Text: Introduction and First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer
From ancient times, the season of Lent – the season in the Church Year we have now entered – has been used as a time of catechesis, a time of learning. It was during this time of year that candidates for Baptism used to increase their devotion to God’s Word in preparation for receiving the washing of the Water and the Word on the Vigil of Easter – the Saturday before Easter, after sundown. Though we now Baptize in all parts of the Church Year, Lent, as a period of learning can still be seen in the readings for each Sunday, especially in the epistles.
In the Lutheran Church there has been a longstanding tradition of studying the Catechism during Lent. This stands as both a welcome refresher for those of us who’ve long since been through confirmation, and a continuing help to those who are currently receiving instruction. In our congregations, we continue this practice. Two years ago, we studied the Commandments, which show us what God’s will for our live is and what sort of actions are pleasing to Him. Last year, we confessed the Apostles’ Creed and learned what it means to believe in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This year we take up the prayer our Lord Jesus has taught us. We’ve already learned what we should do and believe. In the Lord’s Prayer, we learn how to pray. Today, we learn that in the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer we are encouraged to pray to our heavenly Father as His dear children, and in the First Petition we ask that His name would be kept holy in our words and lives.
Before we go further, perhaps we should answer this question first: What is prayer? A month ago, when we celebrated the Transfiguration, I asked this question at the start of the sermon: What is the Bible? Today’s question, what is prayer, is likewise simple but easy to overthink. Prayer is speaking to God. The synodical explanation in the back of the catechism says that prayer is “speaking to God in words or thoughts.” From there, prayer can take any number of different forms. The most familiar form of prayer is often the spoken. Prayers to God are often spoken out loud, especially when we pray as a congregation. When we pray as a congregation, we are praying as one body together. Praying out loud facilitates that. Prayers are also often sung, such as in the liturgy when the pastor chants a prayer or in the hymns the congregation sings. Prayers may be spoken or sung, but the most frequent prayers are those offered silently in our thoughts.
As prayers may take many different forms, they may also be concerned with many things. Prayers may be prayers of praise. They may be prayers of supplication, requests for ourselves and others. Often times, we offer prayers of thanksgiving and some are prayers of confession. We address our prayers to the Triune God first, because He does command it. In the Psalms it says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” Our Lord also has said, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.’” He says when, and does not leave it open for us not to pray. In addition to God’s command to pray, which also falls under the Second Commandment, He has promised to hear us. Our Father in heaven hears and answers all prayers made in faith.
Third, in addition to God’s command and promise, our own great need should move us to pray. None of us live such perfect lives that we have no wants or needs – to say nothing of our need for forgiveness. And, even if our own needs don’t move us to pray – those of our neighbors should. And finally, we can pray using words that our Lord Himself has given us. We call it the Lord’s Prayer because He is the author and it is for us both the best prayer and the model for how we should pray and what we should pray for.
Having said that, let’s say the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer together. With the words, “Our Father,” God invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we His true children, so that we might address Him with all boldness and confidence. The Lord’s Prayer, then, begins with a Gospel promise. Our God, the God, is not some distant deity who is not truly concerned for us inhabitants of earth. Instead, He is our Father and we are His children. We are His children by faith. Though we, by the Fall into Sin and by our own personal sin, had separated ourselves and become children of wrath, God the Father sent forth His Son to fulfill the Law and redeem us. Through faith in Christ we are restored to a right relationship with God. By faith, Jesus is our Lord and brother, His Father becomes our Father, and we His children.
Jesus teaches us to pray in this way, so that we might pray with boldness and confidence. This confidence is not based on anything in us, however. By faith, we address God as Father. By faith, He is our Father and we are His dear children. Therefore, we should not fear to speak to Him. In fact, He doesn’t just command it; He desires it. God wants to hear from us and for us to speak to Him. He invites us to. With the words, “our Father,” we are encouraged to speak to Him as children would their own fathers – with boldness and with confidence. In the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches and invites us to pray to God our father with boldness and confidence in His promise to hear and answer.
Now, the First Petition. We speak it together. In this petition we ask that God’s name would be kept holy in our words and our lives. In the Large Catechism, Luther points out that “Hallowed be Thy name,” doesn’t make for good German – and maybe neither English – because God’s name is holy in and of itself. Simply put, God is holy. His name is holy. There is nothing that can change or add to that. In this petition, we’re not praying that God’s name be made holy but that it be kept holy in our lives. That’s exactly what we just spoke, “We pray in this petition that it [God’s name] may be kept holy among us also.”
How is God’s name kept holy among us? Two ways. First, when God’s Word is taught among us in its truth and purity. That is to say, God’s name is kept holy when His saving Word is taught, spoken, and preached rightly, without any human doctrine snuck it. Second, God’s name is kept holy among us when we, as His children, lead holy lives according to His Word. Just as unruly children often reflect poorly on their parents, we dishonor God when we – as His children – live contrary to His Word. In this way, the First Petition is asking God to lead us to keep the Second Commandment. The Second Commandment means that we should fear and love God so that don’t lie or deceive by His name, but instead call upon it in every trouble, “pray, praise, and give thanks.”
So far, we’ve learned what it means to pray. Praying is speaking to God in words or thoughts; be they spoken, sung, or simply prayed in silence. We pray because God commands it, but also because He promises to hear and answer – and because of our own great need. In the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, God invites to pray to Him as dear children speak to their own dear father. God, indeed, desires to hear from us – His children. In the First Petition, we ask that God would lead us to keep His name holy by keeping His Word pure and undefiled, and by living our lives according to it. Next week we will continue with the Second and Third Petitions: Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will Be Done.
 Ps. 50:15, English Standard Version.
 Lk. 11:2.
 Lutheran Service Book, 323.
 Ibid., 321.