On Sunday we reached the end of our series on the Lord’s Prayer, with the doxology yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, amen. These closing words are not part of the Lord’s Prayer as it is given in most versions of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but some late manuscripts do have them, and they appear in the version of the prayer given in the early Christian text the Didache, so they have long been a part of our prayer tradition. And whether or not they were part of the prayer as Jesus taught it, they are rooted in scripture, being based on 1 Chronicles 29:11, which says “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.”
It is also undoubtedly the case that these words are a fitting end to the prayer. They don’t necessarily add very much, but they return us to the idea of the kingdom and to another opportunity to praise, which is why I chose Psalm 145 as our reading for Sunday morning. That sense of going back and tying together is also why, rather than bringing very much that is new, I want to go back to the beginning of the prayer, and remind us of all that we have said and discovered over the past five weeks. I’ve managed to squeeze a fair amount into each week, and so I want to draw out just a couple of key ideas from each section of the prayer, and to encourage me to keep things focused, I have allowed myself no more than two hundred and fifty words for each phrase. That means there are going to be a lot of ideas quite densely packed, but my prayer is that one thing will speak to each one of you, and if everything else fades to nothing, that will remain.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name
We acknowledged the difficulty of naming God as Father, both because that word can hold negative or even painful associations for us, but also because it is such a small word for such a mighty and multifaceted God. We did however recognise that Father is a significant name for God because it is primarily relational. It tells us that there is an undeniable and unbreakable bond between us and God, a relationship which simply is. And it was clearly a word which held much meaning for Jesus. The way he uses it tells us that for him it means love and grace and generosity, and so that is how we can expected to be treated by our Father in heaven.
We also thought about what it means to hallow God’s name, and I suggested that we can do that both in word and in deed, and by both recognising and declaring that God's name is holy. We can praise him for his goodness, whether that is through adoration and thanksgiving in our private prayers, or through being unashamed to speak of God's blessing in conversations with friends and family and colleagues. And we can give God a good name by representing him well - living questionable lives, in the sense of lives that make people ask questions to which the answer is God.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven
We looked at some of the parables of the kingdom, which told us that it often grows slowly and silently, like a seed hidden in the soil. That like a new growth, it brings excitement and renews the world with freshness and unlocks potential. That it is radical and open and generous, offered to everyone like seed scattered over every terrain, or like the same wage to every worker. That it turns everything we thought we knew upside down, only for us to discover it is now the right way up.
We also remembered that the kingdom is coming and the kingdom is here and the kingdom is among us, because it is not a place but a way of life, the state of affairs where everything God wants for his children is realised. It is the place where no one has to flee their homes because they are no longer safe. Where no one goes to bed hungry or doesn’t go to bed at all because they don’t have a roof let alone a bed to put under it. It is the place where we longer fear the news because we don’t know what is true and we wish most of it wasn’t. Where there are no walls to protect us or keep them out. It is the place where shalom reigns and everyone finds the abundance of life that Jesus promised. And so every time we make those things a reality, the world becomes a little more kingdom.
Give us today our daily bread
I suggested that bread is that which sustains us, not only that which answers our physical needs, but also that which answers our need for security and relationships and self esteem and purpose. And I suggested that there is a spiritual dimension to all of this, not as a separate need, but as a realisation that the truest fulfillment comes when we find God in all of these things. I also said that God doesn’t need reminding to take care of us, but we need reminding to take care of ourselves and those around us, so this is really a prayer for us to remember that God cares about our needs and so should we, and God cares about our siblings’ needs and so should we.
We also thought about the link between our daily bread and the bread of communion, and I suggested that communion holds something of everything we need. It is food and drink given and blessed by Christ. It reminds us that we have a sure and certain hope in the one who gave his life for us. It not only deepens our relationship with God but it also binds us closer to those we share it with. It says we are worthy of the greatest love and ultimate sacrifice. And it draws all these things together to embolden and equip us to realise our God-given potential.
And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
We learnt from the parable of the unforgiving servant that forgiveness must be limitless and reciprocal and it is non-negotiable. We must keep on forgiving so that we may be forgiven in our turn. That doesn’t mean that we keep sinning because we know that we will be forgiven, or keep returning to those who hurt us because we think that forgiving means resetting the clock. It means that we honour the forgiveness we have offered by moving on where reconciliation is not possible, and we seek to live up to the forgiveness we have received by making amends and trying to do better.
We also learnt from the story of Samereh Alinejad, who quite literally took the noose from around the neck of her son’s killer, that forgiveness is hard but it brings freedom, both for the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. For the one who forgives, there is freedom from pain and anger, and freedom to find new joy and peace. For the one who is forgiven, there is freedom from guilt and regret, and freedom to find a better path. That freedom may not come all at once, and forgiveness may need to be a conscious choice for many days or months or years, but it will come.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
I suggested that prayer is not so much about asking God not to lead us astray, as if he is a trickster God hoping to trip us up or catch us out, but rather a recognition that we need guidance and protection to enable us to meet temptation and walk away, and an admittance that we need God's help in order to do that. And so we looked at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, to learn that we must get our priorities in order, and use our power well, and trust in the goodness of God, in order to strengthen us to resist.
I also suggested that guidance is not just away from the bad stuff but also into the good stuff, and we thought about Psalm 23 as a picture of all the good stuff God wants to lead us into. Provision, rest, anointing, security...it goes on. And I shared some of my own learning about guidance. How God often leads us to make our own decisions, because he offers many good paths. How we can ask 'what would Jesus do?', or perhaps even better, 'how do I do the things Jesus did?' And how "let my heart be your heart" is a powerful prayer which can shape how we understand and move through the world.
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
I think these words are intended to remind us why we pray - we do it for or because the kingdom and the power and the glory are God’s, and it is that which gives us the confidence that our prayers are in safe hands. I've been praying for thirty years, and I wrote eight thousand words on prayer for my first dissertation, but I have to confess that I still don't have a fully worked out theology of prayer. What I do have is an absolute conviction that it is important and it is effective, because it changes us and it touches the heart of God.
Beginning and ending the Lord's Prayer in praise also underscores its importance. God doesn’t need his ego stroking, but we need to remember who he is and what he has done, because it is good for the ego and the soul. Praise can feel impossible, when times are hard and the world is grim, but I really believe that is when it is most needed. I've talked before about the importance of hope, and the need to look for good news stories to keep us from despair, and God will provide us with plenty of those. As the world seems to get ever stranger, and the news seems to go from bad to worse, one phrase has become a refrain for me - if we believe in anything it is resurrection, that the bad stuff does not win - and that is a truth worth praising.
That was quite a race through the Lord’s Prayer, and there’s been a huge amount of stuff to take in, but I hope it was helpful to bring together the last five weeks, and the fuller blogs for each sermon are still there if you want to return to anything in more detail. To finish, I want to add one last reflection, another poem by Malcolm Guite, from his sonnet cycle based on the Lord's Prayer.
The kingdom and the power and the glory,
The very things we all want for ourselves!
We want to be the hero of the story
And leave the others on their dusty shelves.
How subtly we seek to keep the kingdom,
How brutally we hold on to the power,
Our glory always means another’s thralldom,
But still we strut and fret our little hour.
What might it mean to let it go forever,
To die to all that desperate desire,
To give the glory wholly to another,
Throw all we hold into that holy fire?
A wrenching loss and then a sudden freedom
In given glories and a hidden kingdom.