July 24, 2022
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, The Rev. Saul Stensvaag
Prayer was very important to Jesus. In the gospels, he’s often shown at prayer. Jesus prays daily, not just when he’s in a jam like we often do. Jesus shows by example that prayer is to be a part of daily life.
But how common is daily prayer? Oh, I know many people do remember to say grace before meals. My children soon learned that, no matter how embarrassing it was, they’d better plan on saying “Come Lord Jesus…” even in a crowded restaurant.
Before long, table grace was second nature to them, just like responding to the server’s try to tempt them with soft drinks by saying that phrase every Stensvaag learns early in life, “no thank you, just water, please.
But other than before-meal prayers, the record of many Christian families isn’t so good. And this isn’t just a preacher scolding you, because in my own prayer life, I sometimes go for days without meaningful prayer time. I’m sure none of your pastors here at Gloria Dei ever neglect their daily prayers, but I sometimes do.
You see, just like the rest of you, my life can get very busy. And when we’re busy, it’s easy to forget to pray.
But it’s precisely when we’re too busy to pray that we most desperately need to pray.
No one led a fuller, busier life than Jesus; healing, preaching and teaching. And yet we read in Mark 1:35, that in the midst of all that stressful busyness,
[Quote] “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus never forgot the importance of a regular time to talk to God.
But daily prayer seems to be a dying art. It’s almost like one of those quaint folk-craft traditions only kept alive by a few old-timers who can remember when everybody did it that way.
But daily prayer isn’t just for a few eccentrics. It’s not like churning your own butter or whittling.
Regular prayer is crucial for all of us because it’s a conversation with God, our incredibly generous heavenly parent.
Even if we don’t know how to begin – God’s Word tells us to pray, so most of us want to try. “But how?” we ask. “How are we to pray.”
When the famous contemplative monk, Thomas Merton, was asked to speak at a conference on the topic, “How to pray,” he was very blunt.
“If you want to pray, begin to pray.
Pray!” he said.
That’s good advice. And if we want to begin to pray, what better place to start than with the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.
Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is surprisingly short and simple.
There are no flowery, churchy phrases here– just simple statements of praise, and the admission of our total dependence on the mercy of God.
In Luke, the address is simply, “Father.” But the original is probably more along the lines of “daddy,” or “papa.” What an amazing thing! Although we are addressing the all-powerful, eternal God; creator of the universe; we can say “daddy,” or, “mommy.”
God is a loving parent concerned about their children – a mother who eagerly awaits our prayers – a loving father who wants to give us all good things.
That means when we pray, we can speak naturally, just as if we were speaking to a loving and gentle parent.
“Hallowed be your name… Your kingdom come,” we pray. As Luther reminds us in his Small Catechism, God’s name is holy in itself, and God’s kingdom will come without our praying for it.
But here we are asking that God’s name would be holy for us, that God’s kingdom would come to and through us.
Remember: prayer is not so much a way for us to try to change God’s mind as a way for God to change our hearts and shape our faith.
It bothers some Christians that the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t contain specific prayer for others. But if these two petitions are understood rightly, they contain all of the intercession we need.
Because we know that the Kingdom of God comes when the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, and the poor and marginalized are welcomed into the community.
In these two phrases we ask God to help us live our lives in such a way that these signs of the kingdom will be seen in our world. That’s what it means for God’s name to be hallowed and God’s kingdom to come among us.
As Pope Francis says, You pray for the hungry, and then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”
“Give us each day our daily bread.” A lot of Christians figure they can take care of their own daily bread. They just need God for the really tough stuff.
But with this simple sentence, we acknowledge that we are utterly dependent on God’s generosity for everything we have.
Because we aren’t just talking about bread here. “Daily bread” is a symbol for Everything we need for this life.
The Small Catechism says “daily bread includes:
- Food and clothing,
- home and property,
- work and income,
- a devoted family,
- an orderly community,
- good government,
- favorable weather,
- peace and health, and
- true friends and neighbors.
All of these things – All of them – are only possible because of the actions of our gracious God. They are, indeed, part of our “daily bread.”
The phrase daily bread, reminds us not to worry about the future. God will provide!
Nor should we be greedy and ask for more than we need. It’s enough to ask for, and give thanks for, the needs of each day.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” God our loving parent wants us to be straightforward in confessing our sins and in asking for forgiveness. That’s not always the way it works in our earthly families.
☺Many years ago, one of our children was being toilet trained, and had filled their training pants. Not wanting us to know, the perp went and hid behind the couch. Needless to say, the crime was easily sniffed out.
We’re not so different in our relationship with God. How often we try to hide our sins.
And we succeed up to a point. We can usually hide some of our failings from our friends, perhaps even our family members. But before long, we come to realize that there’s no couch big enough to hide the stench of our guilt from God.
Jesus knows that, so he teaches us to make a clean breast of our sins, knowing that God wants to forgive us.
The second half of this petitions is more a reminder to us than anything else. How could we refuse to forgive others, when God has forgiven us so much?
Luke’s version concludes abruptly: “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Times of trial come to every Christian. We aren’t protected from temptations and trials. And the worst temptation is to doubt God’s love for us. Our prayer here is that, even when we’re sorely tempted, God will watch over us and give us grace to face all temptations.
Well, there we have it. Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer. It’s short. and It’s simple. But it’s enough. It’s a good place to begin.
As Merton says of prayer, “We do not want to be beginners. But let us understand that we will never be anything but beginners all our life! There are no short cuts to a life of prayer Merton says.
One begins to pray, again, and by the grace of God we come in touch with the source of our life.”
So, why not begin, again, today? Begin again to pray? And if you can’t find the words, you could always use the Lord’s prayer, or even follow the example of writer Ann Lamott, who says,
“I basically have three prayers:
One is, ‘Help! Help! Help!’
The second is ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
And the third is, ‘Wow!'” Amen.