1 Samuel 30:1-8, 17-19+Psalm 71:1-6+(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)+Matthew 6:9-13
As something of a history nerd, I occasionally take a stroll through some of the important historical documents that are part of our story as the United States of America. I read the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July along with Frederick Douglasses’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” On September 17, I read at least the preamble to the US Constitution because that’s the day in 1787 that the Miracle at Philadelphia was finally complete with the signing of the document by the delegates to the constitutional convention. (Side note: In 1987, I bought my first vanity license plate, a limited edition issued in Pennsylvania on the bicentennial of the Constitution and bearing the words “We the people.” I kept that plate on a succession of cars for the next 27 years until I left the state, and I now have it framed in the rectory. True story.)
There are some phrases and sayings from our history that have become such a part of our common lexicon that we forget the impact they originally had and, indeed, might still have.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…
That was anything but self-evident in 1776.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…
We the people? Since when had “the people” been sufficiently qualified to form anything?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Yes, I read the Gettysburg Address on November 19, and even in 1863, equality was not exactly self-evident.
Any student of American history can (hopefully) tell you where these three phrases come from, although apparently Jefferson Coffee down at 6th & Washington cannot because its Wifi password is We the People when Jefferson was in Paris during the entire Constitutional Convention and had nothing to do with those words. And yes, I am judging them.
But I digress.
Words have power, and yet their repetition can often rob them of their impact.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
I would be willing to wager that there are no words more familiar on this green earth than the opening of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. From the time Matthew and Luke’s gospels were written in the latter half of the 1st century, the faithful have repeated the words that Jesus taught when gathered for worship, in private devotion, in times of joy and sorrow, and when all other words fail. These words wend their way through the foggiest of brains, when dementia or traumatic brain injury have rewired memory, the Our Father remains.
So, when we encounter something different, something not so familiar, it jolts us, causes us to sit up and take notice.
Our Parent and Provider in heaven, holy is your Name.
This is how Dr. Gafney begins her translation of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
One wonders if, in its very familiarity, it has lost its impact, so these words she has chosen land a bit differently. The prayer is a stunning acknowledgement of our trust in God and God’s authority – Our Father/Our Parent and Provider in heaven, hallowed/holyis your name. Your kingdom/your majestic reign come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Do you hear what we are asking for? We are praying that the little kingdoms we have built for ourselves might come tumbling down like a Jenga tower so that the reign of God might take their place. And God’s reign means that there are no gaps between rich and poor, that everyone has what they need to flourish. Bread enough just for today, not building bigger barns to make sure we are safe for tomorrow. As the Israelites did in the desert, we are saying that we trust that God will provide manna every day.
And this next one is a hard one: we pray for forgiveness and obligate ourselves to forgive others in the same way that God forgives us. Luke and Matthew both go so far as to suggest that we have to forgive in order to be forgiven ourselves. Maybe this is how we get that deliverance from the evil one, from that which is evil, to forgive others, to love as we have been loved, not in some warm, fuzzy emotional way but in a manner that seeks the good, the welfare of others.
Now imagine that everything we pray each time we say the Lord’s Prayer, just imagine if it all came true. Wars would be no more. These incessant battles of David, warring against Saul and on behalf of the Philistines and now wreaking vengeance on the Amalekites – none of that. In our own time, no drone strikes. No homeless shelters. No food pantries. No debts. Keep us from all evil.
Jesus taught this prayer, at least in Matthew, as part of the Sermon on the Mount. He starts by saying to the crowds gathered round, crowds described in an earlier chapter as “all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics… (4:24) and he calls them blessed. Blessed are the poor in spirit and the mourners, the meek and merciful and all the rest. It’s all yours. God has given this unconquerable joy to you. And then Jesus tells us what that looks like. It looks like letting our light shine. Being salty. Loving enemies. Generosity. And praying to God not to impress those who might see you, but because you throw yourself on God’s love and endless mercy. So, pray in this way.
Our father, parent, provider. Not mine. Our.
This is what I want all of us to hold onto as we come together, this season spread out before us, filled with possibility. We are not solo Christians. We are a community of the faithful, praying that God will use us to live into that promise that God’s reign is here, and giving us the strength and courage we need to live like that.
Thanks be to God.