Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Sermon for first mid-week Lent service - Introduction and First Petition


Introduction; First Petition



          When you look up at night, it is estimated that you can see about five thousand stars.  All of these are part of the Milky Way galaxy which is estimated to have several hundred billion stars.  And of course our galaxy is not the only one.  It is estimated that there are several trillion galaxies in existence.

          On the one hand the night sky is beautiful. But when you begin to contemplate how big the universe is, it also makes you feel very small and inconsequential.  After all, there are just under eight billion people in the world.  You are only one of these people on this one little planet in the midst of billions and billions of galaxies.

When you consider the Creator who made all of this, you realize very quickly that you are a nobody and a nothing in relation to him.  In the midst of the vastness of the universe, you might as well not exist.

Yet in the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord Jesus teaches us that to think this way is to get everything wrong.  Instead, he teaches us to pray to the Creator by beginning with the words, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  We pray this so often that we easily overlook the audacity of the address.  Who are we to call the God the Creator, “Our Father”? Why should he ever pay attention to us? 

St. Paul explains why we can pray in this manner when he told the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

          The reason that we can address God as Father is because of the events we are preparing during Lent to remember.  In the incarnation God sent forth his Son to redeem us from the curse of the law. All who fail to do the law are under God’s curse.  Christ freed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us.  In his passion Jesus suffered and died on the cross as he received the curse in our place. But then in his resurrection Jesus showed that not only has he freed us from the curse of the law, but he has also freed us from death itself.

          God has sent the Spirit into our hearts crying “Abba! Father!” Calling upon the Creator of the universe as “Our Father” is the very thing Jesus teaches us to do in the Lord’s Prayer.  He teaches us that because of his saving work for us God is our true Father, and we are his true children.  Indeed, we have the privilege of approaching God as dear children ask their dear Father.

          Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer because God wants us to pray. More than that, he has commanded us to pray.  He has commanded us to pray and he also promised to hear us.  In the Psalms he says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

          Prayer is the First Commandment put into practice.  How do we show that we fear, love, and trust in God above all things?  We do so by stopping our lives, and focusing on God in prayer. Prayer puts God in the number one position in life.  Prayer is the act of loving and trusting in God.

          We are blessed that God has not left us wondering how to pray.  He has given us the Psalms which are inspired prayers.  Yet more than that, the Son of God himself has taught us one prayer that we are to say.  He has given us a prayer that we know is always pleasing to God.  He has given us a prayer that not only gives us the words to pray, but also teaches us about the topics for which we should be praying. It is a prayer that should guide all our other prayers.

          We see this in the very first petition where we says “Hallowed by thy name.”  It is not our natural inclination to begin prayer that speaks about God.  Instead, we begin with ourselves, or the things and people that are of concern to us. Yet Jesus leads us in a very different direction as each of the first three petitions deal with God: “Hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

          Jesus would have us begin with God’s name.  God’s name is more than just what we call God. His name is the revelation of God himself.  As Israel prepared to enter the promised land, God told them, “But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there.” Where God’s name was, there God would be.  God’s name and his presence went together.

          You have received God’s name.  Martin Luther says in the Large Catechism, “God’s name was given to us when we became Christians and were baptized, and so we are called the children of God and have the sacraments with the result that everything that is God’s must serve for our use.”  Baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God placed his name upon you.  You bear his name and as a Christian you represent God and his name at all times.

          To hallow means to treat something as holy.  God’s name is certainly holy in itself. After all, it belongs to God.  But in this petition we pray that God’s name would be kept holy among us.  We have received God’s name, and so it is by our conduct that God’s name is either hallowed – treated as holy – or profaned.

          The hallowing of God’s name takes place through what we say and what we do. Luther says in the Small Catechism, “God name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity.” We must use God’s name to teach and speak the truth.  In particular this means that we speak the truth about God’s Word.

Of course, to hallow God’s name in this way we also have to know the truth. So we need to be study God’s Word – the Scriptures - in order to know what it says and be able to speak the truth. We need to return regularly to the Small Catechism for there we have a summary of God’s Word. And let me highly recommend the Large Catechism. Don’t be fooled by the name.  It is quite brief – about a hundred and twenty five pages – but it is filled with rich content that will lead you into a deeper understanding of what God’s Word says.

We hallow God’s name by what we say. We also hallow God’s name by what we do.  You bear God’s name. You represent him. What you do – the ways in which you live – either hallows his name or profanes it.  Luther uses an example that every parent understands when he writes: “Just as it is a shame and a disgrace to an earthly father to have a bad, unruly child who antagonizes him in word and deed, with the result that on his account the father ends up suffering scorn and reproach, so God is dishonored if we who are called by his name and enjoy his manifold blessings fail to teach, speak, and to live as upright and heavenly children, with the result that he must hear us called not children of God but children of the devil.”

When we pray “Hallowed be thy name” we begin with God, but we are asking help for ourselves.  We are imploring God’s assistance so that we can speak and live in ways that hallow his name.  We need this help because we are attacked by the devil, the world, and our sinful nature that don’t want these things to happen.  That is why the Small Catechism contains the exclamations, “Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!” and “Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

We are surrounded by a world that the devil uses to influence us.  He wants us to take up the beliefs and actions of the world – to deny the exclusive truth of Christ and his Word; to take up the practice of those around us such as living together outside of marriage. 

We are surrounded by false teaching about the faith – by those who deny that God works forgiveness and gives new life through the water and the word; by those who deny the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament; by those who say that people can believe in Christ by their own reason or strength.  There are many who say that these fundamental differences between confessions don’t really matter all that much.  Yet that is simply another way of saying that what God’s Word says doesn’t matter that much.

And then there is our own apathy.  Luther says, “Likewise, this petition is for ourselves who have the Word of God but are ungrateful for it and fail to live according to it as we ought.”  When we pray “Hallowed be thy name” we are asking for the help of God’s Spirit that he would lead us to learn the Word, to speak the truth of God’s Word, and to live according to God’s Word.

We have no right to approach God, the Creator of the cosmos.  But in his grace he gave his Son into death and resurrection for us so that we are now sons and daughters of God.  Because of Good Friday and Easter we can approach God with all boldness and confidence to ask him as dear children as their dear Father.  We pray “Hallowed be thy name” as we begin with God, yet in doing so we ask his help so that we can speak and act in ways that are true to his Word.








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