Sermons

"Is This How Prayer Works?" A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

"Is This How Prayer Works?" A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Jul 28, 2019

Passage:Luke 11:1-13

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Pentecost

Category: Prayer

Keywords: love, prayer, relationship

Summary:

We often look for the "right" ways to pray so that our prayers will work the way we hope they will. But in today's passage from Luke, Jesus talks to us about our relationship with God and each other being at the heart of prayer. It's not about "right" words or "right" ways of praying. It's about living with God and living out God's love in the world.

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Do you remember when you first started praying?  My first memories of prayer are grace before meals and prayer before bedtime. 

Some of you may remember:  “Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” 

Our earliest memories of prayer tend to stick with us.  It doesn’t matter if we started praying at 1 or at 60.  How we first learn to pray influences us how we pray for the rest of our lives. 

We can buy all kinds of books and go to all kinds of classes about how to pray.  There are so many different ways to pray…and so many different kinds of prayer.

We are, after all, a church that defines itself in large part by The Book of Common Prayer.  Prayer is at the core of who we are.  It’s vitally important to us.

But I’d also venture to guess that most of us struggle to fully and adequately answer when someone asks us “how does prayer work?”  

Why?  Because we don’t have that answer.  We have parts of the answer, but not a complete answer.  We have bits and pieces…which also probably change over time…but none of us can fully explain the mystery of how God works in the world.


Parts of today’s Gospel reading may be so familiar to us that we sometimes skip quickly through, saying “I know that…I’ve heard that…I even sat in on a class on that.” 

That first part is the Lord’s Prayer and the last part is “Ask and it will be given” and “Search and you will find” and “knock and the door will be opened.”  We need to say these words or something like them and ask often enough and our prayers will be answered in the way that we want them to be answered.

This is where Jesus is telling us how to pray.  Maybe…and….

In this rich passage, Jesus isn’t giving us the “right way” to pray.  Jesus is explaining how prayer strengthens our relationship with God and with each other.

Prayer isn’t about saying the “right” words or saying them in the “right order” or the “right” number of times.  God isn’t keeping a tally of how often and what kind of prayers we pray. 

God isn’t sitting up in the sky saying “hmmm…Jill only asked 26 times for this thing she wants…I’ll make her go 30 before I’ll give in.”  Or “you said the wrong words or you didn’t go to church enough or you weren’t nice enough, so I’m not going to answer your prayer.”

It’s not even about us asking for the “wrong” things.  God doesn’t hear us asking for health and love and safety and food and our loved ones and say:  “nope, you shouldn’t ask for those things...those things are selfish...I’m not going to answer that prayer.” 

Prayer isn’t a transaction.  It’s not “if I do this right enough or good enough or pray for the “right” things, then God will give me what I want.”   

Prayer is a gift, not a requirement for God to love us.  God already loves us.  God is already with us all the time.  God is already as close as our very own breath. 

Prayer is about our relationship with God.  God wants a relationship with us.  Imagine, the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with us…each and every one of us.

Yes, God wants us to ask...to search...to knock.  Those are good things.  Isn’t that part of any relationship? 

We ask them about themselves and their lives.  We share our deepest longings with them.  We carefully hold their greatest hopes and dreams and pain in our hearts. 

We want to be near that person.  We seek them out.   We look for times to spend time with them.

And we knock...we never, ever quit knocking.  Even when they’re too tired or grumpy or hurt to answer the door, we never give up on each other.  

Just like God never gives up on us.  God never stops asking us to be in a relationship with God.

God never stops searching us out...even when we may feel lost...God is there.  God knows right where we are.  God is waiting on us.

And God never stops knocking at the door...inviting us to be part of the Kingdom...to be swept up in the love that creates and heals.

What I do know is that God’s love for us is far beyond my imagination.  And prayer is how we communicate with God and it’s how we live life with God.

This isn’t a relationship with God that is filled only with nice words and nice thoughts.  It’s the depths of our joys and our pain.  God walks alongside us in whatever we’re going through.  God holds onto us and doesn’t let us go even when we want to let go ourselves.

Now some days, we’d rather have the transaction.  We want to be able to ask for something very specific and it appear.  We want the bills to be paid.  We want the suffering to stop.  We want the willpower to stand up to addiction.  We want that parking space.

If only we had the right words or our hearts were right or whatever to get what we’re praying for.  “God, just tell me what to do or say and I’ll do it.” 

And I’m not saying that prayer never works that way because I’ll be honest.  I don’t know why and how God answers which prayers.  And I’ve never heard anyone give an answer that seems to completely explain how God works.

But Jesus makes it clear in this passage today that it’s not just about our relationship with God.  Our relationship...our prayer life with God guides our relationships with one another.

Both the Lord’s prayer and the parable of the persistent neighbor speak to our call to share God’s love in the world.  God’s love builds us up.  It gives us strength and courage to love each other and take of each other.

If we’re listening to God, we can’t help but hear the cries of our brothers and sisters reflected in our cries.  Being in relationship with God opens our hearts and minds to the needs of those around us.

Prayer, being in a relationship with God, changes us.  It reminds us that we are loved.  We are never alone.  And nothing we can do will push God away.  That gives us the strength...that gives us the endurance...that gives us the guts to step out into the world and share that same amazing love with each other. 

Pope Francis has been quoted as saying “You pray for the hungry.  Then you feed them.  That’s how prayer works.”

  • We pray for those who are victims of violence...and we help them heal.
  • We pray for those who are homeless...and we help them find shelter and safety.
  • We pray for those who are grieving...and we offer our presence. 
  • We pray for those who have lost all hope...and we reach out to them. 
  • We pray for those who are alone in this world...and we extend our friendship. 
  • We pray for those who are angry and afraid...and we show them the power of love.

That’s how we take care of each.  That’s how we share God’s love with each other.  We pray.  We have a relationship with God that is honest and vulnerable.  We don’t give up on it even when we haven’t prayed in a long time.  We open our hearts and minds. 

And we let this relationship with God change us to be more loving.  Then we go out and share that love.  That’s the Good News.  That’s the answer to the Lord’s Prayer.  Amen.