Topical Sermon ~ The Lord’s Prayer ~ Matthew 6:5-13, Luke 11:1-4
Everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer, right? Even in this modern, post-Christian, secular, Western, pluralistic culture there aren’t too many places where if I said “Our Father” I wouldn’t hear back “who art in heaven”! And for church people it’s absolutely automatic. In just about every Christian denomination you will find that people have this prayer deeply ingrained in their memories. There may be differences in some of the words but the prayer is one of the few common threads in Christianity.
Did you know there are two versions in scripture? You heard them both read this morning. The version in Matthew is longer and more familiar, and we’ll talk about all that in a few minutes, but first I want to ask you a question.
Why this prayer?
The simplest answer is probably found in the Luke version.
Luke 11:1-2 – Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say…
So, in Luke, Jesus was quietly praying, his disciples waited until he was done, and then they said ‘teach us how’.
It’s about as direct a teaching as Jesus ever gave. So we grab onto it and pray like he told us to.
I find it interesting that we have diligently memorized the prayer but we pretty much ignore the instructions. The preamble Jesus gives in the version in Matthew is also crystal clear. And yet, as I read it to you now, notice how we pretty much do the exact opposite to what he says – especially here in church!
We took his teaching on prayer so seriously that we memorized every word of it – except for the parts that told us HOW to do it. (And we even kinda messed up the WHAT to say part, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)
Here’s Matthew 6:5-8
5 Jesus said, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “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.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
We’re not so much street corner pray-ers in our tradition, but how many of you really go into a private place for prayer, and shut the door, and pray in secret? Or do you leave most of your praying for this place?
And as for heaping on empty words and phrases because we think we need to cover every possible topic and so that all our words will get heard? – Heck, you pay me to do that!
And from time to time preachers hear complaints that we didn’t include such-and-such in the prayers – like if we didn’t do it God might not know about it!
But Jesus says “don’t be like that”! So is he saying that we shouldn’t be praying together?
Not at all.
He’s saying to avoid a public show and not pile on words because to do so makes the prayer all about your head, and your desires, and your ego. The truth is you could pray just as badly on your own in secret. It’s not the location or the language that really matter – it’s your heart.
Interestingly, the language in the prayer Jesus teaches them is corporate “we” language. I guess he was worried that using “I” language might lead to that ego-based prayer I was just talking about, so he encourages corporate “we” language.
Ironically, I do the exact opposite. Our tradition is SO “we” based that I worry that people may think that personal faith is less important than our corporate faith. If we always say “we” we can pretend that the dude in the next row is really responsible for this or that, and since “we” are collectively doing it “I” don’t really have to. So I swing the pendulum back the other way and encourage “I” language. Again, it’s not the place or the language that’s ultimately important here – it’s the heart.
Ok, so let’s finally dig into Jesus’ prayer. Matthew 6:9 begins: read on