3rd Sunday in Lent
St Barbara’s Church; 28.02.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Last week we began a two-week series looking at the Lord’s Prayer.
We saw how the first part of the Lord’s Prayer was all about God – about who he is, the holiness of his name, the coming of his kingdom, the doing of his will.
The second half of the prayer is more about us, about bringing before God our basic needs and struggles and seeking his help. After the grand themes of last week, we may feel a little embarrassed to be asking God to meet our basic need for food and forgiveness, for guidance and for strength, but we need to remind ourselves: this is the way Jesus taught us to pray. He encourages us to come before God with our needs. And we come before God as “father”, as one who loves us and cares about us with a greater intimacy and love than we can ever grasp.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer comes immediately after he has warned his disciples of the dangers of both ostentatious prayer – prayer with the specific intention of being noticed and praised (like those who stand on street corners praying) – and the dangers of verbose prayers (babbling on and on, as if we can convince God by the weight of our many words). Instead, we are to pray quietly and simply – after all God already knows our needs. And there is no magic formula, a particular form of words that will unlock the treasures of heaven. Indeed the very way Jesus teaches us to bring our needs before God shows us that prayer is not the heavenly equivalent of a slot machine – we feed in our prayer, we pull the handle, and out comes an answered prayer. It is about relationship – it is about giving as well as receiving, about us being willing to change as well as about God changing the situation.
Jesus teaches that we should pray: “Give us today our daily bread”. There is so much that can be unpacked in even this simple prayer.
Firstly, God wants us to come before him with our needs, small as well as big. Jesus cared about providing wine at the wedding of Cana, of feeding the hungry 5,000, of giving rest to the weary. He wants us to ask for his help. He cares.
Secondly, what we are encouraged to ask for is very simple: our daily bread. Bread is the most basic of foods. And we are to ask for just enough for today. We are to be content with what we need, not what we may desire or what society may call an “essential luxury”. Nor are we to pray for food for the months ahead – we are to trust God daily.
Thirdly, if I can see bread as a gift from God, how much other things too: my home, my possessions, my family, friends, work. I should be living in thankfulness for all the other good gifts I have received. Praying for daily bread should prompt not just requests but thanksgiving.
Fourthly, Jesus was to later call himself the bread of life, the food for our souls. Daily, we need to meet with him, to allow him to nurture our spiritual lives.
And fifthly, we are to pray “give us our daily bread”. We are to pray this prayer not just for ourselves but also for the millions of hungry around our world.
As we pray these simple words, we find our understanding of God, our attitude to what we have, our recognition of our need of him, and our commitment to others begin to change. As we express our need, we find that we are also changed.
That is true of the next part of Jesus’ prayer too: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” As we come to a point of recognising our own need for forgiveness, we realise that we need to forgive others too.
This is a difficult part of the Lord’s Prayer, and the only part where we are given an extra bit of explanation. But it is difficult not because it is hard to understand but because it is in someways so clear. Our own forgiveness is dependent on us forgiving others.
Lets first start with our need for forgiveness. Just as we need daily bread, so we need forgiveness. When we pray to God, an important part of prayer is to acknowledge our failings and receive God’s forgiveness. Sometimes different words are used in the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes we talk of “trespasses” – the idea of stepping over a line, a boundary, we shouldn’t cross. Sometimes we use “debts” – the idea that we owe God and others for our actions. And sometimes we use “sins” – the idea of falling short, of missing the mark. Whichever word we use, it is important to recognise before God, that whether through words, deeds or thoughts, whether through doing something or failing to do something, we have fallen short. We are in need of his forgiveness. As Sarah Hills reminded us a couple of weeks ago, the words under the charred beams of the cross in the cathedral ruins read not “Father, forgive them” but simply “Father, forgive”. All of us have a share in the sin of the world; all of us need forgiveness.
But that forgiveness relies on our willingness to forgive others. If I cannot forgive another for the wrong they have done me then the likelihood is that I have failed to understand the far greater wrong I have done to God that he longs to forgive me. I have lost perspective on the levels of sin involved – I come to see my sins as tiny in comparison to the sins done against me, when in the heavenly reality, it is the other way round.
That is not to negate the wrong, to sweep it under the carpet as if it didn’t happen, to try and somehow forget about it or pretend it didn’t hurt or didn’t matter. Forgiveness is something different. It is saying: “In the light of God’s willingness to forgive me, I forgive you. I leave justice to him. I will no longer allow my life to be controlled, driven or defined by my anger, my resentment or my need for revenge. I forgive. I let go.” My hands that were clinging on to anger and resentment now become free to receive God’s forgiveness of me.
Just as daily bread is essential to our existence, so is praying to forgive and to be forgiven.
And the third set of needs we bring before God are for guidance and protection. Jesus teaches us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In all our lives there will be times of challenge, of crisis, of darkness – that is the nature of the fallen world in which we live. There will be times when faith feels hard, when we feel overwhelmed by doubts. There will be times when we struggle to resist thoughts or actions or words that we know are wrong or cruel or unkind. Jesus recognised the challenges – he himself endured them. But we are to pray for his help, his leading, that we will not be tempted, and for his strength that we will be delivered from evil.
At different times these words may be uttered with great intensity, even desperation, as we struggle to cope with the challenges of life; at other times, they may be prayed as a prayer against complacency, reminding us that we are always in need of God’s guidance and help. To be prayed daily will stand us in good stead no matter what situations may befall us.
And so we come to the end of the Lord’s Prayer. The final words of the prayer, “for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever Amen” were not part of the original prayer Jesus taught us. They were added by the early church, drawing from the prayer that David prayed, and recorded in the book of Chronicles, at the end of his life when all had been prepared for the building of the temple. The words take us back to the beginning of the prayer, for they too are words of praise and worship. We begin and end the prayer with praise and worship of God. Having brought before him our needs, it is right that we lose ourselves once more in worship, in declaring who God is, in giving him thanks and praise.
For His is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and for ever. Amen.