June 25, 2023

The Heart of God

Luke 11:1-11

Rev. Shannon Jordan

You may or may not be aware that there are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels. This morning we will be looking at the Luke version with special emphasis of God the Father. Hear the word of the Lord:

Luke 11:1-11

(Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?

Imagine snuggling with someone you love and you know to your very soul they love you. Imagine snuggling there without words. You have nothing to do, nothing to prove—this person loves you exactly the way you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Imagine staying in that place, not wondering or worrying about yesterday or tomorrow but staying in the present and the contentment and peace from such a moment. All is right in the world.

That feeling is what I imagine we would feel if we fully grasped what scripture means when we pray “Our Father.” We would have peace and contentment in all areas of our lives. That is why it is so valuable for us to understand the nuances of the prayer we pray each week—because it will lead us to a place of ultimate peace because we know we can trust in the Heart of God.

Luke begins this section with Jesus praying. Apparently he did it regularly, and it impacted the disciples enough that they wanted to learn how to pray this way as well. Jesus then taught them to pray, beginning with Father, hallowed be your name. Luke gives a more simple version of the Lord’s Prayer than Matthew, followed by a series of verses highlighting that God answers prayer. God cares for us and wants the best for us. God wants us to ask, seek, and knock.

To begin, we need to better understand what the word father meant in that culture. We often throw around the word patriarchy—and the word father embraces and includes all of that. When they were taught to pray to Yahweh, or the Lord, as good Jewish men, and in doing so to address God as Father, Jesus was putting God above human leaders. Saying Father, hallowed be your name is giving honor and allegiance to God as the ultimate leader—not Caesar, not the emperor and not the governor—but God. In that culture, the word father carried the implication that the leader has the power, the ability to provide for the people, and the ability to protect their people. These are still hugely important values for leaders today. When praying to God the Father, Jesus is saying that God has the power. God will provide. God will protect. This offers us comfort in a chaotic and uncertain world.[i]

In addition, but using the Aramaic form of the word, Abba, Luke and Matthew emphasize the intimate relationship between God and the person praying. It shows the heart of God through the prayer of Jesus. God offers this to us, not to gain a role or position for God’s self, but because God loves us. We are God’s beloved. We are why God came down, Emmanuel, God with us, in the form of Jesus. It shows us the heart of God. With the addition in Matthew of “our” we are pulled into the intimacy of being siblings in Christ. and children of God most High.

The theme of intimacy continues in the following parable. The word philio, friend, is used four times in four verses. This stresses the importance of intimacy and closeness to the story. It isn’t a random person. It isn’t a stranger you wouldn’t care about, but indeed, someone close to you—again, highlighting the importance of intimacy and closeness between parties as an example of our relationship with God. We are told to ask, seek and knock. God wants us to come with our petitions, wants, needs, because when we go to God it is a reminder that God is indeed able to answer our prayers in a way that is best for us and assures us and reminds us that God loves us and cares for us.

This reminded me of a Seinfeld skit about Cramer borrowing food from Jerry. Seinfeld was a comedy that ran from 1989 to 1998, largely based in Jerry’s apartment with friends coming and going: Cramer, George, and Elaine most often. This episode opens with Cramer making a sandwich with Jerry’s deli turkey meat. The real kind, sliced specially. He pack about a half a pound of turkey on the sandwich, handling it, smelling it, smashing it. He goes into Jerry’s fridge and looks for mustard. When he can’t find it, Jerry say to look in the door and Cramer looks horrified and says that he has the yellow stuff and not Dijon. He tries to eat it without Dijon, takes a bite, spits it out, and declares it inedible without Dijon mustard. He goes to leave Jerry’s apartment and Jerry calls him on it. Cramer responds that he is getting a vibe from Jerry—that they had an arrangement. Jerry asks what arrangement and Cramer says the one where I can eat what I want from your kitchen and you can eat what you want from mine. Jerry responds with a very snarky, “Let me know when you have something in your fridge and I will come right over!” The scene changes and Cramer is back with a bowl and pieces of paper. He says he will write down what he eats and pay Jerry back at end of the week. The scene changes again and Jerry is questioning the half a can of Pepsi and the apple with a bite out of it. Cramer says that he didn’t want to pay for the entire item. Jerry ends up saying not to worry about it because he wants to share with his friend, he just didn’t want food to be wasted![ii]

In some ways the absurdity of this exchange is the same as in that day of not giving bread to a friend who needed bread. Just as we are generous with our friends and family, God is even more generous with us. Jesus tells his disciples to go to God who loves them and is waiting for them to ask.

There are two more things I want to discuss this morning about praying to Our Father.

First is the impact of praying to Father God in our most familiar prayer. I was in a small group of pastors that met weekly to study and pray together. After we became a close group and were more open to sharing vulnerably, one pastor shared that she struggled praying to Our Father. Her father was an alcoholic. Her father was neglectful. Her father was verbally abusive and so she really struggled to come to peace with that phrase. She knew in her head that God was a good father and nothing like her own, and for her it was better to pray with different wording. All around the world people have struggled with the male language in the Lord’s Prayer. I found places from New Zealand to England and even the Catholic Church has struggled with this. The writers of our own Brief Statement of Faith in our Confessions struggled with this. We keep the Our Father in our prayers because this is the one most of us have memorized and it is powerful for us to pray a prayer together that we have memorized.

Jesus did not pray to God the father because God is a man. Scripture says that men and women were created in the image of God. In the Hebrew and Greek the Holy Spirit is a given a feminine gender. Our categories don’t work with God. However, many writers I read this week did lift up the fact that the subordination of women was often because Jesus was a man who prayed to his father in this prayer. The outrageous part of this passage is not the gender of God, but the intimacy mentioned earlier.

One sermon I read on this offered the question, what difference would our understanding of God be if for the last 2000 years we had prayed to Our Mother? For many of us that may be a shocking consideration. For others is might be a respite.[iii]

I read a wonderful book recently called The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Anderson Barr. She is an expert on medieval literature, teaching it in college. She shares that she comes from a conservative church background and was allowed to teach boys up to 13 or women and girls. She was in a culture where working women were looked down upon. Women’s role is in the home, taking care of her husband and children. She shares her transition to believing the full equality of women, basing her change on her study of original language and how scripture was used in the early church up through medieval times. One point of fascination is that she follows the gendering of God in scripture. From original language where men and women as a group were referred to with one non-gender specific word adam, to the Vulgate’s non gender specific word hominem, to English with just man or men. Reading the Vulgate, a 4th C. Latin translation of the Bible, and many sermons pre-medieval ages and medieval ages, Barr found inclusive language.[iv] However, by the time the King James Bible was written in Shakespearean English, the King James Bible translated anything that was vir as man, homo as men, inferring women, and women only as Femina.[v]

The last point I want to raise is more personal for us. Our own prayer practices. How often we pray and what we include in our prayer. Prayer is so important the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

The Didache, a document from the late first century or early second century also has a version of the prayer. The Didache was a type of worship guide for the early church so the different congregations springing up would know what the teachings of Jesus were, guides on the sacraments, and the Lord’s Prayer among other teachings. You can find it online and is an interesting read. It was apparently almost part of the canon, or core documents, of early Christianity and was lost around the fourth century and not found again until the 1800’s! The Didache uses recommends that we pray this prayer three times a day, every day.

I want to encourage you to pray this prayer daily over these next several weeks. Each week we will hand out a card with some reflections on the phrase of the week. Consider thinking about that phrase in context of your life and the prayer. Patrick did a wonderful job last week discussing the simplicity of prayer. God doesn’t want lots of word, God wants our hearts. You may or may not know we have a Deacon Prayer Team here at the church. We meet twice a month and pray for people in the prayer list, our members, our shut-ins, and the people that month who are having birthdays. We then send them notes letting them know we are praying for them. You may have received those notes. When we pray, we usually lift a person’s name and then the people at the table pray a word or two that comes to mind when praying for that person or situation and shares that. I find it to be an incredibly powerful part of my week. I personally pray with mental pictures and intention. I mentally lift a person to God asking the Holy Spirit to give that person or that situation what they need. Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated, but it is better when it is consistent.

When we pray Our Father, a question of the Heidelberg Catechism comes to mind.

  1. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
  2. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from God’s love. For all creatures are so completely in God’s hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

When we pray Our Father, we are saying that God has the power and the ability to provide for us. God also loves us deeply and wants us to come in prayer with the good things, the bad things, the scary things, because we know the heart of God.

[i] https:/ /www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2015/08/one-good-reason-to-keep-calling-god-our-father/

[ii] Jerry Seinfeld, Keeping Food Tabs,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiG_i0MtI58, last modified 2020.

[iii] https://www.westminstermpls.org/the-prayer-jesus-taught-our-father-who-art-in-heaven/

[iv] Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood (Grand Rapids, MI:Brazos Press, 2021), 140.

[v] Beth Allison Barr, Womanhood, 146.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This