The Prayer of Family

A sermon preached at Calvary Presbyterian Church on July 17, 2022

Matthew 6:9-13

Romans 8:12-17, 28-30

We decided to do a whole series on the Lord’s Prayer for a few reasons.  

Partly because we get a lot of questions about why we at Calvary say the version of the Lord’s Prayer we do each week. We say “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”. 

There are other versions we could say too. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”

Or, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.  Not as one child said it, “Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”

We will be praying different versions of the prayer each week as we work through it. And at the end of it, we will be seeking your feedback, to see which version, or versions, we want to use in worship. 

Another reason we decided to do this series is because when you say the same prayer each and every week, the words can become rote, and we can lose touch of what it is we are praying for. There is comfort in familiar prayers and liturgy too. It is nice to be able to let familiar words flow over you in worship, but we seek to have familiar language that we can still register, and that still has meaning. 

So today, we will begin at the beginning. 

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name. 

While referring to God as a divine parent may feel familiar to us, it was not familiar language in the ancient world. There was an idea in Hebrew thought that we were the children of God, but Jesus made it up close, personal, and familiar. He’d refer to God as “abba”, which translates more as “mom” or “dad”, than more formal Father. It has a sense of intimacy and trust. 

God as Father in the Hebrew bible is a caring parent, but maybe not the one you’d want to anger. Moses was instructed: 

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.’ 

It is family language for the relationship between God and Israel, but because Pharaoh did not heed Moses’ instructions, God struck down the first born sons of Egypt. It isn’t a relationship you want to mess around with. 

And much of the family language in the Hebrew Bible is God as the parent and Israel as the very poorly behaved child, running away from God, making bad choices, dealing with the consequences, turning back to God. 

The way Jesus calls God Father, here in this prayer, and elsewhere in scripture, comes from the Hebrew understanding that God is the father of Israel, the way we would say perhaps George Washington is the father of the US. 

Jesus makes it more personal. It is more than the collective nation of Israel who is God’s child. You are God’s child. And you are. And you are. Jesus spoke of God the parent often, as a relationship he had with God and that we understand because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. 

The other gods who were worshiped in the ancient world were not seen as family. If they had children, those children were demi-gcds and not humans like us—think of your Greek and Roman mythology. The other gods were distant, capricious, and in need of appeasement. Nobody called them daddy. 

To be in a family is to know complication. Even the best families have their pain and challenge. And the ones that look perfect on instagram may not be as happy behind closed doors. 

And some of the closest family relationships are the ones we choose. The sisters and brothers who accept and love us when our own families don’t know how to. 

Let’s acknowledge that family life isn’t always easy. 

So as we begin to pray the Lord’s Prayer, we do so by making a claim that we worship a God who adopted us into their family. And that being family is sometimes complicated. 

As Paul said in the 8th chapter of the book of Romans: 

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…..”

Adoption. As many of you know, that is something very close to my heart. I was adopted as an infant. I also placed a child for adoption. 

George and Esther adopted me, not because I had any discernible talents or gifts to offer their family when I was a one month old baby, but because they prayed for a child and I needed a family. 

a few weeks after my adoption, Christmas 1968

In Washington, they would usually place babies across the state, so Seattle babies would go to Spokane, etc. But I was a Spokane baby placed  in Spokane because my parents said they would take a child with special needs, and there was concern I would have them because my birth mother was older and there were other health risks in her family. 

That is what it is to be children of God. We are claimed by God, not because of who we are or what we bring to the table, but because that is who God is—Abba God bringing us home so we will no longer be orphans, because we need a home. Paul goes on to say, “If God is for us, who is against us?

It is a humbling thing to consider. 

To pray “Our Father” is, first of all, a moment to pause in gratitude. We have been brought into God’s family and are nurtured, held, loved, and cared for by God who created the universe. 

It’s also why we pray “Our Father in Heaven” and not just “hey daddy”. We are in God’s family, but we are not God in the heavens. 

Have you seen the images this week from the James Webb telescope?  That’s your assignment this week. Look at those images and marvel at them. This telescope has brought back images that are billions of light years old. The first image I saw shows a clearly focused star. In that one picture are more than 250 different galaxies. When that image is zoomed out, and you see how massive the universe is. And you see how small we really are in it.  

This is the cropped image of a star. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images) Handout/Getty Images

As the psalmist said, thousands of years before we had the James Webb telescope:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of us,
mortals that you care for us?

As we pray “our Father” each week, we are also reminded that God cares for us mortals. And while we are God’s family, we are not the only members of God’s family. 

When we limit who we invite to God’s Table, to God’s house, to God’s baptismal waters, or to God’s coffee hour, for that matter, we forget the very first words we pray each week. If God is our father, then every single person we meet is family, and worthy of God’s welcome, God’s shelter, God’s love, God’s cookies at coffee hour. 

There is not a person you will meet, or see on the news, who is not always and already loved by God as family. They may not reflect God’s love back to us in their behavior, but it doesn’t make them any less family. 

I mentioned that family is complicated, right?

When we pray “Our Father”, it calls us back to how we see each other, and see those outside our walls, outside our identities, outside our political parties, tribes, and world views. 

Because we pray “Our Father”, we volunteer to help our family at the food pantry and with our Matthew 25 partners. 

Because we pray “Our Father”, we work so all our siblings will have access to housing, to health, to reproductive care, to food, to education, to safety from gun violence, to opportunities to thrive and flourish in this world. 

Because we pray “Our Father”, we never rule out hope for reconciliation when we are estranged from others. 

After we say “Our father in heaven”, we then say “hallowed be thy name”. Which is just an old fashioned, King James English-y, way of saying “holy is your name”. 

To acknowledge God’s name is holy is not unrelated to the images from space this past week. God in heaven, who made the heavens, is categorically different from us. To say ‘holy is your name’ is to be reminded that there is a God, and we are not her. 

In Hebrew, and in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, and would have prayed this prayer in, to make something holy, you set it apart, held apart for a specific purpose. 

Holiness is something God possesses that is contagious, in a good way. In Leviticus, where the holiness codes are laid out, God says “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev 19:2)

It means we set space apart inside of us, in which God’s holiness can dwell. As Neil Douglas-Klotz, one commentator on this passage, writes, “the inner shrine by which God’s name is hallowed can be developed only through letting go, releasing some of the clutter inside that keeps us too busy to be silent and receptive to the ‘still small voice’.”

We are called to acknowledge the holiness of God’s name outside of us, recognizing that God can and will do things that are beyond our agendas or our understanding. It also means we clear space for God’s holiness to dwell within us. 

So I invite us to spend time this week in silence, leaving space for God’s holiness to dwell in us. And we’ll start now. Put your feet on the floor, close your eyes. Let go of the tension you’re holding in your body. 

Breathe in God’s holy love. 

Breathe out God’s love for the world. 

Breathe in. 

Breathe out. 

And hear this prayer adapted from Douglas-Klotz’s book: 

Focus your light within us, God. Make it useful:
as the rays of a beacon
show the way. 

Help us breathe one holy breath
feeling only you. 

Help us let go, clear the space inside
of busy forgetfulness: where you can
come to live. 

Your name, your sound can move us
if we tune our hearts as instruments
for its tone. 

Hear the Sound that created all others,
in this way your Name is hallowed
in silence. 

In peace you reside:
a ‘room of one’s own’, a holy of holies,
open, giving light, to all. 

We all look elsewhere for this light—
it draws us out of ourselves—but your Name
always lives within us. 

Focus your light within us—make it useful. 


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