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Lebanon, Missouri
I am Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (LC-MS) in Lebanon, MO for 12 years. I'm married to Cheryl and have been blessed with 5 children.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Lord's Prayer, Part II of VII


The Lord’s Prayer:
Learning the Heart and Mind of the Father, Part II of VII


A proper respect and fear of God has always been part of true religion. We can show that respect and fear in the manner in which we pray.

The ancient Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, put it this way, “Let the words and the pleas of those who pray be made with discipline, restrained by quiet and reserve. Let us call to mind that we are standing before the face of God. Both the posture of our body and the modulation of our voice should be pleasing to the divine eyes” (John Behr, Tertullian, Cyprian, & Origen On the Lord’s Prayer”, Popular Patristics series, p. 67).

Indeed the way we carry ourselves in prayer, the posture we hold, can show great disrespect or due honor to God. Think, for instance, at an annoyed teenager rolling his eyes and turning his head away when Mom is scolding him. Posture can say a lot.

Tertullian, an ancient teacher, focuses on the proper standing of the soul when it comes to prayer. At one point in his writing he criticizes those people of his day who said one must wash hands before prayer. He writes, “What reason is there for going to prayer with hands which are washed but a spirit which is filthy”(Ibid, p.50).

Cyprian and Tertullian speak this way because they have the desire to practice a proper respect and fear of God. This naturally leads us to the first petition to the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be Thy name,” for respect and fear must give due honor to God’s name.

Jesus reveals the heart and mind of the Father in this petition. May we like a myriad of faithful Christians who have gone before us give heed to Jesus’ prayer that we too may know the heart and mind of God.

Let’s explore the first petition with three questions. The first question is rather easy. What does Jesus mean by the term “name” when He says, “hallowed by Thy name?” Obviously it refers to the names of God like Jesus, Jehovah, etc. “Name” also refers to God’s reputation (Ezekiel 36:14f.). Even in our culture we use the term that way. For instance we say, “so and so has a good name in the community.” Finally, referring to God’s name is a way to speak about God Himself. You can’t separate out God’s name and God’s person (Daniel 2:20).

Let’s move onto the second question. Why does Jesus tell us to hallow God’s name when He is already holy? After all holy things are only made holy by God (Behr, op.cit. p. 44). Thus God tells the people of Israel through Moses that, “You shall be Holy for I the LORD your God am holy”(Leviticus 19:2). God is holy already and His people follow.

So back to the question, how can we who are made holy by Him turn around and hallow His name? Why does God, thee Holy One, need us to make His name holy? He doesn’t. He doesn’t need anything from us let alone to make His name holy.

Quite a number of years ago I heard this story from a pastor working for Bethesda. It went something like this, There was a mentally handicapped adult taking confirmation lessons from his Lutheran pastor. The pastor was thinking of holding him (let’s call his name Tommy) back for another year of confirmation.

The pastor just wasn’t sure that Tommy understood the forgiveness of sins. The pastor would say, “Forget everything I’ve said Tommy. Just tell me what Jesus’ forgiveness means in your own words.” Again, Tommy only repeated what the pastor had taught him.

This exchange continued on for a little bit. The pastor was frustrated. Finally he said, “No, No, Tommy, in your own words.” Tommy was frustrated too. He got up, went to a nearby window, took out a handkerchief, and waved it out the window saying, “bye, bye sin.”

That’s a neat story not only because it is true but also because it speaks to us about how the holy God hallows us. “God’s name is indeed holy in itself” Luther writes in the Smaller Catechism. We, by our sinful nature, are not holy, but God hallows us. He does so when the forgiveness of sins is applied to us through faith in Christ’s atonement. When God hallows us then in turn we hallow His name.

It may seem that I have just invalidated the first petition to the Lord’s Prayer. Far from it! Let’s examine the last question. What does it actually mean to hallow God’s name? Luther puts this biblical concept well, “to hallow means the same as to praise, magnify, and honor [God] both in word and deed” (Paul McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Large Catechism, p. 439.46).

What we do and what we say will either bring glory to God’s name or ill repute. Time magazine give us a modern example of this. “When Kim Yang Soon, 85, first laid eyes on the Virginia Tech shooter while watching television in her home... South [of the] Korean capital Seoul, she hoped the young Asian man…on the television screen wasn't a South Korean. But some four hours later, at about 3:00 a.m., she heard the stirrings of her younger brother, …. from the adjacent room, who let Kim know, to her everlasting horror, that the young man was in fact Korean and kin.

Now, nearly one week after the gruesome rampage, Kim and her relations remain very distraught over the ordeal, and at a loss to understand how [their family member] could have committed such an atrocity, bringing so much shame to his family. "In our family the children don't insult their parents," says Kim whose well-groomed family burial ground sits on a low rise at the back of her property and is visible from her front door. "I don't know how he could do this to his parents. I also feel terrible for the victim's families" (Time magazine on-line at: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1613417,00.html).

This is steeped in the culture of the East where the family circle and the elders are deeply respected. The Virginia Tech shooter brought shame to the whole family and disrepute to their name by his actions.

We see this in Ezekiel 36. The Bible tells us that the wicked actions of the Israelites caused God’s name to be profaned. They sullied God’s reputation among the heathen. When God judged them for their idolatry and let them be scattered among the nations these nations, in turn, scorned the God of Israel Who allowed them to be scattered in the first place.

How do we hallow God’s name? “It means to praise, magnify, and honor God both in word and deed.” We magnify His name with words of praise and grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. We magnify the name in deeds of love, integrity, honesty, holiness, and courage.

When Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, He is opening up to us the heart and mind of the heavenly Father. We learn the heart and mind of God that He does indeed take seriously the family name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We learn that our Father would have His name honored rather than scorned because of the words and actions of His people. God cares about His reputation, not that He is needy, but because His glory demands it. Certainly His unmerited grace calls it forth from the soul of each believer. Don’t we ourselves have need that His name be truly hallowed in our own lives and in the world. It is in God’s name that Christ came into the world to suffer and die a sinners death in our place. In Christ, God has hallowed our spirits and it is only then that we can turn and hallow Him.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lord's Prayer Part I of VII

This is the first of a seven part series that examines the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It especially draws upon Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) the leader of the Reformation, Tertullian a teacher in the early church (c.160 – c.220), and Cyprian (d 258) Bishop of Carthage.

Since this is the first in the series, it is appropriate to mention the conflict where Christians pit written prayers against prayers that are extemporaneous. One Christian will say that the written prayers are rote, mechanical, and do not have the Spirit of God. Another Christian will say that the ones that flow out on the spot are often thoughtless, careless, or clumsy.

These difference should melt away when it comes to the Lord’s Prayer. The issue here is not rote verses heart prayer. It isn’t about us. The Lord’s Prayer is about Christ because in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus reveals to us His heart and mind and really that of the Father Himself.

God is inclined toward us with a friendly disposition. This is true not because we are likeable people, but He does this for the sake of Christ who made us to be children of God. Since He is inclined toward us, He reveals his heart and mind in the Lord’s Prayer. Note that the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Jesus doesn’t give them secrets to successful prayer – you know the secrets whereby they could manipulate God to do what they want in the way and manner they desire.

Jesus doesn’t dig up the prayer of Jabez from the OT and tell them that, “it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God…” We already enjoy favor because we are in Christ through Baptism. When Jesus teaches the church how to pray, He does so that our hearts, our minds, and our prayers might be in conformity to the heart and mind of the Father. Now, let’s move into the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.”
I remember when our littlest was three years old. Mom was sitting down and the little one was standing on her lap cying for her attention. I was standing nearby and one of my other daughters was there talking with her Mom. She was standing on her mother’s lap and pushed her older sister away saying, “My mom. Your Dad.”

Now that was just a little child and it was cute. As long as she isn’t doing that as a teenager, I can live with it. Notice, however, the individualistic tone, “my.” In Protestant churches, it is easy for us to fall into a view where the center is on my own private relationship with God.

A country song goes this way, “There ain't nothin' that can't be done By me and God ---- Ain't nobody gonna come between me and God ----- One day we'll live together Where the angels trod Me and God” (Country song by Josh Turner, “Me and God”). This song falls into that all too individualistic tendency of American, Protestant Christianity of just me and God.

The Lord’s Prayer, especially the version in Matthew 6, leads us into a different aspect and really one that is more fundamental and important than just “Me & God”. Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father.” Certainly the Father is “mine” by faith in Christ, but I don’t stand with Him in isolation. He is “ours”.

Let’s not stop there. Even that term “Father” implies much more than just “me and God.” Tertullian has some interesting insights here.

He says that when we call upon the Father this necessitates that there be a Son. Now God the Father & Son stand unique with the Holy Spirit from eternity. There is none other than this Trinity, but in human terms when we speak of a father, and we know there is a Son, then we naturally think of the mother as well (Popular Patristics Series, “Tertullian, Cyprian & Origen On the Lord’s Prayer, p.43).

When we invoke the Father it isn’t just “me and God.” There is the Son. Where there is the Father and the Son there is also thee mother which is the Holy Christian church.

The church is mother because she gives birth to the children of God in this sense -- by proclaiming Christ and administering the Sacraments. This is certainly the picture that the book of Revelation itself gives that the church is mother (Revelation 12:1f.).

So important is this understanding Cyprian has rightly said, “no one can have God as Father without having the church as a mother.” You see then, in the term Father it does not stand alone nor do we with Him. When we call out “Father” we bring all that comes with the name.

I began the sermon by saying how the Lord’s Prayer as a whole reveals the heart & mind of the heavenly Father. In the term “Father” we see God’s heart. He has not cast us aside. He has seen us from afar and longed for our reconciliation with Him. For this reason He provided Jesus Christ as the atonement for our sins. Thus the Apostle John writes, “how great the love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God” (I John 3:1 NASB).

And “Father” shows us the mind of God. When God reveals Himself to us as Father, He would have us understand that He has provided a larger family from His abundant grace. Rather than just “me and God,” we are taught to think in larger terms. Not just “me and God,” but me, God, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and Holy Mother church.