Proper 12C RCL l
LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
Credit: Pu1pit Resource 7/30/95, 98, & 2010
Previous: 95, revised
"Lord teach us to pray": that was one of the few things that the disciples asked from Jesus, In response, He gave them a model for prayer, beginning, "Our Father, who art in heaven ... "
Today, in our worship, we are like the disciples, coming to Jesus and asking Him, "Lord, teach us to pray." In fact, prayer may be seen as the whole point of our worship. Years ago, people spoke of attending church as "going to preaching" This suggested that the whole point of Sunday worship, the only reason why we were there, was to listen to a sermon. Today, new orders of service have tended to move prayers for others the prayers of intercession, more to towards a central point in the service, after Scriptures, after the sermon, as a climax of whole first part of the service. This placement reclaims Sunday worship as a time for prayer. We are instructed by the word: the word of God in Scripture and hopefully in the sermon, helps us to distinguish between true and false prayer, between praying as a pagan and praying as a Christian. The Word of God tells us that it means to "pray in Jesus' Name," in the spirit of our Lord. Thus we demonstrate that prayer, truly Christian prayer, does not come naturally. We must be taught to pray.
Our prayers for others also come close to the Offertory. For now, having heard the word, this is the time to offer ourselves to the God Who has offered Himself to us. We are not simply telling God what we want; rather, now we are placing our wants within the context of God's will for the world. Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Romans (8:26) that we know not how to pray as we ought. Presumably, truly Christian prayer takes time and effort and practice. Knowing that God's will may be different from ours, we begin and end our prayer as Jesus taught us: "Not my will but Thine be done."
In praying for others and interceding for the needs of the world, we walk along a treacherous path. Unless intercession comes after praise and hearing the word of God, there is great danger that we will be wrong in what we ask. Presumably, in our time of worship, some of our smothering self-concern has been lifted. We have been moved from self-protection and narrow personal desires, and focused upon something, some One, greater than ourselves. We have been trying to love God, to take God's desires a little more seriously, and our own desires a little less so.
It is so natural, in a world where we get most of what we want with push-button speed, to assume that prayer is a technique for getting what we want.
No. For us, now in worship, joining our voices in intercession for the world, prayer is a means for getting what God wants. Let me give you an example.
A woman lay in a hospital bed, her body on fire with spreading cancer. Day after day we prayed for healing. Each day I could see her disappointment that she was not being healed.
One day she said, "Today, let's not pray that I will be healed. God knows that I hate this illness. God knows that I want to be healed. Let's pray that whether I'm healed or not, I will feel close to God, because even if I am not healed -- especially if I am not healed, that's what I really want - I want God."
We clergy learn so much from our people:
She reminded me that when all is said and done, we don't want simply peace, justice, health or bread. We want God. We pray that God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In one sense, that means that we want God as present to us on earth as God is present in heaven.
So it isn't that we have stopped worshiping and have now started asking God to do things for us. We are continuing to lay ourselves open to the presence of God, no matter what happens.
We don't simply wish that the poor will be fed, but that we be participants in God's active love for the poor. We open ourselves to new possibilities for participating in the reign of God on this earth. So our prayer is education in desire - voicing our desires, placing them next to the desires of God as expressed in Word and sacrament.
It is fine to be specific here, to get down to concrete particulars of what our hearts desire, to say our petitions aloud, in public. In so doing, we bring these wants to the light of truth. That is to say that in public prayer, our wants are purified and motivated and even seen as being under judgment.
To pray in the Name of Jesus means to pray as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane before He was crucified: being ready to submit to the will of God, ready to be part of the coming Kingdom, even if its coming means that our desires need to be purified .
And how terribly our desires do need to be purified. Not every want is a need. Consumer culture has come to regard luxuries as necessities. We have moved from need to want to desire. A young graduate in the 1970's worked inhuman hours in order to purchase what was then a blatant luxury. When asked why, he said, "I want it; therefore I need it." The 1980's added: "I want it; therefore I need it; therefore I deserve it." In the 1990's and now some have added, "I'll kill you for your sneakers or your leather jacket." Want, need, deserve, get it even by killing. This is desire gone haywire.
To pray in the Name of Jesus means to put ourselves in position to look at life as He did, to stand, not above the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the lonely, but to stand beside them. Gradually, if we keep at it, as the Scriptures urge us to be persistent in prayer - we find that the desires we wanted to lift to God have been converted. "Give me, give me" sometimes becomes: "Make me, make me over." Prayer changes things, even changes me! - or you!
We are not praying to just any god. We bow before the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God to Whom Mary said, "I am the handmaid of the Lord," and to Whom Jesus said, "Thy will be done." Our prayers are faithful and with power only as they relate to the desires of that God.
Parents and Godparents and family of the child now to be baptized, one of the greatest gifts you can give to this child is to teach her to pray.
Lord, teach us all to pray. Amen.