Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The Lord’s Prayer (1)
February 26, 2013, 6:07 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday evening, 24th February 2013

Our over-all Lenten theme this year is the Lord’s Prayer; but as I was not required to preach at all last week, I would like to start tonight with a few reflections on the first clauses of the prayer. However others have divided it up, I would take the first section to be: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name;” and the second to be: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

At Mass, the priest invites us to join in the prayer by saying, “As our Saviour Christ has commanded and taught us, we are bold to say:” Let us think about those words. We are going to do something very daring (audemus dicere, we dare to say). We are going to do it, because Christ himself has taught us to do so, and indeed commanded us to do so. We are going to call God our Father. We say it so often, have we taken in how tremendous- in the sense of fearful, awe-inspiring- that is? The Creator of everything, the Almighty and Eternal, can be named by us as our Father, with all that that implies not only as to our origin, but as to the personal love and care that he has for us.

And so we say “our Father”, “our” and not simply “my”, because when we pray we never do so in isolation, but as members of a whole family. By saying “our”, we acknowledge not only the Fatherhood of God, but also the brotherhood of all mankind. And our first petition is, “Hallowed be thy Name.” The Name of God was so sacred to the Israelites that they never dared to pronounce it. only the High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies and utter the Divine Name. When the Scriptures were read aloud, the reader substituted “Adonai”, “the LORD”, often printed in our Bibles in capital letters to show what was written in the Hebrew.

God revealed his Name to Moses at the burning bush: or did he? Not only the pronunciation of the Name, but even its meaning, is shrouded in mystery. In Exodus, it is translated as “I am who I am”, which sounds more like a refusal to answer. In its meaning, and in its sacredness, the Name indicates the “otherness” of God, his utter transcendence or “beyondness”.  We say, “Who art in heaven”- the Hebrews did not clearly distinguish what we would call “the sky”, or “space”, from what we would call “heaven”, the “beyondness” to which I refer. Before aeroplanes and rockets, the sky and space were just as inaccessible to human beings as whatever is “beyond” them. “Heaven” is whatever is not “earth”, the region in which we live and move.

God surpasses anything we can relate to our own experience- and yet our Lord encourages us to address him as “Father”. The petition, “Hallowed be thy Name”, asks that in confiding ourselves to a loving Father, we never forget Who that Father is. We do not take his Name in vain, and we ask that all people come to revere him.

We move to “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” God’s kingdom is simply his sovereign rule over all creation. Although we can in reality never escape from his ultimate control- we are always part of his creation- it often looks as if God’s rule is ineffective, as if his will is defied. We pray that his will be done “on earth, as it is in heaven”. There is no doubt that “the heavens declare the glory of God”, but on earth things look very different. The Psalmist contrasted the ordered movements of the heavens, sun and moon, stars and planets, with the often chaotic movements of the world beneath, and especially of its human denizens. The first petitions, then, ask that the created universe, and we human beings, should be brought into complete harmony with God’s will and intention. When we pray, we are not asking God to change, but we are asking him to change us.

But having done this, we are encouraged to lay our most fundamental needs before him, to acknowledge our utter dependence on him. “Give us this day our daily bread”. Bread is the epitome of all our material needs, the basic food of our bodies that maintains our physical life. It is “daily” bread, not once-for-all, but doled out day after day after day, meeting our needs as they arise. Again, it reminds us that our relationship with God is not simply one of origin. He is our Father, giving his children what they need continually, never saying, “You are on your own now”.

I’m going to stop now. I intend to finish in two weeks time.


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