Houston, we have a problem:
[Play Video on Lord’s Prayer]
There are just a few things about Christinaity that you can still “assume” to be known in the general culture, the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitutudes. The early church would be surprised that the Lord’s Prayer is part of general cultural religious knowledge. When we look at how the treated the Lord’s Prayer, it is very different. For the church of the first three centuries, they treasured the Lord’s Prayer as one of the mysteries of the Christian faith. Converts who were about to be baptized were given the prayer right before their baptism, it was understood that there was a certain level of maturity that needed to be attained before anyone could be given the prayer. In the early history of the church, the Lord’s Prayer was always connected to the celebration of the Eucharist, both of them only celebrated in private, among the mature followers of Jesus. Even today, there are vestiges of a time when the Lord’s Prayer was considered “radical”, “revolutionary”, mysterious. In the Book of Common Worship, it is common to introduce the Lord’s prayer with the words:
As our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say . . .
Why would it be “bold” to pray the Lord’s Prayer? Why would the early followers of Jesus treat the prayer as a cherished mystery? Why would it be something taught and said in the company of the most dedicated followers of Jesus. What did they know that we don’t? For us the prayer is “comfort words” that we’ve been saying all of our lives, it is contemplative words that call us into prayer; but mystery: no; boldness: no; radical: no. What they understood that we’ve lost is that the Lord’s Prayer is a statement of allegiance to a revolution that began at the Cross of Jesus and extends to our day.
The Lord’s Prayer is our declaration of allegiance to God’s revolution.
This morning I would like to look at the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father” petition and understand the revolution to which it call us and the implications offering the prayer raises for us, here today. The first clause is found in Matthew 6, right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
The most radical part of this first petition is the first word. Read literally, the greek text would say: “Father of us. . . “In the Old Testament, we come to know God through many names, but calling God our parent, our Father or our Mother, doesn’t happen until much later in God’s story. The Patriarchs know God by names related to tghe world in which thy lived. God was Eloheim, later YHWY, but God as Father or Mother doesn’t develop until the time of the prophets. People like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea understand God to be our father (and occasionally our mother). But the first time we see the idea of God as a father is in the Exodus story as Moses spoke to Pharaoh:
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. I said to you, “Let my son go that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”
The text really doesn’t say that God is a father, it inverts the expression and calls Israel God’s firstborn son. Think about that for a moment. Moses is standing in front of Pharaoh, the most powerful man in his world. Moses represents a nation of slaves, people who make bricks and build things for Pharaoh. One of Pharaoh’s many names, one of the titles the people of Egypt used to talk about him was “Son of Ra” or “Son of the Sun God.” Who was the God of the Hebrews? The God who took the slaves of Egypt and made them God’s Sons and daughters.
Pharaoh was the Son of Ra, the person who stood between the nation of Egypt and God. In Jesus day, they still thought that the “Sons of God” were the special people, those who were the very religious, the very trained, the pious. Jesus has a whole different idea: the plain folk with whom he had grown up and spent his whole life around, these people were the daughters and sons of God. In a world where there was always someone who claimed to be between God and the people, Pharaoh, Caesar, High Priest, Jesus taught us that we have direct access, God is our source, our father, our mother.
But notice the address carefully: its not just “father” but “our father.” This isn’t a private prayer, its a community. Not just a few special people who know the secret. No, Our father. Here is one of the differences between the powerful and Jesus’ audience. The powerful alway stand on their own, in their own authority. In Isaiah 14, the prophet is talking about the King of Babylon, one of the really powerful people in the ancient world and one of those “bridge between God and people” people. Here is what the prophet says:
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.”
We can’t pray in the singular. It’s not my father or your father. Its always in the plural: our father.
Our father who is in heaven. In the original creation, Adam and Eve were in the same place as God. They walked together in the garden. We don’t divide the creation into Heaven and earth, into the place where God is in control and the place in rebellion until Genesis 3 and the decision by the man and the woman to disobey God. Once the man and woman decide to follow their own council, the creation divides into heaven, the part of the creation where God’s authority isn’t challenged and God’s wholeness is known and experienced. and earth or the creation-in-rebellion.
Once things divide between heaven and earth, any time they are combined is a really big deal. When the Patriarch Abraham was ready to offer his Son Isaac on as a sacrifice, the heavens opened up and the voice of God told him to stop. It was a big deal. When Abraham’s grandson Jacob was on the run and sleeping outside one night. he had this vision where the heavens opened up and he saw heaven and earth intermingling. A big deal. Israel build a tabernacle, a portable worship center they could take with them from the wilderness into the promised land. They saw the glory of God come down from heaven and dwell in that tabernacle. The tabernacle was a taste of heaven on earth, a very big deal. The same with Solomon’s temple, they saw God’s glory come down, heaven and earth co-mingled in the Temple, a very big deal. If we missed what the birth of Jesus was telling us, we have his baptism when he sees the heavens open and hears the voice of God. A very big deal. And when we, simple people of no particular distinction can bridge the chasm between heaven and earth, when we can say “our father in heaven” is is a very big revolutionary deal.
Who: God. Where: in heaven. What: God truly known. The Message translates the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer:
Our father in heaven, reveal who you are.
In the NRSV, the translation is “hallowed be your name”. Hallowed is from the same root as the noun “holy”, to “hallow” something is to make it “holy.” God is holy everywhere, God is always the measure and the standard across the whole cosmos except for the place were we find ourselves: the creation-in-rebellion. So the Lord’s prayer is that God will be known in our world not as God has been rumored to be or morphed to be, but as God truly is: holy. May your name, may you be revealed as holy here in the creation-in-rebellion as you are known everywhere else.