the one where Jesus teaches us to pray...
July 24, 2016, 9:00 AM

Sermon from July 24, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 11: 1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, today seems like a time as good as any to talk about prayer. The disciples, after witnessing Jesus finishing up his time of prayer ask him the question that seems to be one of the oldest not only in our faith tradition – but, in all faiths. “Lord, how do we pray? Teach us…”

As someone who is called to lead a wonderful group of folks in the life of faith it is a question that I receive quite often as well. From our youngest members to some that have been here much longer. Everyone seems to want to know how ‘best’ to pray.

Living in our world today, you can get a little miffed and put out of place because of prayer – or at least in witnessing and hearing someone else pray. We live in a time and place where people put a lot of emphasis on the words we say – a lot of that kind of emphasis has been shown this past week at the Republican National Convention and will again be shown this coming week at the Democratic National Convention.

We put a lot of emphasis in the words we say or that we hope we are conveying to others. But, I think there is something else that goes on as we listen to others, especially as we listen to others pray. We hear at times some absolutely beautiful words of prayer. Where someone is able to close their eyes and speak from their heart in ways that you feel couldn’t be possible. Sometimes we hear prayers that make us scratch our heads, that use words and phrases that jar us and send us into places in our minds that the one praying never intended.

I remember when I was in seminary and was completing my chaplaincy at Palmetto Baptist in Columbia. I teamed with my friend as we shadowed one another as we visited patients that day. One of our first stops was in ICU where I prayed with a woman who had kidney failure. I don’t remember exactly what I said in that prayer, but I do remember one specific part – because my friend continues to bring it up. During the course of the prayer I prayed that this woman would be happy and full of life once more (something she hoped for in our conversation earlier), but in that petition I also prayed that her kidney might be happy and full of life as well.

As I said that I heard my friend stifle a chuckle. We said our goodbyes and we left. As we got down the hall, my friend burst into hysterical laughter. Feeling kind of hurt, I asked, “Dude, why are you laughing?” His response? “Man, when you prayed for her kidney to be ‘happy’ I couldn’t help, but picture her kidney with a tiny top hat and cane. Dancing all over the place. It was funny!”

And he’s right – it kind of was. But, for a while I was really, really self-conscious about how I prayed. I stuck more to an internal prayer roadmap than venture off again into the wilds of the unknown.

But, that got me thinking about prayer. We put so much emphasis on what it should look like and how we should go about it. We put so much emphasis on how others pray and how others hear us pray that it at times can keep us from actually praying.

I can’t pray like her – so why even bother? His prayers are so eloquent and specific; I feel that all I can offer is – thanks God. Help us God. – no one will ‘appreciate’ or ‘enjoy’ my prayer.

Have y’all felt that way before?

I imagine that is a bit how the disciples felt this day as they were witnessing Jesus pray. At that point – when you’re in the presence of God’s son and witnessing him doing something like you – you want to know how they go about it in hopes that you’ll learn something. I imagine that when they asked Jesus how they should pray, they were preparing themselves for a deep and long list of things that you should do.

Yet, the response that Jesus gives is rather different isn’t it? His instructions for prayer are quite simple. Jesus’ instructions on prayer are pretty straightforward. Praying in a way that keeps God’s name holy and to live in the kingdom of heaven on earth. The prayer he gives us covers what we need to live, how we should live in relationship with others, and that God will be with us in safety during rough times. All in all – this is a pretty simple prayer.

Dear God – watch over me and all of the world. Give us all what we need to live. Help us – help me – to be better towards others because you are so good to all of us. Amen.

When we take a step back and look at what Jesus is teaching his disciples and us during this moment we can see that it isn’t that difficult. There’s no lofty language, no incredible embellishment, it is not filled with words and phrases.

It is a simple, honest, and faithful prayer. Something, that we can all do.

Martin Luther once said something about prayer that I have held on to and have used to emphasize that prayer should be simple, faithful, and honest. Luther once said, ‘The fewer the words, the better the prayer.’

I think Jesus could agree with that. I know that I do agree with that quite a bit.

The ‘fewer’ the words doesn’t just mean saying, “Rub a dub Lord, thanks for the grub.” Or some other short and sweet prayer. But, I think it means recognizing what we are really praying for. We pray for what we need to live (and usually what we need to live isn’t the same as what we think we need to live). We pray for our relationships with others (perhaps noting that we are praying for how we treat and view others more so than how we see others treating and viewing others). We pray that God would be present in our life. We also pray in thanks for God’s blessed and holy name, as well as God’s presence in the world (which usually gets skipped over quite a bit right?).

So, one of the things that keeps us from praying is not being able to ‘live up’ to the prayers that we hear and see from others. We have a hard time praying simply because we think others ‘pray so well.’ We have a hard time seeing each of us as worthy and sufficient of prayer when we have a world telling us that if you’re not the ‘greatest’ or the ‘best’ than what’s the point and you’re just a ‘loser.’

But, there’s another thing that makes us hesitant at times to live into a life of prayer because it’s based on trust. We pray – simple, faithful, honest prayers – and they seem to go unanswered.

I prayed for a woman’s kidney to be happy – but, it still failed and she died.

I pray for world peace and reconciliation – yet, it seems more and more are at one another’s throats, spewing hate and malice, and participating in unbelievable acts of violence.

I pray for God’s presence – but, it seems like God is so very far from me. Look what’s happening to my life?

When our prayers go unanswered, or at least unanswered in the ways that we hope; what are we to do? Why should we even do it if it’s not going to even help us?

I read something this week from one of my favorite theologians – David Lose. He mentioned something in a way that I think I’ve always felt, but really never had the right words to convey it.

When thinking about prayer we kind of view it as if were sending a lone message in a bottle out to sea. Hoping and praying it gets to God somehow, but acknowledging that the sea is large and full of danger and storm that it just might not get there. Didn’t send enough, didn’t send it the right way, didn’t send it at the right time, all that sort of stuff. As Lose writes it, ‘we pray and stand around waiting for God to answer.’

But, what if prayer isn’t sending up a petition, but rather a more active and full life of relationship with God? What if praying for us wasn’t just sitting around and waiting for God to answer, but living into the reality of the life that we’ve prayed for. Getting up, moving, acting in that life?

That we pray for those who are hungry that they might have food – so living into those beautiful words – we go and volunteer and help provide food out of our own abundance.

When we pray that others might reconcile with one another – we go and form relationships with those whom we don’t know well and learn and grow with them.

When we pray for those who are lonely – we go and visit.

When we pray for the end of violence in our world and country – we advocate and participate in ways that make life safe and full for everyone.

What if we prayed – and lived into that life of prayer? I wonder…

I’d like to end with a little bit more of what Pastor Lose says about prayer. He writes it beautifully and succinctly. Faithfully and simply.

At times prayer is words we say alone in moments of thanksgiving or desperation. At times prayer is words we share with others, gathered in the sanctuary or around a hospital bed. And at other times prayer is action and work as we try to live into and even bring about those things we’ve prayed for. All of this can be praying shameless, praying, that is, confident that the God who came in Jesus understands our hurts and disappointments because that God took them on. Because God in Jesus not only endured the life we lived, but died the death that awaits us, and was raised again to show that even death does not have the last word and that all things are possible for God. And so we pray with confidence, trusting that if we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give us as we embrace God’s Holy Spirit and live, as well as speak, our prayers.

There are so many people who need our prayers, prayers understood as words, actions, and our very life. People who are dying and don’t need to. People who are lonely and welcome friendship. People who are excluded and waiting to be invited in. All kinds of people. So let’s get started praying… and let’s do it shamelessly.

Yes, let’s get started praying – faithfully, simply, and honestly. We may pray for a happy kidney every now and then, but we live into that fullness and wholeness that prayer invites us into. Amen.



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