Thursday, November 10, 2005

4a. The ______ Prayer

Ever heard the saying, “If you rub the cat the wrong way you can always turn the cat around?” Absurd, yet true. Of course, one may stop rubbing the cat . . . but these conjectures lead us away from our subject . . .

How about this one: “Let us say the Lord’s Prayer . . .” Anyone ever said it?

I’m the guy who sits somewhere near the front, scratching his head wondering how “Our Father who art in heaven . . .” got to be named “the Lord’s Prayer.” I know. I could crack open one of my books to find the answer—but I am more interested to know why others aren’t asking the same question.

Think about it: The Lord’s Prayer.

1) THE Lord’s Prayer? I can’t seem to find in my Bible any place that says, “No other prayer but this one, folks.” Since I find more warnings about empty and repetitious prayers I am not convinced there is any one particular prayer that Jesus says MUST be prayed. Matthew 6:9ff is a model for praying, not a prayer in itself: “pray in this way” as opposed to “pray these words”

2) The LORD’s Prayer? Which one? Jesus prayed a lot—and most are not even recorded!

3) The Lord’s PRAYER? I suppose if any prayer could be stand out as that prayer that was from the Lord would be the one offered in the Garden of Gethsemane, starting in John 17.

The “Our Father” prayer should better be thought of as “the Disciple’s Prayer.” I say this for three reasons:

1) Frequency: Jesus brought it up twice to His disciples: once as recorded in Matthew 6 (verses 9-13) and again as recorded in Luke 11 (verses1-4).

2) Occasion: Jesus was teaching:

Matthew 6: Jesus has just called the twelve. In preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses those who inherit the Kingdom, pronounces woes to those who do not (5:1-12); confirms the responsibilities of those who wait for the kingdom (5:13-16), discussing the relationship of law, righteousness and the kingdom (5:17-20) and gives six contrasts in interpreting the law (5:21-48). Next, Jesus teaching on three hypocritical practices to be avoided, one which concerns prayer and here we find this teaching (6:1-18).

Luke 11: Jesus commissions the seventy (10:1-16) and hears their report upon return (10:17-24). Jesus deals with neighborly issues in the story of the Samaritan, then He visits with Mary and Martha with the disciples (10:25-37). Luke then tells us, “And it happened as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught His disciples.” (11:1). So Jesus reviews what they have already heard.

3) Place:

Matthew 6 is early in Jesus’ ministry. The end of John the Baptist’s ministry roughly coincided with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Judea. Jesus was still in the region of Galilee when He brought up the prayer issue.

Luke 11 falls in the later Judean ministry of Jesus, following the Feast of Tabernacles.

Why bring all this up? Well, some churches have a tradition to recite “Our Father” as part of the worship service. Is this wrong? It is only wrong if reciting any other scripture passage is wrong—we share Bible memorization when we recite together! The practice of reading and reciting scripture is . . . scriptural!

I bring this up because we echo tradition calling this “the Lord’s Prayer.” It has become a vain repetition that means no more than the Pledge of Allegiance.

I pledge allegiance (pause)
To the flag (pause)
Of the United States of America (pause)
And to the republic (pause)
For which it stands (pause)
One nation (pause)
Under God (pause)
Indivisible (pause)
With liberty (pause)
And Justice for all. (pause)

We all say it the same way—exactly! I’ll bet that some of us have “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” playing in the background of our minds at the end of the pledge.

Our Father (pause)
Which art in Heaven (pause)
Hallow-ed be Thy Name. (pause)
Thy Kingdom Come (pause)
Thy Will be done (pause)
On earth (pause)
As it is in heaven (pause)
Give us this day (pause)
Our daily bread (pause)
And forgive us our trespasses (pause)
As we forgive our those who trespass against us (pause)
And lead us not into temptation (pause)
But deliver us from evil (pause)
For thine is the kingdom (pause)
And the power (pause)
And the glory (pause)
Forever. (pause)
Amen. (pause)

If Sandy Patti had not been singing already in the backgrounds of some of our minds by the time we reach “lead us not into temptation” then most of us will be hearing “The Doxology” (“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”) in our heads.

If this is “the Lord’s Prayer”, then what is God expected to do? What changes can we expect to see? Where do we look to find the answers to “the prayer?” How am I supposed to "be" having prayed this prayer?

The problem is two-fold: First, these passages of scripture are no only misunderstood but badly mislabeled. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan—who ever said the Samaritan was “Good?”
Second, we expect too little of God.

Know what I see?
1) This may be one of the only passages of scripture just about anyone knows.
2) As overused as it is, this passage never loses it’s shine.
3) This teaching on prayer is only the box—inside are tools to be used to help us talk to God about who He is, who we are in relation to Him and what we understand He is telling us to do—which is to bring His through Christ Jesus to the world.

So one has a choice: He can continue rubbing the wrong way, he can turn the cat around or stop rubbing altogether; that is, one may continue go against the biblical grain following tradition; or he can turn tradition around (!) and get it right . . . or one can stop praying altogether.

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