In a rural religious farming community there cam a terrible drought, and the crops were dying everywhere. In desperation, the local pastor announced that the whole community would gather at the edge of one of the fields and pray for rain. Once a large crowd had gathered, the pastor climbed up on a bale of hay and surveyed the flock. Finally, he said, “Brothers and sisters, you have come here to pray for rain.” “Amen,” responded the crowd. “Well,” said the preacher, “do you have sufficient faith?” “Amen. Amen!” shouted the crowd. “All right, all right,’ said the preacher, “but I have a question to ask you.” The crowd stood silent, puzzled, yet expectant. “Brothers and sisters,” shouted the preacher, “where are you umbrellas?”
Jesus was a person of prayer. In the book of Luke there are seven or more scriptural passages in which Jesus prays. Certainly the disciples had observed this, for as our Gospel begins Jesus was praying on a certain place and as he finishes one of the disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” Then he offers this short prayer, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us today oour daily bread. And forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.
The Gospel of Matthew 6:9-13 is a slightly longer version. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Two slightly different versions, both in Jesus’ words. The concluding doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory for ever and ever was probably added around 60 AD.
We pray every time we gather. Remember our basic forms of worship are found in The Book of Common Prayer. We pray in community with others as well as privately. We pray any time and every time we feel a need, in a variety of ways using many different prayers. Some pray before meals, others pray first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. We pray for others—family, friends, whomever comes to mind. Jesus didn’t teach his disciples to preach, he did teach them to pray. The point of prayer is not to change God’s mind but to shape ours, to make us ready for the kingdom, life in God’s household—a household of love.
In Bible study Wednesday morning we talked about the familiarity of the Lord’s Prayer, how we recite it so often from memory that we may not be thinking of the power and importance of the words coming out of our mouths.
Kathleen Norris says this about prayer. “Prayer is not doing, but being. It is not words but the beyond-words experience of coming into the presence of something much greater than one self. It is an invitation to recognize holiness and to utter simple words, “Holy, Holy, Holy” in response. Attentiveness is all. When a person comes to mind, I take it as a sign to pray for them. Just saying the name can be a prayer. I may not know what that person needs, but I can be sure that God does.”
Jesus expects his disciples will pray, for he says to them, “When you pray say, ’Father’ (translated from ‘Abba’), Daddy, assuring us God is a loving Father whom we can trust.”
So, be attentive, be persistent, believe in miracles.
Our invitation to pray in our Eucharistic liturgy reminds us, “Now as our Savior Jesus Christ has taught us, we are bold to say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We are to pray boldly and confidently with whole-hearted trust.
Each time we pray “Our Father”, we know for certain that we matter to God. We begin by saying that two things are settled by this address to God. It settles our relationship to God but equally it settles our relationship to all others. When we say our Father all exclusiveness ends. If God is Father of all, then all our neighbors are family.
We are to honor God’s name, we are to welcome God’s Kingdom. We ask God to supply our daily needs. Jesus expects us to reflect the forgiving nature of God. If we expect God to forgive us we must forgive one another.
We pray for God’s protection for our loved ones, our community, our nation, our world and ourselves.
Frederick Buechner says, “We all pray whether we think of it as praying or not. The silence we fall into when something very beautiful is happening, at sunset or sunrise. The ah-h-h that floats out of us as on the Fourth of July when the skyrockets burst in a brilliant shower of color. The stammer of pain at someone else’s pain. The stammer of joy at someone else’s joy. These are all prayers in their way.
Whatever else it may or may not be, prayer is at least talking to yourself and that’s in itself not always a bad idea. Talk to yourself about your own life, about what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do and about who and who you wish and who the people you love are and the people you don’t love too. Talk to yourself about what matters most to you because if you don’t, you may forget what most to you. Even if you don’t believe anyone’s listening at least you will be listening. When listened to or not listened to does the prayer go unanswered? Who knows? Just keep praying, Jesus says.
The God you come upon will finally come.
And remember also, should you be praying for rain, you really ought to carry an umbrella. Amen.