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Father, Abba, Or?

Updated: 3 days ago


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

July 7, 2024

Matthew 6:5-13 NRSV

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Prayer is a funny thing.  It has a magical, mystical quality.  It scares some folks, if you ask them to pray publicly.  Some folks say they never pray.  Whatever you think of prayer, whatever you think prayer is, it is a central part of our faith tradition. And perhaps the deepest part of that tradition for Christians is what we call the Lord’s prayer.

Last month we prayed several different versions of that prayer.  I’ve shared them in worship without much comment.  But over the next month I want to explore the deeper meanings this prayer.  I hope it can help it come alive in fresh ways for us.  This morning, in the Scripture reading we heard the New Revised Standard Version, and we will say the traditional prayer during Communion.  But this morning I want to start with the first few phrases and cover the rest over the next few weeks.  I hope we will all find a deeper passion for prayer.  To me there is no doubt that, however we define and practice prayer, it is essential to a life of faith to pray.  And our prayers should shape everything in our daily lives.

The Lord’s Prayer offers us a pattern for prayer.  I know that some don’t like to pray the traditional version.  Calling God “Father,” is problematic for some.  But even before I address that I want to call attention to the word before “Father.”  We pray, “our.”  I like that because it reminds me that when we pray it should never just be about me.  So rather than pray “My Father,” we pray “Our Father.”  Now I don’t want to say it is wrong or bad to pray for ourselves.  I need lots of help from the Holy One to be a better person.  But I believe in always, always, being in prayer for and about others and that God is not just “my” God.  The whole human race is, of course, one family.

As I was researching different versions of the prayer I wanted to get back to as early a form as possible to see what we might learn.  Most scholars believe Jesus would have spoken some form of Aramaic.  I tried to do some research on how we might learn from that.  I did not get too far, but I did find an interesting claim. Maybe you know that the word “father” is a translation of the word abba from the Aramaic.  But, at least according to one source “the actual Aramaic transliteration is ‘Abwoon.’  This is “a blending of ‘abba (meaning father)’ and ‘woon’ (meaning womb), [ and suggests ] Jesus’s recognition of the masculine and feminine source of creation. [1] 

For me, the important thing about this is that faith is about relationships.  One might say “Father,” and it may mean many things to different people, good and bad.  Relationships cannot be defined by single meaning words.  Even to say we love someone is a complicated statement.  It has many different possibles meanings, even in its healthiest sense.  I believe Jesus was emphasizing our relationship with God as one of deep love both from God to us, and from us to God.  We know God is not a male or female in the human sense.  Faith frees us to explore the meaning of our relationship to and with God without the limits of human language.  Some meanings may not have words to fit them.  Pray “Father” or pray something different, neither is “wrong.”

That brings us to “which art in heaven.”  To me what is interesting are the words “in heaven.”  Think about that for a minute.  I assume for most of us, the first thought is our childhood vision of where and what “in heaven” means.  But I want to invite us all to consider a couple of things.  First off, I hope that by now none of us think that heaven is somewhere up in the sky.  Poetic as it sounds, I hope we don’t believe that the stars are holes in the floorboard of heaven letting its light shine down. 

Beyond “where” is heaven, the other issue I hope we can consider is “when” is heaven.  Most of us still cling to the old notion that “heaven” is the place we go after we die.  Of course some believe that’s only true if you fit certain criteria of belief or behavior.  I want to suggest that if we study all the times Jesus refers to “heaven,” or “the Kingdom of Heaven,” or the “Kingdom of God,” we will realize he believed it was a reality present now and that we did not have to wait for our death to be part of it.

To that point, the opposite of heaven is hell.  About the only concept of hell I am comfortable with is that hell is right here on earth.  And far too many innocent people live in it right now and throughout history.  And far too many live, or lived, that way because of persecution in the name of Jesus Christ.  So I would say, yes, heaven is and can be right here on earth now.  Of course, this is exactly what Jesus models for us to pray in this prayer.  But I don’t want to give away too much of next week’s message.

Consider this: where and when and what is heaven?  I believe it is a spiritual reality.  It is not defined by human concepts of time or space.  It is not a place we go to, but a reality experienced in relationships.  That is not to say it is not something we may experience after this life.  I mean, who knows?  Sure there are books by people who have had some sort of  a “death experience.”  Some say they were witnesses to hell and some say they were witnesses to heaven.  But here is another thought I find terribly interesting.  If heaven is a “perfect spiritual relationship” with God and others, then it must defeat death.  By definition, death severs all of our relationships. That’s why we grieve a loved one’s death.  Our relationship with that person has been severed.  So if heaven is the spiritual fulfillment of all relationships then surely the promise of heaven is the defeat of all death’s claims and all our fears of death?

Finally, for this morning’s reflections on the Lord’s prayer we reach the phrase, “hallowed be thy name.”  Pretty straight forward, huh?  Hallowed means “to be made sacred.”  It can mean to praise or honor someone.  The reminder to us is that this prayer acknowledges a deep relationship with “our Father,” or Abwoon, or some other title.  Then it reminds us that this One is due our highest, greatest, grandest feelings, words, beliefs of praise.  Our “Abwoon,” is “hallowed.”

And we say “hallowed by Your name.”  As you probably remember in Jesus’ time and in his culture one’s name signified one’s nature, one’s character, one’s “being.” Throughout Scripture there are instances where names and the meaning or significance of the name stand out.  Adam meant “made out of the dust of the earth.”  “Eve,” meant helper.  Abram is renamed “Abraham” by the God who promised to make a great nation of him, despite his age.  On and on there are examples.  In the Gospels Jesus encounters a man possessed by many “evil spirits.”  Jesus renames Simon as “Peter.”  He is to be a rock on which to build the church.  So names tell us about the character, the nature of the one being named.  Our God is worthy of our praise and worship.

When we turn to the Scripture in Matthew we hear Jesus warning us not to make praying a show.  Some folks criticize us stoic Congregationalists for not being comfortable praying out loud when called on.  It’s kind of a double-edged sword, because we tend to be very private about our faith. Some folks are very “out-there-in-public” with their faith.  We sometimes feel like that is just for show.  At the same time, we need to be sure we pray enough in private that if someone asks us to pray for them, or asks us to pray for a meeting or a church event, we should be comfortable enough to offer one.  Remember it is not a performance, it is a conversation with your “Abwoon.”  Anyone listening in better not be judging or giving style points.

Our challenge is to engage our faith and our relationship with our “mother-father” Holy one regularly, meaningfully, and then let it shine in our lives.  We don’t have to go around bragging to others.  But if we have come to know this one Jesus called “Father,” it should be at the core of our life values and of our living.  In the face of all the challenges our world puts before us the deeper we dig into that relationship with God the more we will be ready to know how to answer the question, “How then shall I live?”  AMEN.

[1] Suzette Martinez Standring,, August 2, 2018 quoting Dr. Neil Douglas- Klotz,


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