Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 07/28/2013

There are probably at least a couple of things we can all agree on regarding prayer.  Number one is that I’m quite sure we would all agree that we should pray, but, number two and related to that is that most of us probably don’t feel like we pray as well or as often as we should; our intentions are good and we know we should pray but whether we’re too busy or too distracted or too whatever, it doesn’t happen.

None of this is new, apparently.  In today’s gospel the disciples observed Jesus praying and when he was done they said, “Teach us how to do that.”  Reading between the lines you get the idea that they saw something in Jesus’ experience of prayer that they wished they had, the same way we feel when we know of someone we think is good at it.  And by good I don’t mean being able to heap up long, flowery phrases that probably even annoy God after awhile, but rather it’s those people who, through their prayer life, seem to have a relationship with God that’s real, God’s presence in their life is real; they don’t have to tell you about it, they don’t have to tell you how spiritual they are, you just know it.  In today’s gospel you get the idea that that’s what the disciples correctly sensed in Jesus’ prayer life.

So they said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus’ answer to them was what we call the Lord’s Prayer.  We don’t pray Luke’s version; what we pray is closer to what Matthew has but either way, what is significant is that Jesus gave them a prayer.  He didn’t say, “Oh, this is too hard for you,” he gave them a place to start; he gave them words and they’re really good words even when they become so familiar that we say them without thinking and that’s probably most of the time. 

It is good to think about the words and what they mean but on the other hand I see the power of those words when a family is gathered around a dying loved one or when the person has died.  At such times no one is thinking about all the “what does this means” from Luther’s Small Catechism, but the words help to make God’s presence real in that situation.  When you get right down to it, that presence, that relationship is really at the heart of what prayer is. 

But still, the words are important.  With his answer to the disciples and in the verses that follow Jesus makes clear that our petitions offered in prayer are welcome.  And note that what Jesus gives them isn’t a particularly polite Christian prayer.  It begins quite reverently but then gets kind of pushy; give us, forgive us, lead us not, deliver us; there’s no “please” in there; these are imperatives.  This is more like the prayer in some of the psalms, more like saying to God “Be who you’re supposed to be; be who we believe you are.” 

That kind of prayer though is the invitation that Jesus extends to the disciples with the implication that God listens and responds.  “Ask and it will be given to you,” Jesus says, and for some, that statement marks the end of their prayer life.  It marks the end because experience contradicts what Jesus said.  Too often we have asked and not received, we’ve searched but haven’t found, we’ve knocked and the door has stayed shut.  Despite our prayers for health and peace and well being we all know those people for whom the cancer treatments didn’t work, we know that war and violence continue, that people go hungry and natural disasters take their toll. 

For many of us, along with knowing we should pray and feeling like we don’t do it very well also comes the question, “Does prayer really make any difference?” or perhaps even more troubling is the question of why some prayers are answered and some aren’t.   On what basis does God make those decisions because, from a human perspective anyway, it seems pretty arbitrary?  In what Jesus says he makes it sound like God is predictable, like a loving parent who you might have to keep asking, but sooner or later they’ll give you, maybe not everything you want, but they’ll give you what is good and life giving because that’s what they really wanted to do all along.  With God though, that’s not always how it goes; we don’t always get what is good and life giving.

It’s a tough question to which there isn’t a simple answer and some of the simple answers that are given are still full of questions.  One such answer is to defend God by saying that he does answer our prayers but sometimes the answer is no.  That could be true, sometimes.  There certainly are those time when our prayer might be for something that would not ultimately be good for us in which case the answer could be no.  But what about those times when our prayer is for what is good, when it is in accordance with God’s will?  For example, the Bible makes it pretty clear that God’s will is that the hungry be fed and that there be peace on earth, good will for all and yet people go hungry and if anything the world seems to get more violent, not less.  Why isn’t there a “yes” to those prayers? 

Another answer is that everything happens for a reason, that it’s part of God’s plan even if we can’t figure it out.  There’s truth in that too.  As I’ve said before though, if part of God’s plan is that innocent people, innocent children die due to violence, illness or natural disaster, well that raises all kinds of questions for me.  I do believe that God can bring good out of evil.  New life out of death and brokenness is pretty much at the center of Christian theology; but to say that God somehow wills the evil out of which the good comes, that’s a problem. 

The questions linger.  We know we should pray, we feel like we don’t pray as well or as often as we should but at the same time the line from Les Miz drifts in an out, “Same old story, what’s the use of tears?  What’s the use of praying if there’s nobody who hears?”  The questions linger.

I don’t have answers; all I can tell you is what I believe and it goes back to the Lord ’s Prayer and especially the words “Thy kingdom come.”  Jesus starts the prayer with “Father” which itself is significant as it invites his followers into the same kind of intimate relationship that he himself has with God.  Jesus follows that with “Hallowed be your name” which picks up on the Jewish understanding of the holiness associated with the name of God; in Judaism the name is so holy that they dare not utter it, instead substituting the more generic “Lord” for the name itself.  When you see “Lord” in little capital letters in your Bible or big capital letters as appear in your bulletin, in Hebrew those are the places where God’s name appears and it isn’t spoken.

Anyway, following this introduction, the first real petition of the prayer is “Your kingdom come” or “Thy kingdom come” as we pray it in the traditional version.  What “Thy kingdom come” means is that it’s not here yet.  The gospel proclamation is that the Kingdom of God has come near; come near isn’t the same as already being here.  In the person of Jesus the kingdom was present in its fullness, the lame walked, the deaf could hear, the blind could see and evil spirits were cast out.  But even Jesus didn’t announce a kingdom fully present.  The kingdom was still to come and that’s what we pray for. 

In the meantime, there are other powers at work, powers of evil and chaos that sometimes have their say as they had their say in putting Jesus on the cross.  When the kingdom is fully present, those powers will be gone but for now, the battle goes on in the world and within each of us.  So we pray for the kingdom to come in confidence that it will come despite evidence to the contrary.  We pray in confidence though because in Jesus we have seen the end.  Through his death and resurrection the battle has been won.  We know how the story ends, but we’re not there yet so we pray for the kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done so that all the things we pray for in the Lord ’s Prayer are fully realized. 

There is evil out there but I believe that our prayer empowers us and it empowers God to work as agents against that which is evil.  We pray and we pray boldly because Jesus has invited us to be part of this relationship.  It’s a relationship that God wants and it’s one that more fully makes us who God wants us to be.  We can’t make the kingdom come, but we can be kingdom people; we can help to make the kingdom known and we can help to overcome those forces that resist it.

So we pray; we pray persistently, bringing our needs and hopes before God.  We pray “Thy kingdom come,” believing that God’s will for us and for all people is good.  We pray remembering that, like a loving parent, God has granted us many yeses, often when we didn’t even ask.  We pray knowing that even when the answer to our prayer isn’t what we want as we persist in prayer we will find hope and new life. 

We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” and then we say “Amen.”  Let it be so.               

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
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one who
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