We had an all church birthday party last night; a wonderful gathering of parishioners and friends old and new. And this morning we will have church...Henry Wilder Foote, in this week's installment of his sermons on The Lord's Prayer, reminds us of the communal necessity of the spiritual life:
OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN.
After this manner, therefore, pray ye : Our Father which art in heaven. — Matt. vi. 9.
" AFTER this manner!" When Christ bids his followers pray thus, he tells us in substance that the few sentences of the Lord's Prayer are the essence of all prayer. Since prayer addresses God, he teaches us first of all how to think of Him...The first words of this mighty prayer lift us at once to the highest level...
We are heirs of the past to a greater degree than we are aware. From the Middle Ages we inherit the unconscious tendency to measure spiritual feeling by extravagance of expression ; from two centuries of New England parentage, an inborn zest for theological subtleties; and either way, we hold too narrow an idea of what this spiritual affection is. We need to go back to Jesus Christ, and look at it in his light. And when we thus bring the New Testament spirit to bear upon the interpretation of the great commandment, we at once find that in its genuine and true and Scriptural sense, love to God is not a mere sentiment dependent upon the happy possession of a glowing temperament, nor only a fervid expression of devout feeling called into being, quickened by supernatural grace; these are only special manifestations of it in partial forms. But underlying them and manifesting itself in many other ways also quite as true and as worthy, it exists as a great persuasive principle of life, vitalizing the whole being in the soul which religion has entered as a power... Yes! it is a divine, a blessed decree, that in obeying the best impulse of the heart towards what is holy and good and true, we are led into sympathy with Him in whom all perfections are in their fullness.
Mr. Maurice has well said that " much of the practical difficulty of the prayer lies in the first word of it. How can we look round on the people whom we habitually feel to be separated from us by almost impassable barriers, . . . and then teach ourselves to think that in the very highest exercise of our lives they are associated with us; that when we pray we are praying for them and with them; that we cannot speak for ourselves without speaking for them; that if we do not carry their sins to the throne of God's grace, we do not carry our own; that all the good we hope to obtain there belongs to them just as much as to us. ... Yet all this is included in the word 'our;' till we have learned so much we are but spelling at it, we have not learned to pronounce it."
Have we so learned, any one of us, dear friends ? For if we have hard thoughts about any in our hearts; if we find it difficult to hold them graciously and tenderly in our remembrance as we rise to the great thought of God; if we fail to grasp the sublime conception of "the whole family in heaven and earth" which is named of Him, we can hardly pass this portal of our Lord's Prayer into the deeper meaning of the sanctuary within. We do not really pray to Him unless we are willing to kneel, as it were, on the outer step of His temple, beside the publican and the sinner. We can hardly dare to call him Father, unless we will also call them our brethren.
But there is not only a lesson of humility and of charity for us when we begin to say " Our Father," — there is infinite hope and cheer. For if we all come together before him, we may well feel upborne by the praying might of all who are higher than we on the shining ladder that leads to the foot of His throne, — His saints and faithful children, all that great company who are joined in the praises of the Te Deum."
May our Sabbath be a blessed one.