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[Sermon] The Intimate Address: Discovering 'Abba' in the Lord’s Prayer

Updated: Jun 3

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + June 2, 2024 + Day of Pentecost

In this opening sermon of the "Unfolding the Prayer" series, Pastor Hector examines the significance of calling God "Abba." By exploring the historical and cultural context of this term, the sermon highlights the close, familial relationship it signifies. Through personal stories and theological reflections, Pastor Hector encourages us to embrace this intimate way of connecting with God, acknowledging the challenges and profound meaning it holds for our faith.

Sermon Transcript

Automatically generated captions from YouTube, lightly edited for readability by ChatGPT.

So, as we said today, uh, where did I put my stool? I forgot to tell the tech team that I’m going to do my stool day because I am tired. I was here all day yesterday, and I’ll tell you later why I was here yesterday. But I want to sit here because I hope that this is really a time for us to reflect, to relax, and to really let the words of the Lord’s Prayer come into us and guide us in what we are going to reflect on today. Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, our Mother, our Creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and our Brother. And the people of God said...

As you heard just a few minutes ago, and as we have been doing for the first part of the service, we have been singing, we have been reading, and we have been reflecting on some of the meanings of the Lord’s Prayer—a prayer that is also known as "Our Father." It is probably more commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer, I believe, and tell me if you would agree with me, sometimes to pray this prayer is challenging for some people, or maybe for you and for me. Why may this prayer be challenging? Anyone who wants to venture to answer that question? There are no wrong answers, so don’t worry. We are reflecting together. Why may it be challenging?

[Congrgation response]

Because the petitions that we have challenge us, right? They challenge us and go against the grain of our society, our culture, that tells us that we need to hate our neighbor as much as we can because they are different from us. But the Lord Jesus says, “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.” Anyone else?

Maybe one, and you know that this has been part of the conversation here at Trinity. It is the fact that we use the word, and the first word of the prayer today, what word is that? Say again. Father. And what have you noticed here at Trinity that we use? What words did I use just at the beginning of this message? Father, Mother, Creator, right? It is because there are some challenges for some people. And I’m not passing judgment or anything; I’m just talking about some of the realities that it is hard for us to imagine that we can say something different from "Father" when, for our entire lives, the way that we memorized it, the way that we put it in our hearts, we have always said "Our Father." In this case, in the Gospel According to Luke, it just starts with "Father."

So, let's keep that in mind because we need to take a step back in the context of this prayer. We have basically two main versions in the Bible. One is in the New Testament, of course, in the Gospel According to Matthew. That is a longer version; that is the version that we normally pray and sing during our worship service, or maybe the one that you memorized when you were a child. And as I said earlier, that you are going to help your children to memorize because those are some of the promises in baptism—that we are going to teach this prayer. And the second, which we read today that Donovan helped us to read, is in the Gospel According to Luke. And if you notice, that prayer is a little bit shorter and doesn’t have the conclusion that we normally say: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”

So, Luke's version is simpler. This prayer in the Gospel According to Luke follows the Good Samaritan story and the story of Martha and Mary. What was the main message in the Good Samaritan story? What is Jesus teaching? Compassion towards who? Our neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Jesus: Everyone. And then the second part, Mary and Martha, Jesus goes to visit them in their home. What happens between the two sisters? One is very busy taking care of things and everything else, right? And that is Martha. How about Mary? She’s listening at the feet of Jesus.

So, the two passages that are right before the prayer that Jesus is teaching to the disciples are the Good Samaritan, when Jesus talks about loving your neighbor and who is our neighbor, and second, what we as children of God are called to do and maybe where we need to put our attention first, which is to listen to the message of compassion, love, and grace of God, as Mary did. So, this is the context in which the prayer that we are reading today is located. It is not a formula. It is not the way that we have to memorize and say it word by word as the only thing that can be said. But it is a teaching of the Lord Jesus. At that time, the disciples asked Jesus, “Jesus, teach us to pray.” And Jesus says, “When you pray, you say…”

Why would the disciples—this was one of the questions I was asked when we were preparing this series—why would the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? What do you think? Did they know how to pray? Why? At that time, in the ancient Middle Eastern cultures, there were teachers that had disciples. Each teacher shared with the disciples a prayer that was almost like their statement—your vision or mission statement, if you will, or the theme or the philosophy that they followed. The disciples said, “Teach us as John teaches his disciples. Now, we are following you. You teach us.” So, Jesus is not teaching a specific prayer for a specific occasion. Jesus is teaching them how we communicate with God, Abba Father, and is helping them to understand that prayers are not these written statements that are going to be memorized, institutionalized, and used as something that, instead of uniting us as children of God, divides us because we say it in different ways with different words.

Why do we say here at Trinity, when we pray together, right before the meal, we pray in what? In the language, in the version, in the translation, and in the words that the Holy Spirit writes in your heart. It is a way to connect with Abba Father, Abba Mother, or our Creator. Prayer is speaking to the Divine, calling upon Jesus in an intimate way that is meaningful to you and to me. It is important that we use the names because when we call someone by name, we are seeking connection. We are seeking closeness. We are seeking intimacy. When I was asking our children, “How do we call our parents? Why do we just call them Father or Mother?” And Emma says, “Because it’s like a nickname that will help us to have some sort of connection, some sort of intimacy.” Although she didn’t use that specific word.

Let me just tell you a short story that maybe can help us, and maybe you can tell more stories. But years ago, when I met Jade, my wife, she and I asked her, “What is your name?” And she told me her Chinese name. And I tried to repeat it. She said, “That’s not my name because you pronounced it with a Spanish accent and it sounds funny.” And it’s true because in English and in Spanish we don’t have the sounds that we have in Chinese. Well, not we, Chinese people have. But after 30 years, I think I finally got it, and the sound in Chinese is Chen. And her meaning, the meaning of her name, is Jade. As she was asked many times the same question here in the United States, people tried to say her name, and of course, it was very difficult for people again because we don’t have those sounds in the Western languages, in the Anglo-Saxon and Latin languages. So, she decided that, in order to make it easier for people, she was going to add as a middle name the translation of her Chinese name, which is Jade. That’s why her name and the name that you know her by is Jade. But when she signs, you see Chen Ye. And then, when she started using Jade, it was so hard for me when I had to introduce her as Jade because I felt that I was not talking about my wife. It just didn’t connect because the relationship started with a name that connected a person that had a relationship with me.

And I believe this is what the Lord’s Prayer is in this first line that we are studying. Abba—it is this word in Aramaic, which is the word that Jesus used, that is translated as “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer that we know. And Abba doesn’t convey specifically a gender; it is not associated with any sex or gender. It is a word that expresses the deepness and the intimacy of a relationship that Jesus felt that he had with God, and an intimacy that Jesus wants us to have when we pray together as a community, an intimacy that assures us that we don’t need to come with fear, feeling that we need to satisfy God to let us into the family, because when we call Abba, we are affirming, we are proclaiming, we are declaring that you and I are already part of the family of Abba, Abba Father.

When we pray, we don’t pray out of fear, expecting formulas that we need to follow and that if we don’t follow them, God may not listen to our prayers. Another short story to conclude: years ago, when I was growing up in the church, and I have shared this with you, and I have mentioned to you that because of the circumstances in Mexico, the Lutheran Church leaned more towards a more conservative approach to Christianity—more literal sometimes, more fundamental—because the Lutheran Church, being a very small Lutheran church body, was in some way, and I’m going to say it just again, not as a judgment but as a description of our reality, oppressed by the dominant religious culture in Mexico.

So, one of the things in prayer in the church where I grew up is that you had to be very eloquent when praying. You needed to say the best words, the nicest words, the words that people would hear and say, “Wow.” And believe me, I got into that. When I was going to pray, I made sure that I was going to say my most polished words, my most complicated Spanish words, so that everybody could hear me when I prayed. Because of that, my mother always felt that her prayers were not adequate, that her prayers had no value, that her prayers were not as good as the others’. And when I look at the Lord’s Prayer and what we read today, it makes me think, and this is what I invite you to do as we go through this month, reflecting on how we pray, how we relate to one another, how we relate through prayer with the community, with one another, and with God. Is the prayer something that we need to use to impress others, or is prayer an opportunity to connect with God, Abba, and with our siblings in Christ?

The point was that my mom started, because of that, rejecting and refusing to pray in public because she was shamed, because she was considered a person who didn’t know how to pray, and that limited her from experiencing the relationship that I believe she knew she had with her God and with her siblings in Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer is the assurance that you and I and the entire creation are part of the household of God. Remember, we talked about the Trinity last Sunday. Addressing God as Abba establishes or sets the stage for a prayer that is a relationship, not a rational or intellectual tradition that we just do because we have done it forever. Prayer is the expression of the life and the worship of the community. God has looked for us, and that is the constant message that we can find in the scripture from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, passing through the books of the prophets and the books of Exodus in the Old Testament. If you remember, God, Abba, declares and promises to the people of Israel, “Today, I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

The Lord’s Prayer is about transformation. It is transforming the experiences of our daily lives—our joys and sorrows, our wanderings and rage, our feelings and relationships, our broken relationships—into the opportunity to experience the healing of God, Abba, who is surrounding us with a motherly embrace. The Lord’s Prayer is a practice that requires patience and openness because things will not always feel, look, and taste the way that we want. Prayer requires us to be intentional and to shift the patterns of our lives to allow the love of God to embrace us. The Lord’s Prayer is about peace and wholeness because we are assured in this prayer that each one of us belongs, we are known, and we are made whole.

John Chrysostom, who is one of the fathers of the church, said at some point, “Prayer is the light of the soul.” May this prayer that we are going to reflect on for the next four weeks be the light of our souls as we remember Abba, Father, Mother, and Creator.


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