When You Pray, Say: "Our Father Who Art in Heaven"
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The text for today is our Gospel, Matthew 6, which has already been read.
The text for today is our Gospel, Matthew 6, which has already been read.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The theme for our midweek Lenten and Holy Week services this year is “When You Pray, Say…” Through readings of the passion narrative, hymns on prayer, and sermons we will focus upon the 3rd chief part of Luther’s Small Catechism—The Lord’s Prayer.
You might be thinking: “The Lord’s Prayer for Lent… that seems strange. What does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with Lent?” Well, historically, Lent has been a time of intense catechesis (teaching the basic doctrines of the Christian faith). Lent is a time of repentance and somber reflection. That makes the focus on the teachings of the Lord’s Prayer from the Catechism especially appropriate. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of repentance. It turns us away from ourselves and toward our heavenly Father. It reminds us of the many things He provides to us out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy each and every day. We are especially reminded of the one thing we really need from God—His forgiveness.
We are all wayward children. We have failed to trust in God as our loving Father. We have failed to keep God’s name holy among us in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We have lived as though we were not part of God’s kingdom. We have failed to realize God’s provision of our daily bread or to always receive it with thanksgiving. We have fallen into temptation and been overcome by the evil one. And to top it all off, we have failed to pray as we ought to pray. And so we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Prayer is a habit for the Christian, but experience teaches that it is a habit easily broken. As Christians, prayer must be a constant in our life, for we are always in need of God’s mercy and grace.
God is a faithful Father, who wants us to call out to Him in prayer. Christ gave us the Lord’s Prayer so that we will both know how to pray and for what to pray. It is not merely a model for prayer but a prayer that we can use, and should use regularly, as it was given to us. While mindless and unthinking repetition presents a problem, repeating the same prayer throughout one’s life does not. In his Small Catechism, Luther advises the use of set forms and patterns of prayer and recommends devoting times throughout each day to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
And because the prayer Jesus taught us is God’s Word, we know He loves to hear it. God Himself has arranged the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray so that we may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. True prayer is never offered to earn or merit God’s favor, but rather flows from a heart that is justified through faith. Prayer approaches our holy, omnipotent God not based upon anything we bring, but solely upon His grace and mercy.
Throughout the next seven weeks we will be taught how to pray and for what to pray as we look at each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But before we proceed, we must first understand why we pray. The first thing to know is that it is our duty to pray because of God’s command, in particular the 2nd Commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Rather than misusing God’s name we are required to praise the holy name and call upon it in every need. To call upon God’s name is nothing other than to pray, for by calling upon God’s name and praying, His name is honored and used well. Therefore, everybody who fails to pray is being disobedient to God’s commandment.
In the second place, we should be encouraged and moved to pray more because God has also added a promise and declared that it shall surely be done for us as we pray. He says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” And Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (7:7-8).
Such promises certainly ought to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight. For our Lord testifies with His own Word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to Him, and furthermore, that it shall certainly be heard and granted. Therefore, whoever does not pray, trusting in this promise of God, dishonors God and accuses Him of falsehood.
So, given all that we’ve heard about praying—God’s command and promise concerning prayer—why are we such miserable prayers? Why is there nobody here who is (or at least nobody who should be) satisfied with his or her prayer life?
What keeps you from praying? Why won’t you pray? Is it your guilty conscience? Well, is it? A guilty conscience distorts your view of God. A guilty conscience believes that God is out to get you, to shut you out, destroy you, damn you, because you’re not who you should be. You’re not who you want to be. You’re a sinner. And so your guilty conscience tells you that you’re not worthy. Even worse it tells you that God is guilty of mental and physical abuse—that He’s rotten and can’t be trusted. No wonder you don’t dare to pray.
Or perhaps you do pray. Like the hypocrites, putting on a show for all to see. To reveal to all how great you are, a super-spiritual model of personal piety. Praying, however, essentially to yourself—a self-sufficient, relying ultimately on yourself kind of prayer.
But I tell you that God is your Father. And you are His children. He is the Creator. You are the creature. God the Father loves His children. He gives Himself entirely and completely with all that He is and all that He has for you His children. He gives and gives and gives—as Father, whether you realize it or not. He graciously gives to you, for you.
Above all, He gave His Son Jesus Christ into death for you and for your salvation. All the enormity of your sin is answered for in that bloody Good Friday death! What sin of yours didn’t Jesus die for? What sin of yours did He leave out of His work of salvation? Yes, that’s right, none! Absolutely none! All of your sin is atoned for. Because the Father made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin as He bore and atoned for all sin as the Lamb of God. His holy, precious blood cleanses you. His blood washes you clean—body and soul… and conscience.
And so you, His dear children, have nothing to fear. God is not out to get you. For Christ’s sake He is delighted with you! Now your life is reliance on your Father. That’s prayer. Dependence on Daddy! His children go into their room, shut the door, and pray. To their Father!
“When you pray,” Jesus teaches, “pray this way: Our Father who art in heaven.” With these very words God extends a gracious invitation. With these very words God tenderly invites you to boldly trust in Him as your Father. With these words God, like the Father that He is, tenderly invites you to daringly believe that you are His children. He is your dear Father! And you are His dear children!
“Our Father who art in heaven.” Who would presume to pray this way? You do, for you are His children! Adopted in the water and Word of Holy Baptism. Given His Holy Spirit. And by the Holy Spirit you pray this way—the same way Jesus taught you—“Abba, Father.”
“Our Father who art in heaven.” You dare to call upon God as our Father because Jesus said so. Because He lived a life of perfect obedience to His heavenly Father. Because He hung on the cross for you and for all! Because He rose again from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand for you. Because He baptized you and your brothers and sisters into His death and resurrection!
“Our Father who art in heaven.” That’s so unlike the praying of unbelievers who pile up words upon words. Who go on babbling incoherently for hours. Such babblers get their reward: the praise of people—nothing more. But Jesus gives you the very words to pray. And with these very brief words we believe that Jesus’ Father is our Father. And with these words comes the invitation to pray to our Father with all boldness and confidence as dear children ask their dear father.
Like a few years ago when my kids were still all home. I would go into Scheel’s with one them. He or she would take me to the latest Nikes, and ask me: “Dad, will you buy me these for basketball?”
I would say something like, “Not today, but the next time we’re here I will.”
So when we’re at the store again a week later my kid takes me right up to the shoes and asks: “Dad, will you buy these for me?”
“Not today,” I’d say. But what do you think he or she said to their dad? With all boldness and confidence? “But you promised Dad!”
And with my own words they’ve got me! The shoes are theirs, just as I promised. And I’m delighted to give the shoes to them. Fathers love to give their children good gifts.
“Our Father who art in heaven.” With these words Jesus promises His Father is your Father, too. The Father of the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you. For His Son’s sake He loves you. Accepts you. Embraces you. Delights in you, His beloved child. You can always speak to Him as Jesus has taught: “Our Father.”
And He’s your heavenly Father with all that He gives and promises. Indeed, He longs to give you all good things, but most especially, these good things—His grace and mercy, a place in His kingdom, an eternal inheritance kept in heaven, eternal life and salvation. Indeed, in Christ you have it all. That is to say, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon series presented by Brent Kuhlman at a pre-Lenten Preaching Seminar on Luther’s Small Catechism the 3rd chief part—The Our Father.