Lamentations 3:22-29, Luke 11:1-11
Jesus has just finished praying when his disciples ask him to teach them how to pray. I hope you caught that. These people that Jesus has called to be salt for the earth, to be fishers of people, to be the first followers, the ones who would start the church so that we could be here today, these are the people who are asking Jesus "how do we pray?" I find a lot of comfort in that question. It immediately dispels the myth that this comes easy for some people. While I believe that all of us are born with a desire to communicate with God, or as Gerald May, the psychiatrist says, "I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God," (Addiction and Grace), prayer takes practice. So the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. This pray that Jesus gives them, however, isn't so different from other prayers taught by other rabbis in that time. Maybe not even so different than prayers they would've grown up saying in their homes-- prayers from other parts of the Bible. But there's something different about the circumstance; and the difference, I think, is probably two-fold. First, Jesus most likely prayed as he lived-- with authority. That's what people are always saying throughout Scripture, anyway, that Jesus teaches with authority; does miracles with authority; talks with authority. There's something about Jesus that makes people stop in awe because he is so centered in who he is as God's child, that everything he does seems to come straight from God. It is not a stretch, then, to imagine that he probably prayed with authority too-- he prayed differently than anyone else they had heard and they want to learn how to do that. And the second reason I think the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, is because they have a relationship with Jesus. What better way to learn something, than from someone you have a deep and abiding relationship with-- someone you trust.
So Jesus teaches them this simple prayer: Father, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Short and simple, but very revealing. Jesus' prayer gives us an image of who God is. Jesus begins, of course, with the word Father; Abba; Daddy. Now whether this image of God is helpful for you or not-- and it's not for a lot of people-- it is worth exploring in our lives of faith what Jesus meant by this term. He wasn't using it as a title; he was using it to show relationship. God is a father figure to Jesus-- they have a close relationship, to say the least. In the Gospel of John Jesus says that he wants his followers to be one with God as he is one with God. And so here is where we first see that closeness and the desire Jesus has for his disciples to be that close to God-- for us to be that close to God. He doesn't say, well this is what I call God but you have to use something else. He is teaching all of us that we are God's children. So maybe Father doesn't work for you. To be perfectly honest, it's not the way I choose to pray in my own life. But pick a way of addressing God that reminds you time and time again that God loves you. That's the point. It's about relationship. Call God Mother if it's meaningful to you. Call God Love as the author of 1John does. Call God beloved or Sophia or Master or Holy One or Prince of Peace or Lord as we see in many other places in the Bible. Imagine God as a woman, or a shepherd, a King, or a hen protecting her chicks as Jesus does. These are all images of God that come from the Bible. Whatever you say when you pray, remember that the words you choose matter because how you relate to God and how you understand yourself in relationship to God forms who you are. And Jesus very much wanted his disciples to know that they were loved by God and also obedient to God.
But it's not just the term Father that gives us an image of the God Jesus prayed to. For then Jesus tells them what to pray for. Jesus tells them to pray for big things they will never see fully in their lifetime-- God's Kingdom here on earth; and Jesus tells them to pray for their daily needs-- for bread to eat. Jesus is both bold in asking for things only God can do and Jesus is specific-- asking for food; justice; forgiveness; mercy. He speaks with authority, knowing that these are all of the things that God wants for us as well. This is not a punitive Father or a manipulative, power hungry God that we must appease in prayer. Jesus shows us that God's desire is for all of the things that benefit us and our neighbor-- for God's love to reign on earth; for there to be bread for all, not just some; for us to not only be forgiven, but to practice forgiveness; for the trials of this earth to be short. This is a communal prayer-- when we pray the Lord's Prayer as Jesus taught us, we are not only praying for ourselves. We are praying for our world. This is not a tribal God, out to make sure only a few make it to the top. This is a God with love for all who asks us to participate in loving and forgiving others too. There is a relationship between us and God and between us and our neighbor and between God and our neighbor. And when we pray, we are nurturing all of those relationships. If our image of God excludes our neighbor, than we need to rethink how we imagine God. If our image of God excludes ourselves-- thinking that we are not worthy-- than we need to rethink our image of God. If our image of God excludes God-- relying on ourselves more than on the One who created us-- than we need to rethink our image of God. Prayer is recognizing that there is something greater than ourselves at work in this world; that there is love that surrounds all of us; that we are invited to participate in that love; and that we can work to share that love while also asking God to do things we cannot do.
Last Wednesday night a group of about 35 people from our church-- key leaders, staff, and many others of you, met together with Bob Rudebusch to learn more about the Missional Consultation Initiative that we are in the middle of and to get ready for our MCCI Weekend. Among other things, Pastor Bob talked about how prayer has begun to move his congregation. Bob pastors First UMC in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They began the MCCI process about three years ago, praying for the Holy Spirit to help them reach the kids in their neighborhood. One of the five prescriptions that came out of the MCCI Weekend was for the church to focus on how to reach out to those kids and they began to work with a coach on how to do exactly that. Fueled by prayer, given some guidance, and open to the Holy Spirit, this year Bob's congregation began to see amazing things happen. In a church that had about 15 people coming to youth group on a Wednesday night, all of a sudden they have 30-45 kids from the neighborhood showing up to eat with them and stay for youth group. They realized that while they were praying for this to happen, they hadn't planned for it to happen and now they are scrambling to find adult volunteers, translators for those who don't speak English, and more people to help make the meal. But he said it's amazing because it doesn't feel like extra work. When you've been praying for something that long and things begin to change, excitement builds and peoples' lives are transformed. It looks completely different than they probably would've said they expected, but there's one thing for sure-- the Spirit is moving! And since they have been steeped in prayer, they are ready in spirit even though they aren't ready with all of the details!
As a church it is so immensely important that we pray for all that God can do with this community so that when the Spirit moves, we are ready and willing to engage with the Spirit of God! Prayer is like the food we eat as a church. We can be a community of people that limps along without prayer, but that means we will always be hungry. And we all know what happens when we get hungry-- we get hangry; crabby, tired, and run down. We begin to think only of ourselves and keeping what we have. But when we are steeped in prayer-- when we pray consistently so that we are well fed by the gifts God wants to give us-- then we are open to where God is calling us; we can look out for others; we can care that others in our community are hungry too and figure out how to share God's bread with them; we can be centered in who we are-- asking God for things we cannot do, and doing the things God is asking of us.
Jesus says, "Ask. Seek. Knock." And he doesn't mean once. It's a continual action. Just as God's grace to us is a continual action. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. For when we are in a continuous prayer relationship with God, we will be able to see God's miraculous works around us; we will be aligned with God's vision for us; and God's power will be unleashed through us.
Poet Mary Webb once said, "The well of God's providence is deep; it's the buckets that we bring to it that are small.” How big is the bucket you have been taking to God's well? What is keeping you from filling up your bucket with God's loving Spirit? Imagine what will happen when we feast at God’s table so that we are able to look beyond ourselves and be in community with the whole world. Imagine what the Spirit will be able to do when we trust in God to make a difference and pray for the ways we can do our part!
MinistryMatters.com Barclay, William. The Gospel of Luke Breakthrough Prayer Initiative Wksp with Sue Nilson Kibbey Craddock, Fred. Interpretation’s Commentary on Luke