Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon - 28 July 2013 ~ How is your prayer life? How do you pray?

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon – 28 July 2013
Luke 11:1-13
How is your prayer life?  How do you pray?

How is your prayer life?  The question was direct and incisive, and while I had been at Seminary for a few months, I had not been asked such a question in quite some time.  Oh, I had delved into Koine Greek and explored the amazing array of courses, and I had even been attending services daily, and striving to make the transition from the work life “back” (again) to the life of a student. 

How is your prayer life?  I fumbled around for some kind of an answer, using adjectives that may or may not have been at all connected to fact nor truth.  Kathy allowed me to stew in my ineloquence and fuzziness

Another question followed:

How do you pray?

This first conversation with my spiritual director was going nowhere quickly, and I realized that I had really been neglecting my relationship with God. Perhaps ironically, since I was in Seminary after all, but she cut to the chase, and perhaps saw that my academic focus and my enthusiasm for finally entering Seminary had caused me to forget the ultimate reason for all of this effort – loving God, loving neighbor.

What kind of time had I been giving to God?  What kind of time had I been giving to my neighbor?

How is your prayer life?  How do you pray?

I take some comfort in the fact that the disciples themselves seemed just about as clueless as me, and they were actually hanging around with Jesus, after all!  They had seen him pray.  They had prayed with him.  They had watched him hike up countless mountains to “go apart and pray,”  They had seen him call up on God, his Abba, time and time again.  Perhaps they, too, were somehow focused on other things, the administrivia of what would become the church, getting done the stuff that needed to be done daily.  They had, ironically, neglected their relationship with God – and they had forgotten how to pray.  Of course, they might argue that they were actually with the Lord, since they were with Jesus, so perhaps they didn’t really need to pray, but I am getting side-tracked.

How is your prayer life?  How do you pray?

I had the good fortune to spend time with Michael Battle, who was a mentor of mine in seminary, and early after he became an Episcopal priest, he ended up being the “chaplain” to Desmond Tutu toward the end of Tutu’s work as Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa.  Michael’s job was mostly to drive Tutu to various appointments and events.  Often, where they went were sights of terrible violence, torture, and extreme poverty.  At one point, I asked Michael about Tutu and  prayer, and Michael said that Tutu was nearly always praying.  He would be praying in the back seat of the car silently, or reciting prayers, he would lead morning prayer on a long drive through the dirt roads of SOWETO, and especially would offer vocalized prayers before and after every appointment that he had.  He was praying constantly, said Michael.  In Thessalonians, Paul encourages his readers to “pray without ceasing,” and it seems that Tutu embodies this kind of prayer.  Even in the midst of administrivia, of appointments, of scenes of bloodshed and tragedy, even in the boredom and monotony of long drives, Tutu prayed.  I remember reading Tutu’s account of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and hearing just how much he cried, just how much he mourned, just how much he had to deal with his anger, and just how much he prayed through all of it.

How is your prayer life?  How do you pray?

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, he offers to them two different responses in Luke’s gospel.  He outlines the beginning of what we use in every service, and which we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  In this brief prayer are several aspects of prayer:  1) Calling on God as “Abba” – an intimate word for “father” or really “daddy” or “mommy” – God loves us, and we are to love God.  Not a mere creator, but a loving parent.  2) Hallowed be thy name  and your kingdom come call upon God to take charge of our lives, and to bring justice, peace, and salvation and health tour world, which only God can do.  3) Then there are three petitions – food – give us our daily bread (bread that we eat, but also spiritual sustenance.  4) Forgiveness, for us, but also that we might forgive others.  And, 5) Fidelity – “faith” of God – “bring us not to time of trial. 

The second response to the disciples is this brief story about the importance to “Ask, Seek, and Knock.”  The jist of this story seems to be that we may have to be persistent in prayer, we may need to ask in specific ways for God to energize our lives, and bring us health and peace.  Also that we may have to do some work to seek God, to strive to find God, and while God is always with us and around us, we may need to do some work to really feel God’s presence, we may need to step up to the plate.  Also, that we may need to be persistent, and keep “knocking” on that door.  Prayer will give us gifts but it may take some effort on our behalf.

How is your prayer life?  How do you pray?

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