We Are Family
The denomination in which I grew up is one that sends its ministers to the positions the leaders want them to fill. This includes assistant pastors as well as senior pastors. My father, known for his ability to work with young ministers, was often sent an assistant right out of seminary. This young man or woman would be fresh from the classroom, eager to begin a ministerial career, and usually without much of an idea as to what that career would entail.
One year the young man assigned to us was Robert Watson. I think I was a sophomore in high school when he was appointed to assist my father. One of our family stories was that he met us for the first time at a New York Giants (yes, that’s right) baseball game. That was where we happened to be going when he was to arrive in town.
Bob went on to a distinguished career as a leader in the denomination. Although I was several years his junior, he was always Bob Watson to me, and remained a dear friend. Bob once wrote, “We can’t say ‘Our Father’ without acknowledging that we are brothers and sisters.”
The Lord’s Prayer is a significant part of most Christian worship services. Not every congregation recites it every Sunday, but a huge majority makes this prayer a regular part of worship. One of the problems with this kind of familiarity is that it is easy to fall into rote repetition, and forget to think about what we’re saying. For a few years I sat next to a good friend in church choir who recited the prayer with fervent intensity. It was an inspiration to hear his devotion to God and his commitment to the words of the prayer each Sunday. It gave me a new appreciation of the Lord’s Prayer. I had fallen into the rote repetition habit. My friend rescued me from that failing, for which I am grateful.
I remember attending an interfaith, interracial worship service in the 1960’s. Many of you will remember it was a period of turmoil and disagreement. Racial tensions were high, and several Christian organizations in the city where I lived tried to bring Christians of different faiths and different races together to find ways of moving forward to understanding and love. One of the leaders of that service, just before we prayed the Lord’s Prayer, reminded us that when we said the words, “Our Father,” in such a setting there was much deeper meaning than when we said it in our all-white/all-black congregations on Sunday mornings.
I think this is something of what Bob Watson was getting at. Whenever we say “Our Father” we are affirming that all those around us are members of one family—our brothers and sisters. Even if we don’t get along well with the person sitting next to us, or across the aisle, or two rows in front or in back of us, that person is family, united with us through our parental relationship with God.
What would it be like if we prayed “Our Father” with our Jewish brothers and sisters? There’s nothing in the Lord’s Prayer (that I can think of) that would prohibit them from reciting it. What if we figured out a version of the Lord’s Prayer that would allow Muslims, and Hindus and Buddhists to join us? Wouldn’t that be admitting that we are all brothers and sisters because we are all God’s children?
I realize that my vision is nearly impossible to achieve, but there must be something we can say that will bring us together, that will help us realize that we are related, that we have more in common than what separates us, and that we have an obligation to get along, to work together, to live together in peace—shalom—because our Father expects it.
Wouldn’t that be something!