Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sermon; Pentecost 10/Proper 12C; Luke 11:1-13

According to Luis of Granada, an influential spiritual author and guide of the 1500's, “Prayer, properly speaking, is a petition to God for the things which pertain to our salvation; but is also any raising of the heart to God.”

It's clear from his point of view that prayer is not the coin which you drop into the heavenly vending machine and get your reward.  Prayer is how we develop a relationship with, and deepen our understanding of, God.  Prayer takes discipline.  Prayer takes reflection.  Prayer takes listening.

There are, of course, many ways to pray.  We have the Rite I way:  Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.  Amen.

We have Anne Lamott's understanding that prayer is essentially three words . . . Help, Thanks, Wow.

And we have everything in-between.

So with all these forms available, and a variety of styles (is kneeling required, do we have to bow our heads, can we stand, are ecstatic utterances acceptable, does God actually listen to weejus prayers, and more), how are we to pray?

Every clergy person in every denomination in every faith tradition at one time or another has been asked, “How do I pray?”  This is akin to asking the dentist, “What type of floss should I use?”  Or asking a doctor, “What kind of exercise is best?”  The answer to both of those question is, “The kind that you will actually use or do.”  The answer to, “How do I pray?” is, “You pray.”  But, like I said two weeks ago, we have a habit of turning the simple into the complicated.  So people want to know exactly how to pray, as did Jesus' disciples.

“Teach us to pray like John taught his disciples,” they ask.  Jesus responds with what has become known as the Lord's Prayer.  You probably noticed some differences between the version heard today and the one you're familiar with.  And that's okay, because I’m not going to be talking about those differences today.  Instead, I’m simply going to reflect on the prayer as Luke gives it to us.  Hopefully you will find something useful and thoughtful.

Father, hallowed be your name.  Hallowed means to venerate and/or treat as sacred.  On the one hand it's easy for us to treat God's name as holy and sacred, and to venerate that name; we do it every Sunday.  But there's more to it than that.

The catechism says that God lovingly created the universe, sustains and directs it, and that it is good.  In fact, all of creation was deemed very good.  The name of God, the image of God, is in all things.  If we claim to venerate and treat as sacred the name of God, then we must also venerate and treat as sacred all that is around us.  We can start by not demonizing others, by learning to see the face of Christ in all people, and by respecting all of creation as bearing the image of God.

Your kingdom come.  What does this kingdom look like?  For starters, it is not based on our ideas of power and domination.  Psalm 33 has a good image of the kingdom of God and how it differs from our ideas of a kingdom:  “There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army . . . the horse is a vain hope for deliverance.”

In Christ on Trial, Rowan Williams puts forth the idea that the kingdom of God is something totally foreign to our way of thinking.  The kingdom of God looks at the world from the point of view of the helpless, the outcast, the powerless, the victim.  Viewing the world in this way, he says, frees us from the need to secure our own power.  The kingdom of God is present in the voiceless and powerless, in the outcasts and the leftovers.  The kingdom of God leaves no one out.  When we pray this prayer, is this the kingdom we are expecting and hoping for?

Give us each day our daily bread.  On its surface this could be taken as a petition to ensure we get our daily nourishment – both physical and spiritual.  And that is certainly a valid petition and a valid understanding of this line.  But for almost every person in this congregation that is not really a concern.

What if we were to look at this petition in light of the previous one – your kingdom come?  What if we looked at this petition as a fulfillment of the kingdom of God?  Looking at the petition in this way allows us to see a kingdom of no outcasts, a kingdom in which we have no need of securing our own power, a kingdom where we, by our understanding and actions, work to ensure that those whom society dubs as outcasts receive their daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  There's too much here to unpack in one sermon, so let me make just one observation.  Notice that this line is not a mandate from God to us.  This isn't God saying, “Love others because I first loved you.”  This line has a “from us to God” movement.  We are praying that God forgive us – because we forgive others.  In short, if we do not forgive, then we cannot be forgiven.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.  Traditionally this has been interpreted as asking for us to be spared the final trial and judgment at the end of days.  But Sharon Ringe writes, “The petition may have been intended as a prayer that the community be spared the accusations and trials before various secular and religious authorities.”

Going back to Christ on Trial, Rowan Williams argues that Christ was tried and executed for, among other things, his refusal to play by the rules of worldly calculations, tactics, and power.  This refusal by Jesus to play the game, his insistence on silence and other-worldliness, results in his trial and execution.  What would happen if we also refused to play the game according to the world's rules?  What would happen if we focused on God's silence and other-worldliness?  Could not we face the same trials as Jesus?  Could this be the time of trial we are praying to be saved from?

Prayer is an exercise in discipline – just do it.  Prayer is a petition to God regarding the things of salvation.  Prayer takes many forms.  But prayer also involves a fair amount of listening.

So when you pray, pray like this.  But spend time listening to what you are really asking of God.  And spend time on listening to what God is asking of you.



spookyrach | 12:37 PM, August 04, 2016  

Lots of good stuff in here! One of my favorites is that prayer is not coinage for the heavenly vending machine. I'm going to steal that for use in the well worn lecture I use at work on how "God is not your fairy godmother."

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