We have an increasingly secular society, a “Sexular Society” as one commentator has put it, and this has blurred many of the things we once held in common. The Christian faith was one of those things. We used to take it for granted, but now we have almost lost the inheritance it offers. During my Christmas break I met a young man who had never been in a church, not even for a funeral or a wedding. He knew nothing of Jesus Christ except that it had been a good swear word for him. He knew nothing of prayer and I expect that he could not even recite the Lord’s Prayer. This young man is no longer unusual in modern Australia but at the same time I suspect that some of those who can recite the Lord’s Prayer may have taken it so much for granted that its content is no longer appreciated. With that in mind I thought I would spend some time reflecting on this prayer as a way of remembering what we once had in common and indeed what we need in common.
People have got all sorts of things to say about their fathers. Personally, I think my children are blessed with the Father they have. In fact every one of you would be worse off without my children’s Father.
Before you cringe too much I want to assure you that I am not talking about myself but the Father who is in Heaven, to whom the Lord’s Prayer is prayed. The prayer begins “Our Father” which for some people might be anything but a good start. Failed earthly fatherhood can certainly colour a person’s view of fathers. Some might say the prayer is too patriarchal. But when Jesus taught people to pray “Our Father” he was not expecting people to project their bad experience of fathers onto God but rather to project God’s fatherly goodness onto all fatherhood. In other words God’s goodness was to be a model for all parenting. Of course in the age of feminism the idea that God is masculine is unhelpful and it needs to be said that God is not male or female. In the Lord’s Prayer God is described in a relational term we understand – Our Father - and that relationship comes with expectations.
In contrast to many failed parents God the Father attends everything in your life and never misses an important occasion. In fact he attends even the most unimportant events in life and rejoices to be present. He is even there when we fail. As the Lord’s Prayer makes clear God the Father is present with the daily bread you need and the forgiveness our failures often require. His protection is strong and as the Father of us all He is not a Father to be taken lightly. Tamper with God’s children and Jesus says you would be better to have a stone tied around your neck and be cast into the sea. As an earthly father I get that. Tamper with my children and my wrath knows no end and I am reserved in comparison to their mother.
God the Father is not too busy to be present, he is not so preoccupied with his own concerns that he can't spend time with you. Rather He desires to live with us as His constant companions. Jesus Christ invites God’s children to speak with their God as with the intimacy of a child to their parent. If you know the prayer you would know that nearly all of it is an invitation to ask of God what we need. Like any good parent God the Father doesn’t guarantee to give you what you want but God does address what you need. As such, a good look at this prayer Jesus taught us highlights our greatest needs.
As we visit this prayer which was once commonly known and said, I am confronted with the perfect Fatherhood of God in contrast with my own. Is it possible that the neglect of such a prayer and the absence of the Heavenly Father from our thinking and plans is coming home to roost in so many family and life issues? I think it is!Confronted as I am about my inadequacy as an earthly father, I admit to being happily confronted by the open invitation that Jesus gives for us to call God our Father, and to ask, as His children, for his help. If only that would be common for all of us.