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Sermon for Ordinary 17 Year C

What is Prayer ?

The Reverend Charles Royden


Bible Reading
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins,  for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' " Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' "Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. "So I say to you: 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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!


I was very impressed by a lovely advertisement on the television. It contained a beautiful poem, which when combined with superb pictures and clever photography had a powerful impact.


What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
LEISURE by William Henry Davies 1871-1940
 

It was advertising Center Parcs. The person behind the advert had recognised that people everywhere feel very rushed. And they made the point that we all need time to slow down and spend some time in an atmosphere of stillness. This was not a religious commercial, but it had a strong resonance with the Christian principle that we have to spend time away from the rush of doing things and to reflect.

There has to be a time when we stop and for Christians this is not just for leisure, some of this time should create room to pray, to reflect on our lives and allow God to speak to us.

Prayer was at the heart of Jesus life and ministry. Luke in particular shows how Jesus prayed often and especially prayer occurred at all the major points of his ministry.

Think of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Gethsemane prayer of Jesus is helpful, it demonstrates that, for Jesus, prayer was a means by which he was enable to put his life on track, so that he was able to be obedient to God and follow his ways.

So I want this morning to look at some issues surrounding prayer.

Prayer is one of the most difficult issues for Christian people. We all believe that we should pray more, but we are not quite sure what prayer is, how it works, it is an area where Christians have very different ideas.

Many Christians believe prayer is
‘persuading God to do something which he would otherwise not be inclined to do, or for some reason he needed to be reminded about.’

Our church website operates a prayer support scheme and people will send in prayer requests and we will pray for them. The requests come in from Christians across the world in all different countries. The majority of those prayer requests have the purpose of asking God for things. They are prayers sharing needs in a whole variety of different ways
I have a terrible relation ship with my husband, ask God to sort it out
I need to pay my rent and I am broke, ask God for the money
I need to pass my medical exams, ask God to get me the grades

Some of the people give permission for me to contact them by Email and I try to point them in the right direction as well as support them in prayer. The message which I try to make clear is that prayer is not about
‘putting a good word in to the man upstairs.’
Prayer is not reminding God about something which he has forgotten about. God is not a magician and our prayers are not like saying magical words like ‘abracadabra’ which mysteriously change the course of events if we mean them enough.

I remember watching a film in which there was a priest in a coalmining village with a weak faith and one day there was an accident in the mine and the priest prayed that the miners would be safe. When they came out safe and sound he said that God had answered his prayers. Then one of the miners said, ‘if God got them out, who put them down there in the first place? We cannot pray for things and then depending on the outcome

Prayer not magic, it is rather a means by which we seek to engage with God in the work of his kingdom, or as somebody once said
‘conspiring with God towards the healing of creation.’

Prayer is a readiness to rest in the presence of God trying to look at life through his eyes, bringing our activities under his sovereign will.

This is seen very clearly in the teaching given by Jesus in the passage this morning which follows the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus tells us to us pray as a way to present our needs to God. But prayer is supposed to just be the start, it is the prelude for action. Jesus has a plan for affirmative action. The old dichotomy between being and doing is shown to false. We abide in Christ, but we do so in order that we are able to go and do the will of God.

Sorting out our problems is our responsibility and we need to do the stuff that is needed to sort things out
Ask - and it will be given to you.
Seek - and you will find.
Knock - and the door will be opened to you.

If we are apathetic, if we sit around blaming others, or expecting others to do something - things will not change.

The words of St Teresa of Avila are significant

Lord Christ,
You have no body on earth but ours,
No hands but ours,
No feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which your compassion
Must look out on the world.
Ours are the feet by which you may still
Go about doing good.
Ours are the hands with which
You bless people now.
Bless our minds and bodies
That we may be a blessing to others.

Christ has no feet but yours, no hands but yours, no mouth but yours. We have our part to play in bringing about God's purpose. Our efforts will be rewarded, all things do co-operate for good for those who love the Lord. Everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened.
Our prayers will be answered, if they are supported by commitment on our part to action.

If we sit around watching telly we will have poor grades
If we are worried about our marriage, it is no good praying if we are unprepared to go and ask for help.
People complain about being lonely, but do nothing to join clubs and societies to make friends.
Some people say that they feel worthless, but they do nothing to give themselves a sense of worth by investing their time and energy in helping others.

Are you asking, seeking, knocking? If we wish to be used by God to bring about his purposes are we prepared to pay the price, in terms of our energy, chasing opportunities, bearing the disappointments ? Do we set big goals? Or are we content to always sail in sheltered waters, away from the dangerous waves?

Never allow yourself to be a victim, pray and then do what you need to take care of things. Surrendering to God does not mean abdicating your responsibilities.

Somebody once said God helps those who help themselves. It sounds dreadful, yet it partly true. God does work to share in helping those who are willing to acknowledge a need and then be a part of the solution.
So often our prayers are carefully worded to avoid the possibility that this might be the case. God bring about peace in Iraq. Well that is fine, but it is too easy to pray for world peace and then fail to show love to a person we find difficult in church.

We have to be prepared to be a part of the answer to our prayers
If you have a need — seek help
If you recognise a need in the community — you be prepared to get stuck in
If you are sick - go and see the doctor
If you are troubled with guilt go and see a minister and ask them to pray for you
If your job is driving you mad — apply for a new one.
If you need love or human companionship - ask for it from those you care about.
If you feel miserable in life—go and offer help and support to others in need, for it is in giving that we receive.
Seek and you will find, Jesus promised.

Lord teach us to pray

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray he taught them the Lord’s Prayer

It is a prayer above and beyond all others, capturing in a few sentences the essence of all prayer. Christians should pray this prayer regularly as Jesus has commanded and we must try also to understand what the words mean.

I recently went to Jerusalem and climbed up through Gethsemane and on to the church of the ascension. There is a French church next door and on walls all around the grounds of the church there is written in large letters the words of the Lord’s Prayer in many different languages in the French Church in Jerusalem, near to where Jesus taught it

It shows the universality of the prayer.

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus recognises that spirituality is not something ethereal and removed from daily life. Actually it is about committing ourselves to live by God’s ways in our ordinary daily living.

Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name'

Our……
We have all heard the phrase ‘I am a Christian but I don’t go to church.’ The statement tries to make the point that it is impossible to be a Christian in private.
The word ‘Our’ is very poignant, it makes the Christian faith a shared experience, not an isolated one. You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and mean it and then be a private Christian. The following is a simple poem but it does have a strong message about the shared nature of Christianity—
You cannot say the Lord’s prayer, and even once say "I". You cannot pray the Lord’s prayer, and even once say "my". Nor can you pray the Lord’s prayer and not pray for another. For to ask for "our" daily bread, you include your sister and brother! All God’s children are included in each and every plea. From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say "me".

Father…..
As soon as he started to pray, Jesus must have amazed those around by addressing God as "Father". The word Jesus would have used for Father is ‘Abba,’ as used in the hymn ‘Abba Father.’ It is a term of affection and intimacy used by children of their fathers.
The Pharisees never used such a title to address God. Jesus used this quite distinctively and possibly uniquely. We can be sure that not until Jesus does it become characteristic to speak to God as Father.

Jesus wants this level of intimacy to be shared by us all.

Most probably the word ‘Father’ would have appeared presumptuous, and this is one reason why it would not have been be used. But Jesus was showing us that this was the kind of relationship with us which God desires. A relationship so personal that we can call the Creator of the universe 'Father'. God is somebody we can approach as we go to a human parent and share the good times and the bad, the success as well as the failure, the joys and sorrows. As ‘Father’, God is concerned for the needs of his children.

The story is told ... of a mother who feared for her son and his moral behaviour. She was afraid that if he continued he would end up cursed by God and denied forgiveness. She confided her fear to her priest. He asked her to imagine that she was with God in heaven when her son appeared. The priest asked how her son felt at that moment: She replied that he was frightened and upset. She was then asked what she would want to do to her son. The mother replied that she wanted to hug him and hold him close to her once again. The priest then asked how she imagined God felt towards her son. The mother said that she was sure God wanted to do the same because her son was his child also. Confronted by her own feelings of forgiveness for her own child, she began to discover how, as a loving parent, God might feel towards his children. Was it likely that the love of God towards his children would be less strong than her own?

in heaven… Hallowed be your name ….
These word of Jesus are a contrast to some of the very cosy images which we have of God. Just as God is a Father and intimate, he is also all powerful, quite unlike a human father. Truly God is like a human father, but he is also a heavenly creator. As surely as the word Father establishes God’s personal relationship with us, so too the word heaven establishes God’s transcendence.

This Greek ‘holy’ word means to treat as holy, to reverence, to be pure, sacred. There is an acknowledgement of the fact that God is ‘worthy.’ This is about the essential quality of God which is beyond our imagination. In calling God ‘Holy’ we acknowledge that God is ‘other worldly’ and that there is much about God which is above and beyond us: We cannot expect to place an infinite God into the container of our human finite minds. This is also a prayer for the mission of the church, we are seeking that all people would reverence God.

Hopefully an awareness of the holiness of God should make us humble. Only a Christian who has not grasped the holiness of God can pretend that they have all the answers. To say ‘hallowed be thy name’ is an act of humility and it helps us to see that we are not able to explain God or restrict God with our minds because they are simply not big enough.

'Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'

Your kingdom come ……
Jesus expresses our longing to have the kingdom fully now, not just a taste of it. Our deepest longing is to see the day when the triumphant, sovereign lordship of our loving God will no longer be a mere hope clung to desperately by faith, but a manifest reality in all human affairs. We all long to see the end of death and pain and suffering, this prayer seeks the time when all these things will come to an end. This prayer looks forward to the events spoken of in the glimpse of the Kingdom in Revelation 21. Which one of us would not respond 'Come quickly Lord Jesus!'

"And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make everything new." Revelation 21:4-5

The world is not as God intended it to be. In praying 'your will be done' we acknowledge that currently it is not being done and that we are all bad at doing it.

This prayer is an attempt to bring our wills into line with God's to allow God to lead us in the ways of his kingdom. As we pray this prayer we commit ourselves to the course of God's rule in our lives, in this world and the world to come.


Your will be done ……
If we pray 'Your will be done', we are praying that our lives will be surrendered to God. It's the prayer of an obedient disciple. Surely we cannot pray this prayer unless we at the same time say, "God, you are the King and I am your subject. I will obey all that you call me to."
On earth as it is in heaven ……
It will always remain in my mind that somebody once said to me that any kind of social action entered into by Christians was like 'polishing the brass on a sinking ship.' The point was that Christians are not of this earthly kingdom but rather of God's heavenly kingdom, hence our efforts should be directed towards mission and evangelism, turning the hearts of people to God.

It is clear that the disciples took this message to heart and travelled far and wide to make sure that as many people as possible were able to hear the good news. This is a part of establishing God's kingdom here on earth.

Yet this is not the whole story. The standards of the new kingdom, the behaviour of the new kingdom, these should be a part of the life of the church now. We should be living a different lifestyle and trying to make God's ways known upon earth. This means to me that Christians should be unashamed to speak out on issues such as racial abuse, equal opportunities, health care, environment, employment, crime, education and just about anything else that affects our daily lives and the lives of all God's children and his created world. There can be no bits of life which we can tuck away outside God's area of concern.

This of course is a message despised by many politicians who think that the concern of God's church and its servants should be spoken in religious buildings, whilst earthly politics are dealt with in a different way.

Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.'

Give us this day our daily bread ….
We are half-way through the prayer before Jesus allows us to ask for anything for ourselves! Give us today our daily bread says, ‘I depend on you for all my needs’

The prayer first gives praise and we seek to make sure that we are doing the Father's will. This phrase reminds us of where our priorities must be. It reminds us of our daily dependence upon God and calls us to simplicity of life. As we pray these simple words we pray that we will live just one day at a time and we also acknowledge that all things come from God. (Deut 8:18, 1 Cor 4:7, James 1:17). True prayers are born of present trials and present needs. Bread, for today, is bread enough. As every day demands its bread, so every day demands its prayer. No amount of praying, done today, will suffice for tomorrow's praying.

This part of the prayer is about NEEDS not GREEDS. Bare necessities.

It would seem difficult to justify from Jesus words anything other than asking for the bare necessities of life so that we might labour and have strength to serve him. Jesus acknowledges that our physical needs must be met but it is not a prayer for luxuries.

Is it not obvious that we must not pray for God to intervene in our lives to provide motorcars or microwaves, whilst people across the world die from lack of access to basic medical care, clean water or food?

To pray for ‘our daily bread’ is to remind ourselves that in a wealthy society we should not be asking for more than that, anything else is a bonus! Indeed for many people daily bread itself would be a real luxury.

We must also consider how important it is that we pray for ‘our’ daily bread. This is not a private call for our own daily bread at the expense of others. We must not consider our own needs whilst others go hungry and die. This opens our prayers up to having to be prepared to become involved in working for a more equal distribution of food and the word’s resources. It is not sufficient to send bread to the hungry if we do not also work to address the injustices which cause so many to go hungry. Corrupt regimes abuse their people, the first world can exploit poorer countries and enslave them in debt.

This part of the prayer also provides an insight into prayer itself. We ask God for our daily bread and yet we know that we will have to work for it by the toil of our own hands. Jesus earned his bread as a carpenter, Peter, James and John as fishermen, Paul as a tentmaker. I am reminded of the prayer of St Thomas More (1478-1535),

‘The things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me the grace to labour for’




And forgive us our trespasses ………..

The first thing about this part of the prayer is that we admit that we are sinners! So we ask for forgiveness as a gift, for we can never earn or merit God’s forgiveness.

Some would say that we should be praying forgive me ‘my’ sins. There has been a tendency to become very excited about our individual sins: Of course the ones that we get really excited about are sexual sins and sins of morality.

In his prayer, Jesus is not so focused on individual but rather corporate sin. It is actually harder to say forgive us our sins, since when we take shared responsibility for corporate sins it challenges us in a new way.

As we forgive those who trespass against us
(Read Matt. 18:23-35)

The Bible says that all our sins are forgiven. Think about the things God has forgiven you for. Now with all that forgiven how can you not forgive someone who has sinned against you? Jesus assumes that those who seek forgiveness will forgive their enemies. Quite an assumption! Yet, once our eyes are opened to the enormity of our offence against God the injuries done to us appear by comparison to be trifling.

If we exaggerate the offences of others then the chances are that we have a minimised our understanding of our own ! Forgiving others shows that we are living out the kingdom standards in our own lives now.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one ...

Does God lead us into temptation? I would want to say that God does not, but we can all be sure from personal experience that he does allow us to be tempted, to go through difficult circumstances.

Perhaps we could say that this prayer asks God to help us avoid sin, and that our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into sin of any kind. If we continue to say this prayer each day, then we will find it hard to live knowingly with sin each day. It is interesting that when people do things which they know to be wrong they frequently find a reason to avoid confronting their sin. They will perhaps leave their church which challenges such behaviour, sometimes finding fault in the church itself as an excuse. Our prayers will challenge us not to live a double life.

Conclusion

It is comforting that when he instructed his disciples on prayer, Jesus choose something so very simple, albeit profound, as the Lord’s Prayer. Even a child can pray the way which Jesus taught.

If you find prayer difficult, like those first disciples, then a great place to start in prayer is by following the advice of Jesus and simply saying the Lord’s Prayer. As this prayer becomes part of our daily routine so we can include other prayers and then perhaps consider other things to help develop our own pattern of prayer. The important matter at hand is that we all make this small prayerful start.

As we pray the Lord’s Prayer we acknowledge God for whom he is and for the claim which he rightly has over our lives. We also join our concern and commitment for people and the world with his. This is a spiritual journey which will take place over many years as we seek to obedient and grow in love of God. If you have not yet started this journey then there is no time to delay, for it is a pilgrimage in which Christ goes with us and there is no better path to follow.