Sunday July 28, 2019 – Year C Proper 12
Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
Lord, teach us to pray.
The other day, I had to run a couple of things past Robert. I had some administrative things and some budget requests for him. Robert said yes to all of them, and I jokingly told him that the Rector of St John’s had been pretty tough, but the new interim Rector was great.
Because in some ways, Robert is now the Interim Rector of St John’s, who is helping the parish prepare for its new Rector, who will be called a year from now. It’s an exciting time for the parish and for all of us. This is a season of transition, and as such, it invites us to take stock of who we are as a parish and what we value. Change can be scary, but it’s also the place where there are incredible opportunities for growth.
A parish like St John’s will attract a lot of great candidates, and that’s exciting, because the same process of discernment that St John’s went through to call Robert, will be the same type of process that will call the new Rector. And part of that discernment will be for the parish to reflect on where it is currently, and where it would like to go. St John’s will go through a process of self-study which will produce a parish profile, that will communicate who we are as a parish and who we want to be in the future.
And as I think about this season of transition that we are in, I’m struck by the disciples’ request in today’s Gospel: Lord, teach us to pray. It’s a simple and honest request and I think it can shed light on both who we are and who we wish to be.
Jesus comes on the scene and he preaches good news about the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. He tells anyone who will listen that the Kingdom of God is near and available to anyone who wants to live in its reality. He calls disciples to become his students. They are like apprentices of Jesus, learning from the Master how to live in the ways of the Kingdom of God. As those who follow him, they learn a lot just by watching him. They watch him cast out demons and then they cast out demons. They watch him heal others and then they heal others. But today’s Gospel is different. It’s one of the few instances, if not the only one, where we see these students and followers of Jesus come to him and specifically ask him how to teach them something.
Lord, teach us to pray.
The knew that John had taught his disciples to pray, and the disciples observed Jesus’ life of prayer. Luke tells us over and over about Jesus’ life of prayer. His whole life is shot through with the reality of the Kingdom of God and is fed by his life of prayer. And his disciples as, students trying to learn how to follow him in the life of the Kingdom of God, ask him to teach them how to pray.
What Jesus does is give them a prayer. We read Luke’s version of it today, but we are more familiar with Matthew’s. It isn’t hard. It’s not difficult or overly complex. It’s a simple pathway into the never-ending love of God. It’s a simple turning of the heart to God. It’s trusting and depending on God who never leaves us or forsakes us.
We turn our hearts to God in loving trust like a divine parent. He is our source. We ask that God’s name be honored and revered. That people would know and revere God. We pray that as God’s will happens in heaven, God’s will would also happen here on earth. That love, mercy, grace, justice, and equity, the healing work of God, would be the reality of our earthly experience. We ask simply for what we need to make it through today, relying on God as our source. We ask for God’s forgiveness, ever mindful that we must work to extend the forgiveness we have received from God to those who have sinned against us. And we ask that God might protect us from trials that are too big for us.
The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, and he offers them a simple pathway into the never-ending love of God, what we call the Lord’s prayer.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” isn’t just a request that the disciples made a long time ago. It’s a foundational part of the answer of who we are and who we want to be. We, too, are disciples of Jesus. In our Baptisms, each of us has committed the whole of our lives to learn from Jesus how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Another thing to note about the prayer Jesus gives us disciples is that it is prayed in community. Jesus teaches us that prayer is not just about the individual, it’s communal. The starting point for our prayer is that we are part of a community that finds and recognizes its source in God. It’s not about individuals on their own isolated spiritual quests, it’s about persons brought into a community formed around the love of God. We don’t pray My Father, but Our Father who art in heaven. We ask God for our bread. We pray for forgiveness of our sins. We ask God to save us from trial.
We as Episcopalians are distinctive as Christians in that we are formed by the Book of Common Prayer. We are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, made up of 85 million people who all have some relationship to the Book of Common Prayer. It was designed so that lay and ordained, powerful and weak, rich and poor, could pray together. Mostly made up of scripture, it’s designed to gather the community to pray and worship God. Like the prayer that Jesus teaches us disciples, it is a pathway into a life with God, shaped by the life and thought of a particular part of the Body of Christ.
Our liturgies and prayers are intended to be prayed in community. Part of our DNA as Episcopalians is that we gather together and worship God with the prayers and liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer. It happens in community. Yes, we can pray individually and in private. That’s part of a balanced spiritual life, but the default position of our theology and worship of the church is that we do it together.
In our Baptismal covenant, the Bishop or Priest asks the whole assembly: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? And we as the people responded: I will, with God’s help. Each of us in our baptismal have committed to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. That means we commit our lives to gathering as a community. And while each of us have our own private lives of prayer, the only way we can be the church is by gathering together to pray and worship.
This is why the Book of Common prayer states that the duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.
It’s our duty to come together week by week for corporate worship, because it’s the only way we can survive as Christians. In fact, it’s what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian means that we follow Christ, come together for corporate worship, and to work, pray, and give for the spread of God’s kingdom.
And part of all of this is that we pray the prayer Jesus has taught us. This is especially true for us as Episcopalians who are part of the Anglican tradition. There is seldom a time we gather to pray, when we don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer.In Holy Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Compline. In Holy Matrimony, the Burial of the dead. We gather together as disciples and pray the prayer Jesus has taught us. We pray to our Father and acknowledge that God is the source of our lives. We pray that everyone would know God and revere who God is. We pray for God’s will of love and justice and equity will happen here on earth as it does in heaven. We ask in trust that God will give us what we need. We turn our hearts to God and acknowledge our need for forgiveness, while being mindful that we need to extend to others the forgiveness we have received from God. And we ask that God will save us from trials that are too much for us.
In this season of transition, we will have many opportunities for growth as we reflect on who we are and who we want to become. And in a surprising and unexpected way, the answer to both those questions is found in a simple and honest request from Jesus’ disciples.
Lord, teach us to pray.