Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Current Sermons
The World`s Greatest Prayer (Dr Richard Smith) 24.7.2016
Reading: Luke 11:11-13

On weekends as a child I played on our farm in Kent, England. One Sunday I strayed further afield and was playing with a friend on a heap of road gravel between St Peter`s Anglican Church and my grandparents` home. They spotted me as they returned from worship and I was promptly taken back to my parents` home. Next week I found myself in Sunday School sitting in a circle learning the Lord`s Prayer.

It has remained with me ever since. But as I have `grown older and wiser`, the words have lost much of their impact, except for the part where we ask for forgiveness as we forgive others. However John Dominic Crossan`s `The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of THE LORD`s PRAYER` revived my interest.

While the Lord`s Prayer is Christianity`s greatest prayer, it is also its strangest:

It is prayed by most Christians but it does not mention, the Christ, the Church or Sabbath.

It is prayed by Fundamentalist Christians but never mentions the inerrancy of the bible, virgin birth, miracles, atoning death, or bodily resurrection. It is prayed by evangelical Christians, but never mentions the evangelium or gospel. It is prayed by Pentecostals but never mentions ecstasy or the Holy Spirit. It is prayed by mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics but never mentions congregations, ministers, priest, bishop or pope.

Is it then a Jewish prayer by a Jewish Jesus? But there is no mention of covenant or law, Temple or Torah, circumcision or purity.

Crossan describes: The Prayer as the Abba prayer of Jesus, which is both a revolutionary manifesto and hymn of hope.

The Lord`s prayer in the form we pray it, is found only in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. In Luke we have the Shortest Version of 34 words. Matthew creates a longer version of 52 words. The longest form of 65 words did not come into being until the King James Bible when the final liturgical flourish of `Thine be the Kingdom the power and glory for ever and ever Amen` was added.

The first half of the prayer that begins Our Father in Heaven if interpreted literally creates an image of a God beyond the sky which was meaningful for the Greek-Roman world for whom it was written but which for a modern post-enlightenment world has little meaning. But the words are deeply metaphorical and so they need to be understood in Jesus` own historical context.

This is what Crossan attempts when he writes that the `ABBA the Father` prayer is found in Mark`s Gospel and Paul`s letters but in other contexts. In Mark (14:36) it is in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prays `Abba, Father .. yet not what I will, but what You will.` In the words of Paul`s letter to the Romans 8:15, the Abba prayer happens when God`s `Spirit bears witness with our Spirit` stirring us into action for Paul states `We do not know how to pray as we ought` (Rom. 8:26). That is God`s spirit stirs us up to bring to mind God`s purpose. Our conscience becomes stirred into action.

The Lord`s Prayer created by the Gospel writers has a poetic style called biblical parallelism which creates a vibration of thought, a metronome in the mind, which is why we so easily remember it from Sunday School where we learnt it by rote.

The formal prayer begins with OUR not MY or YOUR to indicate that it is for the whole of humanity. `OUR FATHER` is a metaphor according to Crossan, for the householder of the Mediterranean world who managed the needs of his extended family, the slaves, servants, asylum seekers, animals, plants and land. `OUR FATHER in HEAVEN` extends the metaphor to describe the householder who manages so every member gets enough of the necessities of life according to the principle of Distributive Justice and restorative Righteousness (If you need an -ism, then ENOUGHISM).

I recognise this metaphor for my father had many employees who lived in his cottages on the farm at a reduced rent. He cared deeply for everyone who worked for him. Once a year he would hire a bus and take all his employees and their families to the sea-side for a day of sand, sea, singing and relaxation. I once ended up with the lost children. On retirement he would continue to visit his former employees and every Christmas take them gifts of apples and pears from his farm.

Incidentally the Greek word for Household is OIKOS from which we get the word ecology. For the well managed household in the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si we talk of a Sustainably Managed Ecosystem. This was how the Aboriginal people managed the Australian continent for 40,000 years according to their Law which in this respect was far in advance of our present law. They were spiritually much closer to God as carers of his ecological household than is our modern society.

Next in the Lord`s prayer comes `Hallowed be thy name`:

Hallowed means to make holy or sacred. When we say the ABBA prayer we declare that this well managed ecosystem that has given birth to us and sustains our every breath is sacred. It reminds us that in the words of Pope Francis that it is not to be treated as a `great waste dump` for our excesses of consumption and emissions.

`Thy Kingdom come` is better translated as Commonwealth for the ideal where the Earth is shared in common by all people for the Common Good according to the Divine principles of Distributive Justice and Restorative Righteousness.

And so `Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven`. Heaven and Earth are the two sides of a coin. Inseparable but distinct like our body and mind. While I was working at the CSIRO Irrigation Laboratory in Griffith, NSW, I was visited by a world famous Israeli scientist who invented trickle irrigation. His name was Daniel Hillel - very Jewish. At the time I was consumed by resolving the injustices to the family of murdered anti-drug campaigner Donald Mackay. Therefore I said to Daniel, `What is the Jewish meaning of Justice? He answered Tzedakah which is the Hebrew (and Arabic) word for Charity or Justice in action. It is he said it is the feminine gender of Tzedak, the word for Justice or righteousness`. So Tzedak and Tzedakah are the two sides of the same coin. One exists in the mind the other in action. To bring about the Kingdom of God we need both Heaven and Earth, Tzedak and Tzedakah. The ideal and praxis.

The next half of the Lord`s prayer switches from the metaphorical to practical action with `Give us this day our daily bread`

In Jesus` Mediterranean world, people lived on the edge of starvation because of the uncertainties of seasons, harvests, fertility of land and endless civil wars. To have adequate bread depended on those with more sharing with those with less. It is a prayer by the vulnerable for distributive justice so as to be saved from going into debt if their bread ration fell short.

In Jesus` world, debt slavery was the outcome of being forced to borrow to survive. The people themselves, their clothes or their children would be sold into slavery to cover their debt.

Therefore, fundamental to the early Jewish law of Torah was every seventh year all debt slaves were freed and there was no interest on debts to fellow Jews. Even now there is often a need to free third world countries of their debt to the first world. Debt has become out biggest cause of enslavement to consumerism and the imperative for continual economic growth that is destroying the global ecosystem.

Next comes the words Debts, Trespasses and Sin all various forms of violence used interchangeably in the various versions of the Lord`s prayer depending on the historical context of the need for reciprocal acts of forgiveness.

From reciprocal acts of repentance and forgiveness comes reconciliation. This was the power of Bishop Tutu`s `Truth and Reconciliation Commission` that helped end the violence of Apartheid in South Africa.

The Buddha said: `Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned. `

The ability to forgive has a huge impact on happiness and health. It is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced with our children and each other. Forgiving people tend to be happier, healthier, and more compassionate.

Unforgiving people tend to be hateful, angry, and hostile—causing anxiety, depression, neurosis and grasping for vengeance. Failure to forgive in the extreme is now seen daily being played out in dramatic and destructive ways.

The Lord`s Prayer then concludes by restating this truth of asking for forgiveness from acts of violence:

`And lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one` - that is do not let us be tempted into using violence in thought, word or deed. When Cain was seething in anger at his brother Abel `God said to him, sin is stalking you. You must resist it` (Gen. 4:7b). From this comes the Biblical definition of sin as escalatory violence and so the Lord`s prayer concludes with the exaltation for us not to be tempted into the evil of escalatory violence.

So the Lord`s Prayer as the Abba prayer of Jesus, is a revolutionary manifesto and hymn of hope not just for Christianity, but a prayer .. addressed from the heart of Judaism through the mouth of Christianity to the conscience of the world. Through history, when prayed with understanding it has been transformative in bringing peace to the warring tribes and passions of humanity, yet there are plans afoot to remove the Lord`s prayer from the Federal and Victorian Parliaments.

May we learn to pray this prayer anew with the understanding and commitment to the action needed to bring about God`s peace here on Earth, a peace that also depends on our sustainable management of the global ecosystem in which we live, move and have our being.


John Dominic Crossan, 2015, `The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of THE LORD`s PRAYER
John Cobb, 2015, Jesus` ABBA: the God who has not failed.
Pope Francis, 2015, Laudato Si`: On Care for Our Common Home
Ian Mortimer, 2014, Human Race: 10 Centuries of Change on Earth - Final chapter.

130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882

Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands