Today the Church enters the forty-day season of Lent. Lent is a time of repentance, reflection, and renewal in preparation for the three holy days of Easter and for the seven weeks of the Easter season. It is a time in which we are called to subdue whatever gets in the way of faith toward God and fervent love for our neighbor. The ashes of Ash Wednesday are a reminder that, though eternal life is ours in Christ, we are nonetheless pressing onward to our death, just as Christ pressed on toward His Calvary. “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Lent is a time of discipline. We hate that word, as most children do. Remember that the word “discipline” is from the same root as the word “disciple.” Disciples are disciplined in living in the forgiveness of their sins. The three traditional disciplines of Lent are prayer, fasting, and works of charity. If you are not in the discipline of coming to church to receive the gifts of Christ every Wednesday, then Lent is a good time to begin. If you are not in the discipline of denying yourself of time, treasure, and talent for the benefit of others, Lent is a good time to begin. Wednesdays and Fridays were the traditional Christian fast days. Lent is also a season to give extra alms to the poor and the needy over and above your regular offerings. Don’t wait for a church program. Give to those whom the Lord has placed in your path.
Lent is time of the discipline catechesis. It was the final period of instruction for adult catechumens after their three years of instruction. During Lent they were instructed in the mysteries of the faith – the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Our Father, and the holy sacraments. And so out of that tradition, we will hear preaching on the catechism over the next six weeks of Lent.
The theme of our preaching during this season of Lent will be “Lord, teach us to pray.” Our catechetical focus will be the Our Father as it is taught in the Small Catechism.
What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”
“Our Father.” How dare we speak to God that way? How dare we be so bold, so cheeky, so familiar, as to come into the presence of the holy Creator and King of the universe, the almighty and everlasting Lord and Judge, and say, “Daddy”? How dare we poor, miserable sinners come into the presence of our Creator-Redeemer God and say, “Daddy”?
No one ever dared pray to God that way before Jesus. “Lord our God, King of the universe….” That was how you began your prayers. That was how every pious Jew of Jesus’ day began his or her prayers, extolling God in His sovereign majesty and holiness. Someone once said that the Our Father is basically a Jewish prayer, and that it is. It’s a summary of the psalter. Any Jew could indeed pray it, if he dared. But who dares to say “our Father” to God? No Jew of Jesus’ day. That was too cozy, too close, too familiar.
With these words, “our Father, who art in heaven,” spoken through the mouth of eternal Son who hung on the cross for the world’s salvation, God issues a tender invitation. He invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children and to put our faith where our mouth is and call Him “Father.”
With these words, Jesus distinguishes the prayers of His disciples from the pious parades of the religious who love to pray in order to be seen by men in the congregation, in the market place, on the streetcorner. Prayer is personal, intimate table talk with the Father, not a billboard for religion.
With these words, Jesus distinguishes the prayers of His disciples from the prayers of the pagans, who in their “spirituality” heap up empty words and phrases in the hope that God will be impressed and hear them for their many words. Prayer is not mindless meditation or meaningless mantra. Prayer is words filled with meaning, words spoken confidently, boldly, directly, expectantly. “Few words and richness of meaning is Christian; many words and lack of meaning is pagan.” (Luther).
Jesus called God Father. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.” He called God Father in the upper room on the night of His betrayal: “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.” He called God Father Gethesemane: “Abba, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And as they nailed Him to the cross: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And at His dying breath: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus prayed to the Father, in our place, on our behalf, for us and for the world.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray to His Father as “our Father.” How dare they? Jesus said so. Take it up with Him. He hung on a cross so that we may pray “our Father.” Jesus baptized us into His death and resurrection so that we may pray “our Father.” And Jesus prays with us. You say, “Our Father.” Not “my Father” or “your Father” but “our Father.” You don’t pray alone. Jesus prays in solidarity with us as our Brother. No one comes to the Father, except through Him. And no one prays to the Father except through Jesus in the Holy Spirit whom He sends, for it is the Spirit whom God has put into our hearts in Holy Baptism who cries out, “Abba, Father.”
The “Lord’s Prayer” is really the wrong name for this prayer that Jesus taught His disciples. Properly speaking, the Lord’s Prayer is that high priestly prayer which Jesus prayed in the upper room on the night He was betrayed, recorded in John chapter 17. That prayer only Jesus can pray for us. But the Our Father is a prayer to which Jesus invites our participation, to pray with Him as He prays with us to “our Father who is in heaven.”
To pray “our Father” is to pray as the baptized. In Baptism was where most of us first prayed “our Father” and the Church prayed with us. There you were conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of holy mother Church. There you were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of the water and Spirit into God’s family. There, you who were embraced in the death of Jesus were given permission to pray “our Father.” Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s permission, His authorization, His invitation, for you to come to Him as a member of the family and to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. God has obligated Himself to you as His child – to set down His newspaper, turn off the TV set, sit up straight in his leather chair, and to listen to you, as a dear father listens to His dear children.
There are three obstacles to our praying, “our Father.” The first is imagined; the second and third are real. The first obstacle to our praying “our Father” is Dr. Freud. It is the imposition of an image of fatherhood on God, as though God were a big, grandfatherly extension of our earthly fathers, with all their failings and shortcomings, dispensing Werther’s candies and a pat on the head. God is not a Father like our earthly fathers. He is our Father above and beyond our earthly fathers.
Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father who is in heaven. God is the absolutely greater Father from whom every picture of what is good in human fatherhood is drawn. God is not a concept of fatherhood that we can bend and shape to our own expectations of fatherhood. Nor is He Father-Mother, divine Parent, or what have you. God is our Father – our Maker, our Provider, our Protector – personal, approachable, addressable, revealed through His Son Jesus Christ.
The second obstacle to our praying “our Father” is our own lack of words. The Fall of Adam has not only left us deaf to God’s Word, it has also rendered us mute to prayer. Not only are our ears stuffed, our tongues are stuck. We do not know how to pray. Our vocabulary is lacking. Our tongues get tied. It is unnatural for us to pray. We resist the notion of prayer. We are lazy about prayer. We find it nearly impossible to set aside time and energy for prayer. Our deafness to God’s Word has struck us dumb. Our doubt of God’s Word has made us believe that God is deaf to our words.
Christ heals our mouths as well as our hearts and minds. He puts His words of prayer on our lips. Jesus has taken the guesswork out of prayer by providing us with the very words we need for prayer. No longer do we need to wonder: What words will we use? Will God hear? What is the proper form? Jesus says, “When you pray, say these words: Our Father who art in heaven.”
It is a princely prayer, not to be despised. I would not trade the Our Father for all the prayers that have ever been uttered in the churches, no matter how poetic or passionate they might be. If the Our Father were the only prayer we knew, we would have a lifetime of prayer and still not exhaust it. It should be prayed in the morning when you arise, at the table when you eat, and at night when you lie down for sleep as the children’s Catechism teaches us. No other prayer has the same assurance that it is pleasing to the Father. God loves to hear it, because His beloved Son taught it, and He delights to hear His children talk back to Him through His Son.
The third obstacle to our saying “our Father” is as real as our lack of words. It is the obstacle of our sin. We have no inalienable right to pray. But we have God’s Word – His command and His promise. God commands that we pray, that we call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. He has also promised to hear our prayers and to act on them. His command and promise apply whether we are good or bad, holy or unholy, saint or sinner, worthy or unworthy. Prayer is not based on our personal worthiness, but on the command and promise of God. A prayer offered through Jesus Christ is just as precious, holy, and pleasing to God whether it is offered by the holiest of saints or the chief of sinners.
Jesus teaches us to pray especially for forgiveness, so that our sins would not prevent us from saying “our Father.” And He has provided for the answer to that prayer by dying for our sins and establishing the means by which forgiveness comes to us in the Word of Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Supper. No baptized child of God dare say, “I cannot pray because I am sinful.” The Father says through His Son Jesus, “you are forgiven, you are holy.” And His Son Jesus says to us, “When you pray, say our Father.”
Finally, the invitation to pray “our Father,” is an invitation to be bold and confident in the presence of God. God’s favor toward us is not in doubt. We are not here to bribe God with our words. We know we are welcome. Christ died for us. We are baptized, forgiven, and fed in His Name. He invites us to rest in His presence and to speak with His Father boldly and confidently, as dear children ask their dear father.
What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.
The first priority of prayer that Jesus puts on the lips of His disciples is the holiness of His Father’s name. “Hallowed be thy name.” Luther commented that the word “hallow” is strange to the German ear. It is also strange to our ears. We know it from the word “halloween,” which is short for “all hallows eve,” all saints eve, the eve of all holy ones. What is holy is set apart, consecrated, reserved for sacred use in service of God. We’ve lost much of the sense of the holy. Modern churches are built increasingly along the lines of multi-use facilities. They are auditoriums into which an audience streams in shorts and bathing suits, slurping soft drinks, to see a performance on a stage. The church is no longer seen as holy space, a place set apart from the world, a place that is in the world but not of it. Today the church is interchangeable with the world and indistinguishable from it. And Christians are interchangeable with and indistinguishable from unbelievers.
What does it mean to pray, “Hallowed be thy name?” “God’s name is holy in itself,” for God is holy in Himself. He does not need our prayers to hallow His name. We need His name to hallow our prayers. What is at stake in this prayer is not the integrity of God’s name. Gold is gold worn by a prince or a prostitute. What is at stake is what happens with God’s name on our lips and in our lives. “We pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.”
God’s name is the incarnation of His Gospel presence to save. It is the extension of His right hand of mercy reaching down to us, interfering with our lives, cleansing us from all sin and calling us to be His people. God’s Name locates and reveals God-for-us, where He may be found according to His mercy, seeking the lost, saving the damned, raising the dead. God may be everywhere, but He has not located His name everywhere. God may be everywhere, but He is not everywhere to save. A God who is everywhere is a God who is nowhere for you.
Where God locates His name, there He is present and mighty to deliver His people: In the burning bush before which Moses stood. In the tabernacle-tent in the wilderness. In the temple. In the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the incarnation and the revelation of God’s name. In the Word and Sacraments around which He gathers a people. There God locates His name, there we may come into His presence, call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” says Jesus. There. Not everywhere, but there. Where two or three invoke the Name, according to the mandate and bidding of Jesus, there He promises to be present, giving out His gifts.
God’s Name is the greatest treasure and the most holy possession we have. Without it we would not be given to offer any prayer, sing any praise, render any thanks that is pleasing to God. Apart from God’s Name, all worship is idolatry, no matter how beautiful, moving, liturgical, historical, or sincere it might otherwise be. Without God’s name, there is no church, no holiness, no forgiveness of sins, no eternal life, no salvation. If God hadn’t given us His name, we would still be seeking and inventing gods of our own and perishing along with them.
God has given us His Name in Holy Baptism. Baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are given to bear God’s name into the world, to be His baptized children. We belong to Him as people of His pasture and sheep of His hand. His name is etched indelibly on our foreheads and upon our hearts, our minds and our wills belong to Him. He has claimed the whole of us and as placed His mark of ownership upon us. We are His. His Name is ours. His Name is holy. We are holied by His name, and so we pray that God’s Name would be holy among us.
How is God’s name hallowed? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father.
God’s name is kept holy by holy words and holy deeds, by what’s on our lips and in our lives, by right teaching and right actions. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The opposite of keeping God’s name holy is to profane his name, to render it a common thing, to drag it through the dirt, to sully God’s name and reputation by lies, deceit, blasphemy and slander from our lips and by evil and wickedness on our hands.
The worst profaning and dishonor to God’s name is false doctrine. To use the Scriptures to teach something other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified for sinners is to profane God’s name. To teach that we are not justified by Christ’s work alone, that we must have good works to be saved, that Christ’s body and blood are not truly eaten and drunk in the Lord’s Supper, that Baptism does not save us through the death of Christ, that pastors of the church do not have Christ’s authority to forgive sins, that we must make some kind of a decision to believe in order to be saved – all of this is to profane God’s holy name.
To fail to teach to true doctrine likewise profanes God’s name among us. When pastors do not warn their people of the dangers of false teaching, even at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings or making someone angry, God’s name is profaned among us. When parents leave it to their children to decide what they will believe when they grow up, instead of raising them in the fear and faith of the Lord, this profanes the name of God among us. When we do not test the spirits to see if they are from God by testing their preaching against the Holy Scriptures, the name of God is profaned among us.
The second profaning of God’s name occurs when we use God’s name to cover up falsehood or by swearing meaningless and trivial oaths, or by cursing and conjuring, and the like. This includes every effort to co-opt God’s name for our own purposes, whether to cover our lies, to practice faith healing and magic, or to boost ourselves and our reputations at the expense of God’s name and reputation. When we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, “so help us God,” and don’t, God’s name is profaned among us.
The third profaning of God’s name is when Christians who bear God’s name as the baptized children of God live openly wicked and evil lives, when we who call ourselves “Christian,” who hear God’s Word of forgiveness, who are fed at Christ’s table, openly and proudly live as baptized adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, gluttons, slanderers, gossips, and liars. We should not deceive ourselves that this is saving, Christian faith. This is sham faith, and a mockery of God’s name among unbelievers, when the children of God behave as drunken swine.
Luther said, “Just as it is a shame and 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 suffers 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 live as godly and heavenly children with the result that he must hear us called no children of God but children of the devil.”
Jesus teaches us to pray daily, “Hallowed be thy name.” It is a prayer for God to interfere with our lives, to kill Adam in us and make us alive anew in the life of Jesus. It is a prayer for the Word of God to have its killing and making alive way with us, cleansing our lips and renewing our lives by the bloodied water of Baptism, the bloodied Word of Absolution, the body and the blood of the Lord’s Supper, so that it is no longer we who speak and act, but Christ who is in us who speaks and acts through us.
You see that it is a very dangerous thing to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” It means death to Adam and life to Christ. It will turn your life upside-down, or more accurately, it will turn you inside-out, away from your self to live in Christ by faith and in those around you by love. In short God’s name is kept holy when sinners are forgiven in the name of Jesus, and when they speak and live as the forgiven children of God that they are. God’s name is holy. Baptized into the name of God, you are holy. This is what it means to pray, “Our Father, Hallowed be thy name.”
What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.
How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
The second priority of prayer is God’s kingdom. And again, God’s kingdom needs no help from us and our prayers. The kingdom of God simply comes. We pray in this petition that the kingdom of God would come among us, that He would establish His protective and preserving lordship over us in our lives so that we might live under Him in his kingdom both now and forever.
Like the word “hallow,” the word “kingdom” also sounds strange to our ears. We don’t deal well with such medieval ideas as kings and kingdoms. We live in a culture where the self is sovereign, where the individual is king. We want government off our backs and out of our lives. We want the church off our backs and out of our lives too. And God. The crowds that clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion cried out, “We have no king but Caesar.” Today’s crowd shouts, “We have no king but ourselves.”
The truth is that everyone has a king and that there are only two kingdoms in which we live: either the kingdom of the devil or the kingdom of God. The kingdom of the devil is a kingdom of darkness. It is the kingdom of this world, a kingdom ruled by the Father of Lies and his Lie that we can be gods in place of God. It is a kingdom in which everyone serves themselves, where every appetite is indulged, where everyone is like God. It is a kingdom that is really no kingdom at all. It is built on a lie. It is anarchy and chaos. It’s end is death and destruction. The devil turns out to be no king at all. God is lord even of the devil. Hell is not the kingdom of the devil. Hell is the end and outcome of the devil’s kingdom. It is ruled over by God in His wrath.
The kingdom of God is the gracious rule of God established in the flesh of Christ enthroned on the wood of the cross for our salvation. It is the reign of Jesus as He lords His atoning death over sinners from the right hand of the Father. The kingdom of God is the exertion of God’s will to save sinners from His wrath by sending His Son into the world to redeem and deliver them from the power of the devil, to give them a new citizenship in His kingdom, to bring them to Himself and to rule over them as a gracious king of righteousness, life and salvation, over and against their sin, death, hell, and an evil conscience. The kingdom of God comes among us when God sends His Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts by means of the proclaimed Word and who renews us in the forgiveness of sins so that we lead godly and forgiven lives now and forever.
God’s name and His kingdom go together. Where God has located His name, there He has staked the claim of His kingdom, there the eternal treasures of forgiveness, life, and salvation are being given out. Where the Spirit causes the saving death of Jesus to be proclaimed in the water, in the spoken word, in the bread and the wine, there God’s kingdom is made known for the sake of sinners. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of refugees, a place where sinners burdened and persecuted by the law can flee for protection like refugees fleeing from a hostile dictator, cling to the cross, and be sheltered by the wounds of Jesus.
This is a very large petition that Jesus teaches us to bring to our Father in heaven. It is much larger than we would dare to bring on our own. It dares us to open our empty arms wide to receive eternal and imperishable gifts. Jesus teaches us to pray for nothing less than the kingdom of God. Our problem is that we prefer to pray puny petitions for a crust of bread, for a child’s runny nose, for a malignancy or a bad marriage or crooked teeth. And while these surely are to be prayed for, they are not to be prayed for before we pray for the kingdom. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” says Jesus, and then He promises that “all these things, whatever these things may be that you need, will be given you as well.” If the Father has promised you the kingdom in His Son, will He not also see to it that you have all that you need to support this body and life?
God is not miserly with His mercy. Were a great and wealthy philanthropist to come to us and say, “Ask anything of me and I will donate it as a gift,” and all we asked for was a cup of beggar’s broth, he would be insulted and indignant. And so is God, when we despise His mercy and ask for anything less than His kingdom. We come into God’s presence seeking little blessings, and He says to us, “Here. Receive the kingdom I have prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”
What do we do with such riches?
We tell others. This large petition sets us on a bold course to lead large lives, to use the Word in the world to combat unbelief. We are praying for the well-being of the Church. We are praying for the conversion of our enemies and those who hate us. As free citizens of Christ’s kingdom we know what to do with our sin and guilt and death. We bury them in the death of Jesus and live by faith in His life. We acknowledge our sinfulness, confess our sins, receive Christ’s free forgiveness and live as the free children of God under the reign of His mercy. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We use Christ against our sin, against our guilt, against the Law, against our death. We teach others the same, and in so doing we become instruments by which the Holy Spirit draws all people to the Father through the Son in His Kingdom.
The kingdom of God has already come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has raised up His royal banner on the tree of the cross, jammed it in the earth and cried out “it is finished.” “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.” All that remains is for the kingdom of God to be revealed on the Last Day, at the visible coming of Jesus. What is now hidden and heard, will be uncovered and seen. Now the kingdom of God comes in grace when the Spirit works faith in Christ crucified through the Word and Sacrament. On the Last Day the kingdom of God will come in glory, with the revelation of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. It is toward that Day and in that confidence that Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father, Thy kingdom come.”
What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.
How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.
God’s will is good and gracious. Of that we must be certain. God’s will is not left our own devices to discover. God reveals His good and gracious will in His Word. God’s will is revealed in the law. It is God’s will that we have no other gods, that use God’s name rightly, that we sanctify the holy day with His Word. It is God’s will that we honor and obey God’s authorities in home, state, and church, that we care for our neighbor’s body, that we are faithful in our marriages, that we respect our neighbor’s property and reputation, that we are content with the gifts God has given us. This is the good and gracious will of God for us.
It is God’s will that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, which is Jesus Christ, who died to atone for the sins of the world and who lives that the world might have life believing in His name. It is God’s will that no one should perish, but that everyone be brought to repentance, that they be turned from their death to live in the life of Jesus Christ. The good and gracious will of God is a will to save from sin, from the power of the devil, from the accusation of the Law, from a troubled conscience, from death and damnation. This is the good and gracious will of God toward us.
Some agonize over what is God’s will for their lives. When I vicared in Tulsa I was constantly coming across people desperately searching to figure out what God’s will was for their lives. It isn’t complicated. We don’t need to wait for signs or voices or visions to know God’s will, or at least what we need to know of His will. God’s will is that we be forgiven our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus by being baptized, by hearing absolution, by eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood, and that we lead godly lives as His free and forgiven children. This is the good and gracious will of God.
It is the good and gracious will of God that we be saved. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. It is not God’s will that anyone should wind up in hell, for hell is intended only for the devil and his demons. Calvinism is false and utterly anti-Christian when it teaches that it is God’s will that some should be saved and others damned. This is a devil’s doctrine.
Just as it is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to say that we can, by the exertion of our wills, decide to follow Jesus and so be saved, so it is just as contrary to the Gospel to say that God, by the exertion of his will, decides that some will not be saved. Let it ever be said clearly from this pulpit: That anyone who winds up in hell is there entirely against God’s will, in spite of God’s will, and in opposition to God’s will to save.
Salvation is entirely the working of the good and gracious will of God.
Damnation is entirely the working of the evil and corrupt will of man.
The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer. Imagine that! God doesn’t seek our permission before He acts. He doesn’t wait for our invitation and prayer, wondering whether we will let Him be God. He doesn’t check the public opinion polls to determine what His course of action will be. Where God causes His name to be hallowed, where He causes His kingdom to come, there His will is done, even without our prayer. What we are praying for is that His will is done in us and among us, on earth, as it is in heaven.
In heaven, that is, in the face-to-face presence of God, God’s will is unopposed. Who would dare? Who would want to oppose God’s will? But on earth, that is, where His presence is hidden, His will to save in Jesus Christ encounters opposition. The opposition comes in the form of an unholy trinity, the evil alliance of the devil, the fallen world, and our own sinful selves. These three resist and wage war against the good and gracious will of God. They seek to overthrow His kingdom. They blaspheme His name.
The devil is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He opposes and obstructs God’s name and His kingdom. He cannot bear to have anyone teach and believe rightly. He is pained when his lies and abominations are exposed. He hates when people have their sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake, when believers in Christ lead godly and forgiven lives to the praise and honor of God’s name.
The devil knows that he has willing allies in the world and our own sinful flesh. He knows the greedy, self-centered ruthlessness of a world hell-bent, and he recruits and marshals his volunteers with his ranting and raving. He is a clever devil – beautiful, seductive, coy, handsome, appealing. The grass on his side is always greener. The worship of his name is so much more appealing. He offers so much fun. He hides the consequences. He waves all sorts of treasures before our eyes: power, possessions, sex, money, fame, celebrity, popularity, pleasure. “All these I will give to you if you bow down and worship me.” The devil knows that our human flesh born of Adam and Eve is bent against God, that it wants so desperately to be “like God,” and to live for self. And so he stirs up in us doubt, despair, lust, greed, envy, covetousness, hopelessness, depression, and rage.
You have likely experienced it yourself. If you haven’t, you will. You know the struggle to believe God’s Word over and against your own experience and feelings. You know how it is to be at war within yourself – wanting to do the good and gracious will of God, doing instead the will of the devil, the world, and your own sinful self. This is especially true of experienced believers, whose has been refined in the crucible of life.
Where the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins is preached, heard, believed, and bears fruit, there is going to be big trouble. “The blessed holy cross will not be far away.” As Fr. Luther put it in the Large Catechism: “Let nobody think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth – possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life.” It means that we must remain faithful, patiently suffer the loss of everything, even our lives (as we promised at our confirmation), and let go of everything that is taken from us all for the sake of our salvation.
And this is going to grieve the old sinful nature in us mightily. Old Adam and old Eve must die, and they don’t want to die. We must die to ourselves daily, so that Christ may be raised in us daily. And this is going to be painful. Where there is a death, there is going to be grief, with array of feelings and emotions. We may try to bargain with God, strike a deal with Him to short-cut our suffering. We may despair of God and his grace. We may feel forsaken by God, depressed and alone. We may feel guilt and shame. We may become angry with God and resentful toward Him for letting us suffer. We may even be tempted to turn away from God thinking that He has turned away from us. Anyone who imagines that to be Christian is to be happy and carefree has not yet learned to pray: “Thy will be done.”
“Thy will be done, dear Father, not my will, not the will of the devil or of our enemies, nor of those who would persecute and suppress thy holy Word or prevent thy kingdom from coming,” or anything that would get in the way of my salvation and the salvation of others.
“Thy will be done.” This is a bold, dangerous petition. It is an open invitation for trouble. Jesus prayed this way in Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed into death. “Father, if thou are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thy will be done.” If Jesus, whose food it was to do the will of His Father, whose will was in perfect sinless alignment with that of His Father, if Jesus prays “not my will but thy will be done,” how much more must we pray this petition?
“Thy will be done, O Father in heaven – in our homes, our families, our marriages, our bedrooms. Thy will be done – in our work, our play, our worship. Thy will be done – in our sicknesses, suffering and service. Thy will be done – in our doubt, our despair, and in the hour of our death.
This is no whimpish sigh of resignation when we have come to the inevitable conclusion that we cannot have things our way. We’ve tried everything else, and now finally we are so broken down that all we can whimper is “thy will be done” into a lace handerkerchief accompanied by the soft organ playing of the funeral parlor. This is a bold declaration of war against everything that would get in the way our salvation. It is a demand that God get in the way of our damnation. That He interfere with our lives. This is a courageous cry of one who has been crucified with Christ in Holy Baptism, whose life is being interfered with by God. As Martin Marty put it: This petition “is to be shouted, not whimpered; announced, not whined; chanted, not tentatively breathed.”
This is a prayer for divine defense – that God would do our defensiveness to death in the death of His Son, so that He might defend us with the mighty sword of the Spirit, which is His Word.
Those of you who have been blessed to learn and use our adaptation of Luther’s little liturgy of individual confession have had joy of its first line: “Dear pastor, please hear my confession and declare that my sins are forgiven in order to fulfill God’s will.” Could that really be? Can it really be the fulfilling of God’s will that we confess our sinfulness in His presence and be freely forgiven in the name of His Son?
And the answer is “yes” and “amen.” This is the good and gracious will of God, that sinners bow before Him confessing their sins and receive the free gift of forgiveness. That is why He sent His Son to be born of a woman, to keep the law perfectly in our place, to suffer the punishments of the law perfectly as our substitute, to die and be damned for the sin of the world. That is why God gave us His holy Word, why He instituted the blessed sacraments: Baptism, Absolution, and the Holy Supper, why he calls and ordains pastors and authorizes them to speak forgiveness in His name with the promise that the forgiveness they speak is God’s own forgiveness. That is why God gathers congregations around the Word and the sacraments. It is so that His good and gracious will to save might also be done among us and with us and in us.
God does it all. He keeps us in His Word and faith. He keeps us in Christ. He defends us from everything that jeopardizes our life with Him. Left to our own, we would be utterly destroyed. In the end it is not we who pray this petition, but Christ who prays for us, in us, and with us. He alone can pray, “Thy will be done,” as He did on His way to Calvary. And it is through Him, with Him, and in Him that we pray, “Our Father, thy will be done.
What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
The petition for daily bread stands in the center of the Our Father, the fourth of seven petition. It is a “hinge” petition, coming after our prayer for God’s name to be placed upon us, his kingdom to come among us and his will to be done with us, and flowing directly into petitions for forgiveness, protection from temptation, and deliverance from the evil one. “Give us this day our daily bread” is both central and fourth.
That it is central tells us that bread is not unimportant to our Father in heaven. “He knows what you need even before you ask Him.” It is of the essence of God’s fatherhood that He daily and richly provides for and protects that which He creates. His fatherly goodness and mercy compel Him to provide for His creatures.
That this petition for bread comes in fourth place also tells us something. It tells us that bread has its place in God’s order, and that place is not first. He preserves and protects life not simply because He created it, but in order to save it for eternity. He feeds the unbeliever so that the unbeliever might repent and believe. That is His will. Therefore, the disciple as one who trusts in God for every good gift, who knows God to be a good and gracious Father, is not to be anxious about food or drink or clothing. Such anxiety is the way of the unbeliever, who does not know God’s goodness.
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Jesus warns His disciples against the anxiety of unbelief, the nervous liturgy that arises when our false gods have failed to provide for us. “For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” This is the agenda for prayer as Jesus teaches us to pray. To seek first God’s name on our lips and in our lives, God’s kingdom as He lords the death and resurrection of King Jesus over our sin, God’s will to save over and against the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh that will our destruction, and “all these things” – food, drink, clothing – will be yours as well. That is His promise.
Therefore no believer in God’s promise may say, “First I must get my bank account in order, first I must get my work in order, first I must put bread on my table, then I will come to the church to be fed by God.” That is the upside down way of the Gentiles. Unfaith. The Father who provides for the lilies, birds, and grass, which do not and cannot pray, will also provide for His foremost creature, whose lives are worth the blood of His Son shed on the cross. To think less of our Father in heaven is to be “men of little faith.”
God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all wicked people. God does not need our urging to preserve what He has created. “He causes His rain to fall on the good and the wicked alike.” Your heathen neighbor’s lawn is just as green as yours. It might even be greener. Believer and unbeliever are not differentiated by daily bread. What differentiates the believer from the unbeliever is thanksgiving. “We pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize” that all these things are gifts from God, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. Ten lepers were healed by Jesus. Nine went their way to the priest and to their lives. Only one had faith to turn around and say “thank you.” “For all this it is our responsibility, our grateful response, to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
And so Jesus teaches us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Bread is the food of affliction; it is the food of fallen, sinful man. The word “bread” refers to the entire economy of work by which Adamic man must now be nourished in a world cursed by sin. In the Garden it was different. Man could freely eat of the fruit of the trees in the Garden. Fruits and nuts – embryonic life. Man fed off of life, not death. Nothing had to die to feed him. He was fed directly from God had grown. But by reaching out into the middle and across the boundary to take a food that was not given, man fell into death.
With the fall, food could no longer obtained directly from a fallen creation. Now food would come indirectly, through the working of cursed ground. The uncooperative soil had to be tilled. Cultivated crops had to be guarded against plants that were not food – thorns and thistles. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.” Bread means work. Grain had to be harvested, separated, milled, kneaded, and baked. Bread is basic – crushed grain and water, kneaded into loaves, baked in fire. We sweat. In the tilling and planting, n the harvesting and milling, in the kneading and baking. Our sweat is a sacramental sign of our sin and our death.
Adamic man is nourished and sustained by the hand of God through his work, and “if anyone doesn’t work, neither will he eat.” The generation of the sixties was not that far from the truth when they called money, “bread.” For those of you who don’t recall, if you “had no bread,” it meant you had no money, which meant you could not eat.
The Catechism calls “bread” everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body. That includes food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods. “Bread” is family life, family being the fundamental unit of man living in community. It includes devout husband or wife and devout children.
“Bread” is economic life. It represents the economic community in which every person has a role and place in bringing the produce of the ground to each and every member of the community. It includes devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government.
In order for there to be bread, the order of the creation must be maintained. And so the petition for bread is also a prayer for good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, etc.
Luther rightly says that out of this one petition, one might make a very long prayer, enumerating with many words all that things that this one word, “bread,” includes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray that God would grant us food and clothing and shelter, that He would preserve our families from the evils of divorce, drugs, drunkenness, and disobedience; that He would cause our economy to prosper and give us productive labor for our hands.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” We pray for our rulers and authorities, whether they be of our particular political persuasion or not, it matter not, that through them God would grant us peace and protection. We pray for our communities, that sinners though we all are, we might learn to live in peace and concord and obedience so that our neighbors all might have their daily bread. There is no notion of the self-made, autonomous and independent individual. “No man is an island.” We pray it together, in community. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We pray for protection against flood, drought, famine, fire, poison, pollution, pestilence, hail, and wind; against wicked and greedy employers who lay off their workers for profit, against lazy and complacent workers who do not sweat an honest day’s work for their daily bread, against anarchy and rebellion and violence and bloodshed.
We pray for the poor, those who through no fault of their own have been given to be given to by those who have more than a day’s worth of bread. We pray that the hearts of the rich among us would be opened wide, that those who barns are already filled with grain would not seek to build bigger barns and bank accounts to store their surplus, as did the rich fool, but would deposit their excess daily bread in the empty mouths of the poor and the hungry.
Jesus teaches us to pray for these things, even though our Father in heaven knows we need them, and provides them even to the most wicked of men. He teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we may realize that God is the Giver of every good gift, and that we have received everything from Him purely out of His fatherly goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us. That’s why the Catechism teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread,” in the morning when we arise from sleep to attend to our work, at the family table, where we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, and in the evening, when we lie down to rest from our labors. For when God withdraws His hand, nothing can prosper or last for even a brief second – not our work, our business, our fields, our crops, our coinage, our bank accounts, our families, our communities, our nation, our bread.
To not begin and end the day by praying, “give us this day our daily bread,” is to deal with the day as the Gentiles and the unbelievers. Such a day comes of little faith. I must confess, that though my calling as a pastor keeps me close to the Word and puts me under orders to pray, I do not pray for my daily bread daily. The greatest threat to daily bread is not famine or sedition or bad government or a bad economy. The greatest threat is our inherent unbelief – our attempt to live by bread alone, instead of by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
God’s ultimate bread turns out not to be daily bread, which is here today and is moldy tomorrow. It is not the manna that fell from heaven and fed Israel in the wilderness. It is not the miraculous multiplication of the loaves that Jesus did when He fed the four thousand and the five thousand. God’s ultimate Bread is Jesus Himself – Jesus, the Bread of Life, Jesus, the true and living Bread which came down from heaven, Jesus, the Bread of which a man may eat and never hunger and will live forever.
There has been much discussion and debate over the Greek word that gets translated into English as “daily” It’s not as clear-cut and simple as many imagine. The word can mean something like “sufficient for the day or the next day.” In other words, “Give us this day enough bread for today.” It can also mean that which has its origin in heaven, “super-substantial bread,” as Jerome translated it. Luther also preached that way in the earlier years prior to the catechisms. That means that the word “bread” may not only mean that daily crust of bread on our tables, but also Jesus Christ, the living Bread who sustains our life through death to eternal life.
In the Lord’s Supper, in which ordinary daily bread is pressed into service by the Word of Christ to be at one and the same time the extraordinary Bread of Christ’s Body. Here daily bread and the living Bread of Life are eaten together as one. Temporal food and eternal food. Today’s bread and tomorrow’s Bread are both together. The bread of affliction and the Bread of Him whose food it was to do the will of His Father in heaven are one, holy food, eaten with the mouth.
This is why the church prays the Our Father at the altar in the liturgy of Holy Communion. The altar is the dinner table of the baptized family of God, the church. There she is gathered to eat her supersubstantial Bread, the living Bread come down from heaven. “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And so the church prays: “Give us this living Bread from above. “Give us to eat our share in the blessed Sacrament, from which we may eat today and live forever.”
Only our tightly compartmentalized, 20th century mindset would make daily bread and sacramental bread into two entirely separate categories. In the view of the Scriptures, one word can embrace both the material and the spiritual realms, both earthly and heavenly things without confusion. That’s because “the Word became Flesh and made His dwelling among us”. God became man. Heaven came to earth in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Daily, earthy bread becomes living, heavenly, supersubstantial Bread by the Word of Christ in the Sacrament. Perhaps this is why the petition for “bread” is linked to the three which follow it: Bread, forgiveness, protection from temptation, and deliverance from evil – each flowing into the next and all of them together.
To attempt to live on one kind of bread without the other is not the way of faith. To have daily bread without Christ is crass, course materialism. To have Christ without daily bread is enthusiasm, bogus spirituality. Jesus gives Himself – His body crucified, His blood shed, “for you.” He offers Himself for the life of the world. And He offers Himself to you in the Supper for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus is true, living and life-giving Bread, daily bread in the ultimate sense.
And in the strength of that Bread, you do your daily work, whatever it is that God has given you to do, wherever it is He has given you to do it, and receive your daily bread with thanksgiving, praying, “Our Father, give us this day our daily bread.”