Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
The text for our attention this morning and throughout much of this summer is Matthew 6:7-13 which reads as follows: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
If I counted correctly, Jesus repeated Himself three times saying, “when you pray…” “When you pray you must not be like the hypocrites…” “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door…” “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases…” Jesus is assuming that you pray.
After all, the hypocrites pray. The Gentiles who are unbelievers pray. Certainly, you pray. But, Jesus says, “when you pray…” don’t pray like they do. They pray to be seen and heard by other people. You pray to be seen and heard by God. “Pray to your Father who is in secret…” “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven…”
The tricky thing about preaching on “Prayer” is that even though it is a precious, gracious, divine gift that God gives to His believers, we have to be told, commanded, to take it and use it. And not because we’re too humble; ‘oh, no really, I couldn’t, I don’t want to bother God.’ But because we’re lazy, undisciplined, unappreciative, we don’t believe it’s important.
Our lack of desire to pray has to be one of the most damning pieces of evidence there is of what sin has done. We usually think of ‘sin’ in terms of the bad things that we do. But the fact that we lack interest in and despise this gracious gift that God gives to us is a tell-tale sign of the way sin has twisted and turned us against God.
And so we must be commanded to pray. We must actually be threatened that if we do not pray we sin against God and deserve His punishment.
If you want to check the official law about this, you can find it under the ‘2nd Commandment.’ “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” “What does this mean?” “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name, but CALL UPON HIM IN EVERY TROUBLE , PRAY, PRAISE AND GIVE THANKS.”
Really, what does it say about us, that the almighty God must get down on His hands and knees and begs us to take His gift? “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you…” (Ps.50:15). And we say, ‘only as a last resort.’ “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 6:7-11) And we say, ‘if I ever get that desperate.’
Really, what does this say about the Triune God, that He humbles Himself and begs us to take the precious gift of His holy Name so that we may call upon HIM? HIM and not an anonymous ‘higher power’ or ‘spiritual force,’ or ‘god how ever you imagine god to be.’
He sends His Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel and creates in us the desire to ‘call back’ to that gracious and loving voice that we hear in the Word. And in our desire to cry out to God, we say, ‘But I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to ask for. Teach me how to pray.’ And the Holy Spirit directs us to Jesus, who says, “Pray then like this…” “Our Father, in heaven…”
And with these words, the gates of heaven itself are thrown opened to us. At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, St. Luke reports, “as He was praying, the heavens were opened, and a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” Over and over again throughout the gospels, Jesus refers to God as “My Father.”
Isn’t it the most amazing thing then, that Jesus invites us to call upon the Father, who is “who is in heaven,” as OUR Father. It is as though Jesus is giving us His own identity before the Father and says that we should consider His Father to be OUR Father.
Which can only mean that we poor, miserable sinners, are “loved” by the Father as He is the “beloved” of the Father. That the Father is as “well pleased” with us He is with Jesus.
This can only mean that all of our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west; atoned for, because Jesus carried all our sins away in His body on the cross; even our sins against the 2nd Commandment.
And isn’t this why we only dare pray in the name of the Jesus, who has reconciled the Father to us by His blood shed for us. “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” He says. Because no one is acceptable to the Father except the one who believes in Me and comes in My Name.
St. John writes to the church, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1John 3:1) And not just ‘in name only,’ but through Holy Baptism where we born anew; we are “Fathered” by God; not ‘metaphorically speaking,’ but in ‘reality.’ No one comes to the Father on the basis of ‘metaphors.’
By the same ‘reality’ by which He created everything out of nothing in the beginning, by the power of His Word, He has spoken that same creative Word upon you, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul states the new ‘reality’ of your life like this, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Of course what that means is that this new ‘reality’ of ‘sonship’ is conferred upon all who are Baptized. And we all know what men and women, boys and girls who all have the same father are called. We are brothers and sisters, we are family, the family of God. He is OUR Father.
Just think about that. When we pray as our Lord has taught us, “OUR FATHER,” we pray with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and David and Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and Paul and all of the children of God, past, present and future, the one, holy Church.
We come before God the Father in the name of God the Son, “to ask as dear children ask their dear father.”
How often have we heard someone say, “I pray. I pray to a ‘higher power’ or ‘a deity that is out there somewhere’ and I hope that my prayers are heard.” Maybe we have even had that thought ourselves a time or two.
We acknowledge that we are in trouble and need help because, guess what, we don’t have all of the answers like we thought we did;
that we have sinned and need forgiveness because the guilt is wearing us out;
that we have been blessed and we need to give thanks to the Giver.
And so we pray, either with words or with thoughts. And we wonder, is there anyone out there? Is there anyone who hears me and who will answer me?
But here, in the Lord’s Prayer, everything gets turned completely around. Here is God, who has come down from the outer limits of time and space. Who has come into our world, into our life, into our trouble, into our sorrows, into our joys.
And suddenly we realize that this is God who is calling out to us. That this is not God who is far away from us whose attention we must somehow get so that He will hear us. No, in Jesus Christ we realize that it is we who are far away from God, and He comes to us. And not as an impersonal, anonymous spirit, but with His NAME and His BODY and His BLOOD. The Father who is in heaven has come this to us in His Son who says, “I am with you.”
And that’s why we don’t need to shout or dance or waive our hands to attract His attention. We always have it.
This means that when we pray, we do so with the confidence that this is never a ‘shot in the dark’ launched to a “cosmic power,” or “nameless deity,” who we are trying to find. We pray with the confidence that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ knows us, has found us, and always HEARS US and says, “Pray then like this, ‘Our Father in heaven.’”
And this leads right to something else that Jesus says about prayer. You know how it is when you really KNOW someone or when someone really knows you. You know what they’re thinking and what they want without them actually having to say it. You can actually finish their sentences for them, and isn’t that annoying.
So, if we can know one another this well, shouldn’t we expect that God OUR FATHER know us even better? In fact, Jesus says, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
This means that when we pray, we should not think that we are bringing something to the Father that is new to Him or that He does not already know about us. There’s no need for us to feel that we need to give all kinds of reasons or explanations or pray louder or longer in order to instruct Him or persuade Him. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And He knows what we really need better than we do.
Left to our own, we pray for what we may think we need, but which, more often than not, is actually what we do not need. We are worried, and instead of praying for real peace and contentment, we pray for more money which only leads to more worry. We have certain desires for things that we think we cannot live without, but instead of praying for real freedom, we pray for more of the very things that control us.
But no matter how long and loud we ramble on to the Father in prayer, He will not for one moment be diverted from giving us what we truly need. He is after all, our Father IN HEAVEN.
To which we should respond with utter relief and heartfelt thanks to God.
Thanks that our prayer does not depend on our expressing everything correctly, or on making the correct diagnosis of our real problem that even we don’t understand.
Thanks that our prayers so often go unanswered with the answer that we were looking for.
Thanks that our Father IN HEAVEN knows what is best for me, and works all things for GOOD for me, even at the cost of His only-begotten Son, crucified on the cross.
Jesus says, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven…” Simply put, “with these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear