Sermon: Teach Us to Pray, Our Father

It was a busy time for Jesus and his disciples. Since Peter, James and John experienced a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, Jesus and the disciples were traveling with a purpose. They were on a mission to get to Jerusalem. When they get there, the disciples believe Jesus will lead a revolution to overtake the religious authorities and Roman Empire. Instead, Jesus is on a journey that will take him to the cross.

This season of Lent allows us to experience what took place on this journey. As Luke describes it, this journey to Jerusalem featured a lot of different ministry. Previously, Jesus sent out two groups of people – the 12 disciples and a larger group of followers – into the mission field. He also taught the Parable of the Good Samaritan and visited Martha and Mary.

We join the journey at a place where we will remain for this season of Lent. It is here where we find Jesus after a time of prayer. It was typical for Jesus to spend time in prayer after a time of intense ministry. The disciples listened to Jesus as he prayed. They are curious. They want to have the same kind of prayer life Jesus has.

It is not just the disciples. It is us as well. We read Jesus’ prayers in Scripture and we feel God’s love, and we want to have that deep connection with God. We hear the prayers of some of the saints in our lives, and we want to pray like them. It is not just the disciples who want to pray deeply. It is us as well.

So, we go with the disciples as they approach Jesus to learn how to pray. We want Jesus to teach us how to pray. When the disciples approach Jesus with this request, it is the only time that someone goes to Jesus wanting to know how to pray. Jesus responds to the request, and ours as well, by giving us the Lord’s Prayer.

This prayer is beautiful and powerful and is as familiar to us as our own name. Throughout the centuries of our faith, this prayer has served as a centering point for our prayer life and worship. This prayer is the prayer Jesus gives us when we want to learn how to pray deeper.

The Lord’s Prayer is important enough for us not just to say it, but to know what it means. We want this prayer to not just be words we say, but words that challenge and encourage us to live as deeply committed followers of Christ in response to our faith and prayer life. However, before we can look at the Lord’s Prayer we need to take a moment to think about what it means to pray.

All of us have places where we like to pray. It might be a favorite chair or a spot in our yard. For me, one of my favorite places to pray is in the car when I’m by myself. Don’t worry: My eyes are not closed and my head is not bowed. Yet, my car is often a place of deep prayer for me. It is there where I can reflect on my life or things going on in the church. It is there where I can simply express to God what is on my heart. In these conversations, I also have a chance to not just talk but to listen for God to speak.

This experience may be familiar to many of you. At its root, prayer is about a conversation between us and God. When we pray, we express our heart, pains, hurts, and deepest struggles with our God who listens and hears our prayers. Prayer is our way of communicating with God. The word with is key. Prayer is not a one-way communication where we do all the talking. Prayer is as much about listening as it is about us talking.

Prayer is also about connecting our heart with God’s desires. When we pray, we listen for God’s will. Scripture tells us prayer is about seeking God’s action in the world. We often think everything in the world is predetermined. That every event or action has already been laid out, but that is not the case. God hears our prayers. John Wesley said God does not act but except through answering prayers. We may not always like the answers, but our prayers matter and God hears our heart-felt prayers. Through all of this, prayer is something we cannot live without. To be Jesus’ disciple, we must be a praying disciple.

That gives us the background for our prayer and allows us to enter this time of going deeply into the Lord’s Prayer. Remember, Jesus gave us this prayer because our prayers matter to God and to one another.

This helps us see that the Lord’s Prayer is not a prayer for one’s self. It is a prayer for all, and this prayer reminds us that we are in community with one another. We never pray for our own needs. We are praying for the needs of our friends, neighbors, strangers, and enemies. We pray these words on behalf of the entire world, because it is a prayer that is more about we and God than I and God. In a world that finds new places of division on an almost daily basis, the Lord’s Prayer reminds us we are to pray for and be concerned about all people.

This communal prayer begins in an uncomfortable way for some. It begins with “Our Father.” When many struggle with relationships with their fathers and a time when many fathers do not live up to their responsibilities, the opening lines have prevented some from connecting to the God of holy and unconditional love.

In my time with you, I have been open about my own struggles. I never knew my biological father. He was out of my life when I was Noah’s age. Alcohol and poor choices led to his decision to kill himself when I was 3. My step-father never truly liked me. When he nearly died due to a brain aneurysm, it was my mother and I who took his wrath of blame, both emotionally and physically.

For the longest time, I struggled to see God as Father because I never knew what it meant to know a father’s love. It took years for me to realize this love and it only came about when I saw that there were people who loved me unconditionally. That helped me to see God as a Father who loves all unconditionally.

That is why Jesus opens the Lord’s Prayer with the words “Father” – to connect us to something we need and invite us into a reality that is beyond our imagination. These words reminds us that we pray to the One whose love is like a father’s true and unconditional love for his children. We do not pray to a god who is absent from our lives. We pray to the God who loves us unconditionally. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love, much in the same way our children can do nothing to keep us from loving them.

When we pray the word “father,” we are connecting with the truth that our faith is built upon an intimate connection with God. Faith is not merely about intellectual pursuits and beliefs. We claim a faith that is about an intimate and personal relationship with God. This relationship is built on trust and love. It is also built on this truth: We did not seek out God first; God sought us out. It is God who created us. God who brought us into his family. God who shed his love upon the world by sending Jesus to love the unlovable and to walk with people the world says should be left alone. We are brought into a relationship with the father that is an intimate expression of God’s love for all.

Focusing on this relationship with God is not about my relationship or your relationship with God. This is about our relationship with the Father. God is the God of all. When we pray “Our Father,” we are connecting with the truth that God is not just the Father of those who show up to church on Sunday mornings, say a few prayers, or pick up a Scripture passage here and there. God is the God of the heroin addict, the political opponent, and the person who believes that faith is no longer relevant in the world today. We pray these words on behalf of all people, because God invites all people to experience this intimate relationship with the One who loves us and desires us to experience a life that is beyond all imagination. No one is excluded from the Father’s love.

As we pray these words “Our Father,” we are called to live out these words. Faith is not just about a personal relationship with the Father. It is also about a public faith that gives witness to our life in the Father’s love. Prayer is not just words we say, but words we live out. We are called to live out our prayers by being a witness of the Father’s love to all people. We cannot live out our prayers if we excluded ourselves from people based on our differences or believes. We must be willing to love as the Father love. We do this by loving the unlovable, by welcoming the political other, by caring for the social outcast, by comforting the student who feels unaccepted, by building relationships with the family who feels alone, by walking with the person who is living with their bad decisions. If we want to pray the words “Our Father,” then we must be willing to love like our Father.

What helps us to do is this by daily seeking out our relationship with the Father. Being a disciple calls us to grow daily in the Father’s love. We never stop growing. We can never believe we have reached the zenith of our spiritual journey with the Father. There are always places where God is teaching us how to love and serve more deeply. The journey with the Father is a daily journey of seeking the Father’s love and sharing it with others.

The good news is that we are on this journey together. We are not solo disciples growing in the Father’s love and learning how to share this love with all people. We are a community built upon the radical statement that God desires to be in relationship with all people, including you and me. We are made for community that is centered on the Father’s love and growing with one another. Growing in the Father’s love cannot happen as an individual pursuit. God gave us a community known as the church so that we may experience the Father’s love together.

The words “Our Father” are just not that simple, are they? The opening to this powerful prayer reminds us of an intimacy with God and our desire to share that intimacy with others. They also remind us to grow daily in the Father’s love by surrounding ourselves with others on this journey as well.

The good news is that the Father’s love is all around us. As we pray “Our Father,” may you know “how deep the Father’s love for us” and may you share that love with all the people you meet.

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