Monday, September 28, 2015

September 27, 2015 The Lord's Prayer - How To Be Different

September 27, 2015
Matthew 6:5-15

The Lord’s Prayer:  How To Be Different

Last week I began my message by asking what would be the two verses of Scripture that are most well known.  This morning, I would ask you about the prayers most known to people, which would probably be two.  First, the Serenity Prayer, written by the theologian Reinhold Neibuhr in the mid 20th century –

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

The above lines are most familiar, but there is a longer, less known version that includeds these lines –

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

And certainly, the other paryer would be the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes called the model prayer, as it becomes the example of how we should pray (as Jesus says in Matthew 6:9 – this, then, is how you should pray).

This morning I begin a series of messages based on the Lord’s Prayer.

Because our computer is down I can’t show you a picture I would like you to see, but I’ll use it next week (it is at the top of this manuscript and in the weekly study guide).  It’s a picture of the Lord’s Prayer hand-etched onto the head of a pin.  How do you hand-etch the Lord’s Prayer onto such a small space?  An Englishman by the name of Graham Short managed to do so.  He etched the prayer onto a space that is 0.0787401575 inches across.  It required him to look through a microscope and to engrave only at night because the vibrations from the daytime traffic made it impossible to do the work.  Such precision also required that for the first hour of his engraving session he does nothing but sit still, until his pulse slowed (his resting heart rate, helped by a great deal of swimming, is 30 beats a minute).  He also straps his arm to restrict its movement, and when all was ready worked between his heartbeats, so nothing would jolt the movement of the needle across the surface of the pinhead.

Isn’t that incredible? It’s amazing to consider the concentration, the care, and the dedication required to do such work.  But my first response was why?  Why would anyone take such time and effort to make an engraving so small it requires a microscope to see it?  The second response was, imagine if we could devote that kind of concentration, care, and dedication to prayer on a regular basis.

But perhaps we do, even without knowing it.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:17 that we should pray without ceasing.  Does this mean we are we to pray all the time?  Does it mean to continue in an attitude of prayer?  I think the answers to those questions are found in Romans 8:26, where Paul writes that in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  I think one of the things Paul is saying is that we pray all the time, even though we might not be aware of it, because deep within our heart and our soul we are crying out to God in a way in which we don’t even realize or understand.  Prayer comes not just when we bow our head, close our eyes, and fold our hands, but every moment that we breathe, because there is some kind of deeply spiritual communion between the spirit of God and our own spirits.  So we pray in two ways – unconsciously and consciously.  When we pray consciously, Jesus says to do so like this –

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.
So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
“Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Today I’ll begin with the first words of the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. 

Our Father
These two simple, basic, words are very significant, and in using them, Jesus radically transformed what people thought at the time. 

First, note the word our.  When we think of the word our we do so in a possessive sense – something that belongs to us.  But our, here, is plural, not singular.  It does not denote an ownership claim.  We don’t have an ownership claim on God.  In the time of Jesus, there were plenty of people who felt they had an ownership claim on God, and that attitude, unfortunately, is still very pervasive today.  Having an ownership claim of God results in an us versus them mentality, as in we are special to God and you are not.

In May I was in Sandusky, Ohio, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie.  One afternoon, as I was walking along the edge of town, near the lakefront, I heard live music, and it immediately caught my ear.  The song was Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf, and I knew immediately I had to follow the music to see what was going on.  It so happened that Biker Week was talking place in Sandusky, and I soon found myself in the middle of a gathering of bikers  And I don’t mean the 10 speed bikers; I mean the boot-wearing, Harley-riding, leather-vest clad, big beard, lots of tatto kind of bikers.  And there I was in my khaki shorts, T-shirt, and green tennis shoes.  Talk about sticking out.  I put a post on Facebook about wandering into the wrong place and it wasn’t long before someone challendged me for thinking differently about people just because they looked different from me.  And you know what?  They were exactly right to do so. It takes constant reminders, I think, to keep us from lapsing into a default position of defining ourselves by what group we are part of and what groups are not part of us.  And too many groups want to claim God as the father for their group and declare he is off limites to other groups.  We do not own God.  We are his creation and his children, and that is true of every person, not just the ones that we want to designate as being part of our group.

Then there’s the word father.  The word father is such a personal word to use as a designation for God, which was a very different concept than what people were used to at the time.  The Aramaic word Jesus used was abba, which means daddy.  It was one of the first words a child learned to say, and it reflected a very significant shift in the manner in which people viewed God.  Jesus presents God as not being distant and detached but as close to us and as interested in us and as loving us as would one of the most significant relationships we can understand.

There is an element, certainly, of the holy and majestic and powerful to God, but at the same time God – the mighty creator, sustainor, and Lord of this universe – is as close to us and familiar to us as a member of our own family.

Who Art In Heaven
The past week must have created a lot of uncomfortable moments for atheists.  With all the coverage of the pope, it must have gotten under their skin quite a bit.  The wall to wall coverage, even if you tired of it or weren’t interested, was undeniably quite extraordinary.  That so much of life came to a halt to focus on the gospel message is testimony to the great spiritual hunger that exists all around us, and within us.  Obviously, we are nowhere near as secular as some claim.

It was a week that served as an important reminder that life is more than just the physical and material.  Who are in heaven reminds us that there is more to this life.  In spite of the claims of some that we can only believe in the things we can see, touch, measure, or test, that is incorrect.  Just because some people have a scientific, materialistic, reductioninst view of the world doesn’t mean that is the reality.  There is a spiritual component to every life, even among those who deny the spiritual part of life.  Who can gaze upon a beautiful sunrest or sunset and not feel something spiritual?  Who can listen to a beautiful piece of music and deny that is moves something deep within us, a part of us that I would refer to as our soul?

Through my years of ministry, while visiting people in their final days, I’ve seen the proof that there is more to this life than just the physical.  There is this very thin layer between this life and eternity, and at the end of life many people are blessed to see both worlds at once.  They have one foot in the temporal but the other is already stepping into the eternal.  While they see this world in which we live, they can also peer into the next world.  I have been with people who will speak of seeing Jesus in the room with them, they will speak of departed loved ones who have come to comfort them as they prepare for the greatest of journeys, and they are not hallucinating.  When people experience such moments there is a clarity about them that is more pronounced than what we experience in our daily lives and there is an alertness and awareness that proves to me that what they see, what they experience, is not an illusion but the ultimate in reality.

Hallowed Be Thy Name
The word hallowed is a combination of two words that together refer to what is holy, and holy because of being different.  Any object that is holy has a different purpose.  A church is different from other buildings because it has a different purpose.  The Sabbath is different from other days because it has a different purpose.  The priests and prophets of the Old Testament were different from other people because they had a different purpose.  An altar was different from other monuments because of a different purpose.

To say, then, that God’s name is to be hallowed is to recognize that God is different, holy, and must be treated differently from anything else in existence.

I never wanted to be different growing up.  None of us like to be different.  It’s why we follow fashion trends, even very questionable fashion trends.  I didn’t always dress like this, in a conservative blue suit, blue shirt, blue tie, and dress shoes.  Back in the 70s I dressed way cooler than this.  Do you know what kind of suit I wore back in the 70s?  A leisure suit.  It was dark blue, with a collar that was wider than my shoulders and had bold, white stitching all around.  My shirt was silky and white and imprinted on the front was a picture of some deer in a meadow with mountains in the background.  Completing that really cool outfit was a pair of platform shoes and my big afro.  When I went out of the house dressed like that my dad would say, are you really going out looking like that?  My response was, dad, when you look this good, you’ve got to go out!  But I very distinctly remember wearing that leisure suit one too many times.  One Sunday morning I wore it to First Christian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, and I noticed I was the only one wearing a leisure suit.  Suddenly, they were out of fashion and I didn’t get the memo.  That leisure suit went from a source of fashion awareness to a source of embarrassment, and I put it away forever because I didn’t want to feel different.

No one wants to feel different.  When I was in high school I had a patch sewed onto my blue jeans that proclaimed I’m a non-conformist!  Do you now why I had that patch on my jeans?  Not because I was a non-conformist, but because everybody else had that patch sewed onto their jeans!  We are so afraid of being different that we will sometimes do things we don’t want to do just because we want to be like everyone else.

I was often given a hard time when I was young because I went to church and because of my faith.  There were times when I was bullied and ridiculed because of it.  I didn’t like it, but at the same time I didn’t really care.  Don’t ever be afraid of what people think of you, especially if they think less of you or differently of you because of faith.  As followers of Jesus, we are different, and there’s nothing wrong with being different!

When I arrived in the church parking lot this morning, I pulled into my usual space and sat for a few minutes admiring the sunrise.  The sun was not far above the horizon, and the colors radiated beautifully throughout the early morning sky.  As I enjoyed the view, I was reminded of a couple of important truths – no matter how bad things might be today, the sun will come up tomorrow, and it will come up tomorrow because God is still in control this vast universe.

There are many things we can legitimately pray, and one of those is the fear of being different.  But let us also remember that, because God is in control, we really do not need to be afraid.  But if you are, pray.  If you are afraid of being different, pray.  If you are worried people will reject you because you are different, pray.  When you are afraid, pray.  In all things, pray!

No comments: