Summary: Before giving us a model of how we should pray, in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us about two ways we should not pray - not hypocritically, and not babbling.
14 June 2020
Rosebery Park Baptist Church, Boscombe, Bournemouth, UK
I think most of us have been following the news about the racial conflict in the United States following the death of George Floyd in police custody. Yesterday, there was a large ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstration in Brighton.
What do we, as Christians, think about this? Would we, for example, join a demonstration like this?
Near enough five years ago, on June 17, 2015, a 19-year-old white man went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine people who were having a Bible study.
Ten days later, a lady called Bree Newsome, daughter of a Baptist preacher, thought something should be said. She climbed the flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House and removed the Confederate flag.
She was then arrested.
Did she do right? What do you think?
On July 9, the South Carolina state legislature voted to permanently remove the flag from the capitol.
Two years later, a journalist interviewed Bree Newsome.
Interviewer: I read that you recited the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 27 when you were taking the flag down. Tell me about that.
Bree Newsome: I had no doubt about the decision that I had made at the time, but that didn't mean that I was oblivious to how dangerous it was and so it really did require faith on my part. I very much believe that God called me to scale the flagpole that day and I believe that God would bring me safely down. But faith is something that we practice, so even in that moment just praying and staying focused and calling out to God was very important.
Bree Newsome said that she prayed to God, that he would give her courage to act and keep her safe.
We’re in a series on prayer. Last week we looked at the story of Gideon. The Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites. They prayed to God. God told Gideon to take down an idol. Gideon did that, and then God proceeded to deliver Israel.
We pray. We also need to act. And we need to pray that God will give us courage to act.
** MAIN TALK. THE LORD'S PRAYER, PART 1
Today we have our second talk in our mini-series on prayer, and we’re turning to the Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is actually quite topical. Because of coronavirus we have to wash our hands for 20 seconds. To judge how long 20 seconds is, you can sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. Or you can say the Lord’s Prayer – and everyone will be impressed by how pious you are!
The Lord’s Prayer also occasionally gets into the news for another reason. Schools sometimes say the Lord’s Prayer in assemblies, and sometimes, non-Christian parents object. In 1985 three parents whose children attended a school in Ontario, Canada, won a decision saying that the reciting of the Lord’s prayer, with non-Christian children opting out by sitting in the hallway, violated the Charter of Rights. After that, all Ontario public schools had to stop saying the Lord's Prayer. Very sad!
I hope as we reflect on the Lord’s Prayer this Sunday and next, we’ll see something of what a wonderful prayer it is. It’s the prayer we most often say in church and at home. We may say it in the form we find in the Bible, or we may use it as a model, a pattern to follow. But this prayer not only teaches us how to pray, it also teaches us about our relationship with God.
I’m going to look at verses 5-9 this week and then 10-15 next week.
THE THEME IS HYPOCRISY
Let’s dive in! In most English Bibles, verse 5 starts with ‘and’. That follows the Greek, which also starts with ‘and’. Jesus is clearly continuing to talk about something! If you look back over the preceding verses you can see that Jesus’ general theme is avoiding hypocrisy.
Prayer is one of three examples Jesus gives of where hypocrisy can be present, and it’s the example he spends most time on.
Jesus’ first example of where hypocrisy can be present is giving to the needy. That’s in verses 2-4. Giving has to be genuine, not to look good.
His second example of where hypocrisy can be present is prayer. That starts at verse 5. Jesus first talks about hypocrisy in prayer, then he has a little digression and talks about prayer more generally.
His third example is fasting. We won’t look at that.
The theme of hypocrisy comes up a lot in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus is talking about hypocrisy here. In Matthew 23 he calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites six times. In total, Jesus speaks about hypocrites 13 times in Matthew’s gospel! Jesus clearly doesn’t like hypocrisy one little bit. In case you’re not sure what hypocrisy is, the dictionary tells us that it means, ‘The assuming of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation of real character or inclinations.’