A Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer
Led by Ray Vincent, 14th August 2016
HYMN: Father, we love you
The Lord’s Prayer is quite unique. Saying it is practically the only thing Christians can quite happily do together. Saying the creeds, celebrating Holy Communion, reading the Bible – all bring up our differences and divisions. But any Christian can say the Lord’s Prayer. Indeed, any Jew could say it too, and possibly any Muslim. So let’s meditate on this remarkable prayer, one phrase at a time.
“Our Father who art in heaven”
We know that God has no gender, but at the risk of being shot down I want to suggest that there is a reason for calling God “Father”. A father’s relationship with his child is different from that of the mother. The bond between mother and child is a powerful physical one: the child came out of her body and fed at her breast; she can never have any doubt that the child is her own offspring. But a father doesn’t have that obvious inevitable link. A father can choose to own or not own the child. When a baby is born, nobody ever asks “who is the mother?” but sometimes people ask “who is the father?” A man can even be a father without knowing it. There is an element of choice in playing the role of a father. Almighty God, creator of the universe, chooses to set his love on us earthly creatures unconditionally, and to call us his own. So in that sense there is some special meaning to “Father”.
No human father is perfect. I think of my own father: strict, sometimes censorious and discouraging, insensitive, opinionated. And then I think of the sacrifices he and my mother made to give us a happy childhood, though they were both plagued with illness and my father was often unemployed. He was not demonstrative or fulsome in praise, but I think of a day when I overheard him talking about me and realised how very proud he was of me.
Let’s spend a few moments in prayer, each of us thinking of our own father (or whoever took the place of a father to us). Give thanks for him. Acknowledge whatever difficulties there were in your relationship. Think of the very best memories you have of your father, and remember that God is all that and much more
HYMN: Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
“hallowed be thy name”
Is this just a polite address, like “God’s name be praised!”, or is it a prayer that God’s name will in fact be hallowed?
Why the “name”? Because in a way all we have of God is his name. We cannot literally see, hear or feel God: God is a word we use when we think about the meaning of life, about particular experiences or features of life, someone we pray to when we are in need or we know of someone else who is in need. But for this very reason it is important what we connect God with, how we use the name.
The third commandment says: do not take the LORD’s name in vain. There are many ways of taking the name in vain: associating it with shameful things like cruelty and hate, using it for political advantage, bringing it into conversation to impress people with our piety, or to put a pious dress on what we want to do anyway, or using it as a glib answer to unanswerable questions (like Job’s friends). It is sometimes used as a way of frightening children into behaving. Max Boyce tells a lovely story about how his mother tried to get him to eat up his cabbage. Finally in desperation she told him God would be angry if he didn’t eat it. He still refused, and she sent him to bed without any supper. A terrific thunderstorm broke out, and Max opened the window and shouted, “God, you can shout as loud as you like – I don’t like cabbage and I’m not eating it!”
God’s “name” is also his reputation. Every time it is misused, God’s name is tarnished in the eyes of human beings, and someone somewhere will find it harder to believe in him. When we say “hallowed be thy name” we are praying for the kind of things to happen that will always give God a good name.
This is linked with the next clause, because God’s name is only hallowed where he is the ruler.
“thy kingdom come”
The word really mean “kingship”. It is not just something that we hope will come in the future. Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God: sometimes as a future thing, but often too as something we can just step into now. When he said “the kingdom of God is like this . . .” he often meant “this is what it is like when God is acknowledged as king”. We are praying that we may see God in charge of everything, in the future and now. This means:
“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
Heaven is the ideal world, the way things really ought to be, and we want this world to be like it. One of the most inspiring visions of this kind of world is found in the book of Isaiah.
Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25 (the vision of a new Jerusalem)
Let us pray for those to whom God’s kingdom seems very far away: suffering people; victims of cruelty and greed; people caught up in war; those whose lives are shortened or blighted by what is wrong in the world.
In praying for God’s kingdom we are dedicating ourselves to proclaiming it, living it and helping to bring it about here and now. So we make our offering.
HYMN: Thy kingdom come, O God
“Give us this day our daily bread”
At its simplest level, this is an acknowledgement that we are dependent on God for everything. But as this too is part of the prayer of the kingdom, it is a prayer that as we seek to make that kingdom a reality in this world we may have the nourishment we need for the journey. What are you doing to make this world a better place? Do you get tired or discouraged? What gives you the strength to carry on? Prayer? Reading the Bible? Going to church? Or encouraging and supportive friends? Even enjoyable experiences? Let’s thank God for them all. And let us pray for those without bread; those overwhelmed by the burdens of life; those flagging in the struggle for justice and peace
“and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”
Let us confess our faults; our selfishness and self-centredness; our “trespasses”: disrupting other people’s lives and taking what belongs to them; our “debts”: the unpaid and often unacknowledged debts we owe to other people; our unwillingness to forgive; our insistence that others give us our due; our bitterness because we feel cheated; our prejudice based on past experience; the chains that hold us to the past and blight our present.
“and lead us not into temptation”
This really means “tribulation” or “severe testing”. At the Synod “big day out” recently some of us heard of churches that have to worship in silence, whispering their prayers and hymns or miming them, because it is dangerous to be heard. Not only Christians but many others too are in prison or having death threats for standing up for what they believe. We are very fortunate in the freedom we enjoy in our society, but it is fragile and many do not have it.
Let us pray for those who are suffering for their faith or convictions; those who are persecuted for their race, class, gender or sexuality; those whose faith is being tested by experience
“but deliver us from evil”
There are things that can only be described as “evil”: hatred and prejudice, unscrupulous rulers, the cruel hand of greed, fanaticism, terrorism and war. We pray for those who need to be delivered from these things.
“for thine is the kingdom”: we have prayed for God’s kingdom to come, and now we acknowledge that somewhere beyond our sight God is working his purpose out and will not rest until everything is as God wants it to be.
“and the power”: in the end the power is God’s, not ours.
“and the glory”: glory is the shining light of God seen in everything that is good and beautiful. Let us thank God for the glory of the universe; of this planet; of life in its many forms; of humanity in its variety; of art, music and poetry; of love; and of Jesus, in whom we have seen the glory of God. These are all reflections of God’s glory and foretastes of the glory of heaven.
“for ever and ever”: never ceasing. Here in time we are part of eternity. We do not know what will happen after our time in this world is over, but we know that in eternity anything is possible, and God’s purposes will stand for ever.
“Amen”: so be it. We declare what we believe.
Reading: Romans 8:38-39
Now let us say that prayer together.
HYMN: Thine be the glory