The Pas 10th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 17
Proper 12 – Ordinary/Lectionary 17 – Pentecost + 10
24 July 2016
Lord of heaven and earth,
as Jesus taught the disciples to be persistent in prayer,
give us patience and courage never to lose hope,
but always to bring our prayers before you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today, Jesus teaches us how to pray.
Now, we’re all familiar with prayer, right? We teach our children: “Now I lay me down to sleep, a bag of peanuts at my feet. If I should die before I wake please give them to my brother Jake.” Or perhaps some variation on this prayer, where we pray for ourselves, our families, our pets, our friends?
We teach our children a grace to say at table. In fact, prayer is a common part of our time together as the body of Christ, as the people of Christ Church.
But although it’s a common skill, a common part of our lives, as Christians, it’s not a skill with which we are overly comfortable or confident. It’s not a skill where we’d rather someone else begin the prayers we offer, we share, we desire instead of having the confidence Jesus talks about in approaching God ourselves, persistently, and for the good of our lives, and the life of all of creation.
But today, Jesus teaches us this invaluable skill because we ask him to teach us to pray. Not only that, but Jesus teaches us the rewards of perseverance in our lives in prayer, as well.
At the same time, it’s interesting how today’s gospel passage starts. “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” (Lk 11:1)
What I wonder is what were the disciples doing while Jesus was praying?
It would seem that, at least the inquisitive ones were observing and wondering what Jesus was doing, what he was saying when he prayed. I know artists throughout the centuries have given us their thoughts on the matter, especially in regards to Jesus’ prayers in the garden of Gethsemane, the night he was betrayed setting him firmly on the road to the cross.
But, today, we are far from that cross. Today the disciples have watched Jesus go apart to pray, to communicate with God, to centre himself for the work for the day, or all of the above.
Throughout Christian history, prayer has been a much-promoted aspect of our lives as the Children of God. From the Desert Fathers and Mothers who went apart from society to pray and to focus on God in the beginning days of Christianity; to the Monastic orders that sprang up throughout Europe to be centres for prayer and to focus on God, each following in the tracks and models of their founders who thought the world too secular.
Even today, it seems, people still feel that they need someone who is ‘trained in prayer,’ in pastoral methods to intervene between God’s people and God.
But despite this oft used method of getting someone to pray for us, to pray on our behalf, this isn’t what Jesus is teaching us today.
Today, what we see, what we hear, what we experience is prayer. It’s a prayer that is familiar to us. We discover, in these words, in Jesus teaching, a prayer that applies to us as individuals, as families, as community, as a nation, as representatives of all of creation.
Today we experience, for the first time, in Jesus’ words, the heart of the Lord’s Prayer. “He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Lk 11:2-4)
And here it is! At the heart of the prayer we sing, every week. The prayer we proclaim in public spaces, the prayer we strive to live out every day, we find it in Jesus’ own words: the prayer we are encouraged to pray to talk to God.
We’re encouraged to pray with and for those who are in need of direction, advice, support, love, encouragement, or anything else that doesn’t come to mind.
We’re encouraged to allow prayer to be ‘our go to’ method of dealing with the joys, problems, wrinkles in our existence, and international concerns. We’re encouraged to turn to God, in prayer, for our own lives, for the lives of those around us, for the wellbeing of the world in which we live.
Luther once said that he would begin each day with one hour of scripture reading and prayer. He also said that when he knew he was going to have an exceptionally difficult day, then he would spend two hours in study of scripture and prayer. Well, today, Jesus teaches us how to pray, how to call upon God our heavenly Father for all of the needs of our lives, of our existence.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the only words God will listen to from us; but these words these sentiments cover our day to day needs, as well as our day to day basic expression of our faith.
These are the words that God gives us to guide our lives, to remind us that we are an integral part of God’s creation. “He said to [us], ‘when you pray, say Father hallowed be your name.’” (Lk 11:2)
And in this prayer to our Heavenly Father, we honour God and wish for the in breaking of God’s kingdom amongst us. We pray for food and for our human needs to be met, we pray for forgiveness of sins, and alleviation of temptation.
But as much as we pray for all of this for ourselves, we also pray for all of this for all of humanity. Just looking at the language that Jesus gives to us – us, not me, we, not I – language that is collective, yet at the same time can be insular; it can be for one person as well as the whole community, as well as the whole world.
And this is important. It’s important because Jesus also encourages us to be persistent in our prayers. The example he gives is the noisy and annoying friend who has a need. And Jesus tells us the friends need will be met not because he asks, but because he’s persistent in his asking.
When we pray, don’t just pray the once and if no answer comes then God isn’t listening, rather pray over and over again knowing that God is listening but also wants to know how important this issue is for us, for our lives, and for the care of God’s creation.
When we pray, we pray not only for ourselves, our needs, but we also pray for the wellbeing of those in our lives, on our hearts, and those for whom we pray around the world.
The worldwide Benedictine Order claims to pray for the world constantly and without ceasing. They pray for all of creation, they pray for the environment, they pray for each one of us, whether we know it or not, because we, too, are a part of creation.
We, at Christ church also have a reputation for prayer; we have a reputation for the concerns of the community, of the world outside of ourselves and our lives. When we do that, when we pray for the world, for the care of creation, for the wellbeing of others whom we may or may not know, it’s then that God’s name is invoked, in our hearts, in our prayers, in our concern for those whom we may not even know.
Jesus gives us the example of a man standing in the darkness, pounding unceasingly on a door in the middle of the night asking for bread. Jesus points out to us that it is our persistence with the gaining of bread that is like the persistence we need to bring to our lives of prayer.
He tells us this because it’s when we are persistent, when we are passionate about the reason of our prayer, then our prayers, our concerns, our needs are answered, and what is good for us, for those for whom we pray, for all of creation is met, is granted, is given by God. When we bring our passion to bear on these issues its then that God knows we’re not just praying because a prayer is asked for, commanded, a part of our day, but rather this is something that affects us, affects our lives, our families, our communities deeply. This is something that God can and will respond to with love and grace and an answer.
I can ask God for a unicorn pony, but I’m not necessarily going to get it, mostly because I have no need in my life for a unicorn pony. At the same time, I can and do pray for the wellbeing of all who call Christ Church home, that we find the answers to our questions, direction for our lives, that those who call Christ Church home but never are seen here feel the call of the spirit to come home and to find their lives fulfilled amongst us.
Jesus acknowledges that this prayer covers all of the basic needs of our lives, from honouring God to food, clothing, and housing, to the human tendency to sin, and how much we don’t like it to the temptations that lead us away from God. And the best part is that we don’t need those trained in pastoral counselling to pray this on our behalf. Rather we are encouraged to make this prayer a part of our daily regimen, part of our daily life of prayer.
We acknowledge that we need prayer, every day, every night, every time we gather and hear the concerns and needs of our neighbours. I pray, every day, that we have the courage to offer our prayers to God, with persistence, with the passion of the need we find, we meet in the world around us.
Jesus says “If you, then … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13)