Lord, teach us to pray

A sermon offered July 28, 2013
Pentecost X-C: Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13
St. Nathaniel’s Episcopal Church, North Port, Florida

Lord, teach us to pray . . . (Pause)
I speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . . Amen.

In a few quiet moments before we put our minds to the Gospel reading, I want to invite you . . . to pray. What I’m going to suggest may be a little different than the usual idea of prayer: Talking to God – – or talking at God – to ask him for something – or thank him for something.

What I have in mind is a bit of reflection. At first this may not even seem to qualify as prayer. But I would argue that it is prayer because you’re engaging God – you’re reflecting-praying with his help, with his inspiration – and with him very close to you. When you do reflective prayer, you’re getting to know God better, you’re getting to know yourself better, and you’re taking the time to feel your relationship with God. And prayer is all about being in a relationship . . .

You all pray – I suspect you probably pray even more than you think you do especially if you go with the idea I just talked about – that prayer is about relationship and building relationship.

So now – what I ask you to reflect on for a moment is what it’s like for you to pray. The idea here is to get in touch with your own way of praying. There are no wrong ways to pray, no judgments – just your own authentic reflection.
I invite you to reflect – simply and honestly – on a couple of personal questions.

Give them some space and thought . . . some silence to focus and reflect . . .

How do you pray? (a period silence)

What do you pray for? (a period silence)

How does God answer prayer? (a period silence)
. . . or does God sometimes seem to ignore your prayers? (a period silence)

Focus your mind deep inside yourself. Focus on how you commune with God – how you listen – how you sit and wait for Him. . .

What’s your relationship with God like? (a period silence)

And now continue to pray with me . . . Our Father, we praise you, we worship you, . . . and we thank you for hearing our prayer. . . . Amen.
As you hold on to your own personal reflection, your understanding, your experience just now – I want to share a little bit about my experience with God and with prayer:

• I believe that God is always here – close by — ready to reach out and meet us right where we are — We don’t have to go scrambling to find him — — — and the way He meets us is in prayer.

• I believe that at any given moment we are exactly where we should be — and this eternally present moment is when God meets us . . . in prayer.

• I believe that each moment is sacred and may hold the potential for a showering of God’s grace — and God’s gracious rainfall falls on us. . . in prayer.

• I believe that prayer works because it is the channel through which we live into our relationship with God – It puts us in touch with God’s love – and it raises within us both the peace and the power that comes from God’s love.

As I said earlier, prayer is all about right relationship with God – that comes first. Then comes right relationship with everyone else and a right understanding and relationship with ourselves.

Prayer doesn’t require that we become or achieve anything. We don’t have to do anything to get ourselves ready to pray. It’s not like training to run a marathon . . . We just come to prayer as we already are – plain, simple, unpretentious.
But be prepared. Prayer will show you the true picture of your humanness – your weakness and messiness. . . But on the other hand prayer reveals the true essence God’s love for you – it reveals holiness as well as human shortcomings. Our Lord’s Prayer is very human because it is a prayer for human beings – for creatures in need.

Did you know that there are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels? – one in Luke, the one from today’s reading and one in Matthew, which is the more familiar one, the one we usually say when we pray aloud together. Matthew’s version is a little bit longer than Luke’s. You may experience Luke’s version as more compact, more direct.

Now, to go deeper into prayer as Jesus taught it, we can take a look at the gospel reading from Luke 11. It begins with Jesus at prayer – and when he has finished praying one of his disciples asks him for some instruction. What the disciples receive is a three-part teaching: first a model prayer, then a parable about being persistent (shameless) in prayer, and finally an assurance that God our Father answers the petitions of us his children and gives us the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot packed in these 13 verses – and I’m going to focus just on the first part, on the prayer model that Jesus gives the disciples.

Jesus invites them to enter into a relationship – the same very personal relationship that he has with the God he knows as Father. God is our Father as well. Notice that our Lord’s Prayer uses “our” – “us and we” – not “I and me.” It is the prayer of all believers. And this is how it brings us into a communal relationship – a relationship with our brothers and sisters – through our Father. This is family relationship.

“Father, hallowed be your name.”: In calling God our Father, we come to know him and His holiness as being right here with us. His presence is with us – here on this planet. He is not God out there someplace else. He is Here and Now – immediate – closer to you than you are to yourself. It’s through Jesus, that God’s holiness started coming into this world and continues to come into our world, directly into our human experience.

“Your kingdom come”: Jesus’ human life begins to focus the kingdom of heaven on earth. The kingdom is already here, coming near. At the same time it is still yet to come – to become complete in God’s glory. This mystery means that we are living in the in-between times. According to Luke 11, we believers participate in God’s promise to bring about His reign on earth – and we do that by praying for the coming of His kingdom. It involves our working with God to carry out his purpose in salvation history. And so we pray: “Your kingdom come.”

The next section of Jesus’ model prayer is a list of requests – specific requests. It almost seems rude and demanding: Give us . . . Forgive us . . . Save us . . . We don’t say “Please “ in this prayer.
Do you notice how simple and direct Our Lord’s prayer is? No fancy language. There are not many words here – especially in this version!

Give us each day our daily bread: When God answers this petition, He is giving us what we need – His love as the bread that comes down daily from heaven – just like his children in ancient times received their daily manna in the wilderness. Our daily bread sustains us one day at a time. We’re dependent – a dependence that keeps us in right relationship with God.

Lord, Forgive us our sins: God’s loving relationship is forgiving – and in his kingdom the forgiveness is shared. As Christ himself lives in us, we have the power to give – to share forgiveness with each other. This is what sharing life in the kingdom is all about.

Why is forgiveness so important? Paul answers that question in the Epistle reading from Colossians when he says: “God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us . . He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” This means that the power of forgiveness is no less than spiritual resurrection!

Lord, Deliver us – Save us – Do not bring us to the time of trial. Through this last petition, God protects us from circumstances that test or threaten our faith. In Jesus’ day – and in many areas of the world today – this means asking for protection from persecution.

As Christians we pray the words that our Lord taught us often – we’ve repeated them throughout the course of our lives, more often, perhaps, than any other words. And so, through reflection and repetition, these words have been written on our hearts – they’ve been implanted in our hearts.

The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is the one prayer that even lapsed Christians remember. No matter where we are in the spiritual sphere the sacramental power of this prayer delivers relief from physical and spiritual pain – and the peace of reconciliation.

In closing . . .
These are Jesus’ words of instruction and assurance: Ask . . . seek . . . Knock . . .

“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds . . . and for everyone who knocks . . . the door will be opened.”

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