Sermon on The Lord’s Prayer 07.23.2017

I am grateful to my colleague, Rev. Nadine Lehr. The bulk of this sermon is from a teaching sermon that she offered to her congregation, Lord of Life Lutheran Church, during a 2017 Lenten worship series.

Matthew 6:5-15

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ who teaches us to pray. Amen.

This weekend, we dive into the third part of the Small Catechism – The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar to most of us that we often just pray it by rote and hardly pay attention to what we are actually saying. Martin Luther considered this mindless repetition an abuse of the second commandment to not take the name of the Lord in vain.He said: “What a great pity that the prayer of such a master as Jesus is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world!…In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth… everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.”

Image result for the lord's prayerHe said: “What a great pity that the prayer of such a master as Jesus is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world!…In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth… everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.”

So, let’s unpack the Lord’s Prayer a little in order to better understand the comfort and joy that God offers to us through this prayer. The Small Catechism is the cover of your bulletin again today.

First – the introduction or invocation: “Our Father…”  In the ancient world of Jesus’ day, people did not have the right to address a superior whenever they felt like it. They first had to ask for permission. And if they didn’t ask with formality and respect, they could be killed. When Jesus tells us to call on God as Father, all of the formality is thrown out the window. Our relationship with God is a safe and intimate one.

“…Who art in heaven.”

In heaven is not God’s address. It is simply a description of God’s perfection. God is the perfect Father. Note also that we pray our Father, not my Father. Showing us that our connection to God’s creation is not an individual pursuit, but one that involves the community.

After the invocation, we enter into the many petitions – or requests – found in this prayer. Initially, petitions about God.

Hallowed be thy name. Image result for the lord's prayer

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done.

It kind of sounds like we might be praying for God. But that’s not what we are doing. As Luther reminds us, God’s name will be hallowed. God’s kingdom will come. And God’s will shall be done. Our prayers do not make these things happen. Rather, when we pray for these things, we are asking God to help us recognize and embrace the name, the kingdom and the will of God when we experience them at work in the world.

In Luther’s explanation of the first petition, we can see the connection between God our Father and hallowing God’s name. Simply stated, when we know God as our beloved Father, we want God to be honored. And when we know that God is our Father, we simply will not tolerate someone who dishonors God’s name. And we pray that we will never be guilty of dishonoring God’s name. Then we pray, “Thy kingdom come…”

Then we pray, “Thy kingdom come…”

Especially as citizens of the United States in 2017, how can we truly understand the word kingdom? Isn’t that one of the things we fought for independence from a few hundred years ago. Luther makes it clear that God’s kingdom is not a geographical place. And Luther says that God’s kingdom will come on its own without our prayers. In this petition, we pray that it will come to us. The kingdom actually comes, when the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of faith and plants in us the desire to obey God’s commandments.

Finally, the last petition about God – “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

This is similar to the first two. However, here we ask God to destroy whatever stands in the way of God’s work. And we ask God to keep us steadfast in God’s Word so that we can celebrate the work God is doing.

After these first 3 petitions about God, we come to 4 petitions about ourselves. Notice how the tone of the prayer changes and we plead for ourselves.

Image result for give us this day“Give us this day our daily bread.”

At first, you may think this is just about food. And it is, but food is not all there is to this petition. Luther said we are all beggars before God. We do not create anything in this world. All that we have or that is created comes from God’s hand. We are to see God as the giver and to admit our complete dependence upon God.

And notice that we do not pray for all days. We do not worry about tomorrow. And let’s face it, in our culture, there is a great deal of attention given to worrying about tomorrow. Anyone have a savings account or rainy day fund? How about a retirement account? Jesus teaches us to believe, not in scarcity – the possibility of not having enough – but to believe in God’s abundance. To trust in God’s provision. Thus, we pray for today, not tomorrow. In the middle of this summer’s drought or if you struggle each week to make ends meet, that’s a difficult thing to do, isn’t it?

Forgiveness is next – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The word trespass can be tricky. Trespass means to cross a boundary. We cross a boundary when we overstep and go where we should not go. Brothers and sisters, that’s what sin is. We overstep a boundary.  Ans frankly, I believe the root of all sin is the desire to be our own God. To do what we want, when we want to do it. Who cares about God’s will for our lives. In this petition, we ask God to forgive us for that foolishness. Or as Luther offers in his explanation – we ask God not to hold our sins against us.

One word of special note in this petition is the word “as.” The word as is also in the third Image result for forgivenesspetition.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

One way we might interpret this is “in proportion to.” With that in mind, we are asking God to forgive us in proportion to how much we forgive others. I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of a scary thought. If God forgives me only in as much as I am willing to forgive others, I’m in BIG trouble. And I assume you are all in just as much trouble as I am.

Or, we interpret the word “as” to mean a progression. First, we forgive others. Then God will forgive us. I’m sorry, but that’s just as scary as the first interpretation. The good news here is that neither one of these interpretations is correct. God puts no conditions on our forgiveness. Period. In the Lord’s Prayer, the word “as” simply means at the same time or in the same manner. We are asking God that as God forgives us, God’s forgiveness will flow through us and out to our neighbors. We are asking that when we experience God’s forgiveness, we will be given the desire to forgive others.

In the Lord’s Prayer, the word “as” simply means at the same time or in the same manner. We are asking God that as God forgives us, God’s forgiveness will flow through us and out to our neighbors. We are asking that when we experience God’s forgiveness, we will be given the desire to forgive others.

“Lead us not into temptation.”

Temptations and trials are empty promises intended to deceive us and lead us into false belief. For example, we hear a commercial that if we just buy a certain type of lotion, all of our wrinkles will go away. So we fork over $100 on something that we know cannot Image result for temptationand will never be able to make us young again. We believed in an empty promise. Temptations always come with empty promises. And so in Luther’s explanation to this petition, he says that we are asking God to preserve us and keep us. Just as Jesus fought temptations in the wilderness by remembering God’s promises, God preserves and keeps us in the same way. “But deliver us from evil.”

Temptations always come with empty promises. And so in Luther’s explanation to this petition, he says that we are asking God to preserve us and keep us. Just as Jesus fought temptations in the wilderness by remembering God’s promises, God preserves and keeps us in the same way. “But deliver us from evil.”

This can best be seen as a summary statement. We ask God to protect us, to preserve our faith and to deliver us completely from everything that opposes God and our safety. Because one day our struggle will be over. Sin will be no more. We will no longer need to fight evil because it will cease to exist.

This petition is a bit circular in nature. If God delivers us from evil, everything in the Lord’s Prayer can happen. But in order for God to deliver us from evil, the rest of the prayer must happen. In other words, we end where we began – asking God to bring our petitions – our requests – to fulfillment. Asking God to deliver on the promises God has made.

The final section of the Lord’s Prayer is called the doxology or words of praise. For thine Image result for doxologyis the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. We say THINE is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Not MINE – THINE. God’s. At the end of the prayer, we surrender. We die to ourselves and place every part of our very being under God’s rule. Luther said “Amen, amen” means “yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.'”

Luther said “Amen, amen” means “yes, yes, it is going to come about just like this.'”
We confess that God’s name will be hallowed, God’s kingdom will come, God’s will shall be done, our bread will be given, our forgiveness is secured, our trials and temptations will end, all evil will be destroyed.

And none of this comes about because we make it happen. It comes about because God makes it happen. The doxology of the Lord’s Prayer commits us to these promises – the promises of God – and it commits us to watch for their fulfillment in our lives, to recognize them and to embrace them.

Image result for promises of godSo, brothers and sisters in Christ, when you pray, pray like this. Pray each word, trusting that beneath each petition, God is giving you a promise. And may the Lord’s Prayer help you to never forget that when God makes a promise, it shall be so.

And all God’s children say, “Amen.”


“Grace Alone/Word Alone” • 06.18.2017 Sermon

Ephesians 2:1-10 • June 18, 2017

This sermon is part of a summer worship series at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church called Reformation Then & Now: Why It Still Matters.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

First off – Happy Father’s day! To everyone who is blessed to be or is blessed by their father. And to those who are father figures to us as well – because unfortunately, a positive male figure isn’t part of every child’s life. Happy Father’s Day to you too.

Image result for luther roseOne of the more recognizable images of the Reformation is Luther’s Rose or Luther’s seal. It was common in the middle ages for prominent members of the community to have a personal seal or coat of arms. It was a way to tell others a little bit about that person. Needless to say, it didn’t take long after Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517 for this small town priest and theology professor at a little-known university to become a pretty prominent figure. Luther’s seal is rich in color and symbols and a fantastic expression of his theology.

In a letter to a close friend, dated July 8, 1530, Luther explained his rose in detail.

“Grace & peace in Christ!” Luther wrote,

“Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend! Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly. I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which [now] come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.

There is first to be a cross, black [and placed] in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. For if one believes from the heart he will be justified. Even though it is a black cross, [which] mortifies and [which] also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its [natural] color [and] does not ruin nature; that is, [the cross] does not kill but keeps [man] alive. For theImage result for martin luther just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One. Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace; in a word it places the believer into a white joyful rose; for [this faith] does not give peace and joy as the world gives and, therefore, the rose is to be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all the angels. Such a rose is to be in a sky-blue field, [symbolizing] that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy; it is already a part [of faith], and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest. And around this field is a golden ring, [symbolizing] that in heaven such blessedness lasts forever and has no end, and in addition is precious beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.

May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come. Amen. (Luther’s Works, Volume 49, pg. 358-359)

I wanted us to hear this letter today, because understanding Luther’s rose is so important to more fully grasp other ideas of Luther and the Reformation. Important Lutheran theological affirmations like grace and scripture. In case you haven’t noticed, Grace Alone and Scripture or Word Alone are the focus of our worship today.

Image result for scripture aloneLuther’s 95 Theses challenged and undermined the Pope’s role as the final authority in matters of faith. Luther said that authority in the church was Christ, and the Word which came out of His mouth. Luther knew that all of Scripture witnesses to the fact that God goes to work in this world through speaking. And when God speaks, when Jesus speaks, things happen. Thus, the only thing a Christian can rely on, or trust, is God’s speaking. Or most simply stated, the Word alone. (Word Alone, www.lutherhouseofstudy.org)

Luther said, “Do you want to sing, shout, and leap for joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ?” That’s how he believed readers of scripture should feel when they sat down to read the Bible. “It is good news,” Luther believed, “a great shout resounding through all the world, shared by prophets and apostles and all who seek within its pages the consolation, strength, and victory offered in it by God.” (adapted from Together by Grace, pg. 32)

Image result for leap for joy scriptureDoes reading your Bible cause you to sing, shout, and leap for joy?? Or does it cause to you to tremble in fear? Or aren’t you sure because it collects more dust than an emotional response?

In Luther’s day – the reading and study of scripture were only available to the more elite part of society. Especially because these members of society were the only literate ones. And definitely, the only ones who understood Latin, Greek, or Hebrew at any level. Luther thought this was wrong and sought to change that by devoting his life to the translation of scripture – a task he knew would never be completely finished.

Image result for burden liftedBy opening up scripture to everyone through his translation of it into the language of the people, Luther was able to help everyone more fully experience Christian life as God speaks to them through scripture. “All that matters,” Luther wrote “is that God’s Word be given free course to encourage and enliven hearts so that they do not become burdened.”

If you haven’t done it in a while, take a few minutes each day this week to open a Bible and discover the glory and grace of God contained within every verse of Holy Scripture. And if you don’t yet own a Bible, please take one of the red pew Bibles with you as a gift from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

If Bible reading and study is already a regular part of your faith journey – may you continue to be blessed and feel burdens lifted as you discover the grace of Christ Jesus revealed in Holy Scripture. Sing, shout, and leap for joy in your reading and study!

Image result for bible studyBecause Luther believed that “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.” But just what do we, as Lutheran Christians, mean when we say we believe in God’s gift of grace?

Especially in light of the fact that if you asked a group of Christians today to define “grace” you would probably get a lot of different answers and opinions as to what grace actually is. After studying Scripture Luther came to recognize that grace is not a substance – it is God’s disposition. His attitude, toward us. And that disposition is one of favor. Luther emphasized that by grace alone, by God’s disposition and favor alone, we are saved. (adapted from Grace Alone, www.lutherhouseofstudy.org)

Image result for graceOne of the most important verses of scripture that revealed this to Luther is in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul proclaims. “and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:9-10)

The gospel or good news of God’s gift of grace for sinners through faith in Christ is vitally important to the Reformation movement – in 1517 and still in 2017. And as Paul reminds us again today, you and I are to live our lives in response to this good, good news.

Image result for gift of graceI believe acceptance of God’s gift of grace – and that there is nothing we can do to earn it or lose it – remains one of the most challenging things to truly believe for followers of Jesus.

As Gerhard Forde, one of the last century’s great Lutheran theologians wrote in his book Where God Meets Man, “The grace of God is a power strong enough to make and keep us human. It does this because it makes us give up our attempts to be gods, our attempts to control our own fate and enables us to wait as creatures of this earth in faith and hope for what God has in mind for the future.”

Image result for God’s grace poured out for youBrothers and sisters in Christ, may the good news of God’s grace poured out for you in the Savior Jesus Christ, bless you and keep you today and in all that the future may bring. And may our response to that good news be a blessing to everyone God places along your path during this journey we are on called faith. Amen.