In my super official black notebook I carry through worship each week are all the notes I need for that day’s worship. After the prayers of the people, we regularly say the Lord’s Prayer together, and so in my notes I have typed “Our Father…”
You see, many years ago I was helping to lead worship at a church in North Carolina (and forgive me for those who I have told this story to already). It came time for the Lord’s Prayer and my mind went blank. All I remembered was that it started with “O….” So, I started mumbling “O God...Lord…” It was part prayer and part desperate plea for someone to save me. Thankfully, a choir member picked up on what was happening and loudly said “Our Father, who art in heaven.” I will forever be grateful to Joan for that moment and I will forever type “Our Father” in my worship notes.
The Lord’s Prayer is sometimes referred to as the “Our Father” because those familiar words set us in motion of praying. This week in our Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer, we are looking at “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Without looking deeper at the meaning we may envision a man sitting on a cloud up in the sky expecting his name to be shouted with honor.
We’re a rather progressive faith community here and so we’re going to look deeper. Even the first two words, Our Father, may jump out to us.
What about gender inclusivity? Should we say “Our Mother,” as well?
What about people who don’t have a positive relationship with their father? Or what about people who are raised by a single mom or two moms? Won’t this prayer be a challenge to them?
Could these words mean something different when we compare our modern use of the words with the cultural context within which they were written? Could these words have had a slightly different nuance to them centuries ago? (Answer: of course)
Through quoting a series of Scripture, John Dominic Crossan (author of The Greatest Prayer) suggests that using “father” in the Bible is often another way of saying “parents” or “guardian.” Even though it is still a heavily male-oriented term used in a patriarchal society, we should not automatically assume that it is meant to be exclusive - ONLY referring to males.
Crossan suggests that men and women are referred to in the Bible as “householders.” Particularly he draws on Proverbs 31 in building the case that women, too, were seen as householders. For example, Proverbs 31:15 says, “She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls.” Verse 27 says, “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”
A “household” would be a multi-generational group of people that includes everyone from the “head of the family” to siblings and dependents to workers and clients to animals and land and tools. It makes me think back again to that NC church where, I swear, each Sunday was a family reunion of the Corrihers. Traveling through the country roads, you would likely use Corriher Springs Rd while on your way to Corriher Grange Rd where you will find the various Corriher farms, where Pat Corriher’s house is in the middle and she could cook you up a lunch in a jiffy. That entire area is the Corriher household.
A “householder,” as described in the Bible, is a person who is at the head of it all.
They are creator.
They are provider.
They are protector.
They are model.
Taking this all into consideration, Crossan suggests that “Our Father in heaven” could easily be restated as “Our Householder of Earth.” God is our Creator, Provider, Protector, and Model.
Householders, especially in biblical times, were focused on their name. Not just so that people didn’t say “those darned Corrihers,” but that their identity, their reputation, their character was held in high regard. For God, the highest regard is holiness.
What do our actions have to do with God’s holiness? Looking at Psalm 8, we see that we are given charge over the things in God’s household. We hold a responsibility in maintaining the household God has created. If God’s reputation as householder is to be honored, our hands are involved.
How do our hands promote this holiness? This is where our Leviticus verses come in. These verses are a part of what is called the priestly tradition, they are verses on holiness. Gleaning food for those without. Not falsifying wages or giving unjust judgment. Not oppressing people who are from a different country. Treating all people equally.
It’s tough stuff. It would be so easy if carrying out God’s holiness just meant gathering together on Sunday mornings to sing songs and share concerns. That would be so easy. Hallowing God’s reputation means day to day living with an intention of equal justice to all. And we’ll hear more about these specifics as Lent goes on. It is not always easy, we will not always do it perfectly, but we can certainly put forth our best efforts to do so.
I think a good question to ask in practice of this is: what does a healthy household look like? I believe God’s name is hallowed when the household is healthy. Is everyone fed? Everyone lodged? Thinking back to Corriher Grange Rd, sure there are some houses that are newer and nicer - on the other hand, some tractors are more beat up than others - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Though, I guarantee if one individual or family was in need in that “household,” they would be helped.
I don’t mean to idealize the situation that the Corrihers live in; the vast majority of families in the U.S. don’t live in that model of household. We are more often spread across cities and states and countries. Our immediate idea or image of household probably only contains the walls within which we live and perhaps our most immediate family members. Which is why it’s important to remember the very first word of The Lord’s Prayer, “Our.” It doesn’t start with “My Father.” This prayer that we pray is a communal prayer and experience...involving all of God’s household (aka, everybody).
I confess I love stealing quotes from other people, but I give them the credit! Matthew Stith, pastor in PA, in response to the Psalmist’s question, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” states, “We are, through Jesus, the adopted children of the household; the objects of God’s grace, love, salvation, and sanctification; and ultimately, through him, the image-bearers and stewards of creation that we were created to be in the first place. This, according to the sovereign will of the one whose name is indeed majestic [or hallowed] in all the earth.” (emphasis mine, www.workingpreacher.org)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Our Householder of all the Earth, may we bring honor to your reputation. Amen.
Scripture: Leviticus 19:9-10, 13-15, 33-34 ; Psalm 8