March 15, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

This brief reflection is from a service of Lenten midweek worship, second in a series on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace be with you. I’m comfortable praying in public. If you asked me to lead a prayer with all of you right now, I wouldn’t hesitate. So it might surprise you to know that it doesn’t come that easily to me to pray on my own.

I run into two main stumbling blocks. The first, why would God – the maker of heaven and earth, be interested or available to help me with my own troubles? Doesn’t God have bigger or better things to do? Who am I to trouble God with my issues or concerns? And the second – is there really a God to pray to anyway? Am I just whispering my hopes and fears into the night as a way of calming myself, but not really accomplishing anything at all?

I know I’m not alone. Enough of you have admitted to me you struggle with the same issues. Two ends of the spectrum – either God is so holy, we’re not worthy to pray, or God is nothing at all, and our prayers are nothing more than whistling into the wind.

You might believe that this is a modern problem, brought on by our increasing dependence on science and rationalism, our need for proof and reliable outcomes; or that it’s a symptom of the latest trend toward atheism, the sign of how many people claim no religious affiliation.

But our Lenten emphasis on a reexamination of the reformation could surprise you. Martin Luther, himself a faithful pastor from 500 years ago, struggled with the same concerns with prayer that we do. It’s part of our faith life to wonder about the meaning of prayer, why it works? Whether it works? What it means? Jesus’ earliest followers had similar questions, so Jesus teaches them to pray in this simple prayer we’ve used so faithfully through the years.

We may be comfortable saying the Lord’s Prayer together in worship, or to close a meeting or a gathering, I suspect few of us can say we regularly use it in our personal or family life.

Martin Luther set out to change that. As we just read, he believed the Lord’s Prayer was a precious gift to us, offered to us by Jesus to help us through our everyday life. Luther encourages us to say it every day – or even at several points of the day – and especially recommends it to us when we’re struggling with our faith. No matter what, No matter what demands your schedule puts upon you, no matter how tired or weary you are, no matter how weak your faith or how large your problems, Luther commends us to pray as Jesus taught us.

First of all, because Jesus taught us. If Jesus told us to pray this way, Luther felt it must be important.

But more than that, I think Luther encourages us to use this prayer because it responds directly to our two great obstacles.

Luther can’t stop reminding us that God is not too big or important to hear our prayers. In fact, God is as loving and near to us as a kind, devoted parent. Jesus doesn’t actually call God “Father,” in the prayer as we’ve translated it; the word is actually more like “Papa,” what a little child would call its father. The name Mommy or Daddy would be apt translations, too.

Jesus tells us to address God as comfortably and familiarly as the first person you ever addressed. Use the first words you ever learned, and trust that not only is God near enough to care about your prayers, God longs to hear them.

Those of you who have experienced the empty nest with me know how much you love when your grown children come home, how much you delight in hearing their voice on the phone, or seeing their face on your computer screen. Just as our earthly parents long to hear from us, so God loves to hear our prayers.

I know that this is a problem for those of you who never really had that kind of relationship with your parents or with your children. If the image is tough for you, I encourage you to use a different name for God. But whatever term of address you use, imagine it to be a person who knows you well, knows you better than you know yourself. Imagine someone who brought you into the best of what you have, and who loves you unconditionally. This is the God we address in prayer.

But what about that other problem? What if we can’t believe there really is a God out there at all? Luther would argue that the whole rest of the Lord’s Prayer is meant for those of us who live with those questions.

When we pray for God’s name to be holy, we are praying that it may be holy to us–that we might trust and revere God’s presence and God’s reality. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come or will to be done, we are praying that God’s ways might become our ways, that we might work for the causes that God (if there is a God) would work for.

We are praying that we might strive for the world to know the peace and justice, might have access to daily bread and anything else that is needed in life, might be assured of the kind of forgiveness that God, if there could be such a God, would long for the world to know and to have.

When we are praying for God to save us from times of trial, we are praying that we might be spared the pain and loneliness to which a life without faith and hope destines us. We are praying against all odds that if there really is a God, it is a God who will deliver us from the kind of despair that would cause us to question in the first place.

And you won’t be surprised to know what Luther thinks about that–God’s grace is sufficient.

We don’t have to be confident in our faith to pray. We pray to a God who gives us confidence. We pray because God graciously invites us to do so, and promises to hear us, no matter what. Thanks be to God. Amen.