Bible Readings: Psalm 97 & Revelation 4:1-11

Our Father in heaven …

So, Easter has been and gone, we’re working our way through the last of the chocolate eggs and looking forward to the kids going back to school, some sunshine, and the summer holidays starting to appear on the horizon. For the whole of this term here at All Saints we’re going to be exploring prayer, what it is and how we do it. Just before Easter we gave out some of these TryPraying booklets, if you haven’t had one then please do take one from me on the door today. It’s a seven day prayer guide, which you can use yourself and then give to someone, suggesting that they try praying for a week and see what God does. There are churches all round the area doing this, you may have noticed the banners up outside churches and the ads on the back of buses. Around Pentecost we’re going to be joining in with the national project called “Thy Kingdom Come” which is being headed up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is encouraging all the Christians in the UK to join together in praying for the country. As part of this we are going to have 24 hours of prayer here in church on the 3rd of June. Looks like pretty good timing given that there’s a General Election coming on the 8th of June!

As part of all this exploration of prayer, in the morning services over the next few weeks we are going to be looking at the pattern of prayer that Jesus gave to his friends and followers when he taught them about prayer. We know it as the Lord’s prayer, and we’re going to take it phrase by phrase so that it can help us in our own praying. You see, learning about prayer and praying isn’t about needing to use special words, or long, fancy sentences. It’s about understanding who we’re praying to, what we can and should pray for, and how we should live in the light of our own prayers.

Who or what we pray to is important. Imagine that you want a pay rise at work. Who do you go and ask for it? Do you go and ask your husband or wife or partner? Unless you happen to work for them, no you wouldn’t. They might say that you can have the pay rise, but they don’t have any authority to make it happen. Now, if you worked on the factory floor in a multinational corporation, is there any point in you sending an email to the president of the company? Probably not. She might have the authority, but doesn’t know who you are, or care about it either way. You need someone who knows you and your work, and who has the authority to give you the pay rise.

It’s the same with prayer. We need someone who knows us and who can deliver. So how does the Lord’s prayer begin?

Our Father. In fact, for many centuries that is what the prayer was known as, the Paternoster, Latin for, Our Father. Some people still call it “the Our Father.”

Because that is who we pray to, Our Father.

Not all fathers are perfect, but enough of us have good enough fathers to know what a good father looks like. A good father loves his children, wants the best for them, sacrifices for them, gives them good things. God is the perfect Father. All human beings are God’s created children and God loves each one of us. But somehow we have all spoiled that relationship with God and have said and done things which aren’t right, putting ourselves in the centre, which the Bible calls sin. We have all preferred to do things our way and chosen not to live as God’s children. This means that we have become estranged from our Father.

The good news is that we can be reconciled, the relationship can be put right, we can be part of the family again. At Easter we remembered that Jesus came to live, die and be raised to life so that our sins could be forgiven, so that we could be fully the children of God, and so that we can know what it is to be able to call God our Father. This is what we have done on behalf of the children here this morning in baptism, we have turned away from the darkness and committed to live as children of light, as children of God, under God’s authority as our Father.

As God’s children, perfectly loved and fully at home, we can come to God in confidence, knowing that we are fully known and loved, and that the one we are praying to wants the best for us and will give us all that is good for us.
But that is not all. Where is our Father? Our Father, in heaven.

What does this mean? Does it mean that God is floating around on a cloud somewhere in the sky? Does it mean that God is a long way away? No – so what does it mean?

Let’s think for a minute about what our reading in Revelation shows us about what it means for God to be in heaven. The author, John, had known Jesus when he was on earth. He’d spent time with him, and had been an eye witness to the resurrection. Now, in his later years, he has a vision of God in heaven.

God is on a throne, symbol of power and authority. God is being worshipped, a demonstration that God is worthy of praise and acclaim. God is acknowledged as the creator of all things, worthy of glory and honour and power. All of these things point to a single fact. God has the power and authority to do anything.

The fact that our Father is in heaven gives us confidence in our prayers, because there is no-one else in the whole of creation who has the amount of ability to deliver what is good than God. It is like us going to the president of the company to ask for that pay rise and discovering that she knows and loves us as much as our partner.

We pray to God because in God we find the perfect harmony of love for us and ability to act for our good. This doesn’t mean that we always get what we ask for. Sometimes we don’t ask for the right things, and sometimes we ask at the wrong time. For all that, we have a Father who is trustworthy and able to answer our prayers in the way that is best for us.

So, that is who we pray to. But what are we going to pray? What is the next line of the Lord’s prayer?

Hallowed be your name.

What does that mean? Does anybody ever use the word “hallowed” in normal everyday conversation?

The only example I can think of is that sometimes sports commentators talk about the “hallowed turf” of Wembley or of Twickenham – a special place where only the selected few get to go and play and compete. It’s an honour to be allowed to go there, it means something, it is set apart from normal use – you can’t just go for a kick about or walk your dog on it – it’s reserved for important occasions and big matches. It’s hallowed.

But what about God’s name, what does it mean for that to be hallowed. Is it just about not saying, “Oh God” or, “for Christ’s sake” when we’re upset or angry? Is it about keeping the words, “God” or “Jesus” for special occasions, only to be used in church on Sundays? It seems to me that it is more than that.

Hugh Latimer was the bishop of Worcester in the 16th century. He was burned at the stake in Oxford as part of Mary Tudor’s persecution of Protestant Christians. In 1552, three years before his death, he preached a series of sermons on the Lord’s prayer. I’ll put a link to them on our Facebook page. In his second sermon, talking about, “Hallowed be your name” he said something like this,

“I desire that God’s name may be revealed, that we may know what the Bible says about God, that we might believe what it says, and live like we believe it. I don’t desire that God’s name be hallowed for God’s sake, for he doesn’t need it; God is holy already: but I desire that God will give us the Holy Spirit, so that we may show in all that we do and say that God is truly holy, just as it says in the Bible.”

In John’s vision of heaven we hear the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” in the psalmist’s song, we are encouraged to praise God’s holy name. God is already holy. We are not praying that God’s name should become something that it isn’t already. We are praying that we, and others, might recognise this reality and act accordingly.

To go back to our football illustration. An England player running out at Wembley for an international is said to be representing their country. Play well or poorly, score a wonder goal, make a game saving tackle, get sent off, miss an easy save, whatever they do in some way is seen to reflect on the country they represent.

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we have this responsibility every day. We represent our heavenly Father on earth. That’s why we prayed for those who have been baptised today that they might stand firm in their faith, representing Jesus well to the world. Whenever we pray that God’s name be hallowed, we are praying for ourselves and for all Christian people that we might take this responsibility seriously. We are praying that we will be able to be positive representatives of God in the world, and that others might see us and think well of God, and be drawn to faith and into God’s family themselves. That others might also recognise the reality of God’s holiness and come to live in its light.

Next Saturday, as part of the TryPraying project, we are going to be in Wellington Market square, encouraging people to Try Praying so that they can know God as their heavenly Father and hallow God’s name in their lives. This is a brilliant opportunity to be part of the answer to our own prayers. You could be praying in the background, helping set up, engaging people on the street, helping plan a prayer activity for people to have a go at. What is God calling you to do next Saturday? Come and talk to me afterwards, don’t miss out on this opportunity to step out in faith and see what God will do.

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