The Disciple's Prayer: Abba, FatherCopyright © 2008, Charles Johnsen
Matt 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4, Luke 11:2b1Abba Means Papa

The earliest record of this first among prayers is in the Greek language of Matthew, Luke, and the Didache. Luke leaves off the word our.Many scholars believe the original language was Hebrew (Avenu). The King James Version, following Matthew, is formal and public, suitable for corporate worship and publication. Our Father…we make bold to say. Saint Paul and other early witnesses use the Aramaic word, Abba. Abba is papa, daddy, more intimate and childlike. Which should we say, Our Father or Papa? Both. Both appear in Scripture, both carry important meaning, and our Lord probably taught this prayer in more than one language and on more than one occasion. Both Our Father and Abba name the family provider and protector, the coach of our character, and our teacher of right and wrong. All humans are made in His Image. But only baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit makes us His children, privileged to call Him Abba.

This word alone, Abba, unlike any other word in Scripture, is enough text for a sermon.

Oh, the joy! Hold an infant, so utterly dependent on mom and dad for everything–carried and kept warm, nursed at one end and cleaned at the other end, protected and comforted. But just as fine is the joy father and mother know when a child becomes an adult and stands beside them at work, at home, and in doing good.

Just so our Papa is glad to provide everything for us when we are infants in life and faith. But He has a greater joy when we, after His teaching and coaching, take up our own life, provide for ourselves, and show the same kindness to our brothers and sisters than He showed us. He is not pleased when, after decades of His grace and teaching, we are still babies without responsibility. He is pleased when our gratitude for His mercy and upbringing leads us to obey His commands, bear our suffering, take care of ourselves and our families, and give to the poor. Like a good father, He wants us to grow up strong, not remain dependent and weak. Our Papa wants to be proud of us, to show us off as worthy to carry His Name. And we want that too. We must live in such a way that the whole world sees Him through us. Now that is a responsibility!

It is not always like that, is it? Too often we need to be bailed out of trouble we have caused ourselves. There is plenty of suffering and trial in life that comes to us without our assistance. But how often is it not made worse by our childish behavior? When we lie, when we gossip, when we are rude or sarcastic, when we cheat a little, when we forget kindness, when we laugh at a sister or brother, when we are ungrateful. Is this how we want others to think of our Father?

Perhaps we prefer to be baby children instead of adult children. It is easier. A small child depends on parents for everything, even a little red wagon. So it is understandable if the child prays for a toy or a puppy because, operationally, there is very little difference between a child's God and a child's parent. A kind of magic, praying instead of working and saving. Say the right words, say them in the right order, and magically toys appear, or so we believe. This is the little red wagon theory of prayer.

The manipulation of parents and our God may continue beyond prayer and words. If you clean up your room,a parent may say, then you can have a little red wagon.That is an excellent way to teach little children, but not such a good idea as we mature and are able to earn, save, and even buy our own little red wagon, perhaps with 200 horsepower.

Too often we think to ourselves, I keep the Ten Commands, all of them. How come I am still poor? Or, even worse, I must be rich because I did keep all Ten Commands.But the Ten Commands are our response to His mercy, not the precondition. He never said, Do this and I will give you stuff.He did say, I have brought you out of the house of bondage, I have saved you from slavery, and this is how you can show your gratitude.Anything else is manipulation, trying to do magic tricks with His Name, attempting to earn His love and mercy. I do not believe that sort of prayer is pleasing to Him, not from adults.

Why do we do that? When we try to set the terms of our relationship with our Father we are claiming, not partnership, but control. I will do this, and then God will do what I ask.Invariability, we get to pick the favor we do and we get to pick to reward we want. What decent father or mother would listen to a child attempt to dictate terms to them? We call them spoiled brats. Sometimes we have to call ourselves spoiled brats.

He could have insisted that we call Him King, Monarch, Your Majesty. It would be His due to be named Eternal and Holy beyond our reach. God, Elohim, Ha Shem, are certainly fitting addresses for the Almighty. But no. Papa. Abba. Father. And in this one word is the whole Gospel, a kind of second incarnation, a revelation of His love and His promise to us, using the words and experiences of ordinary family life.

Like a good father, our Papa will care for us forever. First, He will give us the good things we cannot earn ourselves. Those gifts are His grace and mercy, that He delivers us from slavery to death, that He forgives our sins, that He gives us His Holy Name to carry for our whole lives. These gifts come to us by His Word and Sacraments, the Means of Grace. He gives us His Name in baptism. He forgives our sins in our repentance and His absolution. He makes us into His body, the Body of Christ, when He feeds us with His Flesh and Blood, the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

But a good father does more than put food on the table. Both mother and father know the greatest gift they can give their children is the coaching and training we need for life. We have an instruction manual, given to us by our Father. It is the Bible. He wants to teach us all we need to know, He wants to train us in every skill we need to live, He promises to instruct us how to be His adult children.

This day, then, make bold to say Our Father…Papa will make us into grown up men and women, people He will be proud of. Many a parent has said, I'll see you grown up or die trying.Well, so He did. He died trying to raise us up. Let us all see to it that His sacrifice was worth it.

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