Scripture: Matthew 6:7-13
I discerned, figured out, my calling into ministry while I was teaching. I spent most of my time either teaching High School and Senior High Orchestra or doing church things. And when I shared that I was called to be a pastor and was starting seminary, people decided, with no warning, they decided I would become the new designated prayer. Like I knew what I was doing? Without warning in front of the massive full orchestra rehearsal for their annual Good Friday requiem, without warning, let us opening prayer, Stefanie why don’t you lead us? At charge conference, an annual meeting that the District Superintendent leads, the DS was wrapping up and said, you know, there’s a saying that pastors should be always prepared to preach or pray at any given moment. Stefanie Hayes, come on up and close us with a benediction. From my hiding place in the av booth, where I had been helping adjust sound and lights and was contemplating sneaking out to leave early, from my hiding place I felt myself freeze in terror and then in an out of body experience slowly walked up to the front of the sanctuary and somehow prayed something.
Fast forward 11 years, and public prayer is no longer intimidating for me. I write prayers for other people, I’ve prayed at ecumenical gatherings, I pray spontaneously. But I will always remember what it felt like to feel afraid of praying. Publicly and even privately. I would think, what if I didn’t have the right words? What if I wasn’t eloquent enough? What if it is too short or too long? What if I forget something? What if I’m praying at night and I fall asleep? I have not always had an easy or life-giving relationship with prayer and I know I am not the only one. In fact, I think humanity may have always struggled with prayer, what it is, how to do it. Which is why Christ gives us a model, gives us a prayer. We call it The Lord’s Prayer and it transcends any one denomination. The Lord’s Prayer is derived from our passage today along with Luke chapter 11, and, with some wording variations, can be found in almost every church or group that identifies as Christian.
Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name
This opening, centers us on God. It forces us to position ourselves away from any specific circumstance and towards our present and loving God. It names God as our great caring parent, who has always been with us and will always be with us. It reminds us that God is transcendent and holy. This opening focuses our thoughts, bridges what can feel like a gap between us and our loving creator, and reminds us that our God is, was, and will always be, it reminds us that God is God.
Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
If “our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name” centers us and grounds us in God’s power and love, then “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” calls us to action. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” is not a passive statement but a rousing call to faith. We don’t just sit and wait for the kingdom and God’s will to play out in the world. We are the only body Christ has on this earth and the church needs to be active. God wants to work together with us, to participate in God’s activity, and help guide the moral arc of the universe towards justice and God’s love. This second part reminds us that our prayers are active and that we work with God to bring about the kingdom of heaven here and now.
Give us this day our daily bread
Helps us to take one day, one moment at a time. It gives us permission to ask for what we need each day and permission to not know what we need. I may start the day thinking I need endurance and end up needing patience or compassion. Our daily bread, allows us to turn to God and let God fill us with whatever we need in the moment. This part of the Lord’s prayer also reminds us of God’s nourishment. It is a statement of trust. We say it believing that God does and will meet us where we are and fill us with what we need to keep moving forward. This section gives us permission to ask for what we need and assures us that God does provide.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Debts, sins, trespasses, different denominations use different words but they all name the same thing. They acknowledge the reality that we will all sin, make mistakes, trespass, and transgress. But the prayer doesn’t stop there. It also names a greater and deeper truth. It points us towards God, reminds us of God’s grace and love, reminds us that God does forgive. It assures us of God’s forgiveness and reminds us that God calls us to forgive others. Forgive us our trespasses, because we are going to sin, as we forgive those who trespass against us, because forgiveness is not just something God gives but something we are called to give as well.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Part of being human is facing difficulty and pain. In this section, Christ offers us words when we don’t know what to do or say. We know that God does not lead us astray and this part of the prayer gives voice to our darkest hour when we feel at our wits end. It acknowledges all those temptations, realities, struggles, and difficulties we face and reminds us that God is listening and God is active.
Prayer isn’t about having the right words or remembering every situation with your friends, family, and across the globe. Prayer is about opening your heart to God. Whether you say it, write it, think it, or type it, prayer is about opening your heart to God and giving love a wide open highway to travel down. Prayer is simple, but we’re human and simple things can become very complicated, so God gives us help. God gives words for us to remember, to lean on, and hang on to.
The Lord’s Prayer centers us on God and reminds us that our prayers are active, working with God to bring about God’s kingdom in the here and now. It helps us to take one day at a time, assures us of God’s forgiveness, and reminds us that we are called to forgive others. Finally, it helps us turn to God, ask for help, and remind us of the assurance we have that God does lead us in ways of abundant life.
It is not a magic pill or instant solution to all life’s problems. But they are words that offer perspective, reminders, and anchors in the midst of life. They are words for when you may have none and they are a channel of love and grace. Love and grace which we so desperately need. Amen.