Pentecost 7-C/July 28, 2019 /Community Lutheran/Pr. Joe Vought
This morning our Scripture lessons focus on prayer. Scholars remind us that in Jesus’ day, most people were peasants and not in charge of anything. Nature determined weather. Landowners determined what they could plant and what they could keep and the Empire determined the taxes to be paid. So what could a peasant do? A peasant could beg and petition the landowner or the Lord.
If we are honest we would say that is what prayer is– telling God what we would like and hoping God will grant our requests. Someone said “Prayer is like swinging at a piñata blindfolded hoping you’ll hit it and all the candy will fall out.” Or that prayer is looking to God like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. This is what makes it difficult. We realize how self-centered we can be and because of this we find it hard to pray, thinking our motives and prayers should be more pure. And because we believe that we are not peasants, in control of our lives anyway, who needs to pray? But think of the times you have prayed. Prayers for a loved one, for healing or at the time of death? Ever prayed because you didn’t know what to do or where to turn? Prayer gets focused when you have a problem you cannot solve?
Abraham is fearful of what’s happening in the city of Sodom because it is a wicked place and Lot, his nephew, is there. Abraham is not afraid to tell God what’s on his mind and the dialogue turns into a whole bunch of “what if” questions. “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous, will you destroy it? Shall not the judge of the earth do what is just?” Abraham bargains with God like a Middle Eastern rug merchant. One question after another. Then we realize Abraham is really asking God if he will have patience with him. Can you handle my questions? Will you love me when I’m afraid? Can I trust you God? The Lord is patient with Abraham. In the same way Jesus tells his disciples to “ask, seek, knock” be persistent.
I would like to tell you I am a prayer warrior, but I am erratic and inconsistent. I do have a prayerbook with Psalms, daily Scripture readings and prayers that helps. I try to begin my day with this daily discipline but I confess I have stopped and started more times than I can tell you. Too often I become distracted by work, thinking what I am doing is more important. I am trying to get better at asking God for help because I realize how powerless I am. I think Pr. Annabelle might agree, God made us pastors because we have to keep showing up and be accountable to each other and all of you. And then what a holy privilege it is when you call or email to ask us to pray with or for you. When Jesus’ disciples said “Teach us to pray” I believe it is our calling too, to pray with and for each other. We are trying to pray more in worship, not just pastors, but inviting you to name names and bring your requests to God. It doesn’t need to be flowery or perfect, maybe just a phrase or a name and then say, Lord in your mercy. Jesus gave us the “Our Father” so that when we pray we draw closer to God and each other.
Prayer can be bargaining with God like Abraham. Jesus says prayer is like children asking parents for good gifts. Let me give you one more image: Prayer is like “Holly,” our Shih-Tzu Puppy we had to put-down after 16 years. I loved that little dog, because she would just bring that wonderful dogged persistence. When she wanted a treat, she wasn’t afraid, she would bark, beg, kick her back feet and look up to us as if to say, “Give me the good things I know you will give!” It was a joy to have that little creature look up to us and to care for her. You may call it instinct, I call it faith, and trusting love. Martin Luther also used the example of his own dog when it came to prayer. He said, “See how that dog looks to his master with a bone? If only I could be so focused in prayer to God!”
So just do it and be honest to God. Don’t worry about your motives or flowery language, because praying in and of itself is caring for the relationship. Not sure how to begin, call for a Stephen Minister, Prayer Partner, pick up the Christ in our Home devotional in the narthex or go online to the ELCA daily scripture site.
Jesus invites us to Ask, Seek, Knock, and Pray and be ready to be changed. When we start praying and are honest to God we realize that not all of our dreams come true, nor do all of our requests get honored. But then, to our great surprise, we get more than we ever bargained for: We get a loving God who gives us nothing less than Himself, His Kingdom, His Power and His glory, which is to say more than we could ever imagine, desire or deserve. Amen.