October 8, 2017

Pentecost 18   October 8, 2017   Psalm 143, Philippians 4:4-7, Psalm 130,

Matthew 6:9-15,25-33, 7:7-11                   

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Author Annie Dillard has written about church, saying, (quote): “we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” Life with Jesus, in other words, is an adventure, a bit like a sailing around Cape Horn in a storm. An adventure in the overthrow of the world order as we know it.

Which is really also what The Lord’s Prayer is all about. Every time we say this prayer we’re asking for God’s revolution to be accomplished… Every time we say “Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven…” we’re asking God to turn the world upside down.

Most of us, I suspect, have probably said this prayer so many times that we have built up a little immunity to fully hearing everything we’re asking. But every time we pray Our Father in heaven… We’re calling on God to do the ultimate radical make-over of all the world. Consider–

In the world we’re told, directly or indirectly – look out for number one – we ourselves, and those who think like us. But in the prayer Jesus gives us, we’re told to give all glory to the name of God. God alone is ultimate and above all. God’s name alone is to be kept holy. And every time we pray God’s kingdom come – God’s will be done – we’re also saying – not my will (or your will or our will) – but God’s will be done – not just in heaven, bye and bye – but here on earth as it is in heaven…

And every time we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we’re actually also asking God to not give us everything we imagine we might like or want – but to give us really all we need to live on. This prayer isn’t about piling up surplus for a rainy day future. It’s about everyone having enough for today. Everyone, not just us. Because…

We pray give us our daily bread. And forgive us our debts – our sins, transgressions, trespasses. And perhaps to remind ourselves – we don’t want to be asking good things for our ourselves that we’re not asking also for others, we pray – forgive us our debts, our sins, our trespasses, as we forgive all those indebted to us – all who sin or trespass against us…

And lead us not into temptation. (I know how to get there all by myself.) But bring us through every testing – every time of trial. Deliver us from every evil, as only you, O Lord our God, can do. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are all yours, Lord, not ours…

This prayer, from start to finish, is never about me, myself, and I. It’s always about our God (not my God), our daily bread (not my bread alone but ours), and our debts forgiven. This prayer is for all of us together – as we pray Our Father in heaven, your name be hallowed, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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The Lord’s Prayer is our basic pattern for prayer. And I’ve been praying this prayer more than usual this week…The massacre in Las Vegas seems to be affecting me deeply… Monday and Tuesday it was if I could only pray the Lord’s Prayer and variations on the Romans 8 verse (our Thought for the Week today). Dear God, when we often don’t know how to pray… let your Spirit pray through us. Pray through us, Holy Spirit – direct our hearts to the needs of your people… Pray through us with groans and sighs too deep for words… Pray through us… Help us sort out all these feelings of helplessness, hurt, anger, pain, and grief… Pray through us Lord, for all your people… And keep teaching us how to pray. For we don’t really know how to pray…except with your Holy Spirit’s leading…

When the Spirit prays through us, and when we are responsive, we may find ourselves praying in some new ways… I seldom spend much time on Facebook. Usually I consider it a distraction. But this week I have been wanting to check on family and friends, and as I have done so on Facebook this week it’s been as if the Spirit has been praying with me there. One younger family member has been battling despair earlier this week as a result of the Las Vegas news…

Another relative, one of our nieces, a nurse in Las Vegas, had just come off shift when she heard the news. She called and volunteered to come back to her hospital job, but was told to rest, and come back, later, rested. The pictures she posted to Face book of people in Las Vegas honoring those killed, including a large gathering honoring a policeman killed in line of duty…were like prayers…

An article on prayer in a secular magazine (The Atlantic) also caught my eye. The article said prayer works, even if we don’t believe in God. Taking time, even as little as twelve minutes a day, is enough to make a difference, the article said, in  calming our bodies, clearing our minds, helping us make better decisions. That article reminded me of the invocation prayer I said at my high school class reunion recently – a prayer that we would all pray in whatever spiritual language we have, even if we don’t think we have a spiritual language. If we love we have a spiritual language, according to the first letter of John… I prayed that we would all love one another and pray for peace and love to prevail… Later that evening two women I hadn’t seen in fifty years separately came over and said in similar words, “Tim, I still don’t believe in God, but… I liked what you said…” And I said back something like, “maybe you believe in God more than you think…(and I know)… God believes in you…” Maybe I was stretching grace a little but… This is how God has always been with me… And I believe Jesus is telling us…

We should take risks in being generous and expansive and creative in prayer…  Because God our Creator has made us in God’s image, and God is intensely creative, generous, and inclusive. God’s prayers are not limited to one dimension. God’s prayers – the kinds of prayers the Holy Spirit prays through us when we pause long enough to ask and listen – are life-changing prayers… Not just for us… But for all… Changing us for the better, all the more, the more we try to live out all our prayers.

Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame has just written and posted on the web a song titled Almost Like Praying to raise funds for Puerto Rican hurricane recovery work. A host of Hispanic music stars sing together, naming each of Puerto Rico’s 79 towns and cities in song. Part of the of the song’s message is that prayer alone is not enough – yet the song itself is not just “almost like praying” – to my ears it is a truly heartfelt, fervent prayer for help – and, at the same time, no contradiction – a joyous shout-out for Puerto Rico and for the blessings of human community. I have caught myself weeping with a mix of empathy and joy every time I’ve listened to this song….about how we should pray, and act on our prayers.

Jewish Rabbi and scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr Martin Luther King Jr., and remarked, “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” This too, is how we should pray. Hands and feet, hearts and minds, praying in unison, as we seek first God’s kingdom… and seek to make God’s kingdom visible for others through our lives…

Remembering – Jesus calls us into a life of joy. Jesus tells us the secret of true happiness, true blessedness – the way out from all worry and fear – is all here in the basic prayer he gives us. A prayer Jesus reinforces and illustrates through all the gospel… As we hear him say also –

Trust God for all our needs, don’t worry about food, clothing, shelter, whatever.  God knows we need all that. But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these other things shall be added unto us… If we, who are not so good, know how to give good things to our children, how much more will God our Father whose love is perfect give good gifts to all who ask.

So – ask, seek and strive and knock – and it will be given, it will be opened unto us… (This too, the basic prayer Jesus teaches, in a different tempo and key.)

We’ve talked about prayer. Let’s pray.

***** Let’s join together in small groups of three or four… Let’s take a minute each as we go around the circle naming prayers on our hearts this morning. Let’s briefly name someone or some concern in our family, and someone or something in our church… Then take another moment, and pray for our town, and our country…and God’s world…

When we get around the circle let’s say –

Thanks be to God. Amen.