Matthew 6: 9 – 13
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
Today I want to focus on the very beginning of the prayer. A beginning that is more rich and beautiful than it might seem on first blush.
Most prayers I’ve prayed begin with some description of God, some invocation of God’s attributes: “Gracious God” or “Creator God.” Whether I’m praying at church or at home, whether in a public or private setting, predictably I turn first to “who God is.” The Lord’s Prayer moves in a similar way, pointing to the parent-quality of God, the Father-ness of God. I will comment on that in due time. But before we jump ahead of ourselves, and it would be very easy to do, let us focus on that simple first word: “Our.” John Wesley, in his sermon on this prayer, emphasized that “Not mine only who now cry unto him, but ours in the most extensive sense.”
This is not a prayer for isolated people disconnected from the family of God. This is a prayer that is embedded in the created order, that from the first word opens onto a situation bigger than our individual selves. This is our Father, the God who establishes and sustains the inescapable bonds that link us all together. In praying this, however lonely our words may be, we are in the context of a sacred connection wide and deep. This prayer is a community prayer, the kind of prayer that brings us into belonging. A belonging that reaches back into the current of time to the loving laborers of the first believers. And this belonging stretches wildly across the diversity of Christian traditions in the present moment. To pray “Our Father” is to boldly proclaim our place in the community of faith.
Imagine the Lord’s Prayer flowing in and out of countless mouths, gracing the tongues of the prayerful through the ages. This prayer has been uttered in desparation, penitence, joy, longing, satisfaction, wonder, fear, and awe. It has been prayed in solemn, singular quiet. And it has resounded in the harmony of a thousand voices.
To pray this prayer is to tap into the wave of faith that swells in the hearts of people brown and white, strengthened and suffering, hopeful and discouraged, educated and ignorant, enriched and impoverished, over-joyed and grieved, freed and oppressed.
And, as Wesley indicated, the most extensive sense of “our” includes the whole human community. For all of creation, including the diversity of humankind, is swept up in this simple word. To pray this prayer is to be connected, indeed. No matter how fractured we may feel, no matter how we are alienated by others, no matter how insular our communities become; we are connected in this prayer, woven into the tapestry of “our”. To lift up the words “Our Father” is to belong intimately, not just to God, but to those who belong to God.