“He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Over the next four weeks we will become familiar with this morning’s gospel reading from Luke as Jesus responds to his disciples when they request that he teach them how to pray. We are in our first week of a sermon series called God Sized Prayers. Today’s focal point is the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. Father, hallowed be your name. In each subsequent week we’ll look in depth at the petitions that follow. In addition to morning worship, we are working with this text each Wednesday night at 6:45 pm in the fellowship hall in Bible study. All of you are invited to that study.
In these past couple of months, my two and a half year old nephew Hudson has been at work doing something that I assume goes on in every family, sooner or later. As the first grandchild and great grandchild in the family, he has the important task of naming all those around him. The names that he uses for his parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, and uncles will likely stick for all those who grow up after him. Keeli and I have had much conversation about what names we might want as his aunt and uncle. The verdict is still out on which names he will use!
I imagine many of you have been named by your children or grandchildren and perhaps despite your most ardent efforts to change a nickname, it sticks years after it was first given. Names give identity. To have a name is to be in relationship with someone. To walk down the street or down the aisle at the grocery store and have someone call out your name is to live in community.
In Bible study this past week, I asked the group what names have we given God? Holy and Everlasting God. What names has the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us given God? Good Shepherd. Lord of Lords. The Lord Our Righteousness. How did Paul name God in his letters of encouragement and exhortation to churches across the Mediterranean? King of kings. Savior. Messiah. How did Jesus address God in his prayers for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane? Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me. How did the ancient scribes identify the one who is Creator of both Heaven and Earth who filled us with the very breath of life? Elohim. El Shaddai.
The names that our faith has given God is an expression of the relationship which we hold. Oh how much a name can express: our high hopes for salvation, the intimate bond of a parent to child, the sovereignty of the One who is over life and death, the imminence of One who knows us by name and calls us into right relationship, or the transcendence of One that we come to know through baptism and Holy Communion. And so as Jesus responds to the request of his disciples who want to know how to pray, Jesus names God as Father and describes God as holy, and set apart but still known to us with the nearness of a parent, sibling, or close friend.
One of the distinct marks of the Christian faith is the ability to have a relationship with the Living God, to know the name of God. If God was the watchmaker that designed the watch, set in motion, and let it tick, while walking away, then what need would there be to know this God’s name? But for God who remains active in history and our lives, we need to know the name that is the center of our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and intercession for others.
In the Old Testament, the community’s relationship with God was often couched this way referring back to forebearers who had wrestled with and established covenant with God. God is the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, and the God of Abraham. God’s promises to the ancestral forebearers often served as credibility to intercede on behalf of the community’s present trouble. This is how the Exodus story begins to unfold. Moses flees Egypt after striking an Egyptian overseer dead. He rests in the land of Midian where he ends up having a family with Zipporah and Gershom. While Moses is away from Egypt, God hears the cries and suffering of the people there and is reminded of the covenant that was established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God then appears to Moses in the burning bush as Moses is tending his father in law’s flock. God speaks to him: I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God promises to lead his people of Egypt with an outstretched arm for God has
heard their suffering. Moses banters back and forth a bit suggesting there might be others more equipped for the task at hand. But God persists.
Then Moses presents a hypothetical scenario: God, what if I tell the people that you have sent me and they want to know who you are, what shall I tell them? I am who I am/I will be who I will be. This is my name forever and this my title for all generations.
A divine name is given here to Moses and to the children of Israel suffering in Egypt. The name is an assertion of existence and a promise of existence in whatever the future might bring. This name of God has stirred up centuries worth of linguistic debate over exact translation and over whether the name of God can be fully written or spoken in Judaic traditions. The name is holy and set apart from the ordinary and is treated as such.
In the Gospel of John, we will see I Am used regularly by Jesus in ministry helping his disciples hear the ancient name anew in his life, death, and resurrection. For Jesus to identify himself as I Am seven times in John’s gospel is a personal identification as God in human form. To claim identity as the God of Abraham is heard as an outrageous blasphemous claim to the crowds around Jesus. At the height of one of these episodes when Jesus proclaims I Am, the crowds take up stones to kill him in the temple before he makes his way to safety through the confusion.
There is power in this name, and to misappropriate it is most contentious in the biblical narrative.
I’m reminded of the story of Paul traveling throughout the Mediterranean after his Damascus Road experience encountering the Living Christ. Paul arrives in Athens, perhaps the most renowned center of philosophy in the ancient world, and begins teaching in the local synagogues. He is telling the story of God in Jesus Christ in the midst of Epicurean and Stoic schools of philosophy. As a response to Paul, those gathered note that he is proclaiming a strange deity, one that they do not know.
They press him to come to a public place near the Acropolis to explain further the life, death, and ministry of Jesus that he had been proclaiming. When Paul begins to preach, he acknowledges the religious worship of the men of Athens and points out the inscription on a nearby altar. The inscription dedicated the place of worship to an unknown God. Paul proclaims that the God they worship is not unknown as the inscription suggests but rather the Almighty God whose nature and identity is shown in Jesus Christ. Paul gives a name to the God who was thought to be unknown.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, Deborah, and Paul is the same living God we proclaim at this communion table and to whom we pray when we encounter the unimaginable or offer thanksgiving for experiences of grace. God in Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of creation, is the One whom we converse with when I visit in your homes, to hear your stories of faith, to offer words of comfort in the midst of illness, and to seek divine vision for our life together.
It is certainly a privilege as pastor to lead this holy conversation with God on the church’s behalf. But what I’m discovering is that are those among us who have learned well through trial and error how to have this life giving conversation with God. You go to God to lift up the ministries of the church, to remind God that your family members and neighbors are very sick, and to seek the things in this world that are important to God. This is what I would love to see in every one of you, an ease in conversing with God about your life, family, what’s going on in your neighborhood, and to be able to listen when God speaks through a thin place.
Prayer is nothing more and nothing less than carrying a conversation with the Everlasting One who knows your name and wants to live in relationship with you. At times I think the church universal has done less than an outstanding job in helping those who want to follow Jesus learn how to pray. We’ve built expectations around it like who can pray, what we can pray for, where we can pray, when we can pray. What if I use the wrong words? Isn’t that the pastor’s job? How do I know if God is listening? What about that time when I tried to pray and God didn’t answer my prayer?
If these are your questions, I encourage you to begin with the Lord’s Prayer, at least once a day and in all things seek the love of God that is for you and the world.
Let me conclude with these assuring words of John Wesley instructing his church on the life of prayer.
“God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air. Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.
All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice. Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things. In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer. For these desires, being the genuine fruits of love, are the most perfect prayers that can spring from it.”
Bless you in the holy name of I Am. Amen.