St Michael’s, June 19th (Father’s Day & Baptism) – edited.
It’s always a bit of a minefield talking about fathers. Some people have fathers who are absolutely amazing, and will do almost anything for their children. Some people have fathers who are less than ideal, and some who are plain embarrassing. Some people simply don’t know who their father is. But Jesus teaches us that no matter who we are, no matter what our past experience, there is always one called Father we can always turn to. Unlike our earthly fathers, this Father will always care for us, will always listen to us, will always do the very best for us.
It’s little wonder, then, that so many people over the years have found the Lord’s Prayer such a special and such a meaningful prayer. But a show of hands reveals that the younger you are, the less likely you are to know the Lord’s Prayer by heart either in its traditional or in its modern form. My suspicion is that we have a whole generation of young people growing up who have never really been taught about the love of God, or been shown how to pray. Well, today we’re all going to look at and learn the Lord’s Prayer in its modern form.
So how does the Lord’s Prayer start? That’s right: Our Father in heaven. (1) We’re very familiar with these words, but scholars tell us this was probably the most revolutionary part of all of Jesus’ teaching. No-one before Jesus’ time had ever dared called Father before in such a direct and personal way. God was seen as a remote and distant figure, someone you could approach through all kinds of religious rituals and ceremonies. Come to think of it, that’s how some people still seem to think of God today. Jesus however taught us that God is only a prayer away, that like a father who just longs for his child to speak to him, so He is there waiting to hear us with whatever is on our heart.
But we mustn’t get too carried away with this idea of God as Father, as if He was someone there just whenever we need Him. Because if God really is like a Father to us, and if He is a perfect and good Father, then it means He deserves our respect and obedience. That’s what the next lines of the Lord’s Prayer are all about: hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. (2)
Now I guess of all the words in the Lord’s Prayer the word “hallowed” is probably the one that’s hardest to understand. We don’t tend to go in for a lot of hallowing nowadays. But all it means is this: because we recognise just how special God our Heavenly Father is, we want to honour and uphold His name. So, to a little example, we don’t take His name in vain when we drop a hammer on our foot, or when we’re surprised by what someone is wearing. But it’s far, far wider than that. It’s about recognising God’s way for our lives is the best possible way, it’s about turning to Him and asking that His will, His priorities become the most important things in our lives.
That’s what the parents and godparents will doing in our baptism service this morning. When I ask them Do you repent of your sins? I am not simply asking them if they can think of anything they might possibly have done wrong recently. I am asking them if they are willing to turn from an old way of life where God is perhaps on the edge of their lives, to one where God and Jesus are right at the centre. That’s the decision that’s at the heart of the baptism service, and it’s one we should think about every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.
Let’s move on. Give us this day our daily bread. (3) Wouldn’t it be nice if this line of the prayer said, “Give us this day our daily chocolate” or “Give us this day our daily pocket money”? Bread is mostly rather boring stuff that we don’t think that much about. But bread is of course a necessary part of our diet. It fills us. It gives us carbohydrates and other good things for our bodies.
And it’s a reminder that when we pray God won’t always give us what we want, but He will give us what we need. Sometimes when we pray we can rush in with a great long shopping list of all the things we would like. “Oh Lord, please may I have a bike for my birthday, and help to do well in my exams, and a nice holiday afterwards, and please may my sister’s hamster get better soon. Amen”. Well, the Lord may give us all those things. But He would much rather that we would focus on Him and let Him set the agenda. How? By reading His word, by learning to listen to His voice, by giving Him the time and the space that He rightfully demands as our Heavenly Father.
So you might well be wondering what are these things that we need when we pray. The next couple of lines give the answer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. (4)
We’ve already touched on the forgiveness right at the beginning of the service when we started to think about the whole difficult issue of families. Of course, I realise there are many people who can ever be forgiven because of the things they have done wrong. I’ve recently been talking to quite a few people who’ve been in prison, or have problems with drink, or made a mess of some relationship or each other. Fortunately the good news of the Christian faith is that you don’t have to be good or nice to be forgiven. God forgives us not because we are good enough or religious enough or clever enough, but because Jesus died in our place for all the things we have done wrong.
And when we believe Jesus died for us, then we can receive that forgiveness for ourselves and be set free of whatever wrong we have done. That’s why the good news of the Christian faith is such good news. No matter who we are or what we have done, if we turn to Christ, then we have a fresh start with God our Heavenly Father. And that’s surely something to celebrate, isn’t it?
So what’s all this about lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil? Well, let’s think a little about the choices our children will face as they grow up. They will soon discover those bright flashing pictures on the TV, that will try and persuade them to spend their pocket money on this or that product. As they goes to school and make friends, they will find their peer group encouraging them to do all kinds of things. Later on they will discover all about the world-wide web, and things like Facebook and Twitter, and others that probably don’t even exist yet. The world is a confusing place where we have to make all kinds of decision each day, and where sometimes it isn’t always clear what is the right thing to do.
That’s why it’s so good to know that God our Heavenly Father is right there with us even in the mess and business of every day. At the end of the reading from Luke’s gospel Jesus makes this promise: If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Because God isn’t just some remote deity out there, or sitting on a cloud, as many people think. He is the God who when we turn to Jesus in faith and trust comes alongside and lives in our hearts as a living presence called the Holy Spirit, to guide us, to show what is good, to give us the strength to make the right decisions. Even more than an earthly father wants to help his child find the right path in life, so God our Heavenly Father wants to show each and every one of us how exactly we should live for Him day by day, hour by hour.
So there’s an awful lot in the Lord’s Prayer. We often say it at occasions like weddings and baptisms without perhaps even thinking what the words actually mean. But when you examine it closely and put all the words together, you begin to see it offers a radical new way of living, with God our Heavenly Father at the centre, with a new radical kind of forgiveness made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the power and strength of the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide us.
So let me ask all of you: is this the kind of life that you want? And if your answer is: I’ll think about it later when I’ve got more time, or there are more important things going on right now, then consider the end of the prayer. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen. (5). You see, God is not only our Heavenly Father. He is also king, over this universe, over this world, over you, and over me. And the challenge He sets each and every one is to accept His love, and let His will be done, when He calls us.
So then take a moment to be still, to consider what it means for God our Father and our King to call us, and then respond in Him by saying the Lord’s Prayer …
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever. Amen.