10 Pentecost Proper 12: Gn 18:20-32; Ps 138; Col 2:6-19; Lk 11:1-13
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, July 24, 2016
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
There is an old saying, praying shapes believing. Basically it means that the way we pray shapes our beliefs. We may or may not believe when we start praying, but once we begin to pray in an intentional and disciplined manner”our belief system will be shaped and formed and, hopefully, reformed and transformed. That’s because prayer changes us. Prayer, when it is spiritually healthy and nourishing, can become a tool for renewal, for action, for transformation of our beliefs and of the direction of our lives. Prayer matters. And the way we pray matters too.
Jesus’s disciples see the difference that powerful prayer makes and they want to learn how to transform their own prayer lives. The disciples were all Jewish and would have known how to pray”Judaism is full of prayers. But they must have recognized something different, something more powerful in the way that Jesus prayed. They ask, Lord, teach us to pray¦ and Jesus willingly complies. He gives them language and a parable and a logical argument as to what prayer is and how it might be answered.
In the reading from Luke today, we get the bones of that which will become known as The Lord’s Prayer. A prayer authored by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A prayer we continue to find just as powerful and compelling today as the disciple’s found it to be two thousand years ago. It is the language of that prayer which continues to inspire us and bring us comfort.
We say The Lord’s Prayer in every liturgy of the church”at the bedside when someone is sick or dying, at baptisms and weddings, at Morning and Evening Prayer, at Ordinations, at the Eucharist, even at funerals. There is no liturgy in our Book of Common Prayer that does not find it appropriate to say Our Father. I wonder if our frequency in saying this prayer, may at times minimalize its power and cause our recitation to become more rote than rite.
The Lord’s Prayer is more than simply a model for how to pray. Its use of intentional language and words offers us an insight into how Jesus was oriented in this world. For Jesus what is important is not so much the past or the future, but the present and the eternal.
As C. S. Lewis puts it, the present is the point at which time touches eternity. (Screwtape Letters, ch. 15) Lewis would go on to warn us that the Future inflames hope and fear. That it is unknowable and thus, when we think about it, we think unrealities and so we get lost in a temporal state of mind, firmly mired in hope and fear and often lacking trust and faith in God and his will for us. To give our hearts to the future, to place our treasure in it, is to pursue the rainbow’s end and never known the truth or the joy of the now.
The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples attends to the now. The requests for daily bread, forgiveness, and security are about orienting us to our present, eternal life.
The petition for the kingdom to come can only be realized when we are not distracted by the hopes and fears of future or past, but focused on living for God in this moment and participating in the work he has called us to do here on earth, here in the now. God did not create us for some future moment of ushering in the kingdom of Heaven, we are created to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven now. The work of redemption that God calls us to partner in with him is happening now, not sometime down the road. When we pray Your kingdom come we don’t mean your kingdom come at some undetermined date in the future, we mean right now”here in the present where it touches the eternal. When we pray, your kingdom come we are asking for the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus gives his disciples the words to pray, he goes on to say that if your child asked for a fish, you wouldn’t give him a snake. Or if he asked for an egg, you wouldn’t give a scorpion; how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. There is a great scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Harry is down in the depths under Hogwarts battling Lord Voldemort. Earlier, Harry had been reminded that help would always been given at Hogwarts to those who asked for it. So, when he finds himself unarmed and outgunned by Lord Voldy and his snake thing, Harry offers a prayer.
Its not a prayer in any regular, normal kind of prayer of petition”but in his own way, Harry hallows Dumbledore’s name and elicits his kingdom when he declares about Dumbledore that, He’ll never be gone. Not as long as those who remain are loyal to him. This declaration earns him a visit from Fawkes, an image of the Holy Spirit in the books, who brings him the sorting hat and the sword of Gryffindor. Neither of which appear immediately useful in resolving his issue, but both of which Harry will be inspired to use to win this first battle with he-who-must-not-be-named.
Our prayers are answered. We are given good things. It’s not that God always gives us exactly what we ask for. He is not a doting dad indulging his children’s wants and desires; but a benevolent father who recognizes that we may not be wise enough to understand or even recognize our needs. By giving us the Holy Spirit, he is giving us wisdom and inspiration, that which helps to shape our beliefs and our lives. Jesus tells us that everyone who asks, receives; everyone who seeks, finds; and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. God answers prayer.
It is the assurance of the Holy Spirit that Jesus teaches his disciples when he gives them these words. The substance of our petition in prayer is to always point to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is thy kingdom come and to be honest in prayer is to recognize that our prayers are never about us they are always about God. As Christians, our desires for this world are always in line with God’s desires. We are here to serve God now and evermore. This life, our lives, are not about us. They are about God. Jesus knew this. His teaching to his disciples, to us, is a reorientation of our own prayer lives such that our prayers shape our belief that all we have and all that we are is God’s.