The Worship and Music Committee at my church asked me to write five short reflections on Luther’s Small Catechism for use in our Wednesday night Lenten services. I’m republishing those reflections here. Eventually I will publish a book with slightly expanded versions of these reflections for congregational use (adult or Confirmation study) or anyone seeking to understand more about Luther’s Catechism.
Reflection 3 (read at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chelmsford, MA on Wednesday, March 22, 2017)
The Lord’s Prayer
The Ten Commandments tell us what God expects from us. The Creed tells us who God is and what he* has done for us. But how do we bring those two things together?
The second commandment tells us, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” If we are not to make wrongful use of God’s name, then that means there’s a rightful use of God’s name. And prayer is that rightful use.
But sometimes people don’t pray because they don’t know how, or because they feel unworthy to call upon God Almighty. They believe he won’t listen or won’t care because of the things they’ve done. But the whole point of God the Son entering into human history was to bridge the gap between the holiness of God and the wretchedness of our reality. God wants to be in relationship with us, God chooses to communicate with us through his Word and his Spirit, and God desires us to communicate with him through prayer.
And God the Son instructed us on exactly how to pray. Martin Luther, among others, divided what we call the Lord’s Prayer into seven petitions. In the first petition we pray that God’s name might be holy. Why do we need to pray this? Isn’t his name already holy?
God’s name is indeed holy in and of itself, but our use of his name is not. Here we pray that God will help us to keep the second commandment, and that God’s name will be as holy to us and throughout the world as it is in his heavenly realm.
Next we pray that his kingdom come. When God the Son walked among us and revealed himself to us, he also revealed what his kingdom is like. In the kingdom of God all people are redeemed and delivered from the power of evil, and love shapes righteousness and justice. Jesus not only told us about this kingdom, but he showed it to us in the way he treated the poor and the outcasts of his time. Today God’s people have many opportunities to model kingdom living to those who have not yet received the Gospel by faith. The more we live it now, the more people will be drawn into it and make it a reality that spreads throughout the whole world. We pray that the kingdom of God will work and live in us, and we in it.
But the current systems governing the world are unjust, favoring the wants of some over the needs of others, and there are those who will fight anyone who challenges their comfortable status quo. In order to model kingdom living on earth we must obey God’s will, especially when doing so is unpopular. Martin Luther tells us that wherever God’s Word is preached and bears fruit, the blessed holy cross will not be far away. Jesus modeled kingdom living and the world murdered him for it. We should not expect the world to reward us for doing the same. So in the third petition we pray for patience and strength to bear whatever sufferings we may endure as we obey God’s will and live according to kingdom rules, rather than worldly rules.
The fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is better translated “Give us today our bread for today.” There’s not a daily allotment of bread that we’re entitled to. Rather we’re asking that God meet whatever needs we have on that particular day, day after day, recognizing that not all days are the same. And bread refers to everything we need in order to live and function in the world, even beyond our physical and material needs. In addition to food, shelter, and clothing we pray that God will give us the patience, wisdom, peace, strength, etc. necessary to engage in our domestic, business, and civic affairs.
In the fifth petition we pray that God will forgive us our trespasses, or debts, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Most of us would like to cut this petition in half and leave it there, with God forgiving our trespasses. But it’s not only the powers of the world that fight against God’s kingdom; it’s our own natures as well. In order to obey God’s will we must model kingdom living, and in God’s kingdom we are called to forgive each other as many times as necessary. That’s not easy to do. But God never promised that following him would be easy. We sin against God every day, yet he forgives it all through grace, over and over again. What do we proclaim about the kingdom when we refuse to model the grace that lies at the very heart of the Son’s Lordship?
Next we pray that God lead us not into temptation. The powers on earth have endured for so long because they promise appealing benefits. We want wealth and power, or at least security and comfort. It’s easy to turn a blind eye on the suffering our systems cause, or to justify why those who suffer are only getting what they deserve. But none of that is compatible with kingdom living. And none of that is going to disappear once we decide to follow Christ. Temptation is a part of life, but in this petition we pray that God will give us the power and strength to resist. Jesus faced temptation in the desert, but he resisted. We pray for that same strength, because we too will be faced with temptation after temptation, and it will never get any easier. But God’s power will always be greater than our temptations, and God’s mercy will always be greater than our failures.
The final petition is that God will deliver us from evil. Faithfulness and obedience to God’s will may bring us poverty, shame, tragedy, misery, heartache, even death. All the things the world generates in abundance. We cannot possibly obey God’s will without God’s help, and this final petition brings us back once again to the first commandment: You shall have no other gods. We are entirely dependent on God for our lives, our sustenance, even our obedience. And we are entirely dependent on him for his grace and mercy.
The Ten Commandments tell us what God expects from us. The Creed tells us what God has done for us. And the Lord’s Prayer gives us a way to bring everything we have to God, with full confidence that he is listening, he will hear us, and he is with us.
*To see my inclusive language policy, click here.