St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 10 2013 Sermon
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Jim Campbell
 

Luke in our Gospel reading today talks about the disciples asking Jesus how to pray.  By now in his ministry his disciples had been with him for some time, and they had seen Jesus pray a lot, and wondered what he prayed and how he did it.

I just want to note that we’re talking about Jesus, the son of God, and part of the Trinity, praying to his Father.  It seems odd to me that this would even happen, except that we must remember that Jesus, even though being one of the three manifestations of God, came to Earth and lived as a fully human person.  So, as a human and a believer in God he would need to pray.  Of course at this time, the disciples did not fully understand who Jesus was yet, but in seeing him at least as a great teacher of their religion, they wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray.
 
So, Jesus tells them how to pray by giving the disciples (and us!) this now very familiar Lord’s Prayer.  This simple prayer:
  • addresses God as the Father and praises his name,
  • asks for his kingdom to be here now, and to be nourished daily (physically and spiritually),
  • asks for forgiveness of our sins and to help us forgive others, and
  • keep us from temptation. 
 
Then Jesus points out with a couple of short stories to his disciples how much more God will respond to their prayers than anything they can do to respond to help others.  One message--if parents, with all their faults, know how to give their children gifts that are good for them, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to his children who ask of him, including and especially the gift of the Holy Spirit!
 
We also hear this familiar verse from Jesus about praying:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
 
Here is a large variety of sayings about praying and prayer you may have heard before (or maybe the people who have said them).  Overall I think they give us a lot to think about:
  • When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing - nothing.  ~Saint Francis of Assisi
  • Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.  ~Søren Kierkegaard
  • Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines.  ~Satchel Paige, 1974
  • We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.  ~Oswald Chambers
  • Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God. ~Author Unknown
  • Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. ~Walter A. Mueller
  • Deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can't pray a lie - I found that out. ~Mark Twain
  • If we could all hear one another's prayers, God might be relieved of some of his burdens. ~Ashleigh Brilliant
  • Prayers not felt by us are seldom heard by God.  ~Philip Henry
  • The trouble with our praying is, we just do it as a means of last resort.  ~Will Rogers
  • When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart.  ~John Bunyan
  • I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.  ~Abraham Lincoln
  • Some people think that prayer just means asking for things, and if they fail to receive exactly what they asked for, they think the whole thing is a fraud.  ~Gerald Vann
  • God always answers our prayers, but sometimes the answer is no. ~Author Unknown
  • God speaks in the silence of the heart.  Listening is the beginning of prayer.  ~Mother Teresa
  • When prayers go up, blessings come down. ~Author Unknown
  • Most people do not pray; they only beg.  ~George Bernard Shaw
  • Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.  ~Socrates
  • Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.  ~Edwin Keith
 
 
I found this story used in a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton:

“I heard this story on the Paul Harvey radio show a few years ago.  A three year old goes with his mother to the grocery store. As they started in the door, Mom says to son, “Now, you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask." She puts him in the child’s seat and off they go up and down the aisles. He's doing just fine until they get to the cookie session. When he saw the familiar packages, he says, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?  Mom replies, “I told you not to ask.” 

They continue up and down the aisles, but, like always, they backtrack looking for a few things and wind up in the cookie aisle again. “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?”  Mom holds firm, “I told you not to ask.  You’re not getting any cookies.”

Finally, they arrive at the checkout. Junior is an experienced shopper. He knows this is his last chance. He stands up in the seat and shouts. “IN THE NAME OF JESUS, MAY I HAVE SOME CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES?”  Everyone in the checkout area stares, then laughs, then applauds.   And then, while Mom watches with open mouth, 23 shoppers go and buy her little boy his chocolate chip cookies, 23 boxes of them. 
 
What was it Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given?”  We are to be shameless in our prayers, to keep bringing our needs and hopes to our heavenly Father, because Jesus tells us to do so, trusting in God’s loving purpose for us. 

 
How God can deal with all these prayers reminds me of the movie Bruce Almighty, from back in 2003.  Remember it?  Jim Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a guy who complains about God so much that God, played by Morgan Freeman, gives Bruce his almighty powers to teach him how difficult it is to run the world.  First, a couple of fun things they did with the movie: God’s prayer e-mail service is called "Yahweh.com", a reference to his Biblical name, and the address for God's “company” is 77256 23rd street. 77256 is the numbers you'd get if you dial 'PSALM' on a phone pad.  So, the address is the 23rd Psalm (which is clearly a prayer!).
 
I love this bit of dialogue from God in the movie, which gets to prayer along with action: “Parting your soup is not a miracle, Bruce.  It's a magic trick.  A single mom who's working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that's a miracle.  A teenager who says "no" to drugs and "yes" to an education, that's a miracle.  People want me to do everything for them.  But what they don't realize is “they” have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.
 
At one point in the movie Bruce is so overwhelmed with the internet prayers, millions upon millions of them, that instead of answering them, he selects ALL, and then hits DELETE.  Bruce found out early how much fun it was to have this almighty power to do what he wanted, but he also learned how hard God’s job really is and the huge responsibility it must be to deal with the concerns and prayers of everyone in the world every day. 
 
 
Jesus’ teaching about prayer is that we should pray so often, and so regularly, and so persistently that we become as familiar with God as we are our neighbors and friends. 

The point of prayer is to talk with God, to be in relationship with God, to move your heart and mind and soul into cooperation with God in loving and serving the world.  And as a result of having our lives changed by God, we find ourselves empowered to change the world.  We embrace Christ as the way of saving ourselves and discover that we have become a part of the way of salvation for those around us. 



 
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