Sunday, July 28, 2019

Year C Proper 12 2019 Let Us Pray

Year C Proper 12, 28 July 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Let Us Pray”

Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 11:1-13
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

You are loved by God, and God wants the best for you.

That’s it. That’s my sermon.

That is what Jesus is saying here, but because we are not sure, because we doubt, because we see things that go against that idea in our lives we have to say it over and over and over again.

In the beginning of this interaction and the following teaching goes back to that question, “Does God even care? And if so, how can we get God’s attention?”
Often when I visit people ask for a prayer from me. I am often already praying quietly within. As St. Paul urged, pray without ceasing. A running dialogue is best, or a dribbling monologue will do. But your prayers are efficacious, too! God wants to hear what is on your heart! There is no prayer from you that can hurt. In fact, praying is often how I find out what I really think.

Now I am not speaking to all of you, but to those who are not directly affected, you are indirectly affected all the time. I am an external processor. I put my ideas out there, whirl them around, check out the problem areas, take it for a spin. It drove my wife crazy before we came to the understanding that just because I said it did not mean that I meant it. Or rather, I was externally processing my thoughts and ideas. She need not respond or react. I must say, that this is often how I see my prayer life.

God wants me, I believe, to put it out there. I need to hear what I am thinking, and if I do not do that I cannot deal with my “stuff.” Those areas where God needs to step in and do a lot of work. Often a simple way to see this is by what I call the shiny red bike.

Dear God, I want a shiny, red bike.

Now God could say, No. You do not need a shiny, red bike. You do not ride the blue one you have. But that’s not God. The more and more I pray for that shiny, red bike, the more and more I can see that my blue one is perfectly fine. I could use it more. In fact, I love riding bikes. I should do that more. And then guess what comes out of my mouth.

Thank you God for my perfectly wonderful blue bike. I am so appreciative that I have it.

You see what happened there? So often we think that prayer will change things for us. We WANT it. So we think that we should have it. But then God comes in, and does something more beautiful. God changes us for things.

It could be the shiny, red bike. It could be the diagnosis of cancer. It could be a sick and ailing friend. It could be whatever is weighing on your heart. God changes you for things, more than God changes things for you.

Internal processors, those who guard their thoughts and are sparing in their words, you need to pray, too. You need to say the words. It cannot, should not, be taken as a given. I love that seen in Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevya asks his long-suffering wife, “Do you love me?” At one point, Golde, the wife, even chalks up his silliness to indigestion, but then they sing:

Golde: Do I love him?For twenty-five years, I've lived with him,Fought with him, starved with him.For twenty-five years, my bed is his.If that's not love, what is?Tevye: Then you love me?Golde: I suppose I do.Tevye: And I suppose I love you, too.Together: It doesn't change a thing, but even so,After twenty-five years, it's nice to know…Songwriters: Berry Gordy Jr / Berry / Jr Gordy
Do You Love Me? lyrics © Bock Ip LLC, Imagem U.S. LLC, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

It is important to say the words, in life, and in prayer. It is so easy to take the most important things in our lives as “for-granted.”

And that is what Jesus is getting it in our prayers. We need to say the things. Even to God. Especially to God.

So when the disciples asked to learn to pray, Jesus answers. Now the differences you may notice in this version is that the one we most often say is from the King James Bible with its more formal language, and it is from Matthew’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount. Here is Jesus in Luke, in the New Revised Standard Version which has a few differences.
Father, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come.Give us each day our daily bread.And forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Let us break that down.

Father, hallowed be your name.
     (God, you are God and I am not. You are great, awesome, and holy.)
Your kingdom come.
     (I want your lead in this world and in my life.)
Give us each day our daily bread.
     (Supply my needs. I trust in you and your providence.)
And forgive us our sins,
     (When I stray, bring me home.)
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
     (I need to be as gracious in my life as you are in your dealings with me.)
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
     (Now I am with the Pope on this one. Our translations make some problems. He encouraged the         change to “Let us not fall into temptation.” Very similar to the prayer, “Guide my steps.”)

And in some ancient texts, not the oldest that we have, the phrase “but rescue us from the evil one” has been added. Some scribes may have tried to bring it closer to the Matthew account. Or we may have some texts that missed it in the even earlier, lost copies. But here we have the same idea, “God, draw me closer to you and your dream for the world.”

And with all that we can see how God just wants to hear from us. What is on our hearts and minds. Our worries, our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our lusts, our sins, our motivations. God wants to know. And once we allow the spotlight to shine on  every single part of us, the good, the bad, the ugly, we can begin to do the long, hard, important work that needs to be done. Prayer is like that. It is the opening of a door. Like vampires in the mythology, God needs to be invited in.

And that is why we can in confidence say and believe how Jesus teaches. Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Ask. You will receive. Now will you receive what you ask for? Maybe, even probably, not. But receive you will. My daughters ask for ice cream almost every meal. I have to remind them, “IT’S BREAKFAST!!!” But will I feed them? Yes. Is it what they ask for? No. But it is what they need.

Seek. Look for God, even in the worst, darkest, most hopeless situation. God is there. Psalm 139:8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
There is nowhere you can go, there is no situation in which you can find yourself, where God is not already there waiting for you. No worry. No fear. No temptation. You are not alone. Seek, and you will find.

Knock. And the door will be opened. One Thanksgiving, my mother came up from Newport News, and my daughters had not seen her in months. My youngest was so excited, and like a bulldog locking its jaw, once she gets something in her head it does not let go. She took her little toddler chair, and put it by the door. The parade came and went, and we were well into the dog show when my mom knocked at the door. My daughter had sat there for almost four hours, ready for the moment my mother arrived. If my daughter loves her grandmother that much, how much more does God love you? Knock. The door will be opened. Immediately. Exuberantly. Enthusiastically.

So prayer. There is nothing that is magical, persuasive, or influential that you can say.

  • But come honest, in your heart and approach. God already knows. Hold nothing back. 
  • And come open, open to the outcomes. Come with your request, and be ready to get what you need not necessarily what you want.
  • And come. Just come. Come to God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Pray for your neighbor and for yourself. 

Let us pray, “Our Father… [join with us…] Amen

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Blessings, Rock