The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE LORD'S PRAYER
"OUR FATHER..."

Delivered 2/6/94
Text: Matthew 6:9-13
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

When I was a boy, our church had a summer camp. For one week every summer, we had the opportunity to get out of the heat of Baltimore, to play, to swim, to enjoy good friends, and to learn more about the Lord. After all, it was a CHURCH camp. Prior to the experience each year, all those who were registered to participate were given instructions about what to bring, what NOT to bring, and so on. And one of the items that was listed as ABSOLUTELY to be included was a blank postcard. You see, the second evening of camp had a time set aside for writing home, and the postcard was necessary for that purpose.

I hated that. Most of the other campers hated it too. It was not that we minded writing to Mom and Dad; we just never knew what to say. "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, Things are fine at Camp Granada." We were having a good time; we were doing lots of fun things; but there was so much we were doing, we really had no idea how to begin. So we hated it. Perhaps you might have had the same experience.

I did not think of it at the time, but something which might have proven helpful to us would have been some sort of OUTLINE provided by our counselors as an idea starter. If they had suggested to us that certain things would be of interest to our folks and then listed some of them, we might not have minded doing it so much. But there was no outline; we were left to depend on our own youthful creativity (or lack of it).

As I grew older, and began to write compositions in school, I hated that too. Again, the problem was not knowing quite what to say or how to say it. Our teachers taught us that an OUTLINE might be helpful. It WAS, and, to an extent, I use one for much of my writing to this day.

I think back to another generation of campers...not campers as I and my friends were campers...but campers in the sense that they TOO were away from home. They TOO had been told over and over again that communication between them and home was important. And they faced the same predicament that we kids did: they were not sure how to go about it. Fortunately, they had a counselor who was willing to give them some help. His name was Jesus...and he provided his charges, then and ever since, with an outline for communication with their Father...their HEAVENLY Father. We call it the Lord's Prayer.

Yes, the Lord's Prayer is indeed an OUTLINE. Jesus did not propose these sixty-six words that Christians around the world recite over and over as a liturgical form (despite the fact that we use them that way). Jesus gave us this outline to help us in our communication; it is up to US to expand upon it.

And that "US" is important because what we call the LORD'S PRAYER was not really the LORD'S prayer at all; it was the DISCIPLE'S prayer. After all, the Lord had no need to ask that his sins be forgiven. What Jesus provided was a PATTERN for prayer...an OUTLINE...which we can use for all those divine "post cards" that Christians send back to their heavenly home.

Lord willing, over the next several weeks, we will look carefully at this prayer which has been used so extensively by the church for so many centuries. We will analyze each petition individually to see what Jesus says makes for proper communication between us and our God.

First, a brief overview. The pattern begins with an address ("Our Father who art in heaven"), then moves into three petitions which point out the Father's proper place in our thinking (the reminder of God's holiness [Hallowed by Thy name], an affirmation of God's sovereignty [Thy kingdom come], and our subservience to divine authority [Thy will be done]). Then there are our needs and requests (for present sustenance [our daily bread], for forgiveness of the failures of the past [forgive us our debts], and for deliverance from future testing [lead us not into temptation]). There is the Lord's outline.

One scholarly aside here: the best of the ancient manuscripts do not contain the final doxology (for Thine is the kingdom, and so on) as a part of the prayer. Most people who study these things are convinced that "For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever" were added at some later time by a pious scribe who felt that the ending was too abrupt. With that in mind, most modern translations of Scripture omit that sentence from the text and merely mention it in a footnote (as the RSV in the pew rack does).

With all that as background, let us begin to study the outline. Start at the beginning: "Our Father, who art in heaven..." Someone has pointed out that it is good that the Lord began our prayer this way, because if we had been left to our own devices, we would have begun with OURSELVES.

What would Jesus have us to understand about God in this phrase, "Our Father, who art in heaven...?" If we think of the cultural context in which the Lord spoke, we realize that the most striking thing, the most novel idea, was this thought of God as a PERSONAL FATHER. To be sure, the Jews of Jesus' day thought of God in terms of FATHER but less in a personal sense and more in a generic sense, (the father of their race - as the Torah has it, "the Lord's own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share"(1)). Most Gentiles thought of God as too removed from human affairs to be PERSONALLY involved with us. Besides, pagan mythology made the gods so mean and petty that human beings would want to keep their distance anyway. But Jesus called God, "Our Father..."

Do you understand that? I used to think I did, but until I BECAME a father, I never REALLY had any idea of what was involved.

I recall when my son was born - thirteen-and-a-half years ago now. Christie and I were exceedingly grateful that David was coming along, but we were not quite sure how he would change our lives. We knew there would be many changes (some in the middle of the night), and we were right.

I remember the morning he put in his appearance. Christie awakened me at 4:30 AM and said, "I think you're going to be a father TODAY." I tried to respond, "Oh really, Dear, what makes you think so?" But what came out at 4:30 in the morning was probably something like "ababjabajaba." We got up, drove the hour to the hospital, got Christie all checked in and waited. Not terribly long as it turned out - only about four hours. We went into the delivery room and within minutes my boy had made his entrance into the world. They had to peel me off the ceiling; I was ecstatic. "Hey, hey, hey, that's my boy."

After a few moments the nurses took him, cleaned him up, and placed him in the warming tray. I went over to look at him and did all the normal fatherly things - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10...1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10...two eyes, one on either side of the nose. Everything in order. It was wonderful.

As I stood and looked at that little fellow, I remarked to the obstetrician (who was an old friend of mine), "Ernie, do you realize that in about 14 years this little bundle of joy will think I am the dumbest man alive." And the doctor replied, "It won't take that long." He was right.

When Erin came along, it was much the same. There was the pre-dawn announcement that she was on the way - Why does it always have to be in the middle of the night? - the trip to the hospital, and VOILÁ...there was our little girl.

There was another visit to the warming tray. Again, everything was in the right place and she was crying her little lungs out. To be truthful, she cried from the moment she was born for about four solid hours. Needless to say, that was not the most reassuring sound. I began to wonder, "Is this what I am going to be in for with her?" I had heard from more people than I care to think about that if their SECOND child had been their FIRST, there would not have BEEN a second. We had hoped we would get one as good as David had been (because he had been terrific), but I was getting a little worried. I asked the nurse if maybe the baby might be hungry, but she replied, "No, that's not the problem...newborn babies have enough food in their system to take care of them for three days." I remember thinking to myself, "Big deal! I have enough food in me to last for three MONTHS but that does not keep me from getting hungry." As it turned out, that WAS Erin's problem and as soon as she got some dinner, she quieted down and has been a delight ever since.

There were a number of things that David and Erin had in common, but one in particular stands out: Christie and I had loved those children before we had ever even seen them. For all those months before each was born, ever since we had known they were on the way, they had been special to us...before we knew whether they were a he or a she...before we knew whether all the fingers and toes were there (and it would not have mattered anyway)...before we knew anything about them other than the fact that they existed, we loved them.

Now, you know there is nothing unusual about that. Any of you who have ever had a baby have experienced the same thing. WHY? There IS NO REASON!!! You love that little baby just because it is yours...no other reason. And that kind of parental love is the only kind of love I can think of that is TRULY unselfish.

Do you love your husband? Do you love your wife? Of course! But you love them because of something THEY can offer you. Do you love your mother? Do you love your father? Sure, you do! But you love them because of all they have done for you. But it is not that way with your kids. When you bring them into the world, they have nothing to offer you except your own personal portion of "blood, sweat and tears." They are going to cost you a fortune. They are going to keep you up at night (either feeding them when they are infants or worrying about them when they get older). They are going to cause you pain (either the direct pain of the punishment that children can inflict or the INdirect pain of suffering along with the pain our kids inevitably feel). Yes, by the time they reach about age fourteen, they DO think you are the dumbest person alive. And the list could go on and on. No, we do not love our children because of what they can do for us; we really love them in SPITE of what they do TO us. But it does not matter; we love them anyway.

Thinking about that, I begin to get a sense of how God feels about you and me. Unconditional love. Yes, we cause God pain. Yes, we cost - we cost the sacrifice of God's own Son on Calvary. Yes, in our more foolish moments, we think God is DUMB! But still we are loved. When we begin our prayers, "Our Father..." we begin from a most favored position.

Does that mean God will grant all our requests? Of course not. My children are always asking me for things to which my answer is NO. I know that some of their requests will do them more harm than good, even though at that moment there is no way they would understand that. My love for them is no less in refusing. It remains as strong as ever. It is the same with our Heavenly Father.

One more thought should be added. Our divine postcard which we call the Lord's Prayer is not addressed simply, "Our Father;" it is sent to "Our Father, who art in HEAVEN." THIS Father is in a higher dimension, a dimension that is beyond our comprehension. The implication is that for all our understanding of fatherly love and care, we are in no position to understand just HOW MUCH love and care is involved. It is MORE than we can ever imagine.

Oh, Love that wilt not let me go;
I rest my weary soul in Thee.(2)

Two men were talking one day about the terrible problems the one man was having with his son. The first man said, "If he were MY son, I would throw him out."

The second man replied, "If he were YOUR son, I would do the same thing. But he's NOT your son; he's MINE...and I could never throw him out." What a picture of the God WE call "Our FATHER..."

May God grant that the next time you sit or stand or kneel to begin your postcard home, and you begin by addressing it, "Our Father, who art in heaven," you will really feel that sense of divine family relationship...that love...for those who, by faith, are God's children.

Amen!


1. Deuteronomy 32:9

2. George Matheson, 1882

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