Monday, July 29, 2013

Let Us Pray

Luke 11: 1-13

This week we are back to Jesus once again.  That is, we departed the Gospel lectionary by way of Elijah the prophet but have now found ourselves back on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus and his followers.   And his followers are inquisitive and yearning to learn to pray just like the followers of John whom he taught to pray.

Hear now the Gospel of Luke at the eleventh chapter. 

He 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 Spirit to those who ask him!”  Amen.

Jesus teaches the disciples to pray and then with his follow up examples he asks them to trust that God will not let them down, or disappoint them, he asks them to trust that God is ever present and loving like a parent who will go out of his or her way to be in relationship with her child and who knows and anticipates her every human need.
The Church of the Pater Noster, or the Lord’s Prayer, is an open air basilica in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives that commemorates the place where it is thought that Jesus taught his disciples to pray.  Designated in the 4th century CE by the Emperor Constantine under the direction of his mother Helena it has been a venerated sight for all these many years. 

Now whether it really WAS the site where Jesus uttered the Lord’s Prayer first, that’s an unknown for so many places were designated by Helena as the ‘official’ site almost, it seems, on her whim.  But that doesn’t matter because what I learned and witnessed when I lived there was that it was and is the pilgrims who visit these sites and offer their deepest prayers and souls that make a place sacred and holy, that make the place a place where you can visualize Jesus.  Such is the Church of the Pater Noster.

What also makes this such an extraordinary place is that there are  over 100 different plaques of Palestinian tile with the Lord’s Prayer each recorded in a different language.  There is even an English Braille plaque. 

You see the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that all Christians hold in common from a myriad of backgrounds and paths.  It unifies us on the most basic level acknowledging that we all need, we all hurt, we all harm, we all are in need of forgiveness.  It acknowledges that when we talk with God we yearn to relate to God as a parent or at the very least one who cares profoundly, who listens, who forgives and provides, and who protects us.  You see we are diverse as the birds of the air and yet hold in common some of humanities deepest desires and needs.

It is no accident that when in a nursing home and the most despondent or mentally challenged, or perhaps someone who has suffered a stroke, when they hear the words, ‘Our Father’ they can conjure up from deep within them the rest of this prayer enough to pray it out loud slowly and intentionally.  It is written within the human Christian heart and soul.  It is our common love song to God.

This passage that acknowledges our commonalities teaches us about living and relationship. We are connected through this prayer of life, you and the person next to you, the one in the pew in back of you, the homebound person, the hospitalized, the youth off at a workcamp, even the one who might disagree with you.  The Lord’s Prayer binds us together to acknowledge that, we are all in the same boat!  It is a intensely human kind of prayer. [i] 

Although remembering that God is not a vending machine where you put in your quarter and out comes whatever you asked for,  remembering that God is not a fortune teller where you pay your fee and you receive a fortune and see into the future you can truly free yourself for a greater and a more profound relationship with God and a richer prayer life that brings inner healing. 

I don’t believe that prayer is about asking and receiving, it is so much more.  It is about living into an ongoing conversation with the divine source of creativity and love, realizing and accepting that we will receive what is necessary and beneficial to our living.  Trusting that God will provide can free your spirit for a clearer vision of the path ahead. 
Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century philosopher and peace maker said, "Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart."

When I first went into ministry my prayer life got all screwed up.  I was so intent on formulating beautifully poetic public prayers that when I tried to pray on my own privately I was getting tripped up.  I searched for picturesque and meaningful words and I fretted over my grammar. 

I got frustrated.  Then, somehow, I realized that God didn’t really care what words I used, that I could place myself, my tears, my needs and wants right before God and rest comfortably knowing that is all God wants of me and that becomes my prayer.  God doesn’t need to hear me yacking on, waxing poetically, and pontificating profusely.  God needs me to be attentive to myself as God’s creation and for me to live fully into God’s call upon my life at that very moment.   

Ministers are asked quite often, “Pastor, how do I pray”.  And as much as I would like to give someone a formula for ‘how to do it’, and I could, there are many, in my heart of hearts I cannot do that.  My best response is to place yourself fully and honestly before God.  Place all of those who are in need of healing, comfort, guidance and strength right there in front of God and let it be, words aren’t really necessary.

Meditate, concentrate, love and trust God fully in the moment.  And then, when you are ready say the words that Jesus taught us because it is a beautiful, beloved prayer and in that way you will have followed faithfully in the footsteps of the disciples who so long ago were also taught to pray.  It is our heritage, it is our common bond, and it is a reflection of Christ’s desire for us.

[i] Douglas, John Hall. Feasting on the Word, p. 288, Proper 12, Year C Volume 3.

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