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The Lord's Prayer - What Is It Actually?

The Lord's Prayer - What Is It Actually?

Jul 28, 2019

Passage: Luke 11:1-13

Preacher: The Reverend Andrew Van Kirk

Series: The Lord's Prayer


Some of you may recall the Pope making headlines a few months ago for wanting to “change the Lord’s Prayer.” Come on man. I know he’s the Pope and everything, but seriously. Some things — grandma’s biscuit recipe, the color of the Golden Gate bridge, the Lord’s Prayer — some things just can’t be changed.

In the relentless churn of the Internet, this briefly got to be a big deal — this new Pope (Francis has been Pope since 2013, a few months longer than I’ve been at St. Andrew’s) and his new Lord’s Prayer.

What Pope Francis actually did was approve updated liturgical texts (these were Italian I believe, though eventually something like this will come to the English texts) that change “lead us not into temptation” to “do not let us fall into temptation.”

The Pope’s theological point is that God doesn’t lead his sons and daughters into temptation. That’s not how a Father acts. A dad doesn’t take his 18 year old son to a strip club and say, “Now, don’t you look…” God leads us on a path away from temptation, a not temptation path, providing us the strength to not fall in. Do not let us fall into temptation makes better theological sense.

But, you say, it’s the Lord’s prayer, and the Lord says “lead us not into temptation!” We can’t just change Jesus’ words to make better theological sense. Except Jesus didn’t speak 17th century English. He spoke Aramaic, the gospel writers wrote the prayer down in Greek, the Greek was translated into Latin, the Latin into English, and — well, the nuances of verbal expression sometimes get ambiguous.

Linguistically, the pope is probably right. And actually, we’ve all known it for a while…

I want you to get out a prayer book now. It’s the red book, in front of you, with the cross on it. We don’t get it out often, but this is where we Episcopalians get our liturgy from, and I want to show you something. Turn to page 364. This is the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the moment where, at St. Andrew’s, we all stand up to hold hands to pray in the words our Savior Christ has taught us.

Do you see how here are two columns there. On the left is the traditional text, the one we actually say on Sundays. On the right is the contemporary translation (I mean, 45 years old, but still). This “new” one is the one liturgical experts wanted us to use with the new prayer book, but they eventually agreed on the compromise position of including them both. And of course that was as good as not even printing the new one, because the traditional one is the one everyone knows. Even my 4 year old. One of my special priestly skills is being able to say both of these from memory, and when we say the Lord’s Prayer as a family before bed, if I slip into the contemporary one, Drew literally beats me, just bashes me with his fist, until I say it correctly.

So in the contemporary version, right column, look down at the “temptation” line… it’s not there. It says, “save us from the time of trial.”

And look in your leaflet, with the gospel on it, verse 4. “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

The contemporary version has “save us from the time of trial” because that’s what the Bible says.

You’ve been living a lie! And the Pope is right. Dear God, which is worse?

I jest. The old prayer is great too. It’s not wrong; it’s just maybe a little confusing in this place. I don’t want you go home wondering if everything you’ve ever known is a lie. This is not the Truman Show. And we’re not going to change what we say on Sunday mornings together.

But I do want to prod and poke just a little bit, I do want you to think about what the Lord’s Prayer actually is — somewhere along the way it became like a speech from Shakespeare or a poem by Robert Frost, this beautiful piece of English poetry to be memorized verbatim and recited. The reason the Pope made cable news was because the years of reciting the same words over and over again have worn a deep, smooth groove through our minds. It’s hard to see anything over the edge.

But Jesus didn’t speak the King’s English. He wasn’t a poet. He was God’s Son, walking around trying to get people to see the world from God’s point of view, well on his way to dying for making the effort, only to save us all in the process, and people along the way kept asking him for prayer advice.

Where did the Lord’s prayer actually come from? It came from Jesus’ disciples wanting to know how to pray. Look at verse 1: “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”

Teaching people how to pray is something that religious leaders, like John the Baptist, like saints and sages throughout the ages, like the new Pope, like me, and like Jesus — are expected to do. And so Jesus “said to them, ‘When you pray, say…’”

But this is the Gospel of Luke. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus shares the Lord’s Prayer in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. And Matthew’s Lord’s Prayer is longer than Luke’s; it’s a little more like the one we use in worship. You can’t even call Luke’s the “Our Father,” you’d just have to call it “Father.” Let’s all say the “Father” together.

So who is right? Luke or Matthew? Yes. Both. How many times, over the course of his ministry, do you think Jesus’ was asked for advice on how to pray? Dozens? Hundreds?

Jesus didn’t have a pamphlet he passed out whenever he got that question, he just told them more or less the same thing. More (like Matthew) or less (like Luke), you know. Because oral communication isn’t recitation. This sermon isn’t exactly the same the other services — and I even have a manuscript. Jesus preached without notes.

Just like a modern day comedian, or an inspirational speaker, or even an evangelist — Jesus reused his best stuff. Many of you will remember when J. John, the British evangelist, came and preached at our 10 year anniversary celebration almost 4 years ago. And he told this great story asking where Jesus is as we’re driving the car of our life. Of course Jesus is supposed to be the driver’s seat, but we like to kick him to the passenger seat, or the back seat, or the boot (the trunk). Do you remember him telling this story? It was great.

Search J. John on YouTube, you’ll find the same story. He’s telling it to a different crowd; the words are slightly different; the timing is changed. But it’s the same story. And it’s still funny. Who got the right one: us, or the YouTube audience?” Yes. Both.

You see how this works. One of the greatest things about having four gospels is that we get to encounter Jesus the way people actually encountered him — a little bit different each time. The gospels don’t match perfectly — any more than your favorite band’s concert in Portland was exactly like the one at the AT&T Stadium. Did you see Jesus in Capernaum? Did you catch the show in Jerusalem? That’s why the gospels aren’t exactly the same.

Yes, I am trying to loosen the grip of the idea that the precision of the memorized words of the Lord’s Prayer is what will get you closest to God. It’s not a magic spell you have to get just right or else risk turning something into a toad. When you can let go of the Lord’s Prayer as divine incantation, you can stop worrying about what’s different and see what’s the same.

And what’s the same is the way, when Jesus was asked how to pray, he wrapped his entire ministry up into the prayer.

* The Father thing: Jesus brings us a new way of relating to God as sons and daughters.
* The kingdom come thing: With Jesus the kingdom of God, the place where God’s will is done, comes near to us on earth.
* The daily bread thing: Jesus’ ministry addressed people’s actual daily needs. It wasn’t all lofty, pie-in-the-sky stuff. Sometimes he gave people literal bread.
* The forgave us thing. Whatever you all them, sins or debt or trespasses, Jesus brings us forgiveness of them.
* The temptation/trial thing: The line that started the sermon, whatever Jesus meant by that, it’s in here too.

And I’m willing to leave it at “whatever Jesus meant”, because for the next four weeks, we’re going to look at these themes in the Lord’s Prayer, and look over these familiar words with fresh eyes to see what Jesus was really teaching us.

In the month of August, I pray that you will find the Lord’s Prayer to be bigger and better than you’ve ever imagined it being before, because it’s not just the prayer Jesus taught us, is the prayer that encompasses Jesus’ entire ministry.

When we stand up and hold hands before taking communion and say this prayer, we aren’t going over our a spiritual grocery list. We’re taking to God in prayer everything that Jesus was about. The Lord’s Prayer, whatever version we use, is the prayer of the gospel — we take onto our lips, and so into our hearts and minds and souls the Lord. We ask for the gift of Jesus to be true in our lives.

The Lord’s Prayer invites us into the life of the Lord — and if you can get that, these old words can set your life on fire again. I can’t wait to go through them with you.