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Gates-Fourth UMC

First Sunday of Lent

February 26, 2012

LENTEN SERMONS ON THE LORD’S PRAYER

“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is

in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-19

 

Not long ago Doug Leonard asked me to preach a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s hope these Lenten sermons will keep Doug awake in his back pew! Thankfully he helped me remember that I never had done this in my entire ministry. I took the request and during these Sundays of Lent I divided this prayer into the six Sundays and intend to see what meanings are there.

-I-

Just for now I want to focus on the opening words, “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” They introduce the rest of the prayer and help us understand the restof it. “Our father,” is significant because Jesus used  a familiar family term for describing God. In his day, Jews felt God’s name so holy they avoided pronouncing God’s name. Instead they substituted other names for God in their prayers and in their conversation.

Jesus often used the human family to speak of God. God is a wonderful reality loving us no matter what.  Just as a human parent always loves their daughter or son, so God loves us. We may face serious life difficulties, but is always there to comfort and console us. This fatherly God enables us to face all the pains, suffering, sin and disappointments of our lives, more than exempting us from such miseries.

 

 Jesus continues to tell us to pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” Even though Jesus understands God like a close loving father, he also recognizes there is also a mystery and awe about God, so that our words and images of God fully describe God. This is why a popular hymn prompts us to sing, “O Lord my God when I in awesome wonder...” God is like us in many ways. But God is far beyond us so that the scripture from Isaiah, God tells the people “So my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (55:9b) Calling God “Father” only partially describes the reality of God.

Sometimes we have moments when God does not feel like a fatherly presence. In her dairies published after her death Mother Teresa, that tiny Hungarian Nun, giving her life to gather up the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta, said she seldom experienced the presence of God. John Wesley also wrote to his brother Charles, with much the same confession.

But Mother Teresa and Wesley did not allow these moments of the absence of God to destroy their faith. They believed God was in heaven, even if they experienced spells of God’s absence. Both of them stayed faithful to their belief in God, throwing themselves toward alleviating human suffering and making the world a better place.  We don’t have to always feel God’s presence, but we do need to respond to the tasks our faith calls us to do.

 “Hallowed be your name” is Jesus’ way of saying that we need to pray God’s love of humanity becomes a reality. Buried in these words is the view that God’s name of love is not complete. It is still something calling us to join with God in fulfilling its promise. Jurgen Moltmann was reared in Nazi Germany, was drafted into the German army, captured by the British during the last days of the war and sent to an Allied prisoner of war camp. He did not believe in God, but during his days some young British Christian influenced him and he became a Christian.

After the war, he wrote an important book, The Theology of Hope. He said Christianity must recapture the Bible’s theme of God’s promises for the future. Without a sense of future the meaning of life and God crumble. He said God is a reality out in our future, working to fulfill the Bible’s promises for us, the earth, nature and the entire universe. Hallowing God’s name means keeping ourselves open to the promises of God that make the past and the present full of meaning.

-III-

This leads us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In Jesus time things were not going well. The Jews were a helpless and insignificant people ruled by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the   Greeks and finally the Romans. All their remembered glory during King David and his son, Solomon, were lost in their historical disasters.

            But the Jews never lost hope. They believed God one day would restore them to their past glories, punish their enemies and accomplish the dreams they nourished so long. Others believed that God would anoint a Messiah, someone like King David. He would lead a movement triumphing over their oppressors and make them God’s holy people. Still others looked to the coming of a Son of Man out of the skies, a heavenly person, restoring the people to their unbroken past.

When Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” it means evil never wins. Nothing can destroy the goodness of God. God promises that goodness always remains goodness and that out in the future, God’s goodness is fully realized. For the believer there is always hope and it is hope that allows us to endure hardship, disappointment and suffering. Some of this hope comes to us in this life and certainly is fully known in the next.

            In some stories from those terrible concentration camps where Hitler began to systematically eradicate the Jews from Germany, some devout Jews gathered each Sabbath evening to recite the prayers of the synagogue. In those awful conditions they never lost hope for this life or the next. We Christians are to hope that out in the future God’s kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness will hold sway.

Bishop Tutu who led the struggle to overthrow of the Apartheid segregation is in South Africa, says he firmly believes good will triumph over evil. “But I wonder,” he said, “Why is it taking so long?” Why are there still human sin, disease, the violence of nature and the clash of nations? Is there an answer to this?

Some Christians say God does not force his will on creation. Like a good parent God offers to each particle atom, stone, tree, fish, bird, animal and human a perfect choice each moment, according to their circumstances. God encourages us to accept the best choice. Yet God gives us the freedom to reject the best choice but still persists in offering the better choice. God, like a good parent does not want to force us to make the better choice because we would not then become persons separate from God.

Just this week a star basketball player was dismissed from his college basketball team. He was making dangerous and bad choices in his young life. When interviewed, his mother said she knows her son is guilty of these charges. She admitted his serious wrong doing. Yet she also said she was his mother and she believes he can yet turn his life about and become a decent person. Now that’s a realistic, honest but loving mother speaking---just like God understands us.

Likewise, God can offer better choices to nature than its deadly violence, to human history that the nations will not devour one another, and to the universe that it will not fall into cosmic death. It all takes time, doesn’t it? May God give us the strength to wait, work and be filled with future hope. “Thy kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

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