July 28, 2019, Sermon cycle C, Seventh Sunday in Pentecost
Who taught you how to pray? Was it a parent? A grandmother? A Sunday School teacher? And for what were you taught to pray?
I’m grateful to the TV show Black-ish for their opening sequence for one of their episodes. It begins with the grandmother praying to God, and there’s a big box in front of her. She’s praying, Oh dear God, Oh dear God, I hope I hope Oh please, while she’s unwrapping the box. She’s hoping and praying to God that God has given her a swanky, expensive designer handbag. Yes, she gets it! She is SOOOO thankful to God, who she credits for getting her this expensive item.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The writer of Black-ish, is making fun of religious people who beg God for the WRONG things. Oh please oh please, oh please – dear God – get me what I want. I want that shiny, expensive thing, so I can outshine everyone I know.
When did people get YAHWEH confused with Santa Claus? When/why/ how did people think the Creator of heaven and earth is the Tooth Fairy or Kris Kringle?
Because what goes on in true prayer is very different from that episode.
When the apostles ask Jesus, ‘teach us to pray’ they must have been very curious as to WHAT was going on between HIM and the Father. We know that after healing the crowds, Jesus would often go off to a quiet place, away even from the apostles. Jesus must have needed to recuperate from all that NEED and ILLNESS he came to heal. The apostles must have wondered, what goes on when he’s alone with the Father. When Jesus would sequester himself, they must have sat and waited for him and waited. Wondering. Looking at each other.
When they say, ‘Teach us to pray,’ they are not asking Jesus’ for prayer techniques. They are not asking Jesus for a prayer that will stand the test of time, can go the distance of centuries and millennia, where it lands HERE among us, uniting us with ALL Christians, Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and all the rest. Asking Jesus to teach them to pray is closer to asking Jesus to show them his heart. What is close to HIS heart? Maybe if Jesus shows HIS heart, then the apostles will have a clue as to how THEY should pray.
Today, they are asking for some insights into how someone as special as Jesus gets closer to God. They can sense that Jesus has a relationship with the FATHER unlike anything they’ve ever seen in the synagogues or the TEMPLE.
With Jesus, it’s about RELATIONSHIP now.
A closer walk. A closer bond.
And Jesus DOES show his heart. We see what is important. What is important is that we BEGIN with PRAISE. ‘Hallowed be your name.’ Right away, Jesus prays for the kingdom and GOD’S will to be established on this earth. NOT that we get the designer handbag of our dreams or that BOAT.
In “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus is showing that God IS interested in our bodily needs. Jesus KNOWS this. He had a real human body, and he experiences hunger like anyone else. Having enough to eat for the day is important.
We should note that we are not only Christ’s DISCIPLES, but with the words, OUR Father, Jesus INCLUDES us in his relationship with the Father. We become SIBLINGS with the SON and a beloved son or daughter of the FATHER.
We may like the flashy stuff, we may have a weakness for bling, but being included with the Father and the Son is far better than getting designer stuff. God’s priorities are different from ours.
God is passionately involved in establishing a kingdom of love, peace and compassion.
The last few Sundays have been about GOD’S priorities. Jesus comes to earth to SHOW us how to live includes COMPASSION and PEACE. But he doesn’t just say hi and bye. He includes US in the Master Plan for the world, as his BROTHERS and SISTERS by virtue of the HOLY SPIRIT.
Today, he PROMISES an ABUNDANT life which involves ASKING, SEEKING, and KNOCKING. We are able to ask, seek and knock because Christ did it FIRST! Christ INITIATES the Action FIRST! Christ is the ONE who always goes AHEAD of us. ALWAYS. Christ is the one who ASKS. He asks us if we would like a closer relationship with him. Would we allow him to HELP us with our LIVES. Say yes to Jesus, we DO want his help with our lives.
Christ is the one who SEEKS us out. LET yourself be FOUND by Christ.
Christ is the one who KNOCKS on the door of our heart.
Rev. 3:23 says “LOOK, I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you.”
OPEN THE DOOR! Christ is KNOCKING! Will you let him in? Will you allow Christ to SHOW you the BEST way to live your ONE precious life? Say yes to Christ who SEEKS you out, knocks and asks to be allowed in.
God’s priorities are DIFFERENT from our priorities if ours are only about eating and sleeping. So even when Jesus says, SEEK, KNOCK, ASK, he’s saying, do the SEEKING, KNOCKING, ASKING on behalf of the kingdom.
When we have RECEIVED GRACE, and are CENTERED in Christ’s peace, when Christ gives us new eyes in which to see this world, and new EARS in which to HEAR this world, and especially a NEW HEART, we WANT to be of service. When we ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK as Christians, as his brothers and sisters, whose lives he has restored, ASKING becomes something new. When we ASK, we never know what doors or windows will suddenly open that we never dreamed existed.
When I was in my twenties, I became a part of an ad hoc group that the Holy Spirit created where we quickly and successfully prayed for money for an elderly African American man’s surgery. This man had no money, but he had faith and he TRUSTED God, so he prayed, and his prayer led him to think of a nun he had known long ago. He contacted her, reintroduced himself, said he used to be an altar server, and told her he needed money for this surgery. She said she had no money, but she told him she would pray.
She prayed, and the name of my roommate, Theresa McCaffrey, popped to her mind. Theresa was one of those people who was absolutely dedicated to God. Occasionally, she would put her face close to mine and say, “Jesus said we have to help the poor, so I am!” Saying that would always startle me. Wow! The big thing about Theresa was that she had been SAVED by Christ with a capital S, and she was GRATEFUL to God.
If Christ wanted her to do something for him, she would do it. I read the letter the nun sent to Theresa, where she said, ‘And I know that the Lord uses you in many marvelous ways.’ Well, it turned out THAT DAY at work, Theresa had gotten a tip on how she could raise some money quickly (and legally).
Theresa asked me for my discernment on this. I was all of 25 years old and it sounded good. She got the money, and was able to send it to the nun, who then sent it to the man for his surgery very quickly after she had gotten the letter. This was the Holy Spirit in action. DRAWING people together for the good of one man in need.
The elderly man was like the man in the parable. He needs something, and he is intent on getting it. He is shameless in his total focus. The man is going to knock, seek and ask until he gets what he needs.
When people are humble and open and receptive, ASKING and SEEKING, what CAN’T we do? This is the power of Christian community that the Holy Spirit pulled together a prayer/action group, very quickly. And once our mission was over, we went back to our lives.
It was THRILLING to be a part of an action generated by the Holy Spirit working in people’s hearts. Each of the prayers were like stepping stones.
Were we COERCING God to get what we wanted? Because sometimes it seems our idea of prayer is God to get God to do what we want – to be our servant! Do this for me. Do that for me. Like the grandmother in Black-ish.
No! The opposite. PRAYER gave the man, the nun, Theresa, and myself receptive hearts, open to LISTENING to what God wanted. Give us this day our daily bread? YES, and surgery to go along with it.
Discipleship is not boring. It is not dull. There was some risk taking. The man risked being rejected by the nun. The nun risked being rebuffed by Theresa. Theresa risked taking a chance on that tip to generate some money. (LEGALLY!)
We all followed the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
Just as in the parable, there was a chance of being ignored or rebuffed. We are meant to take risks on behalf of the kingdom. We are meant to take risks and FOLLOW the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
I hope many of you may have stories like this one, where people PRAYED on behalf of the kingdom, prayed with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and watched God work! God WAITS in excitement to SHARE the BUILDING of the kingdom with us – little humans.
Notice how different this experience of prayer is from that of the grandmother in Black-ish. I’m not knocking having nice things, but one prayer leads to a designer bag, while that whole other SET of prayers helped build up the kingdom.
Let’s be honest about prayer, it doesn’t always work out like this. Sometimes after my prayer time, I apologize to God, sorry God, I was distracted, wasn’t I? Or sometimes our fidgets nearly catapult us out of our seat.
Yet, we are rewarded in persisting, even when “NOTHING” appears to be happening. The DESIRE to pray is a prayer. Even when “NOTHING” appears to be happening, our persistence is pleasing to God. And even that acts on US. Prayer changes US.
Lord, let us be open and receptive to the movements of your Holy Spirit. Let us spend real time LISTENING to you. Our ASKING, SEEKING, and KNOCKING is in imitation of YOU. Thank you that you have INCLUDED us in the circle of family with the Father and the Son and Spirit. We thank you for giving us the DESIRE to have a relationship with you.
In Jesus name we pray.