Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/18

At this point in the service, anyone who feels that they pray enough and/or that they are really good at prayer may be excused. Wait, before you go could you come up and tell us about it, because some of us do have a problem with prayer; we know that we should pray but we’re not very good at and we’re not very attentive to it.

In a lot of ways we haven’t progressed very far from the disciples request for Jesus to teach them to pray. They must have seen that he quite frequently engaged in times of prayer so they naturally assumed that this was important and they wanted to know how. It’s interesting though because the Old Testament includes quite a tradition of prayer, the Psalms in particular but not only there; the stories of many of the great Old Testament heroes include prayer, conversations with God starting with Abraham and Moses and all the way through, the prophets and others. You figure the disciples must have known at least something about that Old Testament tradition; they must have already known something about the importance of prayer, but perhaps sensing that Jesus had an especially close relationship with God, they perhaps thought that he had some particular secret about prayer that he could share with them, hence the request, “Lord, teach us to They wanted to pray better and what do you do if you want to learn how to do something or how to do it better? You might find a book about it and these days regarding prayer there is no shortage of such books, but what I’ve found when I do that is that I become good at reading about prayer but that’s about it. Another thing you can do though, is to find someone who is good at whatever it is you want to learn and have them teach you. You might not wind up as good as they are, but they might help you to get better. I think that’s what the disciples thought they had in Jesus.

Jesus did provide a response to their request, a more direct answer than he gave to many of their questions. The response recorded by Luke is a little different from the one in Matthew but a blending of the two gives us what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that I’m sure is said more often than any other Christian prayer.

Jesus gave them some good words in this prayer, but it still may not have been the secret they were looking for. Like I said they already had the words to lots of Old Testament prayers so they might have been hoping for more than just the words to another one, however good it might be. Like us, it might be that what they really wanted to know is how prayer works. Is there something we can do to get better results, to make God more responsive to our prayers so they’re answered the way we want? We like it when we pray for ourselves or for someone else and something good happens; but that’s not always the case. So we start to think it’s about us as if God were a vending machine requiring correct change so we want to make sure we have it. I’ll always remember the comment of a woman I visited while doing my summer hospital chaplaincy during seminary; she wasn’t getting better and her explanation was, “I guess I’m just not praying hard enough.” From her perspective it had to be her fault and from talking with her, what she was really afraid of was that her faith wasn’t strong enough, that God only answered the prayers of the really faithful. She was looking for the correct change. For people of faith it can be hard to get past the notion that there is some mechanism to prayer, that there’s something we can do to make prayer work better. It’s hard to get past thinking about prayer as a skill to be mastered and then pretty much resigning ourselves to the fact that it’s a skill we’re just never going to be very good at.

I get the idea that this is how the disciples were thinking when they approached Jesus with their request. If they were looking for a secret to prayer, they didn’t get it, but what Jesus gave them was a prayer that didn’t require them to be anything they weren’t already, one that didn’t require them to develop any new skills. That’s part of the brilliance of the Lord’s Prayer. There’s a basic simplicity to it that would help the disciples, and us of course, to first of all be reminded of who God is, and to be reminded of who we are as creatures in need of God and also to be reminded of the nature of the relationship God wants to have with us.

The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar though that most of the time we’re not thinking about any of that; we just say it. We may think about it a little more from time to time or have vague recollections of what Luther said in the catechism about each of the petitions, but a summer sermon is perhaps a good time to be reminded of the depth of meaning in this prayer. Jesus said, “When you pray, say “Father, hallowed be your name.” There’s a whole lot in just those few words. The first word Jesus gives the disciples is significant though, because it’s not about the awesome power of God, it’s a word of close intimate relationship. There’s a lot written about this word, Father, Abba, but the best explanation I found was that Abba would be how a child who is first learning how to speak would address his father. So this is a close, relational, family word indicative of the kind of relationship God desires to have, of how God wants us to see him as a loving, caring father.

That word of closeness is followed by words that do have more to do with the power and otherness of God. “Who art in heaven” isn’t in Luke, it’s from Matthew, but it’s an expression of distance, of God’s being above and beyond. “Hallowed be they name” has to do with holiness and separateness; “Thy kingdom come” is about sovereignty and power. So that initial word of closeness is countered by reminders that “I’m God and you’re not.” Both are important because without the sense of closeness we perhaps dare not approach God, but overemphasis of the closeness can lead to the expectation that God is just there to mechanically do our bidding. We need the reminder that God is God and we’re not and that as much as it frustrates us sometimes, God does not always act in predictable ways. There’s a freedom and elusiveness to God that we need to respect.

The prayer then moves forward with what I would call Jewish persistence and even pushiness. This prayer isn’t as polite as our Christian sensibility often makes it with our hands folded and our head bowed. Give us, forgive us, lead us not, deliver us; these are imperatives calling on God to do something. They’re imperatives issued to God out of our need. So having identified the nature of God, the prayer now identifies those who pray it as people in need, but people in need who dare to approach God because they believe with every fiber of their being that, number one, God cares and wants them to pray and number two, that God can address the As we pray the Lord’s Prayer we acknowledge our need; give us this day our daily bread because we are dependent on you to provide for us; forgive us, because we are sinful, guilty and we need forgiveness and pardon. Lead us and deliver us because on our own we’re lost and vulnerable to all manner of temptation and evil. As we pray, we acknowledge our need and our confidence that God is with us in our need, that he does provide.

Ultimately, what prayer is about is our need to be in relationship with God; so the prayer Jesus gave the disciples is very relational, very honestly relational and it doesn’t require them to be any different or better than they already are in prayer. Having said all I’ve said though, I do think that prayer is something that you can get better at, not better in the sense of getting those better results I mentioned earlier, but better in the sense of the relationship with God. Mostly getting better at prayer has to do with time and distractions.

I’m leaving this afternoon for a retreat that’s part of Lee Goodwin’s Sabbath Project. When I’ve done retreats with him before there are times of more formal prayer and other group activities but there are always periods of quiet, not necessarily just sitting silently, navel gazing, just being quiet. For me, my usual distractions are gone, no TV or radio or CD’s to listen to, no computer and no sense that I should be “busy” doing something else. With those distractions gone at some point my mind usually settles down, at least for awhile and the sense of God’s presence becomes greater; the ability to listen to God, to listen for God is enhanced. I’m more attentive, less anxious, less distracted.

You may already do this, you just might not think of it as prayer. But think about sitting staring at a lake or walking quietly in the woods, or gazing into a fire, things like that, and you too probably have those moments. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but it’s different, and it’s good. Pay attention to those times, because I think they have to do with God.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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