“The Lord’s Prayer in the Lord’s Passion” is the theme of the Lenten devotion that Steadfast Lutherans has put together this year. The following sermon continues the theme of prayer, focusing on the importance of the “our” in the Our Father.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was once upon a time a powerful king who would sit on his royal throne in all his majesty and hear cases. One day a certain poor peasant was ushered into the king’s hall and bowed himself low to the ground. The king had not seen the peasant before and was not aware of anything, either good or bad, that the man had done as a citizen of his kingdom. The peasant, for his part, knew that he was a nobody to the king, yet was in such desperate straits he judged it best to cast himself on the king’s mercy: “My lord, may you live forever, grant me justice against my adversary who has stolen from me.”
While he was yet speaking, the king’s attendants brought in a second man, whom the king recognized at once as a malcontent and evildoer in his kingdom. This man was suspected of staging a rebellion and was known to be a highway robber. But he likewise had fallen on hard times, and came now to beseech the king’s mercy: “My lord, I have injured my leg and can no longer conduct my business. I pray you to support me from the royal treasury until such time as I recover.”
And while he was yet speaking, the king’s son rushed in, his only and dearly beloved little son. The boy ran past the attendants, bowed reverently to the king, then drew near to the throne and jumped into his father’s lap. The king smiled, “And what can I do for you, my son?” “O Father,” came the reply, “give me the fattened calf, that my brothers and I may feast tonight.”
There three are before the king, and each has his request. The question now is: which of the three are you? The nobody, the rebel, or the son?
Perhaps the nobody. The world is, after all, a big place, and you appear to be a relatively insignificant part of it. In the book of Job the Lord questioned that man for whom the book is named, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” (Job 38). And with much further interrogation the Lord made Job to know that there is a great difference between God and man, and that he is constantly occupied with great things which we cannot even begin to fathom.
Perhaps you are the nobody, and you must address God, saying, “O Thou Unapproachable King…” And then you can stop your mouth right there, since who are you that he should give ear to you?
And yet the Lord speaks to Job. He who is as high above us as the heavens are above the earth occupies himself with knowing man. Job answers the Lord, “Behold, I am a trifle! What shall I respond to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40). Yet as much as we are but a trifle, the Lord pays attention to us. We wonder with David in Psalm 144, “O Lord, what is man that you know him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” But as much as it might cause us to marvel, the fact remains: nobody is a nobody before the Lord. He knows everyone.
But is not this a frightening thing? You know that with even a slight investigation the Lord would find that you have much in common with the rebel. How often have you acted contrary to his divine laws, in spite of the fact that you know his divine laws by heart? How often have you deserved a public hanging or a trip to the guillotine?
Perhaps you are the rebel. And if so, why would you dare to approach the Lord seeking mercy when you know that deadly justice looms over your head? Better to fall into the hands of robbers and be left stripped, beaten, and dying on the side of the road than to present yourself before the King. As it says in Hebrews 10, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” But if you are the rebel, and you insist on approaching the Lord, then call upon him, saying, “O Thou Deadly Judge.” And then don’t be surprised if he lives up to the title.
So, we’ve established that you’re not the nobody, and you certainly have much in common with the rebel. Should we go on? How could you possibly be the king’s son? What a presumptuous thought!
Except Jesus teaches us to pray. He has not taught you to say, “O Thou Unapproachable King.” He has not taught you to say, “O Thou Deadly Judge.” He has taught you to pray, “Our Father.” So you are the king’s beloved little son.
How could this be? Jesus teaches us how this can be with the little word “our.” Certainly the “our” includes the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is a corporate prayer of the Church, and shows that even when we pray in secret, the incense of our prayer joins with the incense of all the prayers of the saints as it rises from earth to heaven. But even more fundamental and important is that Jesus is included in the “our.” This is “The Lord’s Prayer,” and we can only say “our Father” because from the beginning the Son of God could say, “my Father.” And that extension from “my Father” to “our Father” is nothing else than the Gospel.
The fulfillment of the Gospel began when the Son of God became incarnate. Before that time, he called human flesh “your flesh.” But ever since the incarnation, Jesus calls human flesh “our flesh.”
And this didn’t stop with our flesh. Jesus included himself in the “our” of “our rebellion,” not by committing rebellion but by taking ownership of our rebellion. He owned our rebellion to the extent that he freed us from what was rightly “ours,” calling it his own rebellion, suffering for it and forgiving it singlehandedly. He even shared in the “our” of “our death,” and died our death for us.
Jesus has risen from the dead, and he has given us the gift of Holy Baptism, in which he washes us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And this is nothing other than him taking “my Baptism” and making it “our Baptism,” such that the heavens are opened to you and the Holy Spirit descends on you and the Father says to you, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Thus Paul writes about Baptism in Romans 8 in these terms: “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
Jesus shared in what was ours so that his Father would be our Father. And therefore, for the sake of Christ, you are the king’s dearly beloved little son. You pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” “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.”
And now, how did it fare for those three who petitioned the king? To the nobody the king said, “I know you not, and I require some time to become familiar with you and your case. You must depart with nothing for the time being.” And to the rebel he said, “You have long enjoyed the benefits of my realm, and have returned me nothing but hatred for it, in spite of my goodness and forbearance toward you. Your life is forfeit, and those who shall remove your body from my presence are standing at the door.” But to his dear son the king said, “My son, you shall feast today! Yes, my dear son, yes: it shall be so.” Amen.