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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 6:7–15

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (NRSV)

Today’s scripture contains a biblical source of the Lord’s Prayer, which we recite every Sunday. These are some of the most familiar words we speak together in worship, which has led to extensive reflection on their meaning and, inevitably, efforts to improve their clarity and to update their expression.

When we seek to tinker with such important words, though, controversy is right around the corner. Many years ago, at my former congregation, efforts to address God more inclusively and make some other modifications led to an immediate uproar. Fourth Church itself had a similar experience, I believe, seeking to substitute “sins” for “debts.” Both efforts were short-lived. Now Pope Francis has proposed changing the words “lead us not into temptation,” positing that temptation is not God’s doing but rather an opportunity of our own wandering and waywardness. We’ll wait and see!

Sitting in the pews on most Sundays for the last several years has given me a fresh perspective. After listening, carefully and prayerfully, to the people’s prayer offered by one of the pastors, we are all given the chance to seal that prayer with our own voices, joining together as followers of Jesus in words we trust are traced back to our Lord. I listen as the voices that surround me throughout the sanctuary sound forth with this deeply valued prayer. It is a moment of treasured ritual that we share. My gratitude for this gift of grace transcends any of my theological quibbles.

O Holy One, I am deeply grateful for the treasured ritual of the Lord’s Prayer. May the rhythms of the words draw us ever closer to you, renewing our commitment to live them out “on earth as it is in heaven,” following Jesus, our brother and our Savior. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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