1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever 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. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.9“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Welcome to Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. It is a time of slowing down and looking at the truth about our lives. That we are mortal. That death is a reality of this life. For some of us that reality is so far off, tonight feels like rain on your parade. But for some of us that reality of death is so crystal clear and close that tonight simply feels like the truth. An affirmation of what you already know is true. Death is real. And it comes for all of us. Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says that Ash Wednesday is the day when we all get to attend our own funeral, when we hear the words – you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Ash Wednesday and Lent is also a time when we are reminded that we are broken. That we are people who do things that we wish would have never done. And that’s not to say how immoral and bad we are. It is to simply to say how stuck we are. As the Apostle Paul says, “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do. And why don’t I do the things I do want to do?” Ash Wednesday and Lent are a time of reflection about our lives and where God might be calling us to change. And it is also a season that has been focused on prayer.
Which is our focus for this year. So during this Lenten season we are going to continue our emphasis on prayer by spending time with THE prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. What better way to learn how to pray then from the prayer that Jesus taught us. It probably doesn’t get much better than that.
And this prayer comes from Scripture. It comes from Jesus talking with his disciples and and he teaches them how to pray.
And I was struck by what Jesus had to say. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”
Do not heap up empty phrases. Do you ever feel like your prayers are just empty? Hollow? I do. Sometimes I’m not sure what to say, so I just start saying anything, but eventually I realize none of it is what I really want to say to God. But rather it is what I think I should say to God. So for Jesus, the whole point is that our words might mean something, rather then for them to be empty phrases. Jesus wants our prayers to be full. Full of meaning. Full of truth. Full of honesty and openness.
But I have to be honest – the Lord’s Prayer is probably the prayer that has been most empty in my life. Because we say it so often that I can become numb to it. I can say without even thinking. In fact, I know it so well that I don’t have to think about it, so that when I actually do start to think about it, I can’t remember it.
So, the Lord’s Prayer, I think, can become just habit for us where we don’t think about what we are saying or what it means.
But then when you say the Lord’s Prayer by the bedside of a loved one who is dying, it swells with meaning and we are so easily moved to tears. So it is this prayer that holds such deep rich meaning for us too.
There is no doubt it my mind that the Lord’s Prayer holds deep meaning for many of us. My hope is that during this Lenten season, we might be reawakened to what it means and can mean for us.
So, we will start with the first phrase tonight – Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name.
A couple of reflections. To get to some deeper meaning, all we have to do is get to the first word. Our.
What does “our” mean? It implies many people. It implies a community. It is two or more people. It means we are not alone when we pray this prayer. It means that God is not my Father, but that God is our Father. I don’t get to own God. God is not mine. We are all part of something larger than ourselves. If God is our Father, then what does that make us? It makes us family. All people then are our family. Therefore, we are reminded that we are part of a community, a people of faith.
The next word – Our Father. What Jesus gives to his disciples is a way of looking at God. Not God as King. Not God as Ruler. Not God as Boss man in the sky. But God as parent. Which reflects a relationship. A loving relationship. At the bagel shop, there is a picture of Jesus and it says “Our Employer,” or “Our Boss”, but think about the difference of thinking about God as our boss verses God as our parent.
Now Jesus lived in a patriarchal society where men were in charge and women were property, so it makes sense that Jesus would say “Father” instead of “Mother”, but this is not to say that God is a man. It is to say that God is like a parent. I know some people who have had really painful relationships with their father’s, due to abuse or their father being absent from their life. The word father can have some really painful feelings with it. And so for them it can be hard to say Our Father, because does that mean that God is like their dad? No. God is like a loving parent. We could just as easily say, Our Mother who art in Heaven. God is not male or female. But God gives a parental kind of love to us.
Our Father who art in Heaven. Now, I don’t think this is meant to give a location for God. I don’t think it is to say that God lives in heaven and is therefore far away from us. To say Our Father who art in Heaven is to remind us how big God is. That while God is our parent, close and loving, God is also the creator of all things – the heavens. God is broader and bigger than we could ever imagine.
Hallowed by thy name. May your name be holy. This is not so much as us respecting God’s name. Not swearing with God’s name and all of that. But that God would keep God’s name holy – meaning that God would continue to be Father and a Mother to us.
Sometimes, we have to be reminded of who we are. Sometimes our friends have to remind us that we are their friend, so why would you treat me that way. Sometimes we parents need to be reminded to act like parents. When we pray this prayer we would pray that God would continue to be holy – to bring love, justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, peace, and hope to our hurting world. We ask God to continue to be these things so that God can then teach us to be holy by bringing love, justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, peace and hope to a hurting world. When we live like that, we keep God’s name holy.
Tonight, we are reminded about the truth about who we are – we are dust and to dust we shall return. We were made out of the dirt of the earth and that is where we will return. We are mortal. We are fragile and frail. We are people who mess up and fail and hurt others. Whether you choose to come up for ashes or not, the words are still true for all of us – we all are dust and to dust we all shall return.
Which makes me think of that word our. These are our ashes. They are for all of us. We are all fragile and mortal people who face the reality of death. Which means that we are not alone. But rather we are a community who faces this reality together. And then those ashes, dust to dust, it makes me think of this word Father again. Because according to the creation story, God, as a loving parent, took God’s hands and sunk them deep into the dirt and dust and breathed life into it so as to make you. Dust is like wood to a carpenter or a car to a mechanic or yarn to knitter. To return to dust is simply to return to the hands of the loving parent God that made in from dust in the first place.
So, to quote the Apostle Paul once again, may our hope tonight be that, whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord. Amen.