Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon given at United Church of Beloit, July 28, 2013
 Lord, Teach Us to Pray 

Psalm 138
Of David.
1 I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
3 When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
when they hear what you have decreed.
5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.
6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, he sees them from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
8 The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever―
do not abandon the works of your hands.

Luke Chapter 11:1-13
1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I love the humor Jesus uses in the latter part of this passage. Jesus was of course an excellent speaker and humor is a tool speakers use to help people be put at ease, feel comfortable and remember things! “if you son asks for fish would you give him a snake?” that's hilarious! I think people were cracking up, but they were also remembering what He said!

The prayer is similar to the longer prayer in Matthew ch. 6, part of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke's version is shorter. There has been a lot written comparing the similarities and differences between Matthew and Luke's passages. Among those differences, is the intended audience for the original writings. Matthew was writing to Jewish people, people raised to worship Yahweh, the One True God, to help them know that indeed their Messiah had come, Jesus was the One! So there are many references to their faith, to their scriptures and prophecies.
Luke's gospel is written to people who are not Jewish, have not been brought up hearing the Hebrew Scriptures, so Luke's gospel is for people with a vastly different background and spiritual values. Also different concerns in their day to day lives.

So, Jesus' disciples say, “Lord, teach us to pray as John did.” (some of the disciples had been followers of John the Baptist before they met Jesus)
Teach us to pray. They were Jewish, they were already men of prayer! But there was something different, something special about Jesus' prayers, there was some connection there. (well OF COURSE! He was God's SON―we know that, we read the end of the book already!) They just knew there was something profound and they wanted it! So Jesus gave them this model prayer, that now has been prayed daily for 2000 years! We say it in church, many of us say it at home every morning or evening. Because it is so familiar, it can become routine, as anything can that we do or say over and over. It's a good reminder to read these Gospel lessons again to see the context, the connections with other texts and to remind ourselves of the depth of this prayer.

I'm going to touch on the highlights of this passage and the Lord's Prayer, but not go into a lot of depth...tho I could! I would suggest that you spend some time with it. Take your Bible or a written copy of the Lord's Prayer and spend time just reading, and thinking about the prayer, meditating on it and see what comes to you in that quiet time. “be still and know that I am God” scripture's sometimes hard to find true quiet time in this day and age. But we reap benefits when we do!

So what is prayer? There are many types of prayer, thanksgiving, adoration, petition, confession, intercession. First and foremost though, Prayer is expression of our relationship with God. We are created to be in relationship with God and with others. Which comes first? Yes, God does! That's easy to say here in church isn't it. Once we are out the door,'s still SUPPOSED to be true, but it's a lot harder to keep God First. Especially in a day & age that is increasingly noisy, rude, materialistic, self-centered. That's one of the reasons we pray! To help us not be all those things, but to be more God-centered.

There's a little prayer that gets posted online now and then: Dear Lord,
So far today I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, haven't lost my temper, haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I'm very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I'm going to get out of bed, and I'm probably going to need a lot more help. Amen

Ok so back to the text...Jesus said pray this way, Father, some translations say, Our Father, or our father in heaven. Notice the plural pronoun. It's not MY Father, my parent, --ours! We pray in community-which literally means with together, we pray together with Christians everywhere!

Hallowed be your name...we revere you, God! We pray that you are revered everywhere, always. Knowing the promises in the bible that one day ALL people will bow before God, that all of God's creation will rejoice! Isaiah says even the trees will clap and the mountains will sing!

Give us this day our daily bread.... we pray for our daily needs. We can pray about seemingly simple things! You are not 'bothering” God with simple prayers. Yes God has big things going on, but God is detail oriented too, Jesus said not one sparrow will fall to the ground without my father in heaven knowing. That's detail! God cares about every aspect of God's creation, including, especially US and our lives! Our Psalm talks about this too, that God is exalted, yet is personal, intimate! God within, that is what Jesus is, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. So God is intimate, closer to us than anything or anyone. We can share anything with God even our anger, our despair...all our junk!
As Author Richard Foster writes:
..what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.

We are to pray for our daily needs. Because God's kingdom is a kingdom of provision, of shalom, of Peace, wholeness and healing, protection. Forgiveness, for ourselves and others. That's part of Shalom too. God's perfect love and mercy help us to find forgiveness and to give it. One author says God is FOR-giving, in favor of giving, but also FORE giving -giving ahead of time, that's why God forgives, why we are to forgive, because God is all about giving. (God so LOVED, God GAVE...) to be loving means to be giving and forgiving.

And I believe that part of this prayer is that we are to recognize how blessed we are, that we have our daily bread, and clothing and shelter, and we are to help bring these things to those who do not have enough. That we are to BE part of God's provision in this world. In our corner of it, at least. So when we pray, we are grateful for our own blessings and asking to be shown how to help others.

A book was given to me by a friend, is called Transistioning, Leading Your Church Through Change. There's stuff in that book that I disagree with. HOWEVER there are some gems. The author reminds us that healthy churches are open to change. Change is part of life, every living organism goes through change, change is normal in life and in church life!

That challenges us doesn't it, because most people are uncomfortable with a lot of change, we like our routines. Maybe we like to drive the same road, to park in the same spot, sit in the same pew...we have our routines. And routines can be helpful. But we need to be able to recognize if a routine is no longer working well or needs to be updated. That's where our relationship with God comes in. Our prayer time can help us discern when change is needed.

Some people say that change is the only constant in life. I would argue that, because I am a person of faith-a Reformed Tradition Protestant-a person of the Bible. God is constant! The God who is and was and ever shall be does NOT change. However.... God is always moving forward, always leading us forward to new things, change. So the only constants in life are...God and change.

So our prayer life can help us discern where God is leading us, individually and as a church. This week, the Pastoral Search Committee will publish a survey in the newsletter. The committee asks that everyone think about it and fill it out to help the Committee know what YOU all are thinking about the qualities and goals for our church and for the Sr Minister that needs to be hired. Think carefully, Prayer-fully, about this survey and think about what is on YOUR heart for where God is leading our church this year, next and beyond! Don't be afraid to think and dream BIG! We have this incredible opportunity as a church, a leader in both denominations! Think and pray for BIG -GOD-sized dreams for this United Church! Next month we will also have our Lay Leadership retreat, and keep thinking and praying for those big dreams for all of us!

So we can pray for personal, intimate stuff, daily needs, and we can pray for BIG things, for vision, for God's view of our future! Prayer is versatile, can be many things. Richard Foster again:
The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son. be together with the Father, by the power of the Spirit, to be more & more like the Jesus...this is the life of faith. This is prayer.

This is a true story from Brennan Manning in the book, Abba’s Child

Once a woman asked me to come and pray with her father, who was dying of cancer. When I arrived, I found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. I assumed the old fellow had been informed of my visit.
“I guess you were expecting me,” I said.
“No, who are you?”
“I’m the new associate at your parish,” I replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bed-ridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”
Puzzled, I shut the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you always.” Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’
“So, Padre, I tried it, and I like it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d send me off to the funny farm.”
I was deeply moved by the story. Then I prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory.
Two nights later the daughter called to tell me that her daddy had died that afternoon.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” I asked.
“Yes. But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange―kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”

We can rest on Jesus. We can talk and listen, just as with our dearest friend. Even if we don't have the right words, we can count on Jesus knowing because we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us, to put the deepest sigh and groan into words. We can lean on our Loving Lord to help us be together with the Father, becoming more like the Son through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray and dream together for ourselves, for our church and for our world!

Holy God, thank you for the gift of prayer. Thank you for teaching us to pray. Thank you for the gift of Jesus Our Lord. Amen.

Let's close by singing together What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

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