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Prayer Part 1 of 4


In the narrative lectionary we are going to spend the next 4 weeks with the Lord's prayer.  Today we will focus on just the first couple of lines.

"Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name!  Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven."

The disciples came to Jesus and asked him how they should pray.  Disciples often asked this question of their rabbi.  Part of being a disciple was emulating your rabbi in everything they did.  Each time we say the Lord's prayer together, we are carrying on this ancient practice.  This emulation was never designed to be rote prayer forever, but through emulation, we are to learn something and then integrate it into our own faith.  So, let's explore the prayer and see what we can learn.  In these first two lines I want to point out 3 key lessons.

1.) Communal: The language of Jesus had a very specific way of indicating who was speaking.  The words themselves actually shift based on the gender and number of people doing the speaking.  In this case, the words of Jesus indicate that he expected us to pray as a group, not as individuals.  In the English version this is reflected in the "Our" that starts the prayer, but in Jesus' prayer it is actually woven throughout the entire prayer, a constant reminder that we should be praying with each other.  Far too many of us avoid communal prayer, or stay silent when the opportunity arrises.  We assume we have to have flowery language to pray out loud, but remember that Christ taught us to avoid such language in prayer.  We are to keep it simple and to the point, not to make a show of it.  Each week our staff team prays together.  We generally keep it simple, but Pastor Jason has recently taken to a practice that I love.  Sometimes he simply says "Lord, hear our prayer."

2.) Reputation: "Hallowed be thy name" is so dense and hard to dissect for modern readers.  What are we even saying?  Some know that hallowed is just an old word for holy, but even then, what does it mean?  Holy, is a word that means set apart.  If I take a portion of my paycheck and I place it in an envelop and I take that envelop and set it aside for gas money, then that money is holy.  That is a very different meaning that we normally think about when we think of holy, is it not?  So, is this just saying that the name of God is set aside?  Well, that is true.  Jesus and the disciples would have been taught, like all Jews, that the name of God was not to be spoken or even written, it was set aside, only to be used in special circumstances.  However, the word for "name" had a different meaning in Jesus' culture.  Every name revealed something of the person it described, it revealed their nature, or their reputation.  This is why there are so many instances of God giving people new names in the scriptures.  It was an important part of their culture.  So the name of God is not just a set of letters that refer to God, but they carry the nature and the reputation of God as well.  It would be fair to translate this line something like this: "You are different than all of the other heavenly beings, everyone knows of your works, and your reputation proceeds you!"

3.) Kingdom as Rule: In Jesus' culture, a kingdom was not just a nation within an arbitrary boundary, but where the rule of a king was followed.  A nation in rebellion, where the people did not follow the rule of the king, was no longer a kingdom.  On the other hand, a captive people who maintained the rule of their king, brought the kingdom with them to that foreign land.  This is why Jesus said the Kingdom of God was "at hand" or "upon them".  Jesus was proclaiming the rule of the Kingdom present in his life.  It is also why he said to Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world".  From his perspective he was admitting that he was a king of a foreign nation, and he brought that rule with him.  The structure of this part of the prayer is actually something more like: "Heaven's King's rule come to be on the Earth".

So let's make our own translation of these first two lines.

"Our father, creator and king of the heavens and the earth, you are so special to us.  The world has come to know of your mercy and love!  Your reputation has spread over the face of the Earth.  Everyone has heard of you, and we know that you are special and unique, King of all!.  All things in Heaven submit to your will.  May the rule of your kingdom spread to encompass the whole of the Earth.  May your message resonate in every being, and may we all follow your ways and commands."

Lord, hear our prayer!  


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