Monday, 19 September 2016

For Freedom Christ has set us free

The gospel, good news, is liberating

Religion tells us that we need to prove ourselves to God.
We need to make ourselves acceptable to him.
And we do that by following certain rules, laws.
If we keep them then we are OK.

But the gospel is very different.

It sets us free from the need to prove ourselves to God.
It sets us free from trying to make ourselves acceptable to him.

And that is great news, because we could never prove ourselves to God, and we could never make ourselves acceptable to him.

Alongside the good that we see in each of us, there is also deep corruption, deep rottenness in each one of us. And we find that we are trapped.

Thomas Costain tells the story of a 14th-century duke in what is now Belgium known as Raynald III. Raynald was grossly overweight, and was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means fat.
After a violent quarrel, Raynald's younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald, but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room. This would not have been difficult for most people, since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size—none of which were locked or barred. The problem was Raynald's size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight.
But Edward knew his older brother. Each day he sent a variety of delicious foods into the room. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter. When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: "My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills." Raynald stayed in that room for 10 years and wasn't released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined that he died within a year—a prisoner of his own appetite. [Illustration from PreachingToday]

We may not have that particular issue. But we will have our own battles. Gossip. Pornography or sexual immorality. Alcohol. Desperate need to prove ourselves or to please people. Spending more than we have got. It might be anger, or an inability to forgive.
And we are trapped in our room.

But God in his love sent Jesus, and when he died on the cross, he didn’t simply forgive you, or make the doors a little bigger and tell you to try harder. He knocked down the wall, and he came to you where you are.

And God offers us his love, he offers us his forgiveness, he offers us his Holy Spirit so that we can begin to want to change. Our passage speaks of 'the hope of righteousness' (5.5).

And it is all gift

You don't need to make yourself acceptable to God before you receive this gift.
You don't need to become good enough.
You don't need to know enough.
You don't need to be religious enough.

All you need to do is believe God, to trust him that when Jesus died he knocked down the wall, that he is here with us, and that he has given us his Holy Spirit to live in us

That is what these Galatian Christians had realised.

And it was so liberating.

But now people were coming along and telling them that if they really want to be acceptable to God, if they really want to be full and proper and power filled Christians, then they need to keep the law. They spoke specifically about circumcision, but that was only the start. There were a further 247 demands and 365 prohibitions in the Old Testament law.

And Paul is saying three things to them

1.    You are becoming slaves again. 'Don't you realise, if you accept this false teaching that you must be circumcised, then you must accept all the other laws of the Old Testament|? It is the camel's nose. Why just that one? "I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is required to obey the whole law" (5.3)

2.    If you do that, and think that God will only be really pleased with you if you keep the law, why did Jesus die? You've stopped putting your trust in what Jesus has done for you and you have started to put your trust in your own ability to keep the law. 'You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace' (5.4)

3.    Why am I going round - getting mocked, arrested, beaten, even stoned - telling people about the death of Jesus on the cross, and getting persecuted for it, if I could tell people that they could get right with God by obeying the law and being good people? People can cope with that message because it means they think they are in control. God becomes the genii in the bottle. If you rub the bottle in the right way, and say the right words, then God gives you what they want. 'Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been abolished' (5.11)

Paul is really quite angry about this.

He is angry because he is being misrepresented. It appears that the false teachers are saying that he himself is telling people they need to be circumcised.
But he is even more angry because it is turning people back into slaves - slaves to the law. So he comes out with this rather undiplomatic language: I wish those who were preaching circumcision would take the knife and castrate themselves (5.12)

How does this apply to us?

It is very easy for us to discover the amazing freedom that Jesus brings, and then slip back into old ways

We have become a Christian. We have received the free gift of forgiveness, of the Holy Spirit. We were trapped in the room, and God knocked the wall down. We’re still just as large, we still have the battle to fight, but now we have realised that we don’t need to try and squeeze through the door to get to Jesus – but that he has come to us.

But, perhaps we go through a sticky patch. We mess up badly, or Jesus seems distant, and then people – like these false teachers in Galatia – come along.
And so we start to think: surely I have got to do something to make God really love me? He can’t love me as I am.

God will only really bless me if I pray in a particular way, or if I fast, or if I work hard enough, or if I tithe, or if I'm baptised as an adult, or if I speak in tongues, or if I please certain people, or if I have a half night or full night of prayer. God will only really bless me if I worship right in the right church in the right way.

I think I have spoken of the time when as a young curate, having experienced the pit and found myself unable to pray (whenever I did pray my head went all whizzy) I suddenly realised that if I never prayed another prayer in my life, God would still love me and would still bless the work. It was so liberating. I had turned prayer into a work. It set me free from this deep burden that I had placed on myself- a burden that was so great it had caused me to crash.

BUT, and there is a big but.

It was the charge that the opponents of Paul were levelling against him:
If you are saying that we are free from the law - then you are encouraging people to live self-centred lives.
Our chap in the room. If Jesus is with him, then why shouldn’t he just continue to eat and eat?

To which Paul's answer in 5.13-15 is that when you welcome Jesus, and he comes to you, God gives you his Holy Spirit.
And the Holy Spirit will begin to change you – from the inside. He will prompt you to live in a new way.
The Holy Spirit will put God’s law into you, so that you will begin to want to live in a new way.
The Holy Spirit will begin to work in you so that you begin to see other people in a new way. And you will want to love and you will begin to love: not in the shallow way that the world loves, but in the deep way of God.


And I have seen that so often.
A person becomes a believer, they put their trust in Jesus, and they begin to change. They have a hunger for God’s word – that wasn’t there before.
Their language, for instance, begins to change.
They begin to want to do something about the deeply ingrained rubbish that is in them. They are probably not going to become perfect overnight – and it may continue to be a struggle for the rest of their lives – but now they want to get involved in the struggle.  
They want to meet with God’s people and to worship

Paul writes, ‘Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (5.14)
And so we begin to love not as a way of making God love us, forgive us or bless us, but as a response to the God who has forgiven us, does love us, who has come to us and who has already blessed us.

And even when the desire is not there, yes we do try to do the right thing as duty, but not in order to make God love us, but because we know that God does love us. And yes, it can be a battle and a struggle – but Paul deals with that in the next few verses

So my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are free. The wall of our prison has been broken down and Jesus has come to us. We are children of God. We don’t need to keep any law (whether it is moral, legal or religious) to get God to love us more. But because we know the love of God, we will want to change and we will want to begin to love.

We are free! Free from the outer law, a law that is imposed on us. Free from the need to prove ourselves to ourselves or to God.

But we are not free from the inner law, the law that God has put in our hearts, and that is the law to love.  

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Why should I love Jesus more than the members of my family?



'Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, and even life itself - cannot be my disciple'. Luke 14.26

That is a hard saying! And I would like us to focus on this verse for a few minutes and to see if we can work out what is going on here.

For most of us, our family is our life. It is our family who give us our name, our values and our identity. Even if we have rebelled against our parents, it is our very act of rebellion against them that has given us our identity: we are not them.  
And it is usually our family who we rely on. If everybody else fails us, we turn to them as our last resort. Think of the prodigal son. He had rejected his father and walked out on him, but he makes the decision to go back to his father when everything else had failed.

So it makes sense for Jesus to link our family and our life. Hating your family and hating your life go quite close together.

So what are we to make of this saying?

I do not think that Jesus is telling us to cut ourselves off from our family

That is important, because some Christians in the past have done that.

There are some very hard sayings about families in the stories of the desert fathers and mothers. There is the story of a mother of two monks who comes begging to see her sons. They refuse to see her. She begins to wail. Another the monks comes to Poemen and says, "What shall I do about your mother? She wants to see you." ‘Ask her’, said Poemen, ‘Do you want to see us in this world or the next?’ She said, ‘If I don’t see you in this world, shall I see you in the next, my sons?’ He said, ‘If you don’t insist on seeing us here, you shall see us there.’ So the woman went away happy, saying, ‘If I shall indeed see you there, I don’t want to see you here.’

That is quite harsh.

And we read of the stories of missionaries even of the last century, who left their wives or children back in the UK, sometimes for many years, because they believed that they had been called to work overseas. And while we are on shaky ground when we pass judgement on the saints of former years who lived in a very different society to the one that we live in today, and while we recognise and honour the enormous sacrifices that they made, I certainly would question people who make those sort of decisions today.

I don't think that Jesus is telling us that for his sake we should abandon our families.

Families are good. They are God given.

And Jesus is clearly not telling us to hate our fathers and mothers, partners and children, brothers and sisters in the way that the world understands hate.
After all, the fourth commandment tells us to honour our father and mother. And Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us, so he would not ask us to do anything less for the members of our own families.

And we need to care for our families.

Jesus specifically rebukes those who use an act of religious duty to avoid giving help to their parents. (Mark 7.9-13). He says to them, 'You give a little bit of your money to the temple as a reason for not supporting your parents in need. That is a very strange way to interpret the word of God'.
And as he hangs on the cross, Jesus thinks of his mother: he asks John to support her as his own mother, and he asks her to care for John as her own son.
Later in the New Testament, Paul, building on what Jesus has taught, rebukes those who do not ensure that their families are provided for. "And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever". (1 Tim 5.8)

So quite clearly we are not allowed to use this scripture as an excuse for running out from our family, or avoiding our very special responsibilities to the members of our family.

So what does it mean?

The commentaries on this passage are helpful.
They point out that the Hebrew writers often used exaggeration to make a point. So Jesus says, "If your eye causes you to sin, gauge it out". That is a very dramatic way of saying 'Guard what you look at'. It is not something that we are to do literally.
And they exaggerate to emphasise a contrast. So, when in the Old Testament, we are told that God loved Jacob but hated Esau, many suggest that we need to interpret these words as saying: 'In comparison to my love for Jacob, my love for Esau is as hate'.
And I suspect that is how we are to read these verses:
'In comparison to your love for me, your love for your family should be as hate. I must come first, before your family and - later in this passage - before your possessions' (Luke 14.33)

That is still pretty radical.

It means that in the end it is not our human family identity that is our true identity.
Yes, I am a Rogers, but of far more importance is the fact that as a Christian I bear the name of Jesus Christ. My identity as a Christian takes precedence over my identity as a Rogers. If Rogers have always done it this way, but God's way is different, then I need to do it God's way.

And it is easier for us having lived in a country which has been steeped with gospel values, but as our society moves away from those values it will become harder. There will be very clear distinctions between what our family does and expects and what Jesus would have us do. And when there are those conflicts, we need to be prepared to follow Jesus and not our family.

There are times when, by becoming a Christian, we are seen to be betraying our family

That is why there is such persecution for people who become Christians in cultures dominated by another belief system. It is not so much the fact that they have become a Christian, but rather they are seen as rejecting their family and their upbringing.
Some of you may know this. A brother or sister, a son or daughter has become a strict Muslim. And you feel, whether it is true or not, that they are rejecting you, and that they are rejecting everything that you have stood for. And you feel betrayed.

Nigel Taylor used to run CYM in Ipswich a number years ago. He told of how his father had said that if he became a Christian, he would be turned out of the house. So when he did make the decision to become a Christian, a few days later he came home to find his suitcase had been packed and put by the front door. He had to leave. He was given a choice: his family or Jesus.

But if it is not as dramatic as that, there will be conflict at times.

It happened with Jesus.
On one occasion he is with his followers, and his family come for him. They have heard people say that he has gone mad, and they want to take him away to look after him - especially when they hear that he is not eating properly - that is a mum for you (Mark 3.19-21)!
And that is when Jesus makes a pretty radical and potentially offensive statement to his followers. They tell him, 'Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother".
Jesus is making it very clear that his biological family do not have the first claim on him.

And there will be conflict, because Jesus challenges the way we do things, and how we see people.
He speaks, a few chapters earlier, of how he has come to bring division: division within families - father against son, son against daughter, mother in law against daughter in law (Luke 13.51-53). 
That division should never begin with the one who has become a Christian. We are told, 'as far as it is up to you, live at peace with all people'. But if those who we love force us to make a decision because we are Christ followers, then Jesus is saying that we have no choice. We need to put him first.

And when Jesus calls us to put him before our families, he is also warning us against treating the members of our family as our final security.
Yes, of course, we turn to them when we are in trouble - but they will never be able to be that ultimate ground of our safety.
As a parent, you long to protect your children from all suffering. But you can’t.
And one day that person in whom you have put your love, your trust, your hope will be taken away from you. 

It is possible to put too much of our identity, hope and trust in another person.
We actually prevent them from being the person who God made them to be because we see them only through our eyes, through our need of them.

Augustine wrote that we should love people 'for the sake of God'.
We should love them not as they relate to us, or as we relate to them, but as they relate to God and as God relates to them.
I remember in Holloway speaking with a single mum who was thinking about becoming a Christian. She was doing what the person who built the tower in Jesus' story did not do. She was trying to work out whether she could afford to follow Jesus. And for her the big stumbling block was whether she could love Jesus more she loved her son. 
She moved away, but when she came back two years later, she was a Christian. She told me how she had begun to realise what Jesus meant about loving him more than her child. Because whereas before she had imposed a burden that was far too great on her child - basically she lived for him, and had put all her hopes in him - she now realised that her child was a gift from God, that he belonged to God, and that it was her privilege and responsibility to love him and bring him up for God. Her son was not in the centre of her life, but her Jesus was.

And it is easy for us to put too much of our dependence on another person - to love them for our own sake, when we are called to love them for their own sake and 'for the sake of God'.

God, in his love for us, placed us in human families. It was his way of providing a system through which we can care for each other and love each other. But human families are provisional.

The bible tells us that when you were baptised, you died to your old way of life. You became a new person and you became a member of a new family. That is why baptism is not a biological family thing. It is fundamentally disruptive of the family. It is about how the person who is baptised becomes a member of a new family, a bigger family, a more important family. And this new family, the family of Father God, with Jesus Christ as the older brother, has become your true family.

It is not an excuse for running away from our earthly family, and from avoiding our God-given responsibilities to the members of our family. But this new family is the family to whom you owe your ultimate allegiance. Your biological family will pass away, but this is the family that will last for ever. 

That is why as Christians we are to love Jesus more than our fathers and mothers, more than our husbands or wives, and more even than our children. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

When the storms come




Our reading today is about a journey.

The journey we read about here is not long. It is a nautical journey, from one side of the lake to the other. But it was eventful: something happened and the people who went on that journey were changed.

It was a journey that began with obedience.
It was a response to Jesus. Jesus has been teaching the crowd all day. It was a large crowd, and they were pressing on him, and he had to use a boat as a pulpit. And now, as evening comes, he says, ‘Let us go across to the other side’ (4.35). [That is why it says, ‘They took him just as he was’. In other words, he didn’t even get out of the boat.]

And it was because they were obedient that those first followers
·         learnt about themselves
·         learnt about Jesus

1.    They discover that they don’t really trust Jesus

When the storm comes, they panic. They shake Jesus awake and they say to him ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’
And Jesus challenges them, after he has calmed the storm, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (v40)

It is easy to put our trust in Jesus when things are going well.
But when things become difficult, costly or even dangerous, we panic.
Yes, the waters threatened to overwhelm the disciples. But they allowed fear to overwhelm them.

But they didn't need to panic:
Jesus had told them that they were going to the other side. In fact he had a job to do on the other side.

And yes, he was asleep, but he was with them. And the fact that he was asleep should have reassured them. Jesus wasn't fazed. He slept through most of the storm (Ps 3.5: ‘I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me’).
Last summer we went on a little boat trip from Ireland to the isles of Aran. It was terrifying. We thought we were going to die. But on the way back I looked at the crew. They weren't worried (at least not on the outside), so I assumed it was OK! And because Jesus was OK the disciples should have realised that they were OK.

And the disciples knew that Jesus was special.
They had seen some of the works he had done

He cast out an evil Spirit (and, interestingly, used the same sort of language that he is about to use on the wind and waves. He tells the demons to ‘be silent’).
He healed Peter’s mother in law; and the many sick people and those possessed by evil spirits who came to him.
He healed a man with leprosy; and a paralysed man - he was the one that they let down through the roof; and a man who had a withered hand.
And Jesus speaks about how he has come to bind the strong man, satan, and plunder that which satan thought was his own.

So the disciples had seen Jesus’ power, and yet when the storm came, they panic.

2.    They discover that Jesus has power over creation

When Jesus calms the wind and the waves they are astonished.

Jesus has healed people and cast out demons. But, it seems, others also did those sort of things.
But others did not have power over nature

Jesus speaks to creation with a word and it obeys him.

There are echoes of the Old Testament here:
·         of the story of Jonah, when it is God himself who calms the sea.
·         of Psalm 107.23-32, when it is God who again brings relief from the storm.

And so the disciples ask each other: Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?

The disciples had much still to learn - about themselves and about Jesus.

We think of Peter who, at the last supper, declared that he had such a strong faith he would never let Jesus down. Early the next morning he denied Jesus, not just once but three times.
But Peter also discovered so much more about Jesus: about the love of Jesus, which took him to the cross; about the mercy of Jesus that reached out and brought forgiveness even to him; about the power of God which did something even more amazing than calming a storm. It brought Jesus back from the dead.

But through their journeying with Jesus, the disciples grew in their faith, and in their understanding of the Lord Jesus.
And they were able to trust him, not only when things were going well, but also when things got very scary.  They were able to trust him even when it seemed that he was asleep. And they were able to trust him even when they were called to face death for the sake of Jesus.  

And if we are obedient, there will be journeys that we have to take

Tom and Jemma are being called to go on a journey. For them and the family it is a big journey

But this is not just about the big journeys. The fishermen would have often crossed the Sea of Galilee. It was second nature to them. This is about little journeys, the sort of journeys that we make every day of our lives.

And please note that just because it is right for us to go on a journey, it does not mean that storms won't happen. I’m sure Tom and Jemma will have several of them. And there will be times when it seems that Jesus is sleeping and that he doesn't care.

But what we do know is that he never will abandon us; and when we cry out to him - whether in faith or panic - he will answer. He will grow us in our self-understanding and in our knowledge of him.

Tom said on one occasion that there were people on his Reader training course who had some great stories they could tell about God's faithfulness, love and power but that he didn't really have those stories. Well, I suspect that he does now, and there will be more.

We grow most when we go through the storms.

I have grown most in my Christian faith when I have been well and truly out of my depth. When as a curate I crashed; when we were in Russia and things were humanly impossible (like, for instance, how to get our things out of customs. The Russians have a word for miracle, wonder – chuda – and there were several times when we were simply dependent on chuda). And it has been the times of conflict, or of failure, frustration or fear; or when events have not gone as I expected or when I have had to let go of something that I have put my trust in – those are the times that I have most grown in my faith and understanding.

There will be storms. Some of the storms, like this one, come because we are obedient; some come to us because we are disobedient; some come to us because we are fallen human beings who live in a fallen creation. There will be times of sickness, bereavement, deep disappointment, abandonment.

In fact, the more you trust Jesus, the greater the challenges there will be.

But if we turn to him we can grow through them.

I’d love to pray that as you go through life on your journeys that you face no storms.
But I can’t pray that.
What I can pray is that – as you go on this journey – whatever storms you do meet will bring you face to face with Jesus.
and that when you come back, you will be changed people, and you will be filled with the power and the love and the beauty and the truth of the risen Lord Jesus.




Saturday, 23 July 2016

Learning to pray the Lord's Prayer




The disciples come to Jesus and say, 'Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples'.

It is interesting to see how Jesus does not answer that question

He does not give them practical instructions.
He doesn’t tell them to put their hands together and close their eyes. He gives the practical stuff, elsewhere, in Matthew 6.6-7: go to a room, shut the door, pray in secret, don’t use many words and trust that your Father in heaven will hear you.
But here he doesn't.

And he does not begin by telling them to silence or still themselves
Again, meditation (or mindfulness), the discipline of seeking to silence all the thoughts that are coming in, often linked with sitting correctly and making sure that our breathing is correct, is an extremely helpful way of stilling ourselves and becoming aware of that something or someone who is so much bigger than ourselves. It is very precious and it is something that I do – when I stop, focus on my breathing, and meditate on the Jesus prayer. I’m also wondering whether it could be something that we do a bit more of as a church, perhaps offering a time for coming together for silent prayer. But I am also aware that even though it can give you a deep sense of peace, it is not necessarily prayer.

And Jesus does not tell them to pray from the heart, to pray whatever is on their mind.
There is, I suspect, a good reason for that. Most of the time our heart is very confused and our mind is full of rubbish. We don’t know what we want, and when we do, we usually have got it wrong! We are very mixed up!

I am currently reading a fascinating book called The Spirit Level. It is not a Christian book, despite the title, although it is what I would call a Kingdom of God book. The thesis is that what our society needs is not more affluence but greater equality. The evidence seems to show that when the gap between the richest 20% and the poorest 20% in society is small, then people tend to be happier and healthier, and more at peace with themselves and others.
But the book begins with this paragraph: 'It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life. Lacking the relaxed social contact and emotional satisfaction we all need, we seek comfort in over-eating, obsessive shopping and spending, or become prey to excessive alcohol, psychoactive medicines and illegal drugs."
We don’t really know what we want.

So Jesus doesn’t give practical instructions, he doesn’t tell us to still ourselves, and he doesn’t tell us to pray from the heart. Instead

1.    He gives us a specific prayer to pray

It is a dangerous prayer. It is so dangerous, so subversive that it was banned from the cinemas! We know it as the Lord’s prayer, and what we have here in Luke is the shorter of the two versions that we find in the bible. The other, fuller, version is in Matthew 6.9-11

When you pray, say ..


It all begins with God.

And that is helpful, because most of what we call prayer begins with ourselves: 'God, I'm in trouble; God, I really want that job or that car or that place in university or that person to love me; God heal me or heal them, because I love them and I can't live without them'.

But Jesus begins with God. He begins with God's honour.
Hallowed be your name'.
Not my honour, reputation or status, but his honour and reputation and status.
If you love someone, you want others to see how great they are: if we love God we long to see God's name honoured and revered.

'Your kingdom come'.
This is the radical bit. We are praying that things will not be done my way, but his way.

Luke in his gospel speaks a great deal about the coming kingdom, rule of God. He reminds us that it will be a place of justice.
Think of the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55), the song that Mary sang when she was told that she would give birth to the Son of God. She speaks of the future reality of the Kingdom as if it was a present experience:
'He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the Rich away empty'.

I wonder whether that is a prayer that we really do want to pray?
But I hope we long for the kingdom, for that time when Jesus will be so present, when there will be justice and mercy and all things will be in harmony, when there will be no more pain or tears or death.

Give us each day our daily bread
It is the prayer that God will meet our daily needs. Note the plural ‘us’. One of the questions we need to ask is who does the 'us' include?

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who sins against us.
Each of these could be a sermon in itself. All I will note here is that without the recognition that we need forgiveness there can be no real prayer, no relationship with God. You cannot have a real relationship with another if you are not honest. There is a barrier. And if you are pretending before God that you have not walked away from him, that you have not rebelled against him and lived your way and not his way, then you are not being honest. We need to get real with him.
And because God longs to forgive, and has forgiveness at his very heart, if we do not, in turn, offer forgiveness to others, then we have no part in God.
So this is a prayer that nothing will hinder our relationship with God or with others.

Lead us not into temptation
Other versions translate this as, ‘Do not bring us to the time of trial’. Do not take us to that point beyond which we will break, that point of utter darkness, of God forsakenness, of hell. Only Jesus has really known it. And he went there so that we need never go there. And this is a prayer that he will give you the strength and comfort to face the very worst that life can throw at you without abandoning him.

So Jesus gives us a prayer to prayer

2.    Jesus teaches us to pray this prayer from a position of emptiness

The danger of praying the Lord's Prayer is that it can become an exercise in legalism. I must pray it or God will not like me.

One man I used to visit when I was a vicar in Islington told me how he had to pray the Lord's Prayer every day, along with a whole set of other prayers; if he didn't, if he missed even just one of the prayers, he felt guilty, he felt that he had let God down.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade him that that is not the case.

Prayer is not simply about speaking some set words. To say your prayers because you think those prayers need to be said is to miss the point. It is to treat God as if he is sitting up there with his notebook. He looks down at us and says, ‘Now has Jenny said her prayers today? Yes, very good, tick; No, cross, she needs to do better tomorrow’.

But we don’t pray the Lord’s prayer because it is something we have to do for God.
We pray the Lord’s prayer because we have nothing else to depend on, and it is God’s gift to us.

Look at the story Jesus told.
I hate asking anybody for anything. I guess it is partly because I don't want them to have to say 'no' to me. That’s a bit of a problem for a vicar! But I don’t think I am on my own. We don’t want to be a nuisance to someone.
And this man will have been no different.
But he asks. And he asks at midnight. There is no way I would go next door and ask our neighbour for bread at midnight. And when his friend says, 'Shove off. I'm in bed, the children are in bed, the wife is in bed, the dog is on the bed and you should be in bed', he doesn’t get the hint. He still goes on asking. And we are told that his friend finally gets up, not because he is his friend, but because of his boldness, because of his persistence.

The point, says Jesus, is that he asks - he seeks - he knocks on the door of his friend because he is desperate. In middle eastern culture, if someone rocks up at your door, even at midnight, you have to offer them hospitality. And he had nothing. It was Mrs Hubbard and her cupboard. It was bare. 'I have nothing to set before them', he says. And that is why he was prepared to go to his friend at midnight, hammer at his door, and continue to knock until he got what he needed.

We pray the Lord’s prayer not because God expects us to pray it, but because we have got nothing else to depend on. It is a cry to God for the utter basic necessities: for that world of peace and justice, for bread, for forgiveness and for strength to get through the times of trouble.

The Lord’s prayer begins to become real for us when we realise that we come before our Father in heaven because we have absolutely nothing. It becomes real when we recognise that we are utterly dependent on him.

It is to our shame that we forget that.

It is sheer arrogance to think that because we live in a society where there is an abundance of bread, and an abundance of butter and jam and cake, we don’t need God.
(The reason, for instance, that it is good to say a prayer before we eat a meal, is that it is - at the very least - lip service to a recognition that everything we have comes from God.)
It is utter pride to think that we can waltz into the presence of God without recognising that we need forgiveness
It is breath-taking conceit to think that we can rescue ourselves from the pitfalls of life.

I tried to imagine what the opposite of the Lord’s prayer would be, and I came up with this statement:

I will live life so that
People will know that I matter. They will honour me. I will get the respect that I deserve, and nobody will walk over me.
I will be the head and not the tail. I will do what I want. Others need to fit in with me. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to be nice, but I will be nice on my own terms.
I will be in a position to get what I want.
I will be in a position so that I never need to say sorry to anybody for anything. And people will quickly learn that they don’t mess with me.
I will be fit enough, strong enough, rich enough and am sufficiently well-connected so that I can save myself

The Lord’s prayer can only really be prayed by people who know that there is a God, that they are not God, and that without God we are nothing and we have nothing.
It is a prayer that can really only begin to make sense when we realise that we need God’s provision, need God’s forgiveness and need God’s protection.
It is a prayer that can only really be prayed by people who know that they are empty.

3. Jesus teaches us to pray this prayer with confidence

You will notice that I have not mentioned that in this prayer, we do not pray here to God as Almighty or Eternal or All-knowing. We do not address God as Creator or Judge. We pray to God as Father.

That is an astonishing reality. That we can address the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of the universe as our Father in heaven.
And Jesus, in verses 11-13, expands on what that means.

He says, think of human fathers. Even though you are evil (that is quite strong!), you still want to give good gifts to your children. If they ask you for an egg you don’t give them a scorpion. So, he says, God is your Father in heaven. He is good, and he delights in giving you good gifts.
Actually, it doesn’t say that. It says something even more remarkable: ‘How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’?

God does want to give us good gifts – he does want to give us bread, to offer us forgiveness, to protect us from trials that are too hard for us to stand – but he wants to go further. He longs to give us Himself, his Spirit to come and live in us.


And we can pray and ask God for his Spirit. And we can pray in confidence. And even if we don’t experience anything, we by faith can believe that he has answered that prayer, and we can welcome his Spirit, and his Spirit will change us and make us more like the Lord Jesus. And his Spirit will begin to pray from within us, and his Spirit will start to shape our prayer (which is really his prayer): that his name will be hallowed, that his kingdom will come, and that we will know his perfect provision, his wonderful forgiveness and acceptance, and his comfort and protection.