“On the Importance of Prayer” (July 24, 2016: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 12C)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at both the 10:00am principal Eucharist and 6:00pm evening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2.6-15 (16-19); Luke 11.1-13

Voice recording link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5kv384poold20e9/20160724-101356.m4a?dl=0

“Lord, teach us to pray…”—Luke 11.1[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, teaches His disciples about prayer, telling of its importance communally, our need to do it persistently, and of its efficaciousness through God’s beneficent action.  As the task of proclaiming the Good News to you, the Christian faithful, falls upon me this morning, I have struggled mightily in coming up with something to say to you about prayer.  Perhaps the reason why that has been is because just like you, I, myself, still have many questions about prayer.  What should I say?  Am I praying enough?  Should I pray more extemporaneously instead of always out of the Prayer Book?  To use the words of New Way Ministries founder Lawrence Crabb, when it comes to prayer, I am “a self-confessed and ecstatic first grader in God’s school who is just now learning the alphabet.”[2]  But one thing I do know to be sure is that God is good and that in our prayers to Him can be felt and received the Good News.  So the good news is that there is Good News.

What the disciples today receive from Jesus and what has been passed down to us is the Pater Noster, the “Our Father,” most familiarly known throughout the world as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It is the most well-known of all Christian prayers.  For us Anglican Christians, whether it be the Daily Office, the Holy Eucharist, a baptism, a wedding, or a funeral, it is the Lord’s Prayer that is prayed more than all other prayers in just about every single Prayer Book liturgy.  Save for Jesus Himself, the Lord’s Prayer is the instrument of unity for all Christians everywhere.  It is in this prayer that Jesus taught that we see the plea of Saint Paul, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]

The disciples’ request to Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray….”  is akin to something we all have: a desire for God, a longing for an experience of Him who is holy.  The Prayer Book defines Christian prayer as a “response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”[4]  The disciples’ request was their response to all that they had seen the Blessed Trinity doing, which was marvelous in their eyes.  It is the Father’s love made known to us through Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s power in the here and now that brings all of us together week after week.  With Angels and Archangels and with all the company of Heaven we laud and magnify God’s most glorious Name.  Jesus saw their yearning and sees ours and gives to those who ask Him.

He begins with an address: “Father, hallowed be your name.”  Saint Matthew, in his Gospel’s version, adds an additional, yet highly important word: “OUR Father…”[5] In addressing God as “Our Father,” Jesus brings all of humanity together to the Trinity itself.  It is an acknowledgment of the reality that has been achieved through Christ, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”[6]   We have been made God’s sons and daughters through Jesus.[7]   We address God “our Father” as ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people and, as His people, He hears us.

But furthermore, in bringing all of humanity together to the Trinity, Jesus institutes a situation whereby we must recognize our connection through Him with one another.  “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”  Praying these words recognizes that “there is no distinction…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[8]  We are connected together in that all of us have been forgiven, saved, and made one body through the grace of the Lord Jesus.[9]  As Saint John says, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen…He who loves God should love his brother also.”[10]  So in praying to God, we are to come to Him prepared “to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by [us] to others; and also…ready to forgive those who have offended [us], in order that [we ourselves] may be forgiven.”[11]

It is for these things, communion with God, receiving from Him our daily sustenance, and the forgiveness of our sins, that Jesus says that our prayers should be persistent.  God yearns to be with us and in communing with Him we receive a foretaste of His kingdom: “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[12]  Praying persistently also keeps us mindful of the sin that dwells within us, the temptation we face to repay evil for evil, and our constant need for God’s help: “And lead us not into temptation.”  “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”[13] 

And when we pray, not only does God always hear, but He also always answers.  “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”   This does not mean that God will give us everything we want.  Rather, it means that God will provide for our needs in accordance with His will, sustaining us in ways infinitely better than what we ourselves originally conceived.  To pray is to walk humbly with God, recognizing that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves[14], acknowledging Him to know what is best for us.  As Jesus Himself said, “Not my will but yours be done.”[15]

But the best thing of all—and here is where we see the Good News—is that in the Lord’s Prayer can be found grace.  Perhaps it has been awhile since you last prayed.  Maybe you feel that your prayers are not good enough.  You may be thinking that because of things you have done and/or left undone in the past that God will not hear your prayers.  To all of you, I say this, “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”[16]  That includes you!

Do not worry about how long ago your last prayer was or that God will not hear you.  In the words of Richard Rohr, “God does not love you because you are good.  God loves you because God is good!”  So have no fear!  Take that leap of faith!  Come to God in prayer with the assurance that He has, indeed, ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven you.

Where do I begin?  What should I say?  “Pray then like this, Jesus says: “Our Father who art in heaven…”[17]  From there, you cannot go wrong.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Lawrence Crabb, The Papa Prayer: The Prayer You’ve Never Prayed (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 3.

[3] Romans 15.5-6

[4] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979) (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 856.

[5] Matthew 6.9

[6] Romans 8.38-39

[7] II Corinthians 6.18

[8] Romans 3.22b-23

[9] Acts 15.11

[10] I John 4.20-21

[11] “An Exhortation,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 316.

[12] Matthew 6.10

[13] I Thessalonians 5.16-18

[14] Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 218.

[15] Luke 22.42 (New American Bible—Revised Edition)

[16] Romans 10.13 (cf. Joel 3.5, Acts 2.21)

[17] Matthew 6.9

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