The prayer that Jesus taught

Good morning, Friends!

We’ve had a break for a couple of weeks from our usual worship. We had a wonderful music Sunday. And last week, we had a wonderful youth Sunday.

We’re really into summer now. And for the next few weeks, I want to invite you all to learn some more about prayer.

We’re going to start, by looking at the prayer that Jesus taught. There’s nothing better. You can’t improve on the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s one of the few things that all Christians agree on. We may disagree about all kinds of other things. But the prayer that Jesus taught is really the bedrock that all of us stand on, together.

The Lord’s Prayer is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which many people feel is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us all the basics, all the things we need.

Jesus talks about our blessings. He talks about the higher way, the deeper way, to understand religion. It’s where he talks about letting our light shine, about always telling the truth.

It’s where Jesus talks about turning the other cheek, about loving our neighbor and going the extra mile. And Jesus talks about prayer – how to do it, where to do it, and who we’re talking to.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans. They think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:1-15

The Lord’s Prayer is simple. A child can easily memorize it. In fact, we encourage families to learn the Lord’s Prayer together. In many families, parents teach their children to say it as a bedtime prayer, or as a grace at table.

It’s the pray that everyone learns in Sunday School. It’s the prayer that’s always appropriate, for every occasion. If you believe your Bible, it’s the prayer that Jesus himself taught, and that he told his disciples to learn.

But it’s more than just a simple prayer. There’s a depth to it. There’s a power in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not something we should just rattle off.

It calls us to the depths. It tells us who God is, and who we are. When we don’t know what else to say, we can always say the Lord’s Prayer.

As I said before, it’s a part of a longer section, the Sermon on the Mount. And so we started out today, with some other things which Jesus also said about praying.

Don’t make a big show of praying in front of other people. Don’t be a show-off when you pray.

You’ve probably heard people talk about how they “dress to impress.” Well, Jesus said, don’t pray to impress. Don’t be watching out of the corner of your eye when you pray, to see if other people are admiring you.

Then Jesus said, when you give to the poor, don’t toot your own horn about it. Don’t congratulate yourself, or let other people say how generous you are.

There’s a very important connection here. Because in the Jewish tradition, which Jesus was a part of, giving to the poor is very important.

Giving thoughtfully to other people is actually another form of praying. It’s just as important – in many ways it’s more important, than the words you pray to God.

If you can’t think of how to pray, or what to pray for, just forget about the words for a while. Find someone who needs help, and help them. Give them something they need.

That’s a way to pray. Giving to someone who needs help, even if you don’t have very much to give, is better than asking God to help, and then forgetting about them.

Just don’t make a big show of it, Jesus said. Don’t make a big deal. Just help, any way you can.

And when you pray, Jesus said, don’t stand out on the street where everyone can see you. They may be impressed, but God’s not going to be impressed. Find a quiet place, where it’s just you and God together. God will hear your prayer, and God will reward you.

All this business about secrecy has sometimes made Christians too self-conscious about praying. Should we never pray in public? Should we never pray aloud?

I don’t think so. We always need to be thankful. Even in a busy restaurant, I always like to take a moment to be thankful, before eating. Even if it’s a silent grace, we can still hold hands, and thank God for the meal.

And there are times to pray in public. But every public prayer should be balanced, by a lot of private prayer, out of the public eye. A lot of the time, private prayer is better.

And then, Jesus said, you don’t need to repeat yourself. You don’t need to keep saying the same things, over and over. God heard you the first time. God actually knows what you’re asking for, even before you say the words.

Saying the words is actually important. When you say a prayer, you commit yourself. This is something you really want. This is something you believe in your heart that God can really do.

Don’t be afraid if you stumble around with the words when you pray. Don’t be afraid to tell God what you really feel. God’s big enough to handle it. And God’s smart enough to fill in the blanks.

But when you pray to God, you’re saying, “I want this! And I think, Lord, that you want it, too. And with all my heart and mind, I think you can make this happen.”

So, then we get to the Lord’s Prayer, to the prayer that Jesus taught.

It’s simple. But it’s deep. We can spend our whole lives, learning how to say it, how to feel it, how to believe in it.

Jesus says that God is our Father. And that means a lot of things. God is our creator. God is the one who give every one of us the breath of life.

We didn’t make this world. God did. God was here when the world was formed, at the first sunrise, when the stars first began to shine. God was here at the beginning of all things. God was here before the beginning. God was the first word. And God is the never-ending word.

When we pray, “Our Father,” we’re acknowledging that. And – if God is our Father, then God is the Father of every human being. If we all have the same Father, then that means we’re all brothers and sisters.

You see where this gets us? And those are just the first two words of the prayer.

Jesus told a story once, about a son who ran away from his father. Grabbed whatever he could take, and ran away to another country. Wasted his inheritance. Wasted what his father had planned to give him. And wound up with nothing left.

You all know this story? Jesus said this young person came to himself – shook himself – slapped himself – and said, “I’m starving on the street. Nobody here cares whether I live or die. I’m going to try and go back home again. I’ve thrown away everything my father gave me. Maybe I can be a servant instead. Maybe I can do grunt work, dirty work, just for something to eat and a place to lay my head.”

Started back, and do you remember what happened? His father came running to meet him. His father hugged him, like he’d never let him go. “That,” said Jesus, “is what God is really like. God is your father, who comes running to meet you. The first step you take back, God is already halfway there.”

Our Father in heaven, may your name always be kept holy. . .”

There’s a tension going on here. In the Jewish tradition, God’s name was too holy for anyone ever to say it out loud.

When Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, they staked off the rest of the mountain so no one else would try to climb it. No one could come near to God and survive the experience.

In the Temple, God always stayed hidden in the innermost chamber, the Holy of Holies, behind a curtain. No one could see the face of God and live.

So, Jesus is calling this dangerous, unapproachable God, Father. Instead of a name which no one could ever say out loud, Jesus says, “He’s my Father. He’s your Father. He’s everyone’s Father.”

And, to backtrack about a month ago here at worship, if you were here, you heard me say that there are plenty of places in the Bible where it says that God is like a mother, too. It’s not the gender, it’s the relationship. It’s the love.

May your kingdom come. . .”

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of God. It’s not heaven. It’s more like bringing heaven down here on earth.

Nation will not rise up against nation. People won’t want to go to war any more.

The crazy rich will get their wings trimmed. Poor people will have enough again.

Prisoners will be set free, from jails and addictions. The deaf will hear, the lame will walk, the blind will see. People will have human hearts, instead of hearts of stone. Everyone will hear the good news.

When we pray, “May your kingdom come,” we’re committing ourselves to work for it. Every time we share, even if it’s just a cup of cold water, it’s a sign of hope.

Even if it’s only one child who benefits, then it’s worth doing. If we can share each others’ burdens. If we can hold someone else’s hand. If we can lift one heart, or open one set of eyes, we’re working for God’s kingdom.

May your kingdom come; may your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. . .”

Our Father calls the shots up in Heaven. Up there, it’s always done God’s way.

Down here – well, not so much. God’s will only gets done part of the time. But more often than we think. If we keep our eyes open, we see signs of God’s kingdom in all kinds of places. It’s happening here, too. But we pray for God’s kingdom to break into our world, more and more, every time we pray.

Human beings always tend to get ahead of ourselves. We jump past where we are, and have big dreams about the future. “Give us today our daily bread” is the part of the prayer that brings us back to earth.

We all have needs. We can’t do it all on our own. The majority of people in our country today live paycheck to paycheck. When Jesus was teaching, the majority of people were living from day to day.

When the people of Israel were wandering in the desert, they had no home, and no fields to farm. They depended on God, who gave them manna, bread from heaven, fresh every morning.

If God forgot about them, they would have starved to death. For 40 years, there was manna, every day. There was enough for everyone. No one went hungry.

Jesus was reminding people of that desert experience. Jesus said, “You know, you need more than just bread on the table. You need the living bread, the word of God, every day.”

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, that’s what we’re asking for. We want God’s word, in our hearts, every day.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

That’s a tough one. We want to be forgiven, but we’re slow to forgive.

According to Jesus, this is non-negotiable. The yardstick we use on everybody else, is the one God will use on us. God has forgiven us so much. And yet we can’t let go of things which are little or nothing by comparison.

When we pray to be forgiven, there’s a price tag. Forgive everybody else, whatever it is.

Hate is too heavy a burden to carry. If you want to get into heaven, you need to leave your hate behind. Start today, and live that way.

Lead us not into temptation. . .”

That’s a tough one to understand. I don’t think that God tempts us. That doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that God would do.

The way I understand this part is, “God, wherever you lead me, please don’t let me be tested to the breaking point. You know how strong I am, and you know how weak I am. Please guide me away from evil, and help me to be stronger than I think I am.”

That’s the prayer that Jesus taught us. It’s simple, but there’s always more we can learn.

Pray it often. Pray like you want every word of it to come true. And remember – the kingdom, the power and the glory, are God’s forever. Amen.

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