
Jesus tells us to pray “Our Father.” Here we have the heart of the gospel. We are welcome to God’s presence as children in his family. He looks upon us with the Father’s love. Christians are children of God.
God has only one son – Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son, God himself, the second person of the Trinity – one with and yet distinct from the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made.
God has only one Son, Jesus Christ. The rest of us are not naturally children of God. We are creatures. We are created in God’s image and likeness, but we are not children of God. God is the one seated on the throne of heaven. We are created with dignity and purpose and beauty, but we are not God. We cannot approach the throne of God. Not only is there a natural gap between God and everything that is not God, including us, we have created an additional problem. Sin creates another layer of separation between us and God. Our hearts are turned away from God and our lives have reflected that.
So this is the problem of prayer. Apart from the Spirit of God we don’t even want to pray, but even if we do, how could we come before God? As the psalmist asks, “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?” How can we pray when we are sinners? How can we pray when everything in our lives has been a struggle to try and be God, to be in control, to be the Lord of our own lives? How can we come before the LORD?
Jesus the Son can come before the Father, he is perfect and sinless, he is righteous. The Son can come before God, but what about us? Children can enter into the household of God, children can come before his presence assured of his fatherly love. But the Father only has one Son, Jesus Christ. We can become children only if God adopts us into his family. And that adoption can only come by grace.
In 2001, my dad and step-mom were in the process of adopting my little sister from China. It had been a long process of waiting, but finally we got the dossier and the first pictures. She was beautiful, but also only one year old. She hadn’t done anything to deserve being adopted. We chose her to be a part of our family before she had done anything. It was by grace and love. We didn’t know if she would turn out to be a woman of character, intelligence, and courage or not. She is all of those things, but we didn’t know that. We looked upon her, loved her, and then welcomed her into our family.
John’s gospel proclaims that “to all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” Jesus says, “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven.”
It is only as children that we can come joyfully and confidently into the presence of the Father, and we can only become children of God if we are adopted by God’s grace. This is one of the reasons why the Lord’s prayer is a distinctly Christian prayer. Christians are those who have been adopted by God into his family and can pray the prayer “Our Father.”
The God of the universe, who at a word created light in the darkness, who pulled back the waters so that dry ground appeared, who cast stars in the sky and sun and moon to govern the day and night, who formed us from the dust and breathed into our nostrils the breath of life. This God, who clothed us and covered our shame and nakedness after we had sinned in the garden. This God, who was seated on high and looks far down on the heavens and the earth, showed his power by coming as the man Jesus Christ, so that we might be called children of God. The Son came into the world so that we might be called sons and daughters of God. He went down into the flesh, down into the manger, down in humility all the days of his life, down to the cross, down to the tomb, so that we might be raised up from the grave, up from the dust, up from our sins, to be seated at the table of the king, children in the Father’s house. He went down that we might be raised up.
When Jesus calls us to pray ‘Our Father’ he is drawing us into the heart of the gospel – the very Gospel that was accomplished by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Because of Jesus the Son, those who belong to him are adopted as sons and daughters of God. So Christians can be bold to pray, “Our Father” because they belong to Jesus Christ.
We need to acknowledge for a moment that some of us feel like wincing every time I call God ‘Father.’ Perhaps your biological father wasn’t or isn’t there and you wish he was. To hear of God as Father calls to mind a distant, unloving figure and to think of praying ‘Our Father’ is hard. Perhaps for others, your father was around, but the way he spoke to you and treated you, at times, made you wish he wasn’t. So God as Father brings a more vicious image to mind. I don’t want you to hear anything I am saying as minimizing what it is like to struggle with your father. I know that pain. But I do want to suggest this: We learn what true fatherhood is from our heavenly Father, not from our earthly fathers. Even the best fathers fail. We are harsh when we should be gentle or indulgent when we should be firm. We can be distant when we should be close or smothering when we should pull back.
When Jesus calls God ‘Father’ and calls us to do the same, he is not saying that God is like our fathers, only more so. Instead, we have a father in heaven who is free from all the limitations, inadequacies, and sins of our earthly fathers, but is perfect in every way. If we want to know what fatherhood looks like, we should look to the Father, who is perfect in love and power, who used his strength to stoop down, pick us up, clean us off, and bring us home into his house and adopt us as his children.
“Our Father” draws us into the heart of the gospel, where Jesus Christ gave himself for us so that we might become children of God. We can come eager into the Father’s arms in prayer, assured of his love, only because of the loving sacrifice of the true Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus also teaches us to pray ‘Our Father.’ Our. Imagine for a moment that Jesus had done it a little differently. Instead he had taught Christians to pray, ‘My Father in heaven.’ How would it be different? In our house, one of the more popular stories to read is called “Just Me and My Dad.” It tells the story of a child on a camping trip with his Father and all the things they do together, just the two of them. I like reading it with my kids, but they often all want me to read the story at once, which makes is a little awkward to read. It is hard to say ‘Just me and my dad’ to Elijah when Riah and Joanna are sitting with me. It is really ‘us and our dad’ because they have siblings. If Jesus had taught us to pray ‘my Father,’ we could have easily taken this special relationship with God given through Jesus Christ and made it personal and kept it private. Prayer and the Christian life would be ‘just me and my dad’ – ‘just me and my father.’
Instead, Jesus teaches us to pray ‘Our Father.’ ‘Our’ means you don’t get to do this thing with Jesus, this salvation, by yourself. There might be times where you want to. The church is a messy place, full of people who screw it up regularly. It might feel more spiritual to try and have this relationship with Jesus apart from all these people. But God didn’t choose for Christians to be alone in the faith. It is his wisdom to put them together into a people called the church, warts and all. Because we need each other. We pray ‘our Father’ because even as Jesus saves sinners personally, he does it in order to join them together into a people. We are in this together. There are no lone ranger Christians. To belong to Jesus Christ is to belong to the body of Christ, the church.
Our Father in heaven. This is a prayer we pray together. It is a prayer of the church, of the people of God, not only the prayer of the individual believer. When you pray, you individual Christian, you single mother, you exhausted father, you grieving widow, you struggling student, when you pray, Jesus invites us to pray, ‘Our Father.’ Even if you pray by yourself, we never pray alone. Most especially when we feel alone, when physical loneliness or the darkness of our struggles seems to isolate us, praying ‘Our Father in heaven’ reminds us that we are not alone. Christians pray together, even when they pray by themselves. The phrase “our” in the opening of this prayer binds us together as a people.
The last two words of the opening of the Lord’s Prayer sends us out into the world. “In heaven.” If you grew up praying this prayer, you might have ‘who art in heaven’ engraved on your heart. That God is the one who is in heaven proclaims the good news of the power of God. God rules all things from his throne in heaven. Any less of God wouldn’t do us much good. The good that needs to be done, the wrongs that need to be righted in this world are vast and deep. The good needed for the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable is far too big for our good vibes, good intentions, or good actions to accomplish. The right political system, the right laws in the land, the right educational system in place simply cannot set right the world. As one Christian put it, “Things are cosmically out of hand. Evil is not just the nasty little things we do to one another. It’s as if evil is organized, massive, subtle, deep, cosmic.”
We need the one who is seated on the throne in heaven. That the one Christians pray to is the one who is in heaven is just as important as that he is our Father. It might be comforting to have a close and caring God, but if he is impotent in the face of all the evil in the world, praying to him won’t do much other than make us feel a little better.
If, as some people teach, Jesus is nothing more than a helpful moral example, a good teacher, or your homeboy, why pray at all? A helpful example can’t undo all that we know to be turned inside out in the world and in our lives. So it makes a great deal of difference whether the one Christians pray to is the one seated on the throne of heaven.
A God who is any less is not big enough to deal with what is going on. Only the one who is in heaven can reach deep enough to lift us up. Only the one who is in heaven can reach wide enough to heal and redeem all the cosmic mess of sin.
To pray “Our Father in heaven” is to proclaim, from the beginning, that we pray to the one seated on the throne, that he is king and has the power to redeem all the world.
Christians pray regularly and eagerly because this is the God to whom they pray: “Our Father in heaven.” They pray to the one who crossed the great chasm between us to lift us up and adopt us into the family of God. They pray to the Father who is powerful enough to answer all our prayers and set all the world right.
I think the Heidelberg Catechism pulls this all together well when it says it talks about God’s power to care for both us and the world, “God is able to do this because he is almighty God, and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”
As we sit at the feet of Jesus, he teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” Our Father is willing to hear us because he is a faithful father, and he is able to do all things, because he is almighty God. This is good news.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.