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Winter Quarter: Honoring God
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 16, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: Matthew 6:9-15
Key Verse: Matthew 6:10
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
To understand the historical significance of the Lord’s Prayer, its role in Jesus’ ministry, and its significant content.
Historical, Geographical, and Experiential Background for Text:
In moments of distress and crisis a large number of people, even the unchurched, will pray the Lord’s prayer. On Easter Sunday 2007 it was estimated that more than 2 billion people prayed this prayer. Often many do not know how to pray and will recite this ancient prayer of the church for comfort and hope. For some, this prayer has an inherent power of its own. When people encounter an experience that feels dark or of the occult they will often pray the Lord’s Prayer as a powerful tool against evil.
This dear prayer has been an important part of Christian worship from the beginning. Before people had access to Scripture they depended upon memorized creeds and prayers. This prayer was considered the highest of all prayers for it was the prayer “Jesus taught us.” Today it is an important part of the liturgy in a worship service. Personally, I never conduct a funeral without the family and congregation praying the Lord’s Prayer together. There is comfort in praying together, and this prayer is one that is well known and meaningful.
The Lord’s Prayer is recorded in two places in the synoptic gospels. This fact leads us to understand that the prayer was most likely used more than once by Jesus and the early church. It is recorded by Luke, the Gentile doctor, and Matthew, the Jewish tax collector. Luke records it in Luke 11. In the context of Luke, the prayer is offered as a model of prayer for the disciples, who have asked Jesus to “teach us to pray.” It is probably from this passage in Luke that the Lord’s Prayer became a prayer used in community worship and by individuals who were in adversity but didn’t know how to pray but had heard the prayer in Christian worship. However, in Matthew 6 the prayer is part of a larger context: the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew it is a “Kingdom Prayer” and compliments Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God recorded in Matthew 5-7. Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is a proclamation that the Kingdom of God is present in the person of Jesus, will be personified in the church who will live the Kingdom in the world, and will one day be fully ushered into human existence when he returns. Therefore, the prayer isn’t just a model for praying in Matthew. It is a prayer that teaches us something about God’s Kingdom. When we pray this prayer, we are praying for the Kingdom to manifest itself on earth and for us to live in the Kingdom as fully as possible. We are praying, “Lord, let me believe and do all the basic things needed for me to live in your Kingdom and reflect your Kingdom in my life until it fully comes at your return.”
Reflection upon the Meaning and Teaching of the Prayer for the Individual Christian and the Christian community.
Once again, we notice that most messages in Scripture are addressed to the community in contrast to only the individual. God is the God of all. We are all his children. The title “father” also implies our interconnectedness. He is “our father.” Most often, God was referred to with titles such as creator, Lord, the holy one. Yet, Jesus chooses this highly personal title. It is the title with which he himself addressed God. Even while dying he prayed, “Father forgive them.” Jesus wants us to understand that through him we can know and experience God in the most personal manner. We live in God’s Kingdom together. Therefore, our prayers should always consider their affect upon our Christian family and others in the world. And, those in relationship with Christ understand the great privilege of speaking to God using the parental address “father.” For most, parental addresses of God allow us to connect with God on a most intimate level. There are few relationships more intimate and meaningful than the relationship of parent with child. The masculine “Father” is used, but this is not to imply God is male. God cannot be confined to a human body. In Jesus’ day it was a patriarchal society and therefore the title father is used. The role in a Jewish household of the father was that of a provider, protector, and teacher, especially teaching the truth of God. Certainly, there were many other contributions the father provided, just as there were many for the mother. For the Jewish person, there were few relationships more intimate and caring than that of their parent. Jesus revealed that God, to whom we pray, is deeply loving and caring, as a parent is for their children. I could say things to my father I could say to no other. God as loving parent allows us to say to him those sins that shame us, those things that hurt us, and those questions that haunt us. For we are talking to one who loves us as a parent who desires the best for us. This pain and shame can be shared with few others. And again, he treats us all the same because he loves us all equally. He indeed is “our” father. The King of the Kingdom of God is a “father-king.” The opening to the prayer, “Our father,” also implies that we should refrain from judging another or perceiving ourselves as better than another. We all stand on equal ground, for he is father of us all. The next time we pray the Lord’s prayer, let us envision all the faces our prayer includes. They represent every nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, and socioeconomic group.
What does the title father, as applied to God, mean to you? What comforts you about that title? When you pray, do you have the reality of the “our father” in mind, or are your prayers mostly uniquely personal with little consideration as to how our prayers will affect others? Why do you think Jesus chose this address of God rather than the many others?
“Who art in heaven”
This statement by Jesus can be easily misunderstood, for we think of heaven as a “place where Jesus lives.” But Jesus is divine, an eternal spirit, and cannot be confined to any space. Just as he could not be confined to the walls of the temple, he cannot be confined to the walls of John’s vision of heaven. God allowed John to see what was awaiting his children using the most beautiful images John could imagine. But heaven is even greater than that. How do you describe the eternal to finite people living in a temporal world? You cannot use images they cannot understand, for the images do not exist in our world, they exist in eternity. Therefore, God’s spirit inspires John to write in the images he does know, and the most beautiful profound images he can describe. But heaven is greater still. If John could speak to us from heaven he might say, “If you thought the image of streets of gold was beautiful, wait till you see the eternal reality to which those streets point. It is beautiful beyond description!” Heaven is a state of being, an eternal realm of beautiful life. And, God is there. He is fully with us. We live in the presence of purest light and deepest love. We live in a manner we cannot comprehend; we can only taste it in this life and describe it using the most beautiful and powerful language possible for us. The divine father that loves us is over all, beyond all, yet loves as the perfect parent. As our parent his eye is forever on us; we are never forgotten, and never forsaken. The prayer is certainly not intending to say God is far away or somewhere other than with us. The prayer is saying it is the eternal God who is our father, and with us. It is the father who is above all that chooses us to be his children in Christ. In Christ we experience a degree of heaven that is yet to come for us in all of its radiant fullness.
How do you envision heaven? What do you think it means when Jesus teaches our Father is in heaven? Do you experience a sense of awe that the eternal creator chooses to relate to us as a parent? Where in life do you see or taste heaven in this life? What are the experiences you’ve had that give you a serene sense of what is to come; for if God comforts us here, he will comfort in heaven? What has happened to you here, in this life, that allows you to say “This must be what heaven is like?”
“Hallowed be thy name”
As we’ve noted on prior occasions, the concept of “name” in the Bible means far more than just a title. It refers to a person’s character, their being, their essence. God is hallowed, or holy. The Lord stands above and beyond us in perfection. However, we do have a contrast here that is rich in meaning and blessing. The holy God, who exists beyond and above the entire cosmos, has given us the great privilege to call him “our Father.” This act of grace is more remarkable than we can imagine. The God who fills heaven and earth chooses to fill our human hearts and lives with the compassion and love of a parent. We often fail to remember that God does not owe us anything. We certainly do not deserve to call him Father. Yet, through the love and forgiveness of Jesus, the Lord invites us to know him as our perfect parent. Referring to God as our Father does not in any way diminish our need to recognize his holiness. We must always understand we address God with great reverence. We lift holy hands before him and bow on bended knee. And yet, we must also always understand he loves us a parent loves their child. We live in the tension between these two. And, what a beautiful tension it is! We are given the privilege of addressing the holy creator God as our personal father! We must never treat God so personally that we encroach upon his holy nature. And, we should never forget that in Christ our holy God has embraced us as his children.
Do you find yourself speaking of God in such personal language that you do not “hallow his name?” Or, do you find yourself speaking to God as though he is so far away and so far above us in holiness that we do not consider just how personal his relationship is with us? How do you believe we can live between these two realities? How do we reverence God as holy and live before him as our father?
“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
The best way to think of God’s kingdom and its relation to our life here on earth is that “it is already here, but not yet.” I know this sounds confusing. However, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit the Kingdom of God was ushered into human existence in its most powerful manner. There had been glimpses and images of the Kingdom in the Old Testament. However, Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection loosed the reality of the Kingdom into human life. The Holy Spirit indwelled the church with the power to live this Kingdom in the world that the world might see what is possible for us, and what is coming. Still, though, the Kingdom of God is moving today in the world and it will still come in all of its fullness when Christ returns and establishes the “new heaven and new earth.” It is already here, but not yet fully here. Heaven represents the highest ideals and realities of life. Justice, mercy, love, equality, beauty, serenity, gentleness, absence of war and violence, etc. Highest of all is the fact it represents the eternal presence of God fully revealed. Our prayer is that these high and noble attributes will be manifested on earth through us, the church, and through the activity of God in the world. Thus, the world is being transformed even now by the Kingdom of God moving in human history. The church’s desire is that the entire world might know the glory of God’s Kingdom and the person of God himself.
Where do you see God’s Kingdom at work in the world? Where do you see his kingdom at work in your church? Where do you see it in your life? How do you believe the world will be transformed when the Kingdom comes in all of its glory?
“Give us this day our daily bread”
The prayer now moves to earthly existence. The God of creation, our hallowed father whose kingdom moves in the world, cares about our daily needs. Jesus taught that the lilies of the field do not toil, nor do the sparrows worry about their next meal. Nothing in life is insignificant to God. From the sustaining of his beautiful creation to the basic needs of his children, all are under God’s loving care. Few items were more important to the physical life of the near eastern people than bread. Bread, in this case, represents all basic needs to sustain life. This prayer request recognizes that God is responsible for all we need, especially food. The Lord is Lord of the field, the rain, the grain, and the wisdom to cook and preserve food. In a most fundamental manner, God does feed us. Naturally, our minds turn to those who lack bread, who live in constant hunger, and to those who face starvation. However, hunger is not the result of the Lord not providing bread. It is the consequence of fallen humanity’s failure to ensure that bread reaches those most in need. We can produce enough food to feed the entire world. However, political systems, greed, and other manifestations of human sin keep bread from reaching those most in need. Thus, our prayer for daily bread includes our praying that daily bread is provided for all. We pray to “Our father,” and thus we acknowledge all of God’s children. Our prayer must include all in need of daily bread. Still, there are personal moments when God provides for us in unexpected ways, using people and means we never considered to meet our basic need.
Once in seminary we lacked $50 meeting our basic monthly obligations. Without telling anyone of that need I went to my seminary post office box and found an envelope with my name written upon it. Yet, there was no writing regarding from whom it came. Inside was a single $50 bill. Many of us have experienced such moments that fill our hearts with gratitude and humility, recognizing God cares deeply for us. Every day the basic needs of the world are supplied with food, water, and clothing. In those cases where there is lack, our prayer must be that God empower us to find the means to provide these dear children what God desires for all his people.
Notice also the prayer is for “daily bread.” The Bible teaches the spiritual discipline of living a moment and day at a time. When God fed Israel with manna, the manna was given one day at a time. When Elijah fled to the brook Cherith, the ravens brought him bread to sustain him one day at a time. Repeatedly Jesus warns against adopting a perspective of life that looks into the future and ignores today. We live today; tomorrow will take care of itself. We must be thankful for the bread we hold in our hands that day, that meal, that moment, realizing we do not know what the future holds. However, we eat the bread knowing who holds the future.
Do you find it easy when saying grace over a meal to neglect remembering from the grain, to the field, to the rain, and the hands that harvest, God has provided our food? Do we pray for those who live in great lack and ask God to help us find the means to provide the necessities of life for them? Do we find that we eat from such a great bounty of food, and eat foods that are far above the basic needs of life that we fail to be as grateful as we should? Do we pray assuming bread will always be provided?
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”
We should not be surprised that the need to forgive those who sin against us follows our prayer for daily bread. The need to forgive is as basic to the human spirit as bread is for basic physical existence. The soul that cannot or refuses to forgive can grow as weak as the malnourished body. We can starve the human spirit through withholding forgiveness. Unlike bread, we alone are responsible for offering forgiveness to another. Nothing can impede our release of others from their sin against us except for our own willingness to hold onto the hurt and pain. A dear man in my life was on his deathbed suffering from pancreatic cancer. He had hurt his wife, who was equally dear to me, on many occasions through the years. Now, he felt the real need to sincerely ask for her forgiveness before he died. He did not desire to die knowing how deeply he wounded her. She refused. Over the years I visited her twice a year, for she lived four hours away. I literally watched her spiritual heart suffer. She became quiet and, at times, bitter. As a boy I felt sorry for the dear man who died unforgiven. But as the years progressed, I felt just as sorry for her, for I watched the joy slowly seep from her life.
Forgiveness is the lifeblood of spiritual vitality. As much as we need daily bread, we need the courage and love to forgive others, no matter how deeply they have hurt us. God has provided the ultimate expression of the power of forgiveness through Jesus on the cross. Yes, Jesus died on the cross, but spiritually he fully lived. His body was bound to the cross but his spirit was free and given to God. As those who follow Jesus, who have Jesus dwelling in our hearts, we have the power to forgive. Refusing to forgive is to ignore what Jesus did and expressed on Golgotha. Refusing is to bind ourselves to our own cross of unforgiveness where the soul cannot fully experience the wonder of God’s liberating love.
Notice that the need to forgive, which is as basic for the soul’s health as bread is for the body, contains another phrase in order to “completely experience forgiveness for ourselves.” Actually, without this second phrase the request for God to forgive us becomes almost hypocritical. How can we ask God to forgive us if we withhold forgiveness from another? When Jesus said “Whatsoever we bind on earth is bound in heaven,” (Mat. 18:18) Jesus was speaking of forgiveness. He was saying we bind people with our unforgiveness and keep them from moving through life in a meaningful manner, and in turn bind ourselves. That is a pretty serious statement and warning! We enter the Kingdom of God through our reception of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for each of us, and our response as children of the kingdom is to in like manner forgive others. It does not matter if they are at fault. We are called to forgive, period. It is human nature to decide whether a person merits our forgiveness based upon the severity of the pain inflicted upon us. However, as children of the Kingdom we are children who look to the cross for inspiration to forgive. What can be done to us more severely than the pain inflicted upon Jesus? Most likely his mother, Mary, also forgave after what they had inflicted upon her son. Forgiveness is an unconditional act. It can often be offered to another only after we earnestly pray. I believe that is the reason this request is included in the “prayer of prayers.” Only then can we ask God to sincerely forgive us our sins and release us from their bondage. There is no liberated Kingdom-living apart from forgiveness for ourselves and others.
Verses 14 and 15 offer the rationale for the need of forgiveness. It is not enough for us to forgive another that we might be forgiven. It is important to remember it is God who must forgive us. King David wrote in Psalm 51 “Against thee (God) only have I sinned.” Ultimately all sin against ourselves and others is a sin against God. It is God who made us and identifies with us. It is God who loves us and cares deeply for us. Therefore, any wrong committed against another is a wrong committed against God. Jesus taught, “As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.” The identification with his children applies to sin and the need to forgive as well.
Do you find yourselves asking for forgiveness while failing to consider our need to forgive another? Do we understand the connection of the two and how both are necessary for Kingdom living? Do we judge whether another is deserving of our forgiveness based upon the severity of the pain they have caused? How does this judgment relate to Jesus’ suffering and death upon the cross? How do you believe unforgiveness can bind us and those we refuse to forgive? Why would Jesus affirm that forgiveness is as vital for the soul as bread is for the body?
“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
This request is interpreted differently by many. Even the Catholic Church has reworded the request to be more consistent with what they believe Jesus taught. Naturally, we do not believe God leads us into temptation. Repeatedly in Scripture we are taught to avoid, shun, and flee temptation. Jesus alone was led into temptation in order to experience the temptations of life that we experience. Yet, he possessed the spiritual strength to withstand and overcome. We do not. Temptation can become a snare that easily captures us. When texts are interpreted into English, we can often miss the original intent of the original wording. The second phrase, “but deliver us from evil” offers a powerful hint as to what the first phrase means. It seems inconsistent to pray that God deliver us from evil after leading us into temptation. Obviously, Jesus wants us to pray that we might avoid temptation, and be delivered from such evil. There are no other places in Scripture where God intentionally leads us into situations that allow us to fall into the snare of evil. (James 1:13) We are tested by God, but never tempted. We pray God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Leading us into temptation is a rather inconsistent statement in relation to that line of the prayer. We are to pray to be delivered not only from evil, but from the evil one, implying the personification of evil, the devil. Most often the prayer is prayed that we are delivered from evil. But here “the evil one” is included. The meaning remains the same. Whether it is the author of evil, or the evil circumstances we face daily, we pray for God’s strength to avoid it, and should we find ourselves weak and ensnared, to be delivered from it.
I find it understandable that our prayer to avoid temptation and evil follows our prayer to be forgiven and to forgive. It is the temptations of life, the evil in the world that leads us to hurt one another. It is the temptation to be selfish, unjust, hateful, and deceptive that leads us to hurt others. In hurting others, we also hurt ourselves. Furthermore, often when we hurt someone they strike back and hurt us in return. The need to be forgiven and to forgive are the needs that arise from an evil, fallen world. To avoid temptation and be delivered from evil in life is to live in the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22-25). Read the list of this fruit. When we live in the fruit of the spirit, we treat one another with respect and dignity, and most likely will be treated by others in like manner.
Can you name instances when you most felt tempted, yet overcame? How did your faith empower you to overcome? Can you think of a time when you knew you faced evil and yet shunned it? Again, how did your faith assist you withstanding evil? When you sincerely follow Christ, do you find yourself avoiding temptation and evil? Why do you believe it is easier to shun evil and temptation when walking with Christ? As you read the fruit of the Spirit, how do you believe they help you in avoiding evil, or hurting others, and hurting yourself?
This memorable prayer includes that most basic spiritual needs and principles important to human life. We are all the children of the Father. Though our divine parent, God is hallowed, holy and must always be revered. God’s will for our life is that the attributes of his Kingdom might move in and through human life, and eventually reign, with God as King. In praying for that which is eternal, we must not forget God is involved and cares about our daily existence, our basic needs like bread. Then, we remember that God is also concerned about our relationships with one another. At the heart of our relationships is the ability to forgive, as a forgiven people. As God forgives us, we forgive others. As a forgiven people, living in the Kingdom of God as it moves in life, we are able to strengthened to avoid temptation and to avoid succumbing to evil and the evil one.
The Lord’s prayer is usually prayed and closed with a doxology. This doxology was added and in the original prayer. However, the doxology was used as a way of saying to God after the requests, “It is your Kingdom, you are the powerful Lord, glorified on earth and heaven, for all eternity.” This doxology only affirms the power of the prayer and takes away nothing from its content.
Thoughtfully, slowly, and in a spirit of meditation, pray the Lord’s prayer. Pay close attention to each line and its meaning to life, your life, and the lives of others.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.