Lord, Teach Us To Pray
Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – July 24, 2016 – Proper 11, Year C: Luke 11:1-13
So last week, (in case you missed it or have since lived through seven full days and filled your brain with other things,) we heard the gospel story of Mary and Martha which is found just before the passage we heard today from the gospel of Luke.
I want to make some connections so here’s a quick recap:
Jesus came to Martha’s house for a visit and her sister, Mary spent time sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha remained busy bustling about, preparing supper, setting the table and so on. Martha then got upset that she’d been left with all the work (I was not without sympathy, you’ll remember, and some of you were with me on that.) And so, Martha, appealed to Jesus. And Jesus responded to Martha with this, “Martha, Martha you are distracted by your many tasks.” And added that Mary who had chosen to sit and to listen “had chosen the better part.” I shared a quote by theologian Paul Tillich who wrote, “the first of duty of love is to listen.” And so last week, we let Jesus and Mary teach us something about what it means to love. To love one another is first to listen to one another. Which invites us to approach this world a little differently than we otherwise might.
Well this week, we hear that God is listening too. And while that really shouldn’t come as a surprise, it is a profound statement of how God approaches us and we need to let it sink in. This God of love, of power, of wisdom, of grace, this God of almighty-ness is (to borrow an image from last week’s gospel,) sitting at the feet of the world and taking us in. All the time. God is loving. God is listening.
Which is theologically astounding. To genuinely listen is to allow one’s actions to be shaped by what it is the other has to say, by the story that person shares, their hurts, their dreams, their hopes. To listen is to become slightly vulnerable to that other – it is to laugh the laughs and likely share some of the tears of the one whose story it is. It is also to give the other an opportunity to hear them selves further into being, an experience that has power too.
And so this is a remarkable image of God. An all-powerful, yet lovingly vulnerable God who loves, who listens, and then get this, a God who responds.
Which means that part of our work is to prioritize our prayers, not that God isn’t willing to do that piece for us on a pretty regular basis, nor does it mean that there aren’t times when letting every prayer that it in us flow and flow and flow. But integrating a basic discipline of prioritizing within our prayers helps us not only to focus those prayers but to focus in life too.
‘Teach us to pray,’ the disciples said to Jesus in the opening of today’s gospel passage. And his response was something like, “Keep it basic, people.” Perhaps even “reign it in…focus…settle.” Jesus told them to “Ask God to help you through today.” And then he gave them some specifics: First acknowledge that God is holy, in other words, let God be God and you be you. Good reminder. “Ask for today’s bread,” he told them. Pray for the kingdom to come …now. (Which means we might look for it, even help it come into being now.) Ask for the ability to forgive and to receive the forgiveness you need today in order to have a new tomorrow. And the only truly forward-looking piece in all of this teaching was to “save us from the time of trial” which I think staying present probably does. (A topic for another sermon.)
One of the questions I’ve been asked several times over the past few weeks and months as horrendous acts of violence make the headlines is, “How do we talk to our kids about all of this?” Now I have some good resources to share and am happy to, but I think these stories give us a critical dimension of our response to that question.
We can talk to our kids, give them a framework for moving forward by teaching them how to pray. We can better talk to God, ourselves, and one another by making time for prayer. Prayer is in some ways an antidote to the anxiety of our times – not in a sappy or pop-religion sort of way – not as an excuse to not act nor as a way to assert our own power or superiority. We don’t pray in order to be let off the hook or to convince others of our closeness to God. We pray because through prayer we remember that which is most basic, most genuinely needed, most holy: Daily bread. Neighbors. Forgiveness. Kingdom like realities of mercy, compassion, and peace.
Fundamental to our belief as Episcopalians, as Anglicans is that our prayer, teaches us, shapes us, and makes us one. “Lord, teach us to pray,” could be the opening line of our liturgy every week, because that’s why we’re here. Maybe it could be the phrase we all utter in ourselves as we walk through these doors. “Lord, teach us to pray,” as we make space for ourselves, one another and God. We come here first and foremost to allow our prayer to teach us, shape us, and make us one. And our prayer has that kind of power, because God is listening, but also because through prayer, we learn to listen too.
“Listening is the first duty of love,” Tillich said. Each week, here in this space, we take and re-take that first step. Through prayer we remember that which is most basic, most needed, most lovingly vulnerable and holy too. Bread. Neighbors. Forgiveness. Mercy. Compassion. Peace.
And through this prayer that we call “common,” we learn how to listen and how to speak not only God but to this world that is God’s. Listen deeply to and through the words of our liturgy today and every week. We say things like: “Have compassion on those who suffer from any grief or trouble,” “forgive us those things done and left undone,” “we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves,” “Almighty God. . .strengthen you in all goodness,” “the peace of the Lord be always with you,” “the gifts of God for the people of God” and more! Through this prayer that is common we learn how to speak to God but also to this world that is God’s and our actions become grounded in this holy conversation that allows us to glimpse both a kingdom that is coming and a world that desperately longs for it to be so.
Through prayer we acknowledge that God is God and we are us and in such love we are given room to share ourselves, to listen to the needs of others, and to trust that God is doing the same.
The Lord be with you, Grace Church.
And also with you.
Let us pray…