Prayer

The following sermon was preached on July 28, 2013 at the United, United Church of Christ in Mobridge, SD. The scriptures were: Luke 11:1-13 and Colossians 2:6-19. The children’s message was a story book with pop ups about saying thank you to God in the form of prayer.

Prayer

Prayer: What can we say about prayer? In thinking about this, I couldn’t help but think of one of Garth Brooks’ songs where he has a chorus that starts out: “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers… The song is about a man meeting his high school sweetheart and realizing how blessed he is to have the wife that he has rather than the old girlfriend he wanted so badly back when he was young.

I think of so many times when people have said, “I’ll pray for you.” When I was younger and someone said that to me, I was offended. In fact, I will be more open that I expected to be and share a personal story right now. I remember back to the year I spent after college before I found my first teaching job. I ended college in the middle of the year and couldn’t find a teaching job at that mid-year spot so I took a job working in a restaurant/bar about 20 miles from my home. It was summer and I was working weekend nights usually until 2 a.m. One Sunday after a fairly long night of work, I went to church and must have looked pretty tired. A high school friend was there with her new minister husband, who was doing a guest pulpit supply at our church in Herreid. When the service was over and I was going to congratulate her on her husband’s abilities, they came and tried to put their hands on me to “pray” for me a poor sinner, because obviously I looked tired from my “bad” life style. Unfortunately, or fortunately I am not sure which, I haven’t seen her since to change my attitude about the situation.

See prayer wasn’t something we talked about in the home where I grew up. My mother held the belief that we will talk about more a little later, the belief that prayer is something you do in private by yourself, with just you and God. We didn’t even have the table prayers that I learned to enjoy so much when I became part of James’ family. At large family gatherings his mother would say, “quiet now, Dad is going to pray, and James’ father would recite the Lord’s Prayer for us as a table blessing, then in order all of the children still in school would say Lord bless this food for Jesus sake, Amen, and it would go around the room from oldest to youngest until it was finished. We don’t do that anymore, but it sure is a great memory of that family.

No, for me growing up, prayer was not something that I examined until I hit my confirmation classes. When I grew up in Herreid, the Congregational Church did not stand alone. For a period of years we were a Yoked Parish sharing a minister with the Lutheran and Methodist Churches. It was great for the young people. I think the only thing that we messed up in that union was not participating in the Pilgrim Park camping experience. Neither the Lutherans nor the Methodists had a camp, so we really missed out, but I am getting off track here. We held a joint confirmation and in it learned the polity of all three denominations. I think that I still have some of my paper work from those meetings. When we moved back to Herreid, and I was organizing a few boxes I actually looked through a paper I had to write about prayer when I was in the 9th grade. I think some of those beliefs have probably stayed with me.

Over the years I have had a hard time opening up and telling people who I would pray for them. I have always been reluctant to over step my boundaries. Yet there was one hot afternoon when I was teaching in Montpelier, ND, that I couldn’t stop myself from praying openly and intensely. Again, I haven’t ever shared this with anyone except that other two staff members who were with me. We had let school out early because of the heat. Three of us were sitting around and visiting. It was early in the school year and we were trying to catch up from the summer. We were in the outer office and could hear the emergency scanner. There had been an accident. At first we ignored it, then as they were calling for more and more assistance, we began to realize it was a car of our students. We went to the scene, yes, you aren’t supposed to do that, but we had to know. They ran under the back of a gravel truck because they were speeding and it was dusty, and I have never prayed so hard in all of my life. Fortunately they all survived. The boy in the back was in a body cast for most of the year, the girl in the front lost most of her teeth, and the driver was banged up a bit, but they survived, and we were so grateful. We were never let out early for heat again.

Today’s gospel text starts with the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, the prayer that we call, The Lord’s Prayer. Some churches call this prayer the Our Father, and with that in mind, we could go into a discussion of the various parts of this prayer, or why some texts or denominations recite the prayer one way while others recite it another way. Though I have strong feelings on that subject, I don’t think that I have a solid enough academic background about it to speak with any authority.

One more side track into a personal story. I am a stance believer in the separation of church and state, and one reason is an example that happened to my middle daughter. One of her volleyball coaches used to insist that they say the Lord’s Prayer together before they left the locker room. Victoria and one other girl said the prayer as we do with the debts words. During one particularly tense evening, he yelled at them about why they couldn’t say it the right way as the others did.
But let’s not do the specifics. Rather, I would like to examine this prayer more in general terms. One of my “expert” texts that I often refer to suggested that when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. It was part of a tradition of the era in which disciples were taught how to pray by their leader, and could be distinguished by the manner in which they prayed.

Others suggest that the disciples noted the sincerity, the completeness that could be seen when Jesus prayed. They saw he really meant his prayers. Jesus was real when he prayed. Perhaps it was a direct contrast to the type of prayers they had been so used to seeing from both those who worshiped other Gods and the leaders in the synagogue, who were all about show and drama so people would notice them praying. This is reinforced in the version written by Matthew that suggests we are to offer our prayers in private, since God already knows the longing of our hearts.

The second part of the text of Luke is a parable that is found only here. The story is about a man knocking on the door of a friend asking for bread. It seems to suggest that persistence is all we need to have our prayers answered. A closer look at the text lets us know it is not persistence, but more a word meaning trust, like the trust a child has for a father. A trust that God the Father will give when we ask. I still have trouble looking at this passage, until I get to the end and see that what is being asked is for the Holy Spirit. It isn’t for some useless worldly thing; it is for the spirit that comes to us when we turn our lives to God. It is the same spirit that Christ sends to us as our Comfort and guide because He, Jesus, is not able to be with us in a human presence. This is what the disciples recognized about Jesus when He prayed, this is why they asked to be taught to pray, so they could have that spirit, that connection to God.

I will share one last personal prayer story. Sometime in the last couple of years, I read the book, The Help. I watched the movie, too, but what I am talking about is more prevalent in the book. The main character, Aibileen, keeps a prayer journal. She writes her prayers as a way to be more focused. I liked that idea, and have adopted it. I probably don’t do it as often as I should, but I too find that it really helps me to focus. It helps me be more real, and to tune out all of the other thoughts that crowd around in my mind when I should be focusing on that knocking, that knocking on God’s door.

Focusing on praying and focusing being the trusting child that God expects us to be is what our prayers should be. We need to be focused as we ask for not worldly things, not trivial issues, but for the comfort and the wholeness and the Holy Spirit to enter us and walk with us just the way Jesus promised us it would if we just ask for it. Go ahead and ask, God is just waiting to open the door. Amen.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Glenda
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 19:12:38

    Prayer is so powerful. This morning a minister on TV talked about a story of a little girl who prayed for 1,000 dolls for Christmas. When she didn’t get them, her dad said ,”Well, I guess God didn’t answer your prayer”. “Yes He did”, said the little girl. “He said NO”! God always knows what’s best for us. Great sermon, LuCinda!

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  2. Kathy
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 17:48:43

    Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts about prayer. It sounds like you have focused on God’s knocking on your door…

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