Tag Archives: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

I Hope You’re Praying

A Sermon for 28 July 2019 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Luke 11:1-13. I realize this version might sound unlike what we pray each week; but listen for God’s word to us in this reading that tells it a bit differently than the other gospels.

“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.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And Jesus 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

How do you pray?

Do you get up really early in the morning to get a little quiet time with God before all the noise of the day begins? Do you lie in bed at night and tick off a list of loved ones who need God’s help? Moments in the day for which you know you need grace. Cares you want to lay down so you can drift to sleep in peace. Do you pray while you walk – each pound of the pavement a prayer of thanksgiving for the beauty of this world, a shift in your circumstances, the people in your lives for whom you are absolute grateful? Do you steal away to a favorite spot during lunch to leave the mess of your job behind – if even for a few quick minutes? Do you say the same thing every time – or vary it, at least a little? Maybe even reveal greater concerns as you go deeper in your life with God? Do you pray through music? Movement? Or maybe even paint? Allowing the creative impulsive of your body to open up before the Great Creator of it all? Do you pray through the words of Scripture – using the Psalms or prophets? Or do you just turn your heart and mind inward in silence to connect deeply with the God residing within?

In Feasting on the Word, one commentator describes his experience of prayer. He writes: “In Catholic school I learned four reasons to pray: to praise God, to thank God, to ask God’s pardon, and to ask God for what I needed, or even wanted – provided the prayer ended with ‘however, not my will but yours be done,’ like Jesus at Gethsemane. Later, while becoming a member of the Redemptorists, a Roman Catholic religious order,” the commentator writes: “I was taught mental prayer, to meditate and contemplate. . . . More recent voices that influenced my attitude toward prayer,” the commentator continues, “are Thomas Merton, who spoke of prayer as the communion of our freedom with God’s ultimate freedom; and Anne Lamott, who wrote that she has two basic prayers: ‘Thank you, thank you!’ and “Help me, help me, help me” (Feasting on the Word Yr. C, Vol. 3, James A. Wallace, C.SS.R.; p. 287, 289). The commentator’s words bring to mind Lamott’s book: Help! Thanks! Wow! The Three Essential Prayers.

Boy Erased tells the story of one young man’s persistent prayer. “Lord, make me pure,” the boy fearfully would pray every time a thought came that his religious community had taught him was sinfully wrong. Even though the Apostle Peter learned the lesson way back in the first days of the Church, as is recorded in Acts of the Apostles: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15b). Still, “Lord, make me pure,” the boy erased would pray in trepidation when he did things that seemed natural to his body, but he knew were considered perverse to the deacons and elders of his small, deep South church. I’m not sure the major motion picture, released last year, as clearly paints the boy’s fervent, fright-filled prayer as does the biographic memoir written by Garrard Conley, the boy whose parents sent him off for the conversion therapy that today is considered by most not only unethical but entirely unscientific. In fact, while Garrard only endured about 8 days of the brain-washing therapy, at the release of the book nearly fifteen years later; Conley reports he still has been unable to connect with any sort of loving God. The experience of being raised in such a constricting, fundamentalist church then shipped off by those very same people in order to be changed from something God had made him to be has robbed Conley of faith. It’s left him, and so many others who were made to undergo the fear-based therapy, isolated in abiding ways. Garrard’s anxious prayers were persistent. But never answered as he desired; for he got prayer all wrong.

Jesus is clear on that. His disciples want to know how to pray and what does Jesus teach them? We’ll never know why the version told in the gospel of Luke is shorter than the version told in the gospel of Matthew. What we do get from the whole of the gospel of Luke is almost a continuous reminder to pray. To ground our lives in deep communion with God, as does the Jesus portrayed throughout the gospel. What’s more, though Luke’s Lord’s Prayer jumps right from “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come” to the needs we have for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from difficult trials; the gospel of Luke paints the picture of a way to pray that is all about communion with Love. “Father,” Jesus says. “Abba,” in the Greek which is more like addressing God as Daddy. Tender. Dear. As his follow up stories declare, the Presence of constant care that is way better than any example of the most gracious parent who certainly would provide every last need for their cherished child. That’s how to pray, Jesus is teaching – at least as the gospel of Luke presents the Lord’s Prayer. In the attitude of – while using words that underscore our full trust in the God who would do anything for us to know the depths of Love, that is indeed God.

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, tells of a great saint of the church who knew exactly how to pray. If you’re not familiar with Teresa of Ávila, she’d be a great woman of faith to meet. She’s accredited as saying: “The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love” (Wild Mercy, Mirabai Starr; Sounds True, 2019, p. 17). Teresa was born in the early 16th century in Spain, not too long after the Spanish expulsion of Jews and Muslims in 1492. Her own paternal grandparents dared to convert from their ancestral Jewish upbringing to the church-enforced Roman Catholicism that was to be practiced if families wanted to remain in their homeland. These were the early days of the three-hundred-and-fifty-year span of the Spanish Inquisition. When it was discovered Teresa grandparents secretly still clung to the Jewish practice of welcoming the Sabbath, the whole family – including the boy that would grow to be Teresa’s father – was drug through the city every Friday for seven weeks as others spit on them and hurled anti-Semitic insults while church officials forced the whole family to kneel at every Catholic shrine in the city. As a result, Teresa’s father became a staunch Catholic who would never give a shred of suspicion for his own children to undergo such shaming humiliation. Having endured the death of her mother at 12 years of age, Teresa grew into a bit of a wild young woman. At long last, her father sent her away to a convent in hopes the sisters would settle her down, then return her home as a proper civilized woman who’d be ready to marry and begin having babies. To the shock of all, Teresa discovered refuge in the quiet spaciousness of contemplative prayer during the liturgy of the daily offices. She declared to her father she was staying and determined to make her vows among the sisters.

Decades would pass – the routine of monastic life a challenge for Teresa – until one day late in her thirties, Teresa deeply connected in the convent hallway with a statue of Christ. The figure was bound and crowned with thorns. With eyes fixed upon the eyes staring back at her, the floodgate of Teresa’s heart opened. She saw the unconditional love of Christ. The vulnerability. The intimacy. It’s told: Teresa flung herself on the hallway floor and refused to get up until promised that Christ “would never let her forget how deeply she loved him” (Ibid., p. 20). Thus began Teresa’s profound union with God. What she went on to describe as the highest form of prayer. “’The Prayer of Quiet,’ in which the soul simply rests in the presence of the Friend and any trace of separation between them evaporates” (Ibid., pp. 23-24). Isn’t it beautiful? For Teresa, God had become the Beloved. Her own soul the lover.

Teresa’s way of prayer seems like what Jesus was teaching in his prayer. That we enter into communion with the tender Parent whose name even deserves praise. Whose reign of Love we long for most. Who we can trust fully to provide all we need: food for our bodies. Nourishment for our souls. Forgiveness for our failings. Deliverance in times of our deepest distress. Dropping any need for moralizing our own and others behavior, we’re reminded. Whether we have the proper words to define God and God’s demanding Way. Jesus teaches us to pray simply, as Teresa does. By stepping into the arms of the Beloved to allow the intimacy discovered there to inspire us “to harvest the fruits of love and feed the hungry world” (Ibid., p. 24).

No matter the manner in which we do it, I hope each and every one of us prays like that. Steeped in communion with God, the Lover of our soul; the Divine Parent waiting to hear us all.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2019 (All rights reserved.)

“When You Pray”

A Sermon for 24 July 2016

A reading from the gospel of Luke 11:1-13. Listen for God’s word to us.

“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 Spirt to those who ask him!”  (N.R.S.V.)

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

How many times in your lifetime have you prayed? I’m not just talking about the times you rotely raced through The Lord’s Prayer, or did you best to stay awake in corporate worship during the pastor’s impassioned but a bit too long Prayers of the People. From the time you were birthed into this world, through your growing years, until today: how often have you prayed?

If we were going to begin to figure out how to compute that equation, then we might first want to know what counts. What defines prayer? Do we have to be on our knees pouring out our hearts to God? What about the sudden thought that comes to us when we’re sitting in traffic or are in the bathroom taking a shower: You know, those times we may even out loud say: “O! I really hope so and so is doing ok. I know they’ve been having a tough time since their mother died.” What about the elation that arises from a phone call delivering very good news: a beloved friend is flying into town. Your son’s okay even though his car was totaled. The test came back negative. Does it count as prayer to be in the silence of the forest walking instep to the beat of your own heart as every cell inside seems at one with it all? . . . I’m not sure which amazing saint said it, but a wise pastor told it to me many years ago when I was struggling with prayer. She said: “If the only prayer you every say is thank you; that would be enough.” Standing on the side of a mountain, or at the shore of the ocean, if thank you arises in your soul; it is the most honesty, most authentic, most appreciated prayer of thanksgiving to the great Creator of the universe. Author and sage Anne Lamott even has a down-to-earth book on prayer entitled: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Think about it: “Help, God! Thank you! And oh wow! That was amazing!” What more really needs to be said as we walk through the days of our lives?

Prayer was the foundation of Jesus’ life. The gospel of Luke records that he’s off again, praying in a certain place. After he finishes, a follower asks, “Lord, will you teach us too?” They knew that John the Baptist instructed his own. So Jesus’ followers want to know how he would have them pray. The question’s nothing new. Rabbis frequently tutored pupils in prayer. Ancient Judaism included model petitions. Parts of everyday were set aside for the repetition of the prayers one’s rabbi taught. In some ways, it was known that those who prayed thus belonged to rabbi x. And those saying this obviously sat with rabbi y. Kinda like diplomas today telling us something of one’s educational background, thereby possible intellectual insights. While we’re not privy to the lessons with which John the Baptist or any other rabbi responded, the gospel of Luke gladly gives us Prayer 101 according to Jesus who is called the Messiah.

“When you pray,” orders Jesus, “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” (Luke 11:2-4). Short. Sweet. To the point. We repeat nearly the same each Sunday – whether or not we’re attuned to what we say. We can mindlessly race right through it; but Jesus didn’t want us just to say the words. He wanted those belonging to him to use his words to know the One to whom we pray; and to know how to act according to God’s very will. He wanted the words – the meaning of what we’re praying – to shape us. To show we are his disciples. Students of this rabbi.

It’s clear from his prayer it’s an intimate connection of care with the God he here calls Abba, Daddy – though most translations use the more formal word Father. If you’re going to pray like Jesus – if we’re going to follow the lessons of this rabbi – then we have to know how deeply God cherishes us. Jesus says: “what father among you would ignore the pleas of his child in need?” If you’ve raised children, you’ve been there. It’s the middle of the night and the house sits all in silence. You’re fast asleep until a little yelp escapes somewhere near your face. Your eyes pop open to see your child with that quivering lip and cheeks wet with big, round, streaming tears. Whether it was a nightmare, a thunder clap, or an ache or pain somewhere. Are you really going to turn over on the other shoulder and tell them to get lost? God never would! Jesus wants us to know that even in the darkest night of our lives, our Loving Parent will listen. Will wrap us in arms of tender care and hold us until we can see the light of day again. “Abba, Daddy!” he teaches. Hallowed is your name!”

Praise, honor, glory goes unto the God to whom we pray. So incredible, so holy is this Supreme Being. . . . When first Jesus tells us to turn to petition God, it is God’s kingdom for which we are to pray. One of Jesus’ greatest teaching is that in him, it’s begun. He is the embodiment of God’s kingdom – the way of love and joy and peace, of kindness and generosity and unity. Justice – just enough for us all; which means getting and giving. Some letting go so others can gain. Those are the words Jesus taught us to pray so that all might know his followers live and die for the full expression of that kind of kingdom.

He goes on to teach us to ask for daily bread. I wonder if we remember when we race through The Lord’s Prayer that this petition for our daily bread grounds us in two ancient truths about God. First, the petition is plural. So that it might be better to pray: “Give us – O God, ALL of us – our daily bread.” The way of God is not some sort of individual path. Our own needs are not more important to God than the needs of every other creature in the human family. Jesus teaches us to ask not for ourselves alone but for us all – give us our daily bread, O God! Second, with this petition, Jesus grounds us in the great providence shown by God to our faith ancestors. Daily bread is nothing new. Forty years God’s people were provided manna daily in the wilderness. Everybody got a share. None was saved up for tomorrow because it’d only rot. When no other food could be found around, God made the miracle each morning. Communicating loud and clear to them and to all who remember that a good, loving God not only cares, but also acts for us all. In our plea for our daily bread, we call upon a loving God to make a way for us all to have enough.

Admittedly, a whole lot of us have been a bit tripped up on what he commands next. “Forgive us our sins,” Jesus teaches us to pray, “for we ourselves forgive those indebted to us.” Now, it might be helpful to know the system under which Jesus’ first followers lived. Society set up a sort of enslavement. If one did another a favor, the other was expected to repay. So if, as a courtesy, you milked your neighbor’s cow one day; then he would owe you at least one favor in return. The whole structure was: I do for them because they will do for me. Jesus attempts to break that cycle. Through his prayer, he teaches forgiveness of such debts. He’s talking about living a different kind of life where one freely gives whatever: forgiveness, favors, food – freely, no strings attached. No expectations earned. And these words of the prayer are present, active tense: we ourselves are forgiving. In other words, we are praying that we are living counter to the system by simply doing for doing’s sake. We trust God to be as well. We cannot work to get God’s forgiveness. No one can. “So please God,” we pray, “forgive without restraint; for each day we seek to be likewise.”

Finally, at least according to the gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches: “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” We know life overflows with testing. Everywhere we turn we have the choice to walk in God’s ways. To live faithful to who we are as God’s children – or not. Once again we can look to the great trials of our ancestors in the faith. Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son. When the Israelites finally settled in Promised Land, it would be a daily test to see if prosperity would pervert them. Job was told to take the easier path: to curse God and die. Even Jesus. After forty days of fasting, he was tempted in the wilderness; then again one agonizing evening in Gethsemane. We beg to be spared if not from – then at least through those terrible moments when you and I might go astray; wandering from the ways of God.

The gospel of Luke’s record of The Lord’s Prayer is not long. But it’s loaded. Loaded with words to shape our love of God and our lives in this world. It’s the lesson on prayer taught by Rabbi Jesus, who wants his followers to be in deep communion with the God who loves more than we ever can know. . . . The next time you say it, don’t just put your mind on cruise control to thoughtlessly race right through. Ponder the prayer our Lord taught. Know its meaning. Let it shape your living each day.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)