July 24th The Sermon on The Mount: Daily Bread and Daily Mercy

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

The Lord’s Prayer is the most often quoted part of the Sermon on the Mount.  It is part of the daily prayers of hundreds of millions of Christians.  You can be sure that someone has been saying it, somewhere, during every moment of your life.  The first remarkable thing about it is that addresses God as “Our Father” a much more personal way of talking to God than had been used before.  We lose a little in the translation because it means “father of us all” and not father of just some people. And speaking as a child to the parent, it does not ask God for things, but tells God what we want.  Instead of saying “please give us today your daily bread,” it says, “give us today our daily bread.”  It not only speaks to God as Father, but puts us in the role of deserving children.

To help this be a little clearer, I am including three different translations of today’s text.  We need translations because the words were originally written down in Greek.  It’s good to realize that translations can never be exact because words in each language can have many subtle differences.

Matthew 6:7-14 (New International Version)

[Jesus said]: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil one.’

[some late manuscripts add  “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”]

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:7-14 (Good News Translation)

[Jesus said]: “When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long.  Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.  This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored;

may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today the food we need.

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.

Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.’

[For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.]

“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.

Matthew 6:7-14  (New Revised Standard Version)

[Jesus said]: “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  “Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

   And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

[For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.]

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

After reading all three, you can see that they convey the same ideas but with some differences.  We are all familiar with the idea that some translations say “debts” when others say “trespasses” while others say things like “wrongs” and “sins.”  While “debts” may suggest issues with money and “trespasses” suggest issues of land, the more general terms tend to confuse people less. 

Jesus gives us this prayer and it is right that we pray it as we receive it, but he also suggests that we should keep our prayers brief and according to this prayer as a model.  So, when writing or simply coming up with our own prayers, this prayer can give us the structure to say everything that needs to be said.

The basic structure of the prayers goes like this:

Pray to God directly (not to anyone other than God) and honor God’s personal devotion to you as his child. 

Pay appropriate respect to God for his goodness.

Accept that God knows better (and plans) better than you.

Tell God of your needs (food, shelter, etc.) and thank God for needs being met.

Agree to be forgiven as you forgive others.

Tell God of your frailty and your continued need for help to avoid evil.

Admit that God has the power to anything.

A prayer that doesn’t do any of these is probably not a prayer at all, but very short prayers, like “God, help me” can meet these requirements.

The purpose of prayer is partly to communicate back to God in return for all that God has done for you and told you in Scripture and in the goodness of Creation and loving people.  Another purpose of prayer is to keep you mindful of whom you are in relationship to God.  The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we are all God’s children and that we depend on God for the daily good that comes to us, and that God is daily involved in our lives.  The prayer also acknowledges that God has granted us the ability to make good and bad decisions that affect others.  When we sin, trespass or indebt ourselves to others, we acknowledge that we need to show forgiveness if we expect forgiveness.

In the prayer itself and in the verse that follows, Jesus makes it very clear that we are expected to forgive others if we want our sins to be forgiven.  We don’t expect to lose our status as children of God, but a person who does not forgive the debts of others should be expected to pay their own debts to the penny.  We do not know what form this un-forgiveness would take, but that is irrelevant because we have a simple command to forgive others.

This command should be crystal clear to us because Jesus says it to us in many ways:  We say forgive us as we have been forgiven.  We are told “Don’t judge unless you desire to be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-3)  We are told “do to others as you would have them do to you.”(Matthew 7:12).  Remember, “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. “ Weare given many parables to support this idea.  In terms of your behavior, the major requirement is that you forgive others. 

Mercy and forgiveness (and refusal to harsh judgment) is a self-reinforcing thing.   We show God our thankfulness for his mercy by showing mercy to others which pleases God who blesses us… so we bless others with a more forgiving Spirit within us… which glorifies God’s mercy which leads us to a greater desire of being merciful… and so on, forever.  Jesus clearly states that merciful people do not face God’s judgment.  It may not fit in with our other theology, but Jesus says it so clearly that we would be fools to ignore it.

In one of my favorite old novels, a young man spends a little time with some Catholic priests and thinks that it is pitiful that they must ask God for daily bread.  A good father, he thinks, should provide for his children without begging.  The young man completely misunderstands the Lord’s Prayer.  He doesn’t see that the prayer is about appreciating God’s love for us and God’s expectation that we will all resemble him in showing mercy and love to others.

God is “father of us all” and desires us to join him in showing love and mercy.

Questions to Ponder:  How would you be judged if you were judged according to the way you judge others?  Do you know anyone who needs to be more forgiving?

Blessings,

Pastor Rick