Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
It is easy in our day to approach prayer in prescribed, rote, formal, anxious, and official ways.
We worry about our words – what we are to say. “Do we pray to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?” I’ve been asked. We are concerned with our posture: whether to stand, sit, or kneel. Do we clasp our hands together or open our palms wide? We wonder if it will matter if we speak our prayers aloud, pray in silence, or (my preferred style) write them out in a prayer journal. More often than not, many Christians worry about getting it “right” in much the same ways that we worry about everything else, which makes prayer daunting and intimidating to say the least – even avoidable.
I think those early followers of Jesus worried about it too. In our gospel lesson, Jesus just finished praying in “a certain place,” Luke tells us. One of the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”
I want to say this morning that prayer is God’s good gift to us. It is about presence and begins with our relationship to God and God’s relationship to us. It is the most natural of things when the relationship is intact and sustained by our hearts desire and God’s desire rather than by duty, form, even our words. Prayer reminds us of who we are as God’s beloved; a God who longs to communicate with us.
We can bring our true and honest selves to the prayer moment: just as we are, no hidden agendas, no pretense or false self, no superficiality in anyway. God already gets us as we are and God “knows our down sitting and our uprising,” says the psalmist, and loves us still and wants us still. And God invites us to come boldly into God’s presence, not with timidity or foreboding as if our parent does not long to be with us.
Prayer is the safest of all spaces. It is a turning away from self and the world and turning to the holy One who yearns to receive us with extravagant love and generosity, warmth and hospitality, grace and mercy, forgiveness and assurance, empowerment and encouragement – all of the things we so desperately long for and need. And it’s like this every single time regardless of what we have done or not done; said or left unsaid.
Can you imagine this for a few moments? The wonder, mystery, majesty, and hope of it all? Can you grab hold of it and take it in; accept it as truth?
Prayer is also about our relationship with others. In prayer, we see one another as God sees us. How much further along would we be if we spent more time talking to God about the people who challenge us or the circumstances over which we seem to have little control – rather than talking about that person to someone else, who is most likely as helpless as we are to render a different outcome?
There are some spirits we are ill equipped to confront on our own. They require more than we are able to manage. We need spiritual guidance to direct our way and response – to know what to say, how to engage.
I’m all for talking with friends and venting, even a good rant here or there, but have you ever noticed that even when we “let it all out” and exhaust ourselves to those we love and who support our cause, we most often we feel just as bad or even worse after regurgitating the same things over and over? And by the time they have added their two cents worth and someone else adds their two cents worth and another and another, what might have started out as a small ember is now a blazing flame.
But when we seek direction from our Creator who loves us all, we have a clearer, more direct sense of what to do and we have confidence that God is with us all, regardless of how things unfold.
We are taught to pray for our enemies. It’s one of those measures along the way that is like a litmus test that reminds us of how we are doing. And one thing I know for sure, we may not be able to change those who will harm us, but we surely will be changed in the process. We will grow and learn how to preserve for the greater good despite what might come our way.
I want to encourage you this morning to develop a prayer life if you don’t already have one. Begin simply every morning by inviting God to walk with you and give thanks at the end of the day. Pray prayers of gratitude for all the small things along the way.
And don’t give up on God. So often, we quit too soon. We despair and take matters into our own hands which is reckless and often futile. We pray one time or a few times about a matter and we expect quick, easy, answers the way we had in mind.
I wish it worked that way but nothing in all of my years of faith tells me that this is true. As a matter of fact, I am just receiving blessings and answers to prayers that I prayed in 1992, 1993, 1995. Sometimes the answers or responses are quick and clear but other times, it takes a while because we haven’t matured well enough to receive them. But rest assured, God heard us the first time and even before we asked God already knew.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciple asked.
Jesus responded by offering a model prayer. We pray it each week. It’s the only prayer Jesus ever taught – so familiar that we can say it by memory without paying much attention.
People say, “I like the King James Version,” but I think every now and then it would help us to change up the translation so that we might hear it in a fresh new way:
Our Father who is in heaven,
Uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you.
Just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into
temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (Common English Bible)
Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; do what’s best –
As above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with
you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in
charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. (The Message)
Did you notice the simplicity, the intimacy, the desire for peace and harmony and fellowship with others? Did you notice the day-to-day dependency on a loving God who is able and willing to provide all that we need – presence, bread, safety – even safety from ourselves?
Jesus said prayer is like a friend who comes to you at midnight, looking for food and banging on your door. Some other friend of his has come from somewhere and catches him off guard. There is no food in his house. So, he comes to your house for the sake of this other friend (you might not even know him). Your spouse and children are all tucked in; everything is shut down for the night and he’s outside banging away – it’s midnight after all. Even if you don’t want to get up and help your friend for friendship sake, you will do so to shut him up so your house can get back to “normal.”
How much more will your divine Father, Mother, Parent give to you for loves sake if you ask, seek, knock. My friends, God is not an out-of-touch parent who functions like Santa Claus granting our every wish and doling out goodies at every whim so that we are crippled, spoiled, selfish, narrow-minded children throwing tantrums and causing a fuss when we don’t get what we want.
God is a loving parent, tried and true, who knows our every need, when we need it and are ready for it, how and where, so that we might grow and mature into seasoned adults making a difference in the world.
In prayer, we learn what to ask, how to seek and how to knock. May we be known as a church that prays, as a people who pray. And as a people who rise up, serve, live, and love.