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09.16.18 When we Pray Matthew and Luke on Lord’s Prayer Sermon Summary

by on September 17, 2018

In all the best church programs that are sent to the office each week, there are five things in common. This is what we’re talking about this fall: the Practices of Faith.

The five practices are

  • meaningful Worship
  • Prayer in private and public
  • Service in the church and world
  • having Spiritual Friendships
  • knowing and applying the Bible

Last week we started our series with worship and we continue this week with prayer. If worship sets the week, prayer sets the day. Just as worship invites everyone, prayer evokes our whole self. In worship we love God and love our neighbors, in prayer we love God and love ourselves as God loves us.

Prayer is a proven practice of faith throughout the scripture, by all kinds of people, and in a variety of ways. We practice prayer over and over because it reframes our vision. In prayer we offer ourselves to God. Prayer gives us spiritual resources for managing anxiety, fear, loss, and overwhelming joy.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In the Gospel of Matthew, the teaching is embedded in the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, the disciples witness Jesus praying and they ask him to teach them. Jesus also modeled prayer as a practice, withdrawing often to pray and praying publically a number of times.

We’re looking at the Lord’s Prayer because it is a nearly universal practice of prayer. Not every Christian church prays the Lord’s Prayer, and those that do don’t agree on which version to use. That’s because the Lord’s Prayer you have memorized isn’t in the Bible.

In the Bible, just as in the churches, there are various ways to pray the Lord’s Prayer. The Gospel of Matthew has added “Who art in heaven,” and “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Much later, the ending we all know was added by liturgists who thought sin wasn’t a good way to conclude a prayer. Called the “closing doxology,” “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever,” it borrows from 1 Chronicles 29:11 where David prays, “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”

While disorienting, confusing, and perhaps troubling, this variety in the Lord’s Prayer dating all the way back to the Bible is actually good. It shows collaboration between Jesus and the disciples, and the ongoing evolution of prayer in the churches. The variety permits our own adaptation today. It also gives us an opportunity to trust God and love others as we practice the Lord’s Prayer in diverse ways.

And Jesus must have known all this change would happen, for he taught the prayer in the plural: Do something in committee and you’re bound to get diversity. Matthew added “Our” to the beginning “Father” so we wouldn’t miss it.

The variations in the Lord’s Prayer are another example of something we looked at last week: The distinction between practices and principles. Practices are those specific instructions on what to do. They may or may not translate easily to today. Principles are the enduring foundations for the practices, and they translate to today more readily. The differences in the Lord’s Prayer are matters of practice. It’s the principles that interest us in this series—principles that can help us to develop our own practice of prayer.

So, for example, “sins, debts, and trespasses.” Which is it? All three words appear in the Bible. All three have theological importance. Insisting on just one deprives ourselves of the value of the other two. For a fuller treatment of this issue, see my message from 05.13.12.

The point I want to make here is regarding the underlying principle. Matthew’s “debts” is probably the most literal translation of what Jesus likely said. In his Semitic context, speaking in Aramaic, Jesus probably said “debts,” but his audience would have understood him to mean “sins.” Luke, writing in a Greek context, made this change to “sins” for his audience, then switched back to language of “indebtedness.” It’s clear that Matthew also intends “debts” to refer to sin when he concludes the prayer with the warning, “Unless you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will not forgive you your trespasses.”

There are two principles to embrace here: One is that changing the language is OK. Luke did it for his context, and so can we. Second, there is a direct relationship between our God-relationship and our human-relationships. In all our prayers, our relationship with God and with others are related. God forgives us; we forgive each other. Our vertical and horizontal relationships are connected. And this applies not just to forgiveness, but to providence, delight, rejoicing, all of it. Whatever we talk to God about regarding our own lives, there’s an application to how we relate to others also.

Take another example: “Lead us not into temptation.” This rendition has been a stumbling block for many people, because James says God cannot lead us into temptation. (James 1:13) Last Advent the French Catholic Church rendered this petition as “Do not let us enter into temptation,” and it got the Pope’s blessing.

Back in 1988, a group of English speaking liturgists from many denominations (the English Language Liturgical Consultation) published this rendition to clarify the petition: “Save us from the time of trial.” The petition is indeed hard to translate, but these renditions bring out the principle: We need God’s strength on account of our weakness. See my sermon 05.20.12 for a fuller treatment of this petition.

In closing let us remember that Jesus taught us how to pray for God’s kingdom, and he lived according to that prayer. He concentrated his example at the Lord’s Table. Here we are reminded of our daily bread, and also that we live not by bread alone but by God’s Word.

I encourage you to use the Lord’s Prayer as a model for your own worship at home. Go ahead and change it to make it fit your life. Remember to keep the vertical and the horizontal dimensions together. And remember it’s not a question of which words to use, because prayer can occur even without any words at all. Instead prayer is simply our trusting God through anything and everything.

As an example, I leave you with this paraphrase from English liturgist Jim Cotter:

Eternal Spirit, Life-Giver, Pain-Bearer, Love-Maker,
Source of all that is and shall be,
Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The Hallowing of your name echoes through the universe!
The way of your Justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your Commonwealth of Peace and Freedom sustain our hope and come on earth!
With the bread that we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever.

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