Father, uphold the holiness of your name (Luke 11.2b) [Sermon 08-14-2016]

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August 13, 2016 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, August 14, 2016. First in a four-week series on the Lord’s Prayer in Luke (Luke 11.2-4).

An audio link is embedded below.


Praying lessons

The eleventh chapter of Luke begins like this:

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Jesus was, of course, a master at prayer. After all, he’d been talking to his Father since forever. Of course his disciples would want to take praying lessons from him.

I suspect that some of us don’t much like the idea of taking praying lessons. Makes about as much sense as breathing lessons. It’s easy. It’s natural. You just do it. You talk to God. We don’t need any fancy forms or techniques. We want to keep prayer simple. I totally get that.

On the other hand, there’s a pretty big market out there for folks who are interested in taking praying lessons. About 15 years ago a book touting the prayer of King David’s ancestor, Jabez, topped the New York Times bestseller list. These days the prayer book that has everyone talking uses Daniel’s prayer from Daniel 9 as its model. These are books that give praying lessons. So there are plenty of people who want to be taught how to pray. They’re searching for a model of powerful prayer that “works.”

I totally get that, too. God answered the prayers of Jabez and Daniel. They prayed, and big things happened. The fruit of their prayers was felt far beyond their own lives. Some of us want those sorts of results when we pray. We want our prayers to move the heavens and shake up the earth.

But all that raises up a big question mark. If you want to take praying lessons, why not go directly to Jesus, like his disciples did in Luke 11? If we’re going to learn how to speak to our heavenly Father, why not take lessons from his Son? Why not let Jesus teach us to pray, since he is God’s prayer for us?

The truth is, we do need praying lessons. After all, in one of his letters, Brother Paul says: We don’t know what we should pray (Rom. 8.26). A little while after Jesus taught his disciples to pray in our reading today, he said: Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? (Luke 11.11) We might trust God to give us a fish; but what if what we’re praying for seems like a fish; but it’s really a snake?

For the next few weeks, we’ll be asking Jesus to teach us to pray. And we’ll learn to pray by listening to the same prayer he taught disciples, when they asked him for praying lessons.

Father

When you’re praying, it helps to know who you’re praying to. In fact, that’s probably the very first thing you ought to know.

Are we praying to the God envisioned by the Greek philosophers, like Aristotle? The Unmoved Mover God? God as an Unmoved Mover might inspire awe, but why would you pray to him? What good is an Unmoved Mover when your child is sick or your heart is broken or your cupboards are bare? What would you accomplish by praying to a God who is unmoved by your prayers?

Or are we praying to the God Jonathan Edwards preached about? The angry God whose hands are full of sinners? Edwards preached that God always had his hands full of sinners—and of course, we’re all sinners, right?—ready to toss them into the fiery abyss of hell whenever his “sovereign pleasure” saw fit. Edwards explained that by sovereign pleasure, he meant God’s “arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation.” Did you hear that word arbitrary? Jonathan Edwards’ God doesn’t need a reason to toss anybody into hell. According to Edwards:

God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth … than he is with many of those that are now in the flames of hell … Were it not that so is the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it. [1]

Jonathan Edwards’ God might inspire terror, but why bother praying to him?  After all, he’s a God whose will is arbitrary—how could you ever trust him? Let alone believe that he loved you enough to listen! He’s more apt to fling you headlong into the lake of fire than to hear your prayers. And even if he hears your prayers, he obviously doesn’t think too much of them. Remember, according to Jonathan Edwards, in God’s eyes you’re just a burden!

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray to an Unmoved Mover; nor to an Angry God who barely tolerates our mere existence. No, Jesus says: When you pray, say: “Father.”

Jesus taught us to pray to the Father.

Unfortunately, the world is full of bad fathers. For some people, the very word father ought to come with a trigger warning. Some of us have suffered at the hands of our fathers. We have had fathers who have done shameful things to us. Who have wrecked us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Who have pushed us away. Abandoned us. Rejected us. Walked away from us. Thrown us away. Who laid impossible expectations on us, and let us know over and over all the ways we don’t measure up. Even the best fathers will disappoint us sometimes. Some of us have had fathers who seemed a lot like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. Or Jonathan Edwards’ Angry God.

If that’s where you’re at—if you heard your relationship with your earth father reflected in something I just said—please listen to this: God. Is. Not. Your. Father.

If your father—your earth father—has damaged you, then it’s totally okay to begin here: Jesus taught us to pray to his Father.

Now, just think about this. Jesus took great delight in healing sick people and casting out demons. He loved giving people their lives back. Jesus took the time to love and appreciate the least of these. The sick and the hungry and the outcasts and the losers and the sinners and people in prison. Jesus fed hungry people. He elevated women and children in a culture where they were basically seen as property. Jesus stood between a woman and an angry mob about to crush her to death with rocks. And he drew a line in the sand as if to say, If you want to hurt her, you’ll have to go through me. Jesus loved people even when it was inconvenient and dangerous and outraged his neighbors. He reached out to people his neighbors hated. And even when they were nailing him to a cross, Jesus prayed to his Father: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing. We know and love this Jesus. And Jesus wants us to know and love his Father.

And that’s why, as Jesus went around spreading love and light and life wherever he was, he said things like this:

Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise (John 5.19).

I and the Father are one (John 10.30).

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14.9).

In other words: Father God is at least as kind and loving as Jesus. [2] And Jesus teaches us to pray to him.

Uphold the holiness of your name

So we have learned who we’re praying to. That’s absolutely essential. But Jesus also tells us what to pray for. He gives us words to say. This is where some folks get antsy. Most of us are used to free-style prayers. We bristle at the idea of anyone telling us what to pray. But if we’re going to humble ourselves enough to go to Jesus for praying lessons, shouldn’t we at least try to pray what he teaches us?

The first thing Jesus teaches us to say to our Father is: Uphold the holiness of your name. We ask God to be true to himself so that his honor is intact. That’s the first thing Jesus tells us to say to our Father.

In the days of the prophet Ezekiel, God’s people had abandoned God and his ways until they were scattered among the nations as exiles. Listen closely to what Father God told his scattered children through the prophet.

House of Israel, I’m not acting for your sake but for the sake of my holy name, which you degraded among the nations where you have gone. I will make my great name holy Then the nations will know that I am the Lord … When I make myself holy among you in their sight, I will take you from the nations, I will gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you to your own fertile land. (Ezek. 36.22-24)

God’s children had failed to live up to our Father’s holy name, which they bore. But God made his name holy again by rescuing them from exile. A major part of what makes Father God holy—what makes him different and special—is that he is fiercely loyal to his children, and all of his creation. When we call upon our Father to uphold the holiness of his name, we are asking him to rescue and liberate and heal and redeem and restore. Not only our lives, but everything he has made.

To pray: Father, uphold the holiness of your name; is to say: Father God, be present in our world, in our time; so that the world will see your goodness and greatness; and give you praise!

To pray these words also binds us to our Father’s holiness. This is why God told his people: You must keep my commands and do them; I am the Lord. You must not make my holy name impure … I am the Lord—the one who makes you holy (Lev. 22.31-32). The way God’s children live in the world has the power to make our Father’s name impure, or to make it holy.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us to let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5.16). Father God’s holy name is upheld in the world in the obedient lives of his children. Jesus gave us these words to pray, because when we pray them, we’re asking our Father for the grace to empower us to live and work in ways that testify to his holiness. Father God wants his children to bear a family resemblance to him.

Our heirloom prayer

The disciples came to Jesus for praying lessons. He taught them the prayer we just heard, and prayed together. This prayer has been handed down through the generations. It’s an heirloom prayer. It’s a valuable piece of our inheritance as Father God’s children. And it’s meant to be used; not put up in the china cabinet with the rest of the relics.

Praying this prayer that Jesus taught us isn’t a magic spell, but I do believe that it can and will transform us. I’m not saying that we should only ever pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. I’m not saying that free-style prayer is bad and we shouldn’t do it. I am saying that we should take the prayer that Jesus taught us seriously enough to pray it.

Here’s where I find the deepest value in this prayer that is called the Lord’s Prayer. Earlier in Luke, we find the great two-fold command: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10.27). Whenever we are drawn out of ourselves by love of Father God and the neighbors he brings our way, we are pushing on the door to eternal life—a door that always stands ajar. We find ourselves coming to life, welcomed as children in our Father’s household. The greatest value of the Lord’s Prayer lies in its ability to draw our attention away from our own needs and longings and desires; and focus our attention on what God desires and our neighbors need. The Lord’s Prayer helps form our character so that our capacity to love God and our neighbors grows.

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us that prayer isn’t about me; what I want, or think I need. Prayer is always about God, to God, and for God. Prayer is not a work we do to goad God into seeing things our way. Prayer doesn’t just invite God into our lives or hearts. Rather, when we pray, we are brought into God’s life. As we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we are drawn by Jesus the Son into the Father’s life and heart and household through the Holy Spirit. And the words Jesus gave us to say really do matter. When we speak those words, they have the power to change our attitude. And our attitude shapes our actions. We embrace the works of our Father, for his glory and our good. And our good involves what is good for our neighbors; for all of Father God’s children; and for all of God’s creation.

So let’s go to Jesus for praying lessons. And let’s pray the prayer he gave us. But let us also remember that when we pray, Father, uphold the holiness of your name; what we are really praying is, Father, give us the grace to think and live and act in ways that lead us to feel at home with you; and that welcome you so that you can be at home among us. No doubt, when we pray this prayer our thoughts and our hearts and our lives and our world will be disrupted. And that’s probably a very good thing. We want God to disrupt us. After all, what else was God doing but disrupting the darkness and chaos when he said, Let there be light! When we pray, Father, uphold the holiness of your name, that’s exactly the kind of disruption we’re asking for.


[1] Edwards, Jonathan. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Vol. 54. Electronic Texts in American Studies. 1741. Accessed August 11, 2016. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=etas.

[2] This seems to be a common turn of phrase among progressive evangelicals these days, and I agree. See Brian Zahnd: “God Is Like Jesus.” August 11, 2011. Accessed August 11, 2016. http://brianzahnd.com/2011/08/god-is-like-jesus-2/.

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One thought on “Father, uphold the holiness of your name (Luke 11.2b) [Sermon 08-14-2016]

  1. […] don’t think you have to go on and on and on to make sure your prayers are heard. As we learned last week, prayer is a conversation with our Father. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that […]

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