Sermon: TEACH US TO PRAY
Text: Luke 11:1-13. Year C 17th Sunday of the Year (Proper 12) July 25, 2010
...He said to them, “When you pray, say…”
Today we focus on Jesus answer to the disciple’s request that he teach them how to pray. It was obvious Jesus was deeply connected to the Divine. How could they go about that?
A businessman who needed millions of dollars to clinch an important deal went to church to pray for the money. By chance he knelt next to a man who was praying for $100 to pay an urgent debt. The businessman took out his wallet and pressed $100 into the other man’s hand. Overjoyed, the man got up and left the church. The businessman then closed his eyes and prayed, “And now, Lord, now that I have your undivided attention….”
We are going to pray the prayer Jesus taught, but over the course of the whole worship service. We begin where the prayer does with praise.
WORSHIP THROUGH PRAISE: Hymns and acts of adoration
We start both proper worship and proper prayer with focus on God and on who God is. This is not just for form’s sake. Who we think God is will affect how we go about talking to God.
Notice there are two affirmations about God here in the first line of Jesus’ prayer. The first one speaks to God’s love for each of us. Some object “God does not have a gender. Why say ‘Father’?” Gender is not the issue here. Jesus uses the term “father” to indicate the kind of accessibility and loving attention God has for each of us. What is at stake is not maleness over femaleness but whether we matter to God.
In the parable Jesus gives to explain and expand on this prayer he contrasts God with a neighbor who doesn’t want to be bothered in the middle of the night with a hospitality crisis. Unlike the reluctant neighbor, God does not stint on response. “Ask , search, knock—and you will receive, will find, and it will be opened unto you.” The closeness of God does not diminish the transcendence of God. God is lovingly attentive like a parent and we matter ultimately to God in the same way that our child matters to us.
Yet this same God is holy and awesome. In the same breath we approach God as intimate and as mysterious and mighty. Isaiah (Is. 6) sees God “high and lifted up” John sees God on the throne (Rev. 4). We start our prayer and we start our worship at no other place that consciousness/remembering/lifting up our hearts to the God is who above all that we are, all that we encounter, all that we will ever face, all of time and history, a God above all our knowing, explaining, or understanding. And yet this God is intimate, loving, and attentive to us individually. The Infinity of God is not simply that he is greater than all but that he is able to be within the smallest of the small, watching over the bird that falls and taking personally what happens to “the least of these.” Father and holy. “Father, hallowed be your name.”
We start our prayer with an awareness of God. and so we pray,
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
WORSHIP THROUGH DEDICATION: Offertory SUBMISSION:
Your kingdom come.
Before we pray for what we want to come true, the Lord’s prayer teaches us to seek what God wants. The prayer invites us to meditate on this question first: “What does the Lord want to happen in me, in the world, in the church, in our family? What does the Lord require? What does God want me to do?” Even before we have all the answers to those questions, we surrender ourselves to them.
Whatever we want for ourselves must be filtered through this desire that first and above all we want God’s will to be done and his glory to be manifest on earth as it is in heaven. To really mean this prayer means that we pledge our lives to advancing God’s rule.
So often when we pray our dedication of the tithes and offerings we give we ask that God use the money to further God’s work in this world through this church and through the ministries we partner in. When the plates are brought back to the front, we stand as we are singing the doxology. We do this as a way of saying we want to offer not only our money but our lives in praise to God for the advancement of God’s rule. We surrender ourselves to God.
And so we pray,
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
WORSHIP THROUGH PRAYER PETITION
Notice that the Lord teaches us to pray as a part of a “We.” We are not bid to pray for “me” and “mine” but for “us” and “our.” As Luther rightly said “bread” includes all that sustains our creaturely existence. (Luther’s short catechism) The Lord’s prayer does not overlook the fact that we are living bodies with very basic physical needs. The psalmist (Ps 103.14) says “God remembers our frame that we are dust.” and again (Ps 104. 27) “The eyes of all wait upon Thee, oh Lord, and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” Jesus bids us pray for our most basic needs and for the needs of all our brothers and sisters. So we now we pray for the hungry and the oppressed, the sick and grieving, and all caught up in the everyday necessities of existence that we all – the entire human family__ will receive what we need to live, to keep going.
Let us beseech the Lord for all the needs of our life and our world and so we pray,
Give us each day our daily bread.
WORSHIP THROUGH CONFESSION
Acknowledging our sins and asking to be released,forgiven/letting go of the sins others have done us: Why does this concern come so late in the prayer?
I think that by this order Jesus may be showing us that being focused on our sin and failure ought not to be the first focus of our relation to God any more than our needs and wants. Sin is not where we need to start. We really need to be focused first on God’s greatness and love, not how bad we are. We need to pray first to do his will and only later to deal with our disobedience.
Somehow when you start out with sin you never get beyond it. Everything else revolves around “THE PROBLEM.” Sometimes we don’t seem to want to let go of sin, as if it were our identity. We persist in thinking that we have to feel bad first to feel good about our relation with God. That is not the gospel.
All the same, sin is real, and we do need to bring sin to God in prayer—so that we can, by God’s grace, get beyond it. But as with needs, so our sin is never just our private problem. We ask for forgiveness not only of our individual contributions to the brokenness of the world, but for our part in the large human community’s sin. Breaches in our community, betrayals of our promise to God or others (or to ourselves!) must be addressed or they will be a tumor sucking all the power out of our spirit, destroying cooperation with others, replacing love with anger, peace with despair. We have to know we are forgiven or we will sink beneath our failures. And we have to forgive to or be dragged down by resentment.
I invite you to confess your sin to God in a time of silence.
[Silence for prayers of confession. ]
Let us lift up our repentance and confessions to God. And so we pray,
Forgive us our sins...
WORSHIP THROUGH SIGNS OF RECONCILIATION: Passing the Peace
Passing the peace is not simply a break in the service to “high five” one another and complement others on their outfit, nor even to pin down visitors. The leader announces that God gives peace and then we in turn as receivers of the Peace of Christ become dispensers, sharers of the peace we have from God.
In the early church and among the first Baptists the order of reconciliation was a vital part of worship. Jesus said if you remember something that your brother or sister has against you leave your offering and go immediately to that person and make things right between them and yourself. Or as Paul instructs us in I Corinthians(11.29) if someone partakes of the Lord’s supper without perceiving the body of Christ they eat and drink to their damnation. Not to perceive those gathered with us to worship as part of the same body, serving the same Lord, is to miss communion with the Lord who is present in our midst. Paul said come to the table only after you have healed the breaches with your family and friends and neighbors “as far as it depends on you.”(Romans 12.18).
This part in our prayer is focused not so much on our sin as on overcoming sin through forgiveness and the discipline of reconciliation. To seek God’s grace is bound up with submitting our hearts to giving grace. We cannot be at peace with God if we are unwilling to be at peace is in our hearts toward each other. And so when we pray “forgive us our sins,” we also pray,
…. for we ourselves forgive everyone is indebted to us.
“The peace of Christ be with you.” “And also with you.”
Greet one another in the peace of Christ
WORSHIP THROUGH SEEKING PROTECTION/DELIVERANCE:
“And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Even when we think everything is where it should be between us and the Lord and between us and our brothers and sisters.
Even when we think that we are set and nothing can shake us, we ought not to rely on self confidence but acknowledge that we have our limits and ask God to hold us when we lose our grip.
Trials/testings may be wrestling with addiction, depression, anger and bitterness. They could be sickness and doubt. They could be losing hope about the meaning of life or despair over children.
When we leave worship we may have great commitment to be disciples, but the assaults can come upon us as suddenly as a hurricane or as slowly and inexorably as a climate change. We may have little control over the circumstances under which we live out our faith.
This part of the prayer is about what might yet happen to us that could sink our spiritual boat, shake our faith in a loving God, abduct us spiritually emotionally or physically. “Lord there are things I am not sure I can handle. Will you help me through my troubles so I won’t stop believing and trusting you? Don’t let me get beyond my depth.”
And so we pray,
And lead us not into temptation.
The early church added a doxology when it prayed the Lord’s prayer. It already appears in the Matthean verison: “For thine is the power, glory and the honor forever.”
Good instinct! To end worship and prayer the same as we begin: praising God and intentionally lifting our lives in submission to God. For it is God’s rule we seek and acknowledge–not ours, God’s power and glory– not ours, that we want to celebrate forever. Therefore let us pray the Lord’s prayer as we usually do and end our service and the prayer giving all glory to God.
[Singing the Lord’s Prayer]