The Story of Us

January 8, 2023

The Story of Us

Passage: The Prayer of Jesus (Matthew 6)
Service Type:

I was watching Monday Night Football when Damar Hamlin collapsed onto the ground. He had just tackled a Cincinnati Bengal in what looked like a normal football play. He did not move. Doctors rushed out; an ambulance was called; and all over the field people knelt to pray.

The crisis brought everyone together and we all stopped and prayed. All of us. Together. It was, we might say, one part spiritual discipline, one part cultural practice, and one part human instinct.

This experience reminds us how natural and fundamental prayer is to being religious, being Christian, being human. This prepares us to embrace these 62 words in the Sermon on the Mount. They are a form of prayer; they are from Jesus; they were quickly adopted by those first Christians as the key to both private and public worship; and they may well be the most widely known, oft repeated words in the history of human culture.

I take the Prayer as my text today, and for the next few weeks, trusting that God will take these familiar words and my gospel application and pull us into a more faithful embrace of this Prayer as a guide to praying but also as a guide to believing and a guide to living.


I begin with that first word “OUR.”

It illustrates the most important rule of reading the Bible. It is not what you affirm about Holy Scripture that is important but what you emphasize.

For the last several generations, preachers, scholars, and popes of all kinds have debated the doctrine of inspiration. Forty years ago, I wrote a doctoral dissertation about it. Words like authority, inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy were the coin of the realm, so to speak. But it is not so much how we define the Bible that is important but what we find in the Bible that speaks to our souls.

Let me illustrate this point.  Mary the mother of Jesus makes but few appearances in the gospel stories and none in the other biblical literature. But vast stretches of baptized people have latched onto those few references to elevate Mary to a place of preeminence in Christian theology and devotion. In some believing communities, Mary is adored more than Jesus. It is what they emphasize.

Millions of other Christians have ignored Mary but focused on the practice of speaking in tongues. To my knowledge, this is mentioned only three times in the Bible: in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two, and in the Letter to the Corinthians chapter 14, and in the Gospel of Mark. But these Pentecostal Christians have elevated this mysterious practice to the place of highest importance. Speaking in tongues is the sign of a baptism of the spirit, of going deeper into the things of Christ. It is what they emphasize.

In more recent years, many Christians, especially American Christians have pulled from the Hebrew prophet Micah one verse of Scripture and made it the sign and symbol of authentic faith and practice. “What does God require of you?” the prophet asked rhetorically, “but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Those words are displayed on the back wall of this sanctuary!

Can I give you a fourth illustration? The Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, includes these words: “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe…. They will be able to handle snakes with safety.” The mountains behind me, from Kentucky to Alabama are full of people for whom this verse is of paramount importance. To “take up snakes” (as they call it) is the sign of spiritual power.

What you emphasize in the Bible is far more important than what you affirm about the Bible.

This prayer tells us what to emphasize: to honor the creator God who cares about us; to surrender our ambitions to the purposes of God; to trust God for what we need day by day; to practice forgiveness and seek reconciliation; to flee temptation and resist evil; and to give God glory and honor. This is what I mean when I assert that the Prayer tells us what to believe and how to live.


I want to apply this fundamental rule of interpretation to this Prayer of Jesus. I contend that we need to emphasize this Prayer in our reading of the Bible, in our planning of worship, and in our following Jesus. But let’s go deeper. Let’s take these opening words and apply our test. What shall we emphasize?

Our father in heaven, hallowed or holy is your name.

In this one sentence, we could pull out that phrase, the Name of God. Or we could lift out that word “hallowed” or holy; Or we could focus on the place called “heaven.” And certainly, we could (as many have) give prime attention to that word “Father.”  I will do just that next week; but today, I want to preach a sermon on one word—OUR—and I am thinking few if any of you have ever heard a sermon on this one word!

I want to emphasize this one word, the first word in the version Matthew includes in his gospel. Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. I want to speak to the theme, “The Story of Us.”

I begin with this question: who is us?  Or let me put it this way, when we pray this Prayer, “Our father in heaven,” who is included in this word OUR?  I could put it this way, who is excluded from this word OUR.

Who is included and who is excluded? Who is praying this prayer? Whom are we including when we pray this prayer? Are there people we are excluding when we pray this prayer?

Emphasizing this one word—OUR—will illustrate the principle I am teaching today. I think it will also stretch our understanding and our imagination in fresh directions. Emphasizing this one word—OUR—will help us understand the gospel, embrace the gospel, and live the gospel with renewed vigor.

It will tell us the story of us!


Religion has a long history of excluding people.

There is a wide river of exclusion in our own Bible and in our own Religion. Adam and Eve were excluded from the garden. Ishmael was excluded from the Promise. Gentiles were excluded from the Covenant.

Many categories of people were excluded from the Temple. The first wall excluded Gentiles; the second wall excluded women; the third wall excluded ordinary men; and the fourth wall excluded all but one of the priests. This architecture of exclusion dominated public religion.

Throughout much of this history, the division was between us and them. We are vary familiar with this language of division: lost and saved, Jew and Gentile, the elect and the damned, the righteous and the wicked, the clean and the unclean.

Jesus struggled against the protocols of exclusion. A signature statement of his was this call: “Come unto me, all of you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The authorities wanted to exclude the lame because they were deformed, the sick because they were contagious, the poor because they were, well, poor! Certainly the Gentile was excluded from the Jew.

Perhaps the most famous story Jesus ever told turns on this distinction. “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves.  A priest went by, then a Levite.  Then came the despised, branded, excluded Samaritan, one who could never be included in the promises of God and the people of God.

In Christian history and theology, the tendency remains. We have divided the  baptized from the unbaptized, the orthodox from the heretics, even the good from the bad, the righteous from the wicked.

When we pray the Prayer, we unconsciously think the OUR refers to believers, the baptized, the Christian. God is our Father, we are brothers and sisters in the faith, we are the family of God. We might pray FOR them, the others, but we don’t think of praying WITH them. They do not know God, do not worship God, do not pray to God—how can this prayer be their prayer?  How can they be included in the OUR of our prayer?


A great deal of religious power has been used to sustain this culture of exclusion.

But the Bible has another great tradition.

There is in the Bible a wide river of us: of inclusion, of spreading out that word OUR to include all the people, all the time, everywhere (in employ the great rule of Vincent).

Genesis tells us that God created the whole human race, each one of us in the image of God. The Story of Noah tells us that God made a covenant with all people who live on the earth. The Psalms remind us that God has compassion on all people, that God supplies the needs of all people.

The genealogies of Jesus tell an interesting story. The genealogy in Matthew traces the linage of Jesus back to Abraham, the Hebrew; but the genealogy of Luke traces the ancestors of Jesus back to Adam, the human.

God loves the whole world, the gospel of John reminds us, and we are not to call anyone unclean, the revelation to Simon Peter tells us. As in Adam all die, Paul wrote, so in Christ all are made alive.

The Holy Bible ends with a great vision of the new Jerusalem. The river of life flows through the city; the tree of life grows on both sides of the river; and the leaves of that tree are for the healing of the nations, all the nations!

When you pray “Our father” who is excluded from that word OUR?  When you pray “Give us today our daily bread,” who is included in that us? People all over the world today are praying this one line prayer, “Deliver us from this present evil.”

Some have never heard of Jesus, never been taught the Lord’s Prayer, never lifted their voice in unison to say the most well-known collection of words in the history of human life. No: all they had was a deep need for something to eat, an urgent need to escape from danger, or a pervasive hunger to touch the soul of the universe and the spirit of all creation.

The Bible is the story of us. We have a common origin. We have a common history. We have a common destination.

The Bible is the story of us. We have common aspirations. We have common sins. The Bible says this, of all things, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We have a common predicament.

And we have a common savior.  Jesus is the savior of the world.

High above the city of Rio de Janeiro stands the most distinctive image of the continent: Christ the Redeemer, with his arms outstretched over all that vast city of almost seven million people. The wide reach of his hands illustrates the point I am making today. OUR father in heaven includes everybody!


That must have been what was surging through the soul of that unnamed, unbaptized man who told his story late one night on the radio. I was driving home to Kentucky from Chicago, flipping through the stations until I stumbled upon his story.

It was the last days of World War Two, he said, in Romania. Allied armies were pushing forward from the West and Russian forces were approaching from the east. The Third Reich was on the verge of collapse, but the iron curtain was falling. I had to get out, the man said to himself. He boarded a train: without food, without luggage, and most importantly, without papers. He was trying to escape the dictatorship that was soon to close on his homeland. He needed to travel out of Romania, across Hungary, through Austria, and into Switzerland. He was a stranger on a train, without friends, without protection, and without guarantees.

“I was not a religious man,” he said over the radio that night. “The home in which I was raised was an unbelieving home. I knew nothing of the Bible, or church, or Jesus. Nevertheless, I started to pray.  I prayed the only prayer I knew.  I do not know where it came from and how it got lodged in my memory. I started to pray, “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” I prayed it over and over, minute after minute, hour after hour, fighting back my fears, hoping to draw no attention to myself. All day, as we traveled in that train, I prayed that prayer, and all night. In that dark night of my soul, as I called out God in a prayer I did not believe, God heard my cry and answered my prayer.

We rolled into Switzerland in the wee hours of the morning. I had not slept a wink. I was praying the whole time. That night, on a dark train to freedom, God heard my prayer and answered my prayer. God delivered me from evil. But more than that, God opened my heart to all that is real and true in the universe, to a God who hears our prayers, to a God that raised Jesus from the dead, to a God that transformed my life. From that night, I have lived for Christ.

You want to be a Christian?  Pray this prayer.  You want to be a Christian?  Believe this prayer?  You want to be a Christian? Live this prayer.

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