Sermon; August 7, 2016“The Lord’s Prayer – A Hallowed Name’
Matthew 6:7-13 New English Bible
Elton Trueblood, The Lord’s Prayers, Harper and Row, 1965.
Bethanne Kashkette, Baltimore Yearly Meeting: http://patapsco.bym-rsf.net/files/2012/05/heron200404.pdf
What have been your experiences with the Lord’s Prayer?
I pray the Lord’s prayer every time I fly. It’s a ritual for me – a way to connect fear with faith. Once, when returning from a Spring Break trip to Florida with my family, we flew into terrible turbulence near Denver. The plane was buffeted every which way. People were screaming, the plane shuddered… it was awful. When we landed in Denver, I sat on the concourse floor, and did not want to move. But I had to… we still hadn’t gotten home. From that time on, I have prayed The Lord’s Prayer as we take off… it gives me something familiar and soothing to concentrate on, and it reminds me of God’s presence.
I’ve also played the Lord’s Prayer to accompany my father when he would sing it as a solo. The Mallotte. You know… “Our Father, who art in heaven….” It’s not easy to sing. And it’s horrible to play… there’s these places where the accompaniment is totally exposed, and of course there’s tons of accidentals, and tough stuff right there – out in the open! Especially when you’re in junior high or high school, that kind of pressure can be rough! I’ve since learned to love it, whether I’m playing it, singing it, or praying it.
The Lord’s Prayer is really everybody’s prayer. It’s meant for all of us. Notice the form: it’s in first person plural… Our Father, Give us, Forgive us as we forgive… The prayer was not meant for just one person only, but for everyone. Friend Elton Trueblood says it should be called The Disciples Prayer, because really, Jesus gave the prayer to them- to us - as a gift. He taught us all to pray. What prayers were you first taught? One that I learned was a table grace:
Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you God, for everything.
It was a patterned prayer – something simple to remember, and to recite. The prayer is lovely, and in a very few words, expresses both thanksgiving, and need. The prayer Christ taught the disciples does the same thing, using a pattern. A beautiful prayer, easily remembered, that follows a form, and helps us remember what Christ thought was most important in our conversations with God. Reverence, God’s Kingdom, Daily Needs, Forgiveness, and Help.
How often do I begin praying by asking for something I need, and then for God’s help? Do I ask for forgiveness – am I even self-aware enough to know I need to be forgiven? Do I long for God’s kingdom to be made real in my life, in my family, in my nation, in my world? Do I remember that God is more than just my friend? That God is God, loving and powerful, merciful and righteous?
When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, it’s easy to let the words tumble out – sometimes without thinking about what we’re saying… especially if we’ve been raised in churches where it’s used every Sunday as part of the liturgy. It becomes part of the service, and not necessarily part of us. But Christ didn’t teach it in a church, or synagogue, or any place set aside for worship. It wasn’t given to Rabbis or the Priests… it was given to common, ordinary followers who had heard Christ praying – speaking to God - and they wanted to know how to do the same thing. “How should we pray?”
The first thing Christ told them is how NOT to pray. Don’t use empty, meaningless phrases. Don’t pray in order to be seen and admired. “Pray then like this…”
With reverence. We name God, before we name ourselves. Without arrogance. Without conceit. Christ teaches us to honor and recognize God as we come in prayer.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name… Thy name. Names matter. A lot! When I meet someone for the first time, I try to make sure I learn their name correctly. Is their name Katherine? What do they want to be called? Are they Kathy, Kate, or Katherine? When I led the Concert Program at Yearly Meeting last month, a performer told me her name was Kris. But no one called her that! She had been raised in the Yearly Meeting, and everyone there still called her Kristy! Jim, Bill, Dan and I had a great time remembering what Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s name used to be: Lew Alcindor! (Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. to be exact!) We are known by our name. Our personhood is attached to our name. Remember? God changed Abram’s name (high father) to Abraham (father of many nations). “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” Just a few letters can make a huge difference in meaning.
Names matter to God. Elton Trueblood again: “It is hard for us in the modern world to understand or to appreciate the Hebrew’s sense of mystery about a name, and particularly about the name of God. The name of God stood for God’s character, for God’s integrity, and for God’s active power… Moses asked God’s name and was told that the name is a form of the verb “to be”. “And God said unto Moses, I am that I am.” Yahweh, then is “He who is.” Here the tremendous emphasis is on the real being of God, in contrast with illusion or with mere projections of desire. God, according to this conception, is not remote, or the object of speculation, but is the real Being of continued self-manifestation.” Not God as we hope God is, or want God to be. But, Godself revealed!
When Christ teaches us to address God as Father, he is inviting us to pray with a sense of belonging. Pray with a sense of intimacy. Of acquaintance and connection. This is your father – your mother – someone who loves you, that you’re talking to. If you have a tough time thinking of God as your Father, give God a name that means love to you. That means acceptance. That means that if you called him on the phone, he’d be happy – overjoyed – to hear from you. What is that name for you? Our Father? Our Mother? Our Lord? Divine Light? Lord God? Use a name that means something to you in your life with others.
Hallowed be Thy name. Hallowed comes from the verb hallow, a term that descends from the Middle English halowen. That word can in turn be traced back to hālig, Old English for "holy." The word means sacred, or consecrated. During the Middle Ages, All Hallows' Day was the name for what Christians now call All Saints' Day, and the evening that preceded All Hallows' Day was All Hallow Even, or, as we know it today, Halloween. Many faith traditions still celebrate All Saints Day – a holy day - on November 1st each year.
God’s name is Holy. Sacred. Set apart for us – not from us. Our prayers, our conversations with God, are sacred. Whether walking in Fort Harrison State Park, or through our neighborhood as we pray, we’re in sacred company. Whether we’re doing dishes, or sitting in silent communion in Meeting, talking with God is a holy conversation. God can be Light one day, Lord another, Keeper, Shepherd, Friend, Redeemer… the many names of God we use in prayer are a reflection of our yearning for God in that moment. A sign of our belonging to and with God.
I pray that as we explore this prayer Christ taught, that it will teach us in the weeks to come - a personal expression found in a communal prayer.
How do you pray? How do you encounter God in your mind and heart? What is your name for God? What experiences have you had with the Lord’s Prayer? What do we, as Quakers who do not use patterned or recited prayers, gain from Christ’s lesson to his disciples? How would you write the Disciples Prayer?
From Bethanne Kashkett, Baltimore Yearly Meeting:
Great Spirit, whose name is sacred,
Guide us to follow your laws of peace here on Earth, as the stars obey the laws of heaven.
May there be food for all beings, so that none may go hungry.
When we have been hurtful, give us the courage to say we are sorry. Help us to be forgiving, when others hurt us.
Give us the strength to do what we know is right and turn away from what harms us, our planet or other beings.
For your wonder, beauty and goodness all around us, we give grace and thanks.