The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
July 25, 2010
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some times crossroads are important. There was a little market town that was at the crossing of several important roads. Because all these roads went through that one place, so also did the armies. In fact in early July of 1863, two armies met there at the crossroads. The place was named Gettysburg. Likewise in December of 1944, all the roads in certain place led through this one town. When the Germans attacked, troops were rushed forward to hold the crossroads, thus limiting the German’s ability to maneuver. The place was named Bastogne.
Crossroads are important. Sometimes, something sits at theological crossroads. The Lord’s Prayers is one such thing. It sits at the crossroads of prayer and confession. In order to fully understand this prayer, we must understand how it functions for us in both ways.
The key here is the question that the disciples asked Jesus - “teach us to pray as John taught his disciples to pray. In those days each rabbi had a prayer that he would teach his disciples. They were not to teach this prayer to other people. Only the disciples of that rabbi were to pray that particular prayer. So then why do we pray the Lord’s Prayer? In Matthew 28:19 Jesus’ followers were told to go into the world and make disciples. All believers in Christ are His disciples. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. Thus we pray the disciples’ prayer.
It is instructive to examine how the Lord’s Prayer has been used in the church. In the ancient church, the Lord’s Prayer was placed adjacent, either before or after, the Verba, or words of institution. That’s just where we use it today in the communion service. Why is this significant? Because in the ancient church they ushered out those who would not commune. Only the communicants were present to pray the Lord’s Prayer. In other words only those who were truly disciples of Jesus were allowed to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It was understood that this prayer was also a confession of Christ.
Luther likewise understood this concept. You might ask, Pastor, how do you know this? Well, if you think about it, you know it too. These words of the good doctor are as familiar to you as they are to me. To which you might reply, I’ve never read anything of Luther. Ah, but you have. Do you remember these words: “God’s name is kept holy when His word is taught in its truth and purity, and we lead godly lives according to it”? Of course, right in the Small Catechism. These words under the first Petition of the Lord’s Prayer are speaking of the prayer as a confession. We are confessing the authority of Scripture. In the Fourth Petition we are confessing that our food and all our earthly possessions come from God. Every petition of the prayer has a confessional quality to it. So the Lord’s Prayer is both a prayer and a confession of faith in Christ. It stands at the crossroads.
This then already answers the question if we are to actually pray the Lord’s Prayer or just use it as an example. Of course we are to pray it. For to pray the Lord’s Prayer is to confess Christ. And think on this, all other creeds are man made. Church councils in 325 and 381 A.D. gave us the Nicene Creed. The Apostles Creed was developed in the congregation in Rome as a baptismal creed. Even the ancient creed, “Jesus is Lord”, which is mentioned by St. Paul, was created by men. These are fine expressions of the true Christian faith. They are careful reflections of Scripture. But the Lord’s Prayer comes from Christ Himself. It can therefore be seen as an even greater confession of faith.
Yet, we must not forget that it is also a prayer. It is one of the ways that we speak back to God. God speaks to us in Scripture. We speak back to God in prayer. Luther in the Smallcald Articles, part of the Book of Concord, says: “God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit- without the Word and Sacraments - is of the devil himself.” Thus we say that God’s speaks to us through the Scriptures and we speak back to God in prayer. Prayer is the proper response of faith. Prayer ought to come in many forms in our lives. We should have formal prayers, written out with a carefully crafted structure. We should have regular prayers which have some structure but follow upon the needs of ourselves and those around us. So we might have a form that we follow when praying for the sick, but the names we mention might change daily. Thirdly, we ought to have prayer that is like an ongoing conversation with God throughout our day. This will have no more structure than the thoughts of our brains.
One thing that is of utmost importance, that must be said, is that only believers in Christ can pray. Others simply go through the motions. Their prayers are not heard by our heavenly Father. Prayer comes from faith. Faith is nothing more than trust. We know who our heavenly Father is, and because of Christ, we trust in Him. We know that our heavenly Father loves us and desires good for. His desire for our good is so strong that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins. With the forgiveness of our sins, we can now approach God and speak to Him for ourselves and for our neighbor. We must be very mindful of our unbelieving neighbor. Especially for them we must pray. We must place their names before God’s throne, attach their names to God’s altar. We must do this for them, because they cannot do it themselves. We trust in Christ and our Heavenly Father, therefore we can pray. We can petition our king and trust that He will hear us, His subjects, and that He do all that which is good and right in the time and manner that He knows to be best.
There is much confusion today about the Lord’s Prayer. Many cast it off as simply a model or relic of earlier times. Some will even say that the truly spiritual don’t need such crutches as pre written prayers. All of this fails to understand that the Lord’s Prayer exists at the crossroads of confession and prayer. It is both our confession and our prayer. It teaches how to pray and what to pray for, but it also is a prayer and confession that we must say as well. It is the very words that Christ gives us to mark us as His disciples - as those whom He has saved.