(Genesis 1:1-2; 4a, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/b36ux5H7oAM)
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
This morning we return to our commitment of flushing out Luther’s thoughts expressed in his Small Catechism. Recall that we have committed the 2nd Sunday of each month for most of this year to delving into Luther’s teachings on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments, and other topics as a way of honoring the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This morning we will explore Luther’s thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer.
For many reasons, the Lord’s Prayer is an essential element of the Christian faith. It is a prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples after being challenged to give them an appropriate prayer template. They, like us at times, struggled to come up with just the right words to bring before God in prayer. Jesus blessed them, and us, with a short and concise prayer that included all the right words. The Lord’s Prayer not only lifts the proper petitions but also the right and proper attitude. Our God is a good and gracious God. Our God is a mighty and majestic God too. The petitions do a good job of reflecting these aspects of our God. They are humble by nature, asking for reasonable yet necessary blessings. And our God listens to such petitions and works to grant them. Maybe not according to our timing and maybe not in the ways we would imagine but certainly in ways and at just the right time that God feels is appropriate. God listens to our prayers, especially the one that the Son gave to us.
Indeed, Luther prefaced his thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer with a strong encouragement of prayer in general. Luther strongly valued prayer, whether in the form of Jesus’ prayer or whatever personal forms we feel compelled to use to converse with God. For Luther, prayer is necessary for fulfilling the second commandment which states, “you are not to take God’s name in vain.” Luther writes, “it is our duty to pray because of God’s command…we are required to praise the holy name and pray or call upon it in every need.” We have been commanded not to take God’s name in vain. It wasn’t a suggestion…it wasn’t a strong encouragement…our God commanded us not to take his name in vain. We fulfill this command by honoring his name, by trusting his name, by using his name appropriately. We fulfill this command by going to God with a respectful, open mind and heart through prayer. “It is our duty and obligation to pray if we want to be Christians, just as it is our duty and obligation to obey our fathers, mothers, and the civil authorities,” as Luther states. Prayer helps us keep God at the forefront of our lives.
In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “hallowed be your name,” which is in response to that second commandment. It is important to keep God’s name holy, never taking it in vain or using it to cover up lies and deceit. We pray that we always keep his name holy, revered above all names as sovereign and almighty. Luther, as is prone to do, asked the simple question, “How does it become holy among us?” His answer—“when both our teaching and our life are godly and Christian. Because in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty in every way to behave as good children so that he may receive from us not shame but honor and praise.” We are to honor and praise our heavenly Father by using his name appropriately and reverently.
In the second petition, we pray, “your kingdom come.” This petition might seem counterproductive since God’s kingdom is all around us wherever we go. Why would we ask for God’s kingdom to come when we know it is already here? In answer to this question, Luther asks another question: what is the kingdom of God? His answer: “simply what we heard in the [Apostles’] Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to deliver this to us through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.” God’s kingdom is found in the Son and the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom is revealed to us through faith. God’s kingdom is more than the earthly world that we can see and touch and hear and smell and taste. God’s kingdom is much, much bigger yet revealed to us through the Son and Holy Spirit. We pray that God’s kingdom is revealed even further through faith.
In the third petition, we pray, “your will be done, on earth as it is heaven.” Again, this petition might seem counterproductive since we know God’s will is always done whether we know it or not. But Luther suggests we are asking that God’s will might overcome the will of the devil. “There is just as much need here as in every other case to ask without ceasing: ‘Dear Father, your will be done and not the will of the devil or of our enemies, nor of those who would persecute and suppress your holy Word or prevent your kingdom from coming: and grant that we may bear patiently and overcome whatever we must suffer on its account, so that our poor flesh may not yield or fall away through weakness or sloth.’” God’s will IS done…we simply ask that it may help us withstand the will of the devil in this world.
In the fourth petition, we pray, “give us today our daily bread.” Luther wants us to think beyond simply hunger and bread and to include all the necessities for life in this world. “To put it briefly, this petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in this world, because it is only for its sake that we need daily bread…but especially is this petition directed against our chief enemy, the devil, whose whole purpose and desire it is to take away or interfere with all we have received from God. He is not satisfied to obstruct and overthrow the spiritual order, by deceiving souls with his lies and bringing them under his power, but he also prevents and impedes the establishment of any kind of government or honorable and peaceful relations on earth” Like the third petition, we are praying not necessarily for God to do and provide what we are confident he already does and provides but rather that his will and provision is strong enough to defeat the will and evil of the devil. Our God is a good and generous God. Our God’s will and provision is stronger than the devil’s. Our God’s will and provision is mighty and supreme. As Luther notes, “although he gives and provides these blessings bountifully, even to the godless and rogues, yet he wishes us to ask for them so that we may realize that we have received them from his hand and may recognize in them his fatherly goodness toward us.”
In the fifth petition, we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness is a gift and blessing from God. We are sinful creatures who deserve nothing but God’s wrath and anger yet God continually shows us grace and mercy through forgiveness. Luther writes, “not that he does not forgive sins even apart from and before our praying; for before we prayed for it or even thought about it, he gave us the gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.” We ask for God’s forgiveness as a means of acknowledging his gracious forgiveness. But we must not forget its condition: “he has promised us assurance that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet on the condition that we also forgive our neighbor.” God forgives but He wants us to forgive others as He has forgiven us.
In the sixth petition, we pray, “and lead us not into temptation.” Luther explains, “this, then, is what ‘leading us not into temptation’ means: when God gives us power and strength to resist, even though the attack is not removed or ended. For no one can escape temptations and allurements as long as we live in the flesh and have the devil prowling around us. We cannot help but suffer attacks, and even be mired in them, but we pray here that we may not fall into them and be drowned by them.” We pray that God helps us resist temptation rather than take it away altogether.
Finally, in the seventh petition, we pray, “but deliver us from evil.” Luther notes, “in Greek this petition reads, ‘deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.’ It seems to be speaking of the devil as the sum of all evil in order that the entire substance of our prayer may be directed against our archenemy. For it is he who obstructs everything for which we ask: God’s name or honor, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a good and cheerful conscience, etc.” You see, the devil is hard at work in this world and this prayer equips us several ways for defeating his will and his ways. Jesus knew the devil’s work, Luther knew the devil’s work, I imagine most of us know the devil’s work in our lives. We need the Lord’s Prayer to help us combat his work. We need Luther’s wisdom on the Lord’s Prayer to better understanding how the Prayer does just that. What a blessing to be given such a tool! Let us celebrate the gift of the Lord’s Prayer and strive to use it often in our daily pilgrimage through this world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.