Sermon for 02-02-2020 -- Prayer

“Prayer” sermon preached by the Rev. Linda Kuhn

First Presbyterian Church, Pardeeville, WI 2-2-20

scripture readings: Luke 11: 1-13; Romans 8: 26-27

 

When Dave and I first came, we asked some questions to learn more about you and want you might be looking for to help you along on your journeys in faith -- both individually and collectively. You gave us some suggestions, one of which was "prayer. I volunteered to tackle this subject, not because I'm the expert, but rather the opposite. I struggle, I wrestle with how to pray, whether on my own or in public, I search for words. I wonder what it is I'm expecting of God, of myself. So I confess that this morning I will be preaching to myself as much as to anyone else!

 

Let’s turn to scripture to see what guidance it can give us this morning about prayer. Luke – disciples turn to J and ask: Lord, teach us to pray. There must have been something about his prayers, his relationship with God, that they saw and desired in their relationship with God, too. Jesus offered words that we Christians have used as a model for prayer down through the ages. An iconic prayer. It's not magic -- there's nothing magical about the words themselves. But there admittedly is something very special when a group prays this prayer together, and joins their hearts and words as one as a kind of communion with one another.

 

In this Bible story, Jesus focuses as much on attitude, as he does the words. In fact, Jesus' counsel was to pray honestly and directly. To pray simply and not get tangled up in a lot of words. The Lord's prayer is a streamlined version of the long-winded kinds of prayers the Pharisees of his day were known to offer. Jesus' example was to pray about what is truly important -- like praise to God - remembering God is God and we are not, like daily bread, forgiveness, for help facing down evil and temptation, the hope for God's kingdom/realm to come to fruition.

 

Secondly in this passage, Jesus says to pray with confidence and boldness, expecting God to answer. In fact, one translation uses the word "brashness." Be brash with you pray. “Ask and it will be given you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” These are powerful claims Jesus made and invites us to believe. Can you pray this way? I struggle to do this. It took a spiritual director a while back to point out to me that my way of approaching God has tended to be quite timid, as if I'm trying to sneak up to God's door, knock faintly, leave my prayer at the doorstep, and then hightailing it out of there. The invitation in this scripture passage is to pray with boldness, to knock on that door to heaven, stick a foot in the doorway, expect to get a hearing.

 

The scriptures encourage us to be confident that God will answer our prayers. But to also remember that the answers may not come in the way we expect nor on our time schedule; Yes, no, and not yet can all be ways God answers prayer. The answer we receive may not turn out to be the answer that we thought we wanted or were looking for.

 

3) Thirdly, be persistent. Jesus tells this parable about a neighbor who pesters you in the middle of the night and you finally relent and give what neighbor asked of you. Are we to conclude that God is hard of hearing? that God wants us to grovel and beg? Does God need to be convinced of our need?

 

I don't think so. But I think persistence tells us something about ourselves and what we value and need. Ask a child what they want for Christmas and they will likely give a whole list of things. Ask again a day or week later, and you'll likely get a somewhat different list. But there will also likely be some things in common. What consistently remains on the list, what has staying power, probably represents real desires.

 

Persistence, having to ask, and to wait, winnows out our whims, our frivolities, what we pray for that has to do merely with our convenience. For one thing, waiting and being persistent in our praying creates the space wherein we might actually start listening, rather than just talking to God. We usually think of prayer in terms of what we say to God. Prayer is just as much our listening for what God has to say to us. There’s a story of a man named Harry, who lived in a rivertown during the time of a flood. Everyone was warned to evacuate, but this man was stubborn and refused to leave. The water rose up to the front door of his house and a neighbor came by, trailing his child’s wagon behind him. He called out, “Harry, can I help you carry any of your things to the shelter?” Harry replied, “No thank you. I’m praying that God will rescue me. I’m waiting for God to act.” So the neighbor went on. The water rose much higher, this time reaching the windows on the first level of his house. Another neighbor came by, this one in a row boat, and called out, “Climb out the window, Harry and I’ll pick you up.” Harry replied, “No thank you. I’m praying that God will rescue me. I’m waiting for God to act.” And that neighbor went on. The water rose even higher. Now Harry is up on the roof, hanging onto the chimney. The National Guard helicopter flies over head and someone with a megaphone calls out, “Hang on there! We’ll let down a rope for you!” Harry calls up, “No thank you. I’m praying that God will rescue me. I’m waiting for God to act.” Well, the flood levels rise even higher. And poor Harry drowns. When he faces God in heaven, he says, very accusingly, “God, the Bible says we’re supposed to pray, and expect to get an answer. I prayed and prayed that you would rescue me. I trusted you. What happened?” And God replied, “Well, Harry, I sent you neighbors with a wagon, a boat, a helicopter, what more did you want?” Sometimes we have trouble recognizing the answers we get to our prayers, don’t we? And sometimes we forget that God is sometimes waiting for us to take the next step.

 

I truly believe that the purpose of prayer is less to change God and God’s mind, than it is intended to change us. “Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me. Prayer is not a message scribbled on a note, jammed into a bottle and tossed into the seas in hopes that it will wash up someday on God’s shoreline. Prayer is communion with God. We speak to God, but God touches, embraces, shapes and changes us. (Whatever) we pray for, (it is) in the act of praying (that) we receive the gift we really seek – intimacy with God. (Aug. 98 newsletter, Plymouth UCC, Chris Myers) Perhaps we might best think of prayer as less our asking for things from God as it is the way for us to be in relationship with God. And to build a relationship, you have to spend time together. I like how John Calvin put it: “Prayer is none other than an expanding of our heart in the presence of God.”

 

We might sometimes wonder if what we're praying for lines up with God's will. The word for "will" in Hebrew translates as "yearning." God's will is God's yearning. God's will is less a blueprint for us to read and follow in detail than it is a yearning, a direction, a movement. When we pray, we try to put ourselves in alignment with God, like taking car in for a wheel alignment so it can drive straight down the road. To be in prayer doesn’t mean we have to try to second-guess God. Rather, it means to align ourselves with God and God’s yearning, and not expect to dictate to God what we expect God to do.

 

So what can we learn from this passage from Luke about prayer and praying? 1) be direct 2) be bold 3) expect an answer 4) listen 5) be open to being changed

 

Again, I truly believe that the purpose of prayer is less to change God and God’s mind, as it is intended to change us. Kathleen Norris: "Prayer is not asking for what we want, but asking to be changed in ways we cannot imagine." “When you pray, you better get ready to duck.”

 

 

*CALL TO WORSHIP (Responsively)

Leader: Eternal One, Silence --from whom our words come;

All: Questioner --from whom our questions arise;

Leader: Lover -- of whom all our loves are hints;

All: Disturber-- in whom alone we find our rest;

Leader: Mystery-- in whose depths we find healing and our selves;

All: Enfold us now in your presence; restore to us your peace;

Leader: Renew us through your power; and ground us in your grace.

  1. Amen. (Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, adapted)

 

*PRAYER OF CONFESSION (unison)

  1. grant us grace and a portion of your spirit that we may so live as to give others cause to be thankful for us, thankful because we have not forgotten how to hope, how to laugh, how to say, "I'm sorry," how to forgive, how to bind up wounds, how to dream, how to cry, how to pray, how to love when it is hard, and how to dare when it is dangerous. Undamn us, Lord, that praise may flow more easily from us than wants, thanks more readily than complaints. Praise be to you, Lord, for life; praise be to you for another chance to live in your grace. Amen. (Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace, adapted)

 

WE RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD

*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH (unison)

Our Faith does not come from us alone, but is the work of the Holy Spirit, God's gift to us through Jesus. We cannot understand God by ourselves. We depend upon our Lord Jesus Christ to show us God's way and upon the Holy Spirit to move us along this way. (Adapted from the SCOTS CONFESSION)


Eternal Spirit Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all. Loving God, in whom is heaven. The hallowing of your name echoes through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the earth! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth. With the bread we need for today, feed us. In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and test, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen

New Zealand prayer book

 

 

  1. by Ted Loder “For me, the simplest definition of prayer is putting your heart in your mouth. (not your foot, mind you, but your heart!) From deep within, some plea or question or gladness geysers up to address a presence or power beyond our human limitations. There is an unadorned urgency, honest, and immediacy about it. It puts your heart in your mouth. Often, the beginning of a prayer is nearly as inarticulate as a gargle – a word or two, such as ‘please: or “thank you”, or a sigh or a grunt, as when the wind is knocked out of you, a catch in the breath of shame or sorrow, a curse of despair, an awed lump in the throat, a winged whoop of ecstasy. . . Sometimes the words come quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes not at all. But when they do come, the words are never wholly adequate to the experience because prayer takes us close to the mysterious boundary between time and eternity, the “thin place” between this world and God’s kingdom where our words stumble and grope. . . God does more than read our lips. . . . That promise gives us hope that whatever traces of hypocrisy and self-promoting piety there are in even the best of our prayers, they do not thwart God from doing shocking and amazing things with us and around us. (Loder, My Heart in My Mouth, introduction)

 

 

 

 

 

 
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