Friday, March 24, 2017

Lenten Reflections on the Catechisms - The Lord's Prayer

"Lenten Reflections"
Alternating during the Wednesdays of Lent, I am taking turns with the local Lutheran pastor preaching or guiding meditations and reflections on themes from the catechisms.

Shared on Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Scripture readings: Luke 11:1-4; Mark 4:32-41

There is this prayer that we call The Lord’s Prayer. We call it The Lord’s Prayer because it’s a prayer that the Lord Jesus taught his disciples, and us. We say that it’s a prayer that Jesus has taught us because we hope that we are his disciples, too.
Along the Columbia River at Desert Aire, WA
December 2016, February 2017
It’s a prayer in the words of Jesus. It’s a great thing (a great comfort) to come to God the Father in prayer with the very words that God the Son made into a prayer for us.
Surely, we know that The Lord’s Prayer is not a magic prayer. It’s a prayer given to us by God the Son and, so, (if it’s a prayer for us) it’s a prayer for humans who have found a new life as the human sons and daughters of God.
It’s not a prayer of power. It’s a prayer of relationship, because it’s a prayer of sons and daughters. It’s a prayer created to come from the heart, and to reflect the heart of those who pray it, and also to reflect the heart of the one to whom we pray.
Like the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, The Lord’s Prayer tells us that God is with us in our fears and in our faith.
Some have said that we ought to call this prayer The Disciples’ Prayer. Disciple means follower and learner. When I was young, my teachers made our classes learn a lot of things by heart: but you can learn a lot of things by heart that don’t really come from your heart, or change your heart.
I believe the disciples wanted to pray with a disciple’s heart. They didn’t ask, “Lord, teach us a prayer.” They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
They wanted to love the Lord with all their heart. They wanted to pray with the same kind of heart they saw in Jesus: with the same kind of heart that Jesus said that his Father had.
In this five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation we are looking, a bit, at the heart of the disciples of Jesus from our tradition of the Reformation. In my part of that tradition, we have a “catechism”, a teaching devise, from about four hundred years ago, called the Westminster Shorter Catechism, because it was the shorter one of two. It became the main teaching device for children in the reformed tradition of the British Isles and of many in the American colonies, and it continued to be used up until the early part of the twentieth century. Let’s take a look at what that catechism teaches about the heart that prays The Lord’s Prayer, and the God of the Prayer who calls us sons and daughters.
But first I want to comment on one of the most important unnoticed words in the Prayer. That word is the word “our”: our Father; our daily bread; our sins, debts, trespasses. It’s the same issue with the word “us”: give us; deliver us.
We never pray alone, and we are never to pray only for ourselves. We never pray alone because the Prayer teaches us that we pray with God the Son, to God the Father, and we know that we pray in the power of God the Holy Spirit.
We never pray alone for other reasons. This world and this creation is full of prayer, because God is the Father of creation, and the Son is the servant-savior of creation, and the Spirit is the breath of Creation. (For those reading this, for example, see Psalm 145)
We never pray alone because all of God’s children in heaven and on earth are praying together. This is happening even now.
We never pray alone because we never pray to only “my Father”. We never pray for only “my daily bread”. We never pray for only “my sins to be forgiven”. We never pray only “lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”
We pray with the whole family of creation and the church. We pray for the whole family of creation and the church. We know how to pray with the words “us” and “our” because you and I represent much more than ourselves in prayer. When Jesus teaches you, and me, and us, to pray, this is how his prayer shapes your heart, and my heart, and our heart.
Let’s turn to this old catechism and see how our hearts and lives are changed by prayer and by The Lord’s Prayer.
Q98. What is prayer?
Prayer is offering our desires to God in the name of Christ for things that agree with His will, confessing our sins, and thankfully recognizing His mercies.

What are our desires when we have a heart shaped by true prayer?
How does our life with others change because we have such desires and such a heart?

Q99. How does God direct us to pray?
The whole word of God, but especially the Lord's prayer, which Christ taught His disciples, directs our prayers.

Good! Now let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer.
Q100. What does the beginning of the Lord's prayer teach us?
The beginning of the Lord's prayer (Our Father in heaven) teaches us to draw near to God with completely holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father who is able and ready to help us. It also teaches that we should pray with and for others.

Our Father in heaven:
What is the word, in this phrase, that might teach us that God is ready?
What is the word, in this phrase, that might teach us that God is able?
Q101. For what do we pray in the first request?
In the first request (hallowed be your name) we pray that God will enable us and others to glorify Him in everything He uses to make Himself known and that He will work out everything to His own glory.

John Calvin (the younger contemporary of Martin Luther) wrote: “That God’s name should be hallowed is nothing other than to say that God should have his own honor, of which he is worthy, so that men should never think or speak of God without the greatest veneration.”
Who is responsible for seeing to it that others speak of God with the greatest veneration?
How can we be part of this?
Q102. For what do we pray in the second request?
In the second request (your kingdom come) we pray that Satan's kingdom may be destroyed, that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, with ourselves and others brought into and kept in it, and that the kingdom of glory may come quickly.

If this comes from our heart what kind of life will we live for the coming of the kingdom?
How are we limited in our role in the Father’s kingdom coming?
Q103. For what do we pray in the third request?
In the third request (your will be done on earth as it is in heaven) we pray that by His grace God would make us have the capability and the will to know, obey, and submit to His will in everything, as the angels do in heaven.

How does God’s will get done on earth?
How might God’s will being done be a matter of culture, and law, and the church?
Q104. For what do we pray in the fourth request?
In the fourth request (Give us today our daily bread) we pray that we may receive an adequate amount of the good things in this life as a free gift of God and that with them we may enjoy His blessing.

How would a thankful heart pray this prayer?
What would the life of those who prayed this prayer for others look like?

Q105. For what do we pray in the fifth request?
In the fifth request (Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors), encouraged by God's grace, which makes it possible for us sincerely to forgive others, we pray that, for Christ's sake, God would freely pardon all our sins.

“Debts” and “trespasses are the word from Matthew’s “Lord’s Prayer” and Jesus’ explanation of it in Matthew. “Sin” and “debts” are both of the words from Luke’s “Lord’s Prayer”. I like to think of “debts” being where we fall short, and “trespasses” being where we go too far. Both falling short and going too far are at the heart of the meaning of sin, in which we miss the mark of being, for God and for others, what God has created us to be.
Why does God require us to forgive others?
How does our forgiveness being related to our forgiving of others make you feel?
Q106. For what do we pray in the sixth request?
In the sixth request (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one) we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin or support and deliver us when we are tempted.

I believe that “deliver us from evil” and “deliver us from the evil one” are equally likely translations of this prayer. God may test us but evil tempts us.
How does this request relate to God as our Father and Parent?
What does this request say about what is going on in us and in our world?

Q107. What does the conclusion of the Lord's prayer teach us?
The conclusion of the Lord's prayer (for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever) teaches us to be encouraged only by God in our prayers and to praise Him by acknowledging that kingdom, power, and glory are His. To show that we want to be heard and have confidence that we are, we say "Amen".

Even though the conclusion of the prayer is not found in many of the most ancient manuscripts of the gospels, it does go back to the disciples during the first century (the Didache), and it also summarizes a prayer by King David in First Chronicles (29:11-13). So, it is very ancient indeed, and Jesus knew and taught the heart and spirit of it.
What does the heart that prays this prayer know about our Father in heaven?
How does knowing this lead us to live in this world. How is our knowing this part of the prayer actually our experience of a genuine answer to our prayer?
William Barclay sums up The Prayer like this: “And so, when we have prayed the Lord’s Prayer, we rise from our knees and go out to the world and its ways remembering the royal sovereignty of God and pledged to obedience to him, remembering the dynamic power of God and trusting in that power to answer our prayers, remembering the glory of God and living with the reverence which knows that earth is penetrated with the divine glory.” (William Barclay, “The Beatitudes & The Lord’s Prayer”)

(The catechism questions and answers are quoted from “The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English” by Douglas F. Kelly and Philip Rollinson; P & R Publishing Company)

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