Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, September 2, 2001, Pentecost 13, dedicated to the memory of David Mark Weber and always to the glory of God!
(IV of IV in the Sermon Series "The Power of Prayer")
Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13
With this sermon, I bring to close the four part series on the power of prayer. Having reflected on the power of prayer for healing, for redemption, and for blessing, I close with a reflection on the prayer we most commonly know as the Lord's Prayer or "the Prayer of our Savior." This week, all four will be printed as one booklet. As well, this one will be printed on its own.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
It was December of 1944 and the soldiers of our armed forces, along with the Allied Forces of Northern Europe were engaged in one of the massive land and air battles in human history - the Battle of the Bulge. A young soldier sergeant named Jack Bush and the men under his command had entered a French village to take the position from the Germans as evening was descending upon the countryside. Shortly after coming into town, they found themselves pinned down under intense enemy fire. The men took refuge in a building and huddled close together just inside the north wall of the building. Throughout the night, artillery fire was laid on the village. Bombs were exploding everywhere and seemingly right on top of the soldiers.
Speaking later of this night, Jack said, "I had grown up a faithful member of Baptist church in Michigan. You would have thought I could have drawn on all sorts of faith under fire. But, the only thing I could come up with was `The Lord's Prayer.' For literally hours on end, our battalion prayed the Lord's prayer. We were all surprised when even the Jewish guys knew it! That night, I made a foxhole type prayer as well. I prayed to the Lord that if he saved my life and the lives of my men, I would newly dedicate my life to him. Hours after we began praying the bombardment ended, right as dawn was breaking on the village. As we climbed out the basement door and stood to behold the wreckage, we were all stunned. The only wall of the only building left standing was the north wall of the building we had been in. Literally, everything laid in ruins. Only the Lord God Almighty could have down such a thing!" With tears in his eyes as he shared this testimony, Jack Bush, one of my church's new members, age 75 then added, "Talk is cheap. I have come to tell you, Rev. Tim, that I will do anything to help your ministry here. How can I serve you and North Church?" That day, I started a beautiful friendship with one of the finest servants of the Living God I have ever known. And he started his selfless, loyal and constant presence in the church and witness to Christ - renewing once again his 50+ year commitment to the Lord!
The Lord's Prayer has this power in us and through us! I attest to that! I know that when I have reached my lowest points of life, I have offered God the prayer God's son, my savior first offered me as one of his disciples. I have always thought if Jesus took time to teach this prayer, as it is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4, I should return it to the Lord as often as possible. I remember a time as a teenager that I offered this prayer to God only to find myself totally swept away by the power of God to hear and respond to my heartfelt appeal.
The Lord's prayer is first and foremost a petitionary prayer. It is an asking prayer that is opened with, perhaps, the two most essential words in scripture - "Our Father!" In our appeal to "Abba" or "Daddy," we are asking God to Give, To Forgive and to Deliver.
Prayer was the foundation of Jesus' theology and being. He prayed regularly - daily, weekly, and yearly in his rhythm of life. Growing out of the traditional Jewish piety in which he was disciplined, his prayer could be as simple as kneeling by the road with men and women, to synagogue centered, to an intense detachment from others in which time he withdrew and went away to pray for long periods. Always, Jesus alternated activism with contemplation. And he taught others a few principles of prayer as well - such as, don't show-off by praying aloud in public, rather lift your voice and heart to God apart from the crowd, so as not to draw attention to yourself. He also didn't practice or promote long-winded prayers. Why bother? God is always open to us and ready to listen, so why wear down God with lots of words.
Out of these fundamental prayer principles and practices grew the prayer that he taught his disciples.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil - for thine is the kingdom, power, and glory forever, Amen.
More than anything, Jesus' prayer was rooted in the simplicity and splendor of his opening words. "Our, Abba," or "Our, daddy," his affectionate name for God - his loving parent. Jesus was not the first to picture God as father. Homer and Plato did in Greek religion and philosophy. In the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, God as Father is at least fourteen references to God as "the Father of Israel," often in the context of the saving acts of God. But, Jesus is the first to call God, "Abba." Abba and "Imma" were the first babbling words a Hebrew child would learn for daddy, or mommy. I still call my father, "dad," and my mother, "mom" as I am sure many of you do. In Jesus' time, "Abba" was used by children and adults as a loving form of address for their parents - but it was unheard of to address the Great God of the Universe as daddy! New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias was the first to document this startling truth: after studying every ancient Jewish document and every word of the New Testament, he concluded that we do not have a single example of God being addressed as Abba in Judaism and in startling contrast, the gospels record that Jesus referred to God as Abba in everyone of his prayers - with one exception. On the cross, the words, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?" is a quotation from the Psalm 22.
Abba expresses the radical heart of Jesus for intimacy with his own loving parent and father. He gives his heart of intimacy to all when he says, "pray this way: "OUR Abba . . . " In this, he gives us his own spirituality which expresses trust, joy, intimacy, confidence and reverence in the presence of God. No more separation, rather intimate relationship - for everyone. "My daddy" is your "Daddy." Beyond the joy of this intimate relationship, Jesus prays to "Abba" in the Garden of Gethsemane for the cup to pass and then again on the cross for the forgiveness of his murderers. Finally, he prays the prayer of every Jewish child at bedtime - a prayer just like our "Now I lay me down to sleep," - when he says in his final words on the cross - "Daddy, into your hands I commend my spirit . . . "
In the Lord's prayer you and I are given permission to be intimate with God. No more distance. No more out there, away from me God. Rather, "daddy." Now in recent times, "Our Daddy," has come under fire for its exclusive language.
Quite frankly, I have heard both sides of this argument. Women and men have told me they had terrible relationships with their fathers and struggle to identify a personal and powerfully intimate relationship in the male form of the "Our Father . . . " Other women and men have told me that this is a comfort, either having lost a father early in life and remembering him in this prayer or simply having such a positive experience of father-son or father-daughter that this opening gives them peace.
To both sides of this question, I say, "You understand what Jesus was getting at!" For those who are troubled, I encourage you to use an intimate expression that comforts and strengthens you in prayer. St. Francis of Assisi around 1200 AD wrote, "Our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter and Saviour!" Inclusive language began long before the Dark Ages! For those who find comfort in "Abba," rejoice, for the word has been given you to use! It is a gift of love and intimacy from Jesus our Savior!
I said earlier that the Lord's Prayer asks God to Give, to Forgive, and to Deliver! Allow me to say a few words about the whole prayer, but especially these three parts of the prayer. First, this prayer is a radical prayer! You and I should pay attention to what it says. It calls upon God to give us what we need. It calls upon each one of us to forgive others what they owe us and what they have done to us, and finally it asks God to deliver us from evil - past, present, and future (again to quote St. Francis of Assisi). Don't mutter this prayer unless you mean it. Don't become a mere mouther of words for the Lord's Prayer. Unless you are willing to live into the fullness of its meaning and be embraced by the full power of its deliverance from the sins and evil that overtake you, reconsider speaking.
However, if you intend to receive the fullness of God's glorious blessings and gifts to you; if you hope to drink deeply the power of God's forgiveness in your life and the broken relationships of your life, and accept fully the deliverance possible from the temptations of sin and evil, join in! Ron will be leading us in a different version of the Lord's Prayer which I found from an unknown source in Central America, today. It is good to hear the words and speak the words differently, so we don't become anesthetized to their power and meaning for our lives. Enjoy! Now some closing thoughts . . .
We begin with a request for God to give us daily bread. This simple beginning acknowledges where our food comes from. It is a gift to eat and have food each day. Jesus transfigures the trivialities of daily life. In this, we should always praise God for seemingly simple gifts.
The petition to give precedes the petition to Forgive. Before we can be embraced by the Lord of Love and Grace, we need to receive simple gifts of food for the journey. But, the forgiveness of God is acknowledged as conditional. We must first forgive others, before receiving God's forgiveness. I believe Jesus set one before the other, knowing the amazing power and readiness of God to forgive and our inability to do the same. Perhaps it was his way of helping us clear the path of our own struggles and confusions before stepping onto the holy path of God.
Years ago, as a student seminarian, I participated in an interfaith service. For some strange reason, the rabbi was given the part of praying the Lord's Prayer. He accepted his assignment gracefully. As he stood to lead us in prayer, he asked, "So, are you sinners, debtors, or trespassers?" The closest word to the Aramaic comes out of the side of debts and debtors. But, the rabbi's question calls to us: Are we sinners? Are we debtors? Are we trespassers? However we know ourselves to be in our deepest heart of hearts. God is ready to forgive us!
Finally, God will deliver us! In times and in ways we cannot deliver ourselves from temptation and the Evil One (as the Prayer actually says!), we trust God to step in and deliver us!
Our Savior, Jesus Christ led a life characterized by wild gratitude in prayer. He was unafraid to cry out in pain and in joy to his daddy, to his loving parent. He asked his most intimate parent to give him what he needed, to forgive when he needed and to save him from temptation and evil. May we as well, lead lives of wild gratitude and humble intimacy. May we call upon God in times of greatest need and greatest joy. And to God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, our Father and Mother - the lover of our souls -- to God -- be the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
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