Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lord's Prayer (1)

THE LORD’S PRAYER (Matthew 6:7-15)

A series of talks given on Retreat, January 2008


Coming on retreat is about doing what Matthew 6 urges us: it is about shutting the door and praying unseen to the unseen God who answers our prayers touching an unseen world.

1. We shut the door in order to remove distractions

CS Lewis writes, "The real problem .. of the Christian life comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning is just shoving them all back; just listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind". Beyond Personality, p42

Other voices are some of those distractions, and on a silent retreat we seek to silence some of them so that we can listen to that other voice.

Silence can be difficult, especially when we know that we are meant to be silent. When we are told that we must not do something, the very first thing we wish to do is the thing we've been told not to.

Story of visitor to monastery: do not look through that window.

And silence on a retreat takes time to get used to. You will walk out of here and you will want to to talk. Breakfast will seem very odd, a bit like a party game. Not absolute - can ask for butter if people are not noticing.

But silence is the gift that we give each other. We give the other the space to be with their own thoughts, without intruding in on them.

Opportunities to talk: Sat afternoon - go for walk; also, if you wish, you can sign up.

One warning: often in the silence, the demons can emerge. Lusts and desires, lonliness, fears, despair. Most of the time routine and activity push them away - but when that activity and routine changes, they can errupt with a veangeance. Sometimes they can be driven out by disciplined thought, through prayer and bible reading, but sometimes we need to talk things through.

So there are opportunities to talk. You might choose to go for a walk with someone; or you may wish to speak with myself.

2. We shut the door because what is going on here is between me and God.

In order to guide us through this weekend, I will be sharing some reflections on the Lord's prayer.


The Lord's prayer is an invitation to intimacy. It is the invitation to call God, Father, and to share in the relationship that Jesus had with his Father.

We might wonder at that relationship. What was going on when Jesus prayed? That is why the disciples, having watched Jesus pray, go to him (in Luke 11), and say, 'Teach us how to pray'.

And the relationship begins with intimacy.

When Jesus gets left behind as a 12 year old child, he says to Mary, ‘Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house’. At his baptism, the beginning of his public ministry, the voice from heaven says, 'This is my son, whom I love'. And Jesus knew God as Father. It is the title that he uses for God. Even when he is in the garden of Gethsemane, he prays, 'My Father ..' (Matt 39, 42); on the cross he prays 'Father into your hands I commit my Spirit' (Luke 23:46).

And Jesus invites his disciples, his followers, to share this relationship of intimacy with God. He invites us to call God 'Father'.

For some, the word 'Father' is difficult. Some of us will have had bad experiences of fathers; some of us may look back at our own attempts to be fathers, or for that matter, mothers, and be very aware of how far we have fallen short. But at the beginning of this prayer we are invited to put that to one side, and to meet Jesus' father. He is the model for human fatherhood and, for that matter, human motherhood.

But we are invited into something that is intimate. That is why we are called to shut the door. This is between God and you.

There are times when I struggle with not the idea, but the reality of intimacy with God. At times there is the intimacy, but much of the time there seems to be nothing. Henri Nouwen writes of how he expected, as he grew older, that he would enjoy greater and greater intimacy with God. In fact, he said, for him, the opposite happened. God seemed to become more and more distant. But, he added, God was not more distant. It was just that he had to live more and more by faith in the unseen God who would be called Father.

I know when I lose this. It is when I am most tempted to rely on works rather than grace. I angst about whether what I am doing is pleasing to him. It is when I try and take things into my own hands. I seek approval from others as a substitute to approval from God. And yet, of course, he is not distant. And I am, and we are, called to live by faith in the God who invites us to call him Father.

I need to add one more thing.

Although this prayer is very personal, it is not an individual prayer. Jesus says, 'When you pray, say, 'Our Father in heaven'


It is about you and God, but it is not about 'you and the God who is only your God'. God has not been privatised. That is how many people treat God. They say, 'But I don't need other Christians to pray'. Of course that is true at one level, but it is not really true. It is saying, 'The God I pray to is my God. So I can do with him what I wish. I can make him or her or it into my image.'

That is why we do things together.

As one of the early church fathers said, ‘We cannot have God as our father, if we are not prepared to have other Christians as our brothers and sisters’. So on retreat, although most of our time is time on our own, we do come together - for meals, the talks and communion – and for those who wish, the Jesus Prayer, the time of intercession (based on the litany), the talk on prayer. Of course if you sleep through the whole weekend, that is fine – but please let Sylvia or me know if you plan to miss meals – so the house doesn’t need to prepare, and so that we know that you are OK.

It is significant that while religion is based on a whole list of physical things that people need to do, Jesus only told his disciples to do three physical things. The first is to be baptised. The second is to meet together to break bread in remembrance of him. The third – is to wash each others feet! We cannot do any of them on your own.

We pray to our Father in heaven

3. We shut the door to pray to our Father in heaven.

God is unseen. We pray unseen to the unseen God whose kingdom is as yet unseen (Matthew 6:6). Our prayers are answered at an unseen level, our reward is in heaven.

Jesus contrasts this unseen prayer with those who pray in order to be seen. They 'pray' in order to get a visible reward: respect in this world. Jesus says, those who pray in order to get visible rewards in this visible world will get what they want - in this world. But those who pray in secret to the unseen God in heaven will receive rewards in heaven. Matthew 6:5-6

So there are three reasons for shutting the door.
1. Practical - removing of distractions
2. Intimacy. We are praying to 'Father’. But we do not forget that in this intimacy there is also unity. He is 'our' Father
3. We pray unseen to our unseen Father in heaven

I do hope that as we shut the door, each one of us will learn more of the intimacy that comes from calling God Father, and that we will be able, by faith, to encounter again the unseen God.

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