Shameless, Persistent Prayer - Sermon on Luke 11:1-13

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How do you pray? Is it how you're supposed to pray? Jesus gave some good advice on how to do it. 

his sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

July 24, 2016 - 10th Sunday after Pentecost

"Shameless, Persistent Prayer".  Text is from Luke 11:1-13

Click here for sermon audio

 



Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

How do you pray? Our disciples haven't quite gotten the knack of that discovery but they've seen it done. Surely it means something when they see John the Baptist and Jesus having one-on-one conversations with God. They want to have those conversations and want to know how it is that God says things out loud for everyone to hear. 

And so, the disciples find Jesus in prayer, an opportunity they cannot pass up, and he gives them some words to use for themselves. Here in Luke, we have an abbreviated version of a prayer we're all familiar with:

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

The words Jesus says are simple, yet they ask everything that need be asked. May the day of the kingdom come. May our needs be met. May our sins be forgiven. May we be saved from trial and temptation.  And the plural pronouns help the person asking remember that they are part of a greater group, that we who ask when we ask together we have the potential to reach stars.

Shameless persistent praying.jpg

But Jesus does not stop with giving out the simple words to the Lord's prayer, but continues on with a parable that explains how one should pray.  A man surprises his friend in the middle of the night, and the friend, disturbed is unwilling to meet the man's needs. But the man is shamelessly persistent, and because of that the friend relents. And Jesus also recounts how even ordinary people, even those that do wrong will still give their children their needs if they ask for them. God who is much better than that most certainly accounts for the needs of his children.

Now, I have to say for my own self...I have struggled my whole life with what prayer is like and how I should precisely do it. How does God listen? What does God listen to?  Looking in our passage from Genesis this morning, it's evident that God is willing to listen to those who petition him as Abraham did with the people of Sodom when he was willing to negotiate it down to 10 righteous people (and of course, they were not able to find any, as the people of Sodom were consumed with being unwelcoming to the stranger, failed at being compassionate to the poor in their midst, and were generally self-indulgent, but that's a later passage in Genesis which I will be happy to discuss at another time* ). God listens to the people who ask him things. 

But we are not all as fortunate as Abraham, being able to sit there and have 1 on 1 conversations with God where we discuss things and God simply answers in live vocals. And so the question about prayer becomes one more about how do we do it? And what do we say in order that God is paying attention to us? 

But we are not all as fortunate as Abraham, being able to sit there and have 1 on 1 conversations with God where we discuss things and God simply answers in live vocals. And so the question about prayer becomes one more about how do we do it? And what do we say in order that God is paying attention to us? 

I must give credit where credit is due, of course. My mother taught all of her children when we were very small to fold our hands and kneeling beside our beds like little angels the words, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..." while we have a conversation with God about not what we wanted as if it were a letter to Santa Claus but about blessing everyone we love, even if they were people we were mad at. But that particular prayer had a bit of creepiness built into it, because the second half went "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." And lay awake no small number of nights wondering if this was going to be the one where I would go to sleep and wouldn't wake up.  I don't know if people teach children that prayer any more, or if children don't learn to pray at all anymore. 

I know that my nightly prayer habit went the way of other good habits in my childhood, and particularly when I stopped being active in church, around the time I turned 20, I never actively prayed.  Except of course, when I found myself in a desperate situation and was at the end of my rope...I had no problem bargaining with a higher power to rescue me from the sad state of affairs I'd gotten myself into.

 When I became clean and sober I struggled to find a way to pray consistently. One of the things they told me was to put my shoes next to my bed so I would have to get on my knees when I woke up.  I think my ADHD makes it difficult for me to develop habits that last, though, so I have to be particularly creative in how I go about doing them and my shoes always wound up someplace far from my bed at night so there was no hitting my knees in the morning. 

What I wound up doing was getting in the habit of asking God to bless my food, and doing whatever other kinds of prayers for him at the same time. The advantage to regular table blessings and prayers is that other people can join in and participate, that the prayer becomes communal rather than individual, the conversation becomes more than just one-on-one, God talks to all of us!

But prayer should not solely revolve around food. Getting into habits and asking for blessings for all of one's daily activities becomes a way to involve God in all of one's affairs. When I sit down to work on my weekly sermon, be it to read the text, study, or type, I ask for God to take part and guide my hands to help make my words God's own. We can ask for God to bless our housework, that even something as menial as folding laundry become a sacred affair. When we meet as church committees, we ask for God's guidance, but why can we not pray before other types of negotiations in our lives? Why not pray before planning meetings at your workplace, even if only by yourself? Why not ask for God to bless you in your walks, whether they be for exercise or to walk your dog? Who knows what work may be in store for you at those times? 

I tell you what, though, I always wondered, if God knows all our hearts desires and all of our needs, and hears us cry out when we are in pain, how then is there a right or a wrong way to pray?  

There is a word in Greek that we use to mean spirit: πνευμα. But it's also the word for breath and wind. We get the English word "pneumatic" from it. So the Holy Spirit is wrapped up in the wind and in our breath. As a person breaths air in and out in order to live, the Holy Spirit is necessary to animate our life in Christ. 

The church is a body and as a body it needs to breath. Whereas the human body breaths in and out air, the church breaths in and out the Holy Spirit through prayer. Our lungs might be the communal prayer we say during Sunday worship service. As we pray, we breathe out our petitions to our loving God, keeping the relationship alive with him. We breathe out prayer, we breathe in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills us, renews us, provides for the life blood of the church. 

But for us, getting into the habit of constantly asking the Holy Spirit to work in our lives? It might set you on a path that is completely out of your control, acting in ways that puts you in places and leaves you going places beyond your wildest dreams. You might find yourself in food banks or ministering to prison inmates or saving undocumented workers from horrific conditions, leaving yourself open and vulnerable to the kind of people that society wants to hide. 

...The kind of people Jesus hung around. What if that's what leaving yourself to that respiration of prayer-out, spirit-in activity that your soul craves deep down, that conversation with God that would be a daily and regular part of our lives, not just here at church on Sundays, not just at dinnertime, but so ingrained in us, like eating, like drinking, like breathing...

Lord, you brought me to a new morning, thank you for this day, give me strength to get out of bed and help me be kinder to my family and friends. 

Lord, you have given me gifts to make a vocation, thank you for another day of work, give me patience to deal with this traffic and help me drive without worrying about what other drivers are doing and making someone else's day miserable.

Lord, you have helped sustain me in a wonderful life, thank you for bringing me to reside in a wonderful place, teach me to see my neighbors, no matter who they may be, with new eyes that I may be neighbors to them to. 

Lord, you have brought me to the end of a new day, thank you for helping me to grow a bit more, help me to rest peacefully and gift me welcome dreams to restore my energy for tomorrow.

Lord, help me to pray more frequently, more shamelessly, more fearlessly, more generously and more boldly.   And fill me with your spirit that I may be a vessel for proclaiming the good news to all your people.

Amen


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on July 24, 2016 3:37 PM.

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