Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Lord’s Prayer Series – Name & Kingdom

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
The 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 7, 2016)
Luke 11:1-4 – “Lord’s Prayer Series – Name & Kingdom”

For the month of August we will be reading the same text each of the four Sundays. It’s what’s known as “The Lord’s Prayer” by Protestants and the “Our Father” by Roman Catholics. The editors of the Narrative Lectionary suggest this series for August and I think they’re on to something; these words can become so familiar that we gloss over their meaning. So, if we play around with translation and focus on specific parts of it, maybe we can learn something new.

Today I’ll read from Luke in the Common English Bible translation. By the way, the Common English Bible is my prefered version these days— faithful to the original languages, yet fresh and contemporary enough for the modern reader. Let’s listen to the prayer from Luke’s gospel:

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”

I would wager that these words are probably the most widely known in human civilization. Think about it: Christians in every denomination and ethnic group, in every era of history, pray this prayer. There are over 2.2 billion people alive today who affiliate with some Christian tradition. Who knows how many more there have been throughout history? Lots!

Strangely enough, though, even though it’s prayed by every denomination mentions nothing particular denominations emphasize. It doesn’t mention Jesus. Or the Holy Spirit. Or “gospel.” Or the cross or resurrection. Or the Eucharist. Or church government. Isn’t that strange?

I believe this prayer is revolutionary if we can peel back the layers of tradition and familiarity and hear it in a different key. I’ll show you what I mean…

I recently came across a stellar new collection of prayers called In God’s Hands: Common Prayer for the World. It was recommended highly by one of my professors at Seattle University. In it are hundreds of prayers from all over the globe translated into English. It’s been great for my prayer life because the nuances of language and context help me think and pray more expansively. It’s been refreshing! I want to share two prayers from this collection with you this morning, two paraphrases of the Lord’s Prayer. They’re long, but worth it, because they express some central truths of the prayer in some very concrete, contextual ways.

The first is from Central America:

Our Father and Mother,
you are on the streets,
in the everyday things of our lives and in our struggles.
May your name and message be recognized,
may justice be done,
so that the sharing you have proposed to us be lived out;
so that the exploited from this place,
and from other places, have bread;
so that all the oppressed have dignity.
Give us the strength to continue what you have started.
Show us how to build a new society
in which women and men live new patterns of relationships.
Deliver us from our self-sufficiency
and from all our thirst for power.
May we continue doing what Jesus did
when he shared with the hungry and walked with the poor.
Jesus, look upon us and help us to overcome barriers.
Give us strength
to overcome the attraction of money and privilege,
to resist the consumerism of society and false security.
Instil in us a spirit of solidarity
that will withstand all trials.

There’s nothing rote about that! It makes you think, doesn’t it? The Lord’s Prayer should be translated into the language of everyday life because, at its core, is a vision of justice.

John Dominic Crossan gives keen insight into the radical, world-changing heart of the prayer. Like I said before, to get there, we have to peel back the layers first. I’ll share more of his thoughts over the next month, but today I’d like to focus on the first two sentences of Luke’s version of the prayer: “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”

Crossan’s argument is essentially this:

  1. “Father” is a metaphor for God that is less about the male parent in a nuclear family and more about a householder in Ancient Near Eastern culture, i.e. one who is responsible for a larger family or estate. In this case, when used for God, the “household” is the whole wide world.
  2. The holiness of one’s name is parallel to the honor of one’s reputation. Is the householder taking care of the domain entrusted to him? Or is the “house,” so to speak, in disarray? Does the householder create, protect, provide, and care for? Are the hungry fed, the orphan protected, the widow safe? Are Sabbath and Jubilee observed? Is there enough for everyone?
  3. The kingdom is, of course, God’s reign vs. the reign of earthly powers. It imagines what life would look like if God literally governed “on earth as in heaven.” This kingdom, as Jesus embodies it, has already dawned, yet is incomplete, and we are called to participate in it. As Crossan puts it, “God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.” And it’s not just about divine intervention: “God’s kingdom did not, could not, and will not begin, continue, or conclude without human collaboration.”

So in this light, this prayer is a plea for God to follow through on God’s promise of a world (God’s household) filled with righteousness, abundance, and peace… and free from violence, injustice, and suffering. And it intends to shape those who pray it, to get them on board.

The second prayer from that global collection is from the Indonesia section. Listen to this:

Our God who art in heaven
who is present in the Hindu temple, the Muslim mosque,
the Christian church,
who stands with us in our differences;
our God who takes the side of women beaten into madness,
of men without hope,
who is merciful to the victims of violence in Aceh, Maluku,
West Papua, Central Sulawesi, Timor
who shuns those who pay for, orchestrate, and instigate this violence

Hallowed be thy name
not the names of presidents—Soekarno, Soeharta, Habibe…
not the names of generals— Wiranto, Pribowo, Damiri…
not the names of so-called development—
ExxonMobil, Nike, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Hallowed be thy name among farmers and indigenous tribes
whose lands and forests are no longer secure,
among women whose bodies are no longer secure.
Your kingdom come
to this land of 218 million people,
come as an Earth renewed by laws of love and justice.

Your will be done on earth
your will to restore forests and streams
destroyed in West Papua
by the American Freeport-McMoran gold mining company…
your will to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS
and other sexually transmitted diseases among poor students,
illiterate farmers, commercial sex workers.

As it is in heaven
your will for dialogue between the wronged
and those who wrong them,
your will for balance between taking and giving,
your will for justice with mercy,
participation by all in decisions that affect them,
your will for an economy of sustainability rather than of profit.

I think our sisters and brothers in Indonesia know something about the transformational heart of the Lord’s Prayer because they put it into their own context.

In some sense, we create our reality by the words we use.

So this is my challenge—consider it homework. Let’s take the Lord’s Prayer, whether it’s from the versions in our memory or the Bible, and put it into our own words. Let’s think about what these words mean for the big picture and the small picture. Let’s contemplate our lives—what are personal hopes are, our dreams, our fears; let’s read or watch the news, and then put all of that into conversation with these ancient words by paraphrasing them.

  • How would you name God as householder? Father? Mother? Grandmother? Landlord?
  • How could God’s good name be made holy, here and now?
  • What does God’s reign look like in our little corner of earth, as it is in heaven?

It would be really interesting to see what we come up with…because, as Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”