Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"How to Pray"

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 29, 2007, which was Proper 12, Year C

Teach us how to pray.

That’s what Jesus’ friends and students asked him. Teach us how to pray. But of course, not just a simple, no strings-attached statement, teach us how to pray. It also has the added flavor of one-up-manship and whining. John taught his disciples to pray – won’t you teach us how to pray?

But for whatever the reason someone asks, it’s a good question to answer.

Jesus answered by coming up with a prayer that we now sometimes call The Lord’s Prayer, and taking it out of the specific terms that some of us know so well we don’t even think about them anymore, here’s what Jesus is really saying.

Jesus starts out addressing God, first of all, but he’s doing it in a radical way – he’s talking about a God who is so loving, so benevolent, so giving, and so caring that this God could be a parent – but Jesus goes further than that. Not content, as in most of our English translations, to address God as ‘Father’, he goes so far as to call him Daddy, like a small, trusting child would look up at their father, smile, and call him Daddy. That’s the kind of relationship that Jesus is assuming with God, and it’s the kind of relationship he’s modeling for us to have with God.

Now, if the idea of God as Dad doesn’t work for you, try God as Mom. If that really doesn’t work for you, move right on along to God as Beloved. It really makes no difference. The point is that God isn’t some nameless, faceless, passionless general manager of the Universe. Rather, God is even more caring, even more loving, even more giving and wise than even your own Dad, or Mom, than even your own partner.

So this is how Jesus starts out his prayer. Our Father in Heaven.

And then Jesus reminds us of how holy God is. Now, holy isn’t a word that is really in our every day vocabulary these days, though it would have been then. But just imagine, imagine trying to come up with a word, in this instance for God, that covers just how good God is. A word that expresses just how wonderfully loving, and giving, and caring, how imaginative, how creative, how wise, how powerful. Believe it or not, ‘holy’ actually covers all of that. And the somewhat archaic version of the word ‘holy’ is ‘hallow’

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be your name.

Now comes an interesting bit, because Jesus is about to start praying for the things he’s doing in his own life and work. His whole three year ministry was about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, if you prefer, and about how it is our job to see that this Kingdom manifests on earth with justice and peace.

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed by your name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

And now, Jesus starts praying for every day life, beyond his work and ministry – he’s now going to pray for the basic necessities (which weren’t always 100% assured), for relationships, large and small, and for help avoiding those things that are troublesome.

Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed by your name.
Your Kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts
As we forgive the debts of others
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

And that’s where the prayer ended.

Now, I want you to think for a moment – think back. Who taught you to pray? Were you ever taught? Was it something you picked up just because you were around other people? Did you never have a chance to pick it up? Have you ever wondered if your prayers are good enough, or even heard by God?

Well, if you’ve ever had a moment of wondering, have I got good news for you.


If you’re praying a prayer out of a book, or one you’ve memorized, or someone else is praying on your behalf, it counts. God hears.

If you’re praying in desperation because you just stubbed your toe, or you’re looking for a parking space you may not get, or because the baby won’t stop crying, it counts. God hears.

If you’re praying and it sound really more like angry shouting in God’s general direction because right now, things are not going well, not at all, it counts. God hears.

If you’re praying in utter silence – an intentional silence that some traditions call meditation – praying in that way where you’re not saying anything at all, but waiting and listening for God, that counts. God knows.

If you’re praying with your hands, making something – a meal, a garment, a table, a work of art, a piece of music, and there are no words, only powerful actions, that counts. God sees.

Praying is just part of this on-going conversation between us and God that we have throughout our lives. But, it needs to start somewhere, and if you’re curious about how to pray in that formal, vocal way, remember this:

Address God as God really is: loving, caring, and just really wonderful.

Pray for what you do, and what you need.

Pray for your relationship with others, knowing that you need to be forgiven, every bit as much as they need forgiving.

Pray to have help in avoiding the things that are too much for you.

Pray for the work Jesus left us to do: this living into the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that is all about justice and peace.

Do that, and you’ll be off to a great start, if you’re not already.


andi said...

You said :"If you’re praying with your hands, making something – a meal, a garment, a table, a work of art, a piece of music, and there are no words, only powerful actions, that counts. God sees."

You are the first person who I have ever run across that has seen the sacredness of creating something with needle and thread. Most people in my experience laugh at those of us who call out stitchery "Our method of prayer" thank you, for see what you see.

Sare said...

Andi - Forgive me for not responding in anything like a quick manner, but me, we are not alone, though certianly the entire world is not overrun by people who acknowledge that creating with your hands or with your mind or with your body is a form of prayer, is sacred.

Really, it comes down, for me, to the point that all we do is sacred. Life is sacred. (And thus we enter a highly debated area, because not all we do is pleasant, nice, pretty, clean, kind, helpful, or healthy. And yet, it's pretty clear to me, that somehow, someway, and boy is it mysterious at times, life is sacred - and please don't think I refer only to the preservation of life as sacred, but in fact all of it, from washing dishes to selling stocks. Certianly making something out of several pieces of string is not only sacred by highly mysterious. Anyone who disagrees might come to a place of illumination merely by trying it.)