Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
The text for this morning is the Lord's prayer, from Matthew's gospel:
‘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.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
In Matthew's gospel, the Lord's prayer is part of the Sermon on the
I always like to wear my
Beatitudes stole is also from the Sermon on the Mount, and today it has
double-meaning for me because it was made by my mother, and this is her
birthday today, the first day of Spring.
So, it's been 19 years since I last devoted a whole sermon to the topic
of the Lord's Prayer (and I'm sure you all remember that well :). I
thought it was due time to take another look. I've been especially
inspired by the latest book by John Dominic Crossan on the Lord's
Prayer, from which I stole the title for today's sermon.
One caveat that I have to give is that when I selected this as the topic
for this Sunday back in January when I set my sermon themes, I did not
know that Dom was going to be coming in October to preach here, as part
of the Lane Institute of Faith & Education (bringing him for a 2-day
seminar), we invited him to preach, and he graciously agreed to preach
on this topic. So I wondered if I should change my topic for this
Then I thought: now wait a second. I can include some of those ideas
that Dom has in his book, and then when you hear it from him, you'll
think "Oh, isn't that neat, this famous author has gotten his ideas from
our pastor!". Yeah, right :).
Actually, I'm not going to try and cover everything in that book, but
you may here one or two things that sound similar. But if there are any
similarities between my sermon and his, it's just pure coincidence (or
divine inspiration). Because you all know -- preachers never plagiarize.
They just happen to receive the same divine inspiration as other
preachers and scholars and authors :).
I would like to share with you his rather unique introduction to his
book, because he's so clever in the way he puts things. He says about
the Lord's Prayer:
prayed by all Christians, but it never mentions Christ. It is prayed
in all churches, but it never mentions church. It is prayed by
Fundamentalist Christians but never mentions the inspired inerrancy
of the Bible, the virgin birth, the miracles, the atoning death or
bodily resurrection of Christ. It is prayed by Evangelical
Christians but never
mentions "euangelion", or gospel. It is
prayed by Pentecostal Christians, but it never
mentions ecstasy or the Holy Spirit. It is prayed by Congregational,
Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic Christians but it
never mentions congregation, priest, bishop, or Pope. It is prayed
by Christians who have split from one another over this or that
doctrine but it never mentions a single one of those doctrines. It
is prayed by Christians who focus on Christ's substitutionary,
sacrificial atonement for human sin but it never mentions Christ,
substitution, sacrifice, atonement, or sin.
It is prayed by Christians who emphasize what it never mentions and
also prayed by Christians who ignore what it does".
So, if the Lord's prayer
is not about all those things that we think are so important, what is it
about? Dom summarizes:
"What if it is, as
this book suggests, a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips
of Christianity for the conscience of the world? What if it is, as
this book suggests, a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all
humanity in language addressed to all the earth?".
Well, maybe the will
whet your appetite, you might want to read the book for yourself, or
just be sure to be present when he's here (Oct 9/10th, 2011). I'll also
mention that because he's here, we get all of his books at a 40%
One of the reasons that the Lord's Prayer is so beloved, and used by
Christians of all stripes (as Dom mentions) is that it's short and to
the point. Jesus really knows how to cut to the quick, and just prior to
Lord's Prayer here in Matthew's Gospel, he says: "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".
Well now :). I gave a prayer at the Oregon Senate a few weeks ago (you
can find it on YouTube) -- I went back and checked and counted: 370
words. That's because they limited me to 2 minutes, otherwise it
probably would have been longer. I told them they needed a lot more
prayer than I can do in 2 minutes :). The Lord's Prayer has 56 words, in
I suspect that our prayers here this morning have many more words than
that. We all do it, we tend to be wordy -- we think a lot of words are
more apt to be heard. The Gettysburg Address, by comparison, has 268
words. The Declaration of Independence has 1,322 words. The government
regulation for the growing and selling of cabbage has 26,911 words. By
comparison, typically my sermons have around 2,000 - 2,200 words. So I'm
somewhere in-between the Declaration of Independence and coleslaw :).
Though there are only 56 words in the Lord's Prayer (and by the way, in
Aramaic it would have been much shorter), I want to devote the next
2,000 or so words to just 5 of those 56 words: "Our Father", and "Thy
I believe the heart of Jesus' prayer, as well as his message, is found
in those 5 words. And besides, I couldn't cover the other 51 words in
less than 10,000 words, so be thankful that I'm going to stick with 5.
It's significant, I think, that Jesus begins this prayer by saying "our"
father. How often do we make faith and religion a private affair? It's
between me & God. But Jesus never does that. For Jesus, faith is a
witness of the community of God's people, not just individuals. To pray
"our" father" unites us with all those other people who pray the Lord's
Prayer. And that encompasses just about all of Christianity.
It unites us with all other people who pray to God. And right there
we've already broken down barriers of race and creed and sex and gender
and age and sexual orientations and social status and all the rest.
Many of you received the prayer request of Kyoko this week that went out
on our prayer chain by E-mail. Kyoko is one of our members who usually
attends the first service, and of course she comes from Japan. You can
imagine that right now her heart is heavy. But she has received lots of
good news from relatives and friends that she knows in Japan, very
fortunate that of all have survived. She sent out this request to ask us
to pray the Lord's Prayer each day, very slowly and deliberately,
meditatively, and to call to mind and hold those people in Japan in our
thoughts as we do so. I don't know about you, if you did that, but I
found that to be a very powerful experience. One that creates unity and
empathy and compassion. It reminded me as I did so that we are connected
by something that is so much greater than and tsunami that even affected
the Oregon coast. And is so much deeper than the ocean.
We truly are in this journey of life together, praying "Our Father"
reminds us of how connected we are at the most fundamental level.
I want to say a couple
other things about just the term "Father", because I know it's sometimes
loaded, controversial even. First of all, to remind us that all names,
all titles we have for God are metaphors. Our language cannot begin to
describe all that God is. We say "God is my rock", and I don't think
anyone literally imagines a rock, you know, as God. But we understand
that as a metaphor, God is that solid foundation of our faith.
We say that God is our "King", and again, that is not meant literally.
King is an image drawn out of human experience, that we use to describe
attributes of God. And the same is true for "Father". It's not literal.
God is not literally our Father. Father is the name we give to God to
describe those attributes of God that are like a Father. So if we ask,
how is God like a Father? Would we say God is a man? No, I don't think
most of us would. So that particular attribute that we use to describe
God as Father is not 'male-ness', but 'parenting'. Whether it be male or
female, mother or father.
In fact, as I think probably most of you are aware, there are many
images in scripture that describe God as a woman or as a mother. Hosea
and Isaiah both speak of God's "womb". Not an attribute that many
fathers share :). Isaiah 66 verse 13 says "As a mother comforts her
child, so I will comfort you". Psalm 22 describes God in the role of a
mid-wife, of helping someone in a birth.
Thus we can, and I think we should, pray to God as our mother as well as
We had a Mother's Day service a number of years ago, and we had a song
about 'Mothering God', I made a reference God as our mother in a prayer.
I was in the back of the chapel before the service was even over, and I
remember a visitor pulling her young child in tow, storming out of the
church, muttering under her breath about this heathen church, you know,
praying to God as mother. So I know language sometimes can be upsetting,
and not everyone understands why we would change our terminology in that
The other problem with language is that if we try to use gender-neutral
terms, it doesn't come out the same. To pray to "our parent" doesn't
have that kind of intimacy that 'mother' or 'father' does. And that, in
fact, is the whole point of the word Jesus uses, which many of you know
is "Abba", like "Papa". It's a term for one's parent that connotes a
sense of intimacy.
When I was a student at Northwest Christian University, and lived at
Hogan House, we had devotion each night led by students. One of the
students led the devotions one evening, invited us all to prayer and
waited for us to all bow our heads. And then he said: "Goodnight Dad!".
Then he jumped up and ran upstairs as well as sat there in stunned
silence. That was your prayer, goodnight Dad? Those students :).
Well, Friday, I met with a group of community leaders working on a
program at the University of Oregon to come up with a plan on how we can
reduce child abuse by 90% by 2030. It's called the "90 by 30" program.
It reminding me once again that for many children, they do not have that
positive image of a loving, nurturing parent, father or mother. And we
have to keep that in mind as well in the terminology that we use.
Another image that
Crossan describes in his book is that of God as a householder. The
primary role of the father in ancient society was that of the one who
ran the house. And a well-run house, where all is in order, where the
children are cared for, nurtured, and fed, is the sign of a good, fair
householder. In ancient society, the household consisted of more than
just the immediate family but also the extended family, multiple
generations. It also included slaves, servants, even animals. So the
householder serves as the creator, protector, and the provider of that
home, and is especially responsible for the welfare of the weaker
members in that household.
Recognizing God not just as father or mother, but as our householder, is
the recognition of our interdependent relationship with all the members
of the household of God. Crossan writes:
"What horrifies the Biblical conscience is the inequality that destroys
the integrity of the household, and therefore dishonors the householder.
In what sort of household are some members exploited by others? In what
sort of household do some members have far less than they want, and
others far more than they need? What sort of householder is in charge of
such a house?".
Well, the solution of that sort of injustice and inequality in the
household of this earth is found in that next phrase of the Lord's
Prayer: thy kingdom come. The kingdom of God is the ideal of God's
household where every child is loved, every person is honored, every man
and woman is treated as a child of God. And it's more than that -- it is
the Biblical vision of the ideal world, a Biblical utopia, as portrayed
in that final chapter of a Bible where God dwells among us and death
will be no more.
Now, I don't understand that to mean literally the case. But rather, if
we understand 'death' as those powers -- war and violence and hunger and
poverty and human trafficking and addiction and all the rest -- all
those forces which destroy life as God intends it to be.
George Buttrick, who was one of the great teachers of the art of
preaching, says "The prayer 'thy kingdom come', if we only knew it, is
asking God to conduct a major operation. You can't pray 'thy kingdom
come' and expect things to stay the status quo. You're asking God to
bring about a major change upon the earth".
The great master of
church web sites, or at least the master of our web site, Glen Campbell,
said it so beautifully in his
Heart-to-Heart column 4 years ago. Many of you probably remember it,
because Glen said it so well, in which he draws upon the next phrase of
the Lord's Prayer (so I'm cheating here a little bit and expanding my
exploration), which is "thy will be one on earth as in heaven". And so
Well, how exactly is
it in heaven? I wonder if some souls in heaven are rich and others
poor? Or do all souls have equal economic standing and security in
heaven? I wonder if souls retain skin color in heaven? Are there
souls that appear black in appearance, and others white? What about
sexual orientation? Do these divisions we see on Earth persist in
heaven? If not, why do they persist on Earth? Does your vision of
heaven include war? Do violent conflicts break out between warring
factions of souls in heaven? Or do you picture heaven as a serene
and peaceful place?
The most important
questions are these: What exactly is our vision of heaven? Can
we help bring it to Earth?
That's precisely right
and expresses what it means to pray 'thy kingdom come'. God's reign of
heaven on earth. And that in a nut-shell is what the message and the
mission of Jesus, and therefore the church, is all about.
Taken as a whole, then, we see the Lord's Prayer is nothing less than a
summation of Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. For the kingdom
of God is precisely where God's name is hallowed, that is, made sacred.
It is where God's will is done on earth.
It's where the hungry are provided their daily bread.
It's where debts, trespasses, sins, whatever translation you want to
use, are forgiven.
It's where evil is conquered and temptation resisted.
And that realm, God's realm, is right here, in this place. When we,
trusting in God's guidance, not only pray the Lord's Prayer, but we live
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