Grace to you and peace in God our loving Parent, and Jesus our teacher. Amen.
We’re in the middle of a series of three weeks where we’re hearing from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Last week we heard the start of his sermon – the Beatitudes. This week, we’re hearing the middle of his sermon – the Lord’s Prayer. And next week we’ll hear from the end of his sermon, which includes famous sayings like The Golden Rule.
The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the most famous of all of Jesus’ sermons. It has influenced many important figures in history. Of course, you might think of Christian teachers who have been influenced by the Sermon on the Mount: people like Menno Simons, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King Jr. But even many non-Christians have been deeply influenced by the Sermon on the Mount! Mahatma Gandhi, who of course was a Hindu, said that the Sermon on the Mount “went straight to his heart” - it “delighted him beyond measure,” and “endeared him to Jesus.[i]
The Sermon on the Mount is a sermon about ethics. It challenges us to see the world in a different way. Some people call this “the upside-down kingdom.” It’s a vision of a community where the most marginalized folks – the poor, the meek, those who are mourning, the victims of oppression and discrimination – these are the folks that are the closest to God’s heart. A community where the ways of the world are flipped on their head.
Where the world would say, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek,” and “Love your enemies.” Where the world might say, “the one with the strongest army wins,” Jesus teaches a way of non-violence.
At the very centre of the Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s Prayer. Now this is significant, because whenever an ancient writer wanted to say “Pay attention to this! This is important!” they would place that thing right in the centre. It’s like saying, “this is the heart of the matter.” So at the heart of Jesus’ sermon is the Lord’s Prayer.
Now, there are many ways to pray. There are written prayers, and spontaneous prayers. There are little rhyming prayers that we say before a meal, and there are formal prayers that we say at important occasions. Prayer can be loud and enthusiastic, or it can be quiet and subdued. You can pray with your body – that’s something that we do here from time to time, isn’t it? Yoga is a form of prayer, and so is meditation. You can even pray by colouring or doodling on a page – in fact, Candace (Kostna) led a study on that a few years ago. And singing is prayer: St. Augustine once said, “When you sing, you pray twice.”
Martin Luther taught about the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism. And he emphasized the very first line: “Our Father in heaven.” Luther said, “With these words, God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe God is truly our Father and we are truly God’s children, in order that we may ask God boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving Father.” Isn’t this beautiful? That Jesus teaches us to approach God as a loving parent, who cares for us and knows all of our needs.
Now we know that God doesn’t have a gender, or maybe God is all genders. Maybe God is our Father, but God could also be our Mother or even simply, our Parent. Many Christians pray to God as Father, and this is a very comforting and beautiful name for God. But it’s also limiting if we only think of God as a father, and never as a mother for example, or perhaps even a parent who doesn’t conform to any of our ideas of gender. So it’s totally OK for someone to begin the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Our Mother in heaven.” The Alternate Version of the Lord’s Prayer from the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book begins like this: “Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all…” Beautiful, isn’t it? And sometimes, when I’m praying by myself, I’ll begin by saying, “Our Parent, loving and divine…”
The point is that we can come to God in the same way that a child comes to a parent: to look for love, and support, and to receive everything that we need to thrive and survive and grow. And even though no parent is perfect, we can trust in God to provide for us and care for us just like a perfect parent would.
The Lord’s Prayer isn’t the only way to pray. In fact, I think that if it was the only prayer that we ever knew how to pray, we’d be missing out on a lot. But there is something special about the Lord’s Prayer.
First of all, the Lord’s Prayer is universal. It’s prayed in almost every language on Earth. Every Sunday, you can guarantee that there are hundreds of millions of Christians around the world that are praying the Lord’s Prayer, all in different languages. And when we get together, it doesn’t matter if you’re Lutheran or Anglican or Orthodox or Catholic, we can still pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
Secondly, it’s familiar. Because the Lord’s Prayer is so central to our faith, it becomes second nature for many of us. I’d like to ask you: have you ever been in a really scary or overwhelming situation, where you didn’t know what to do? Did you ever start saying the Lord’s Prayer? I have. And one of the beautiful things about it, is that people can pray the Lord’s Prayer as long as they live. I have visited many, many elderly people who live with dementia. Sometimes they’re confused about where they are, or who I am, or what’s going on around them. Sometimes they don’t even seem to be responding to anything at all. But when I say the Lord’s Prayer with them, they’re right there with me, praying with me. Even when the whole world seems confusing, the Lord’s Prayer reminds them of who they are: beloved children of God.
As you go out into the world this week, I’d invite you to reflect on the role the Lord’s Prayer plays in your life. Do you pray it when you get up in the morning, or when you go to bed at night? Or maybe in the shower, or in the car on the way to work? Do you pray it with your family – perhaps with your spouse, or your children or grandchildren? Do you pray it in another language? And what does it mean to you, when you pray the Lord’s Prayer?