“A Non- Plastic Model: The Lord’s Prayer” Colossians 4:2; Luke 11:1-4 7/29/12
Today I will be transitioning from Colossians back to a part of the catechism’s topic- The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is divided into two parts with six petitions or talking points with God- so my sermon series is called “Talking Points with God.” However, if we believe it is important to talk to God, it is also important to know it is possible for Him to hear and answer us. Friday night the Olympic opened with a hymn and spectacle, and then the athletes came marching in. Some of those countries I had never heard of. So I would look up the countries on Wikipedia while we watched. I thought- I don’t even know who these countries are, how can God know these people? Similarly, someone once asked me, “How can God hear all those prayers lifted up to Him?” My answer was that when we go on our computers and we search though google- how does google answer all our searches? Yet every search is answered in some way. If we can create a machine that can answer millions of questions a minute- cannot the God who created all of life answer our questions and requests? Prayer is a gift from God to us. It is how we plug into the person and power of God. To not pray- is to not only miss the blessing of God- but it leaves God out of our lives, and says to God He is not important to us. My major concern in our day is that we pray- we do not have to understand the hows, the whys, we simply need to let our requests be made known to God. We must approach God as a little child– believing, trusting, hoping. Prayer will always be somewhat mysterious as God is. But we are called to be devoted to the very idea of prayer. Certainly Jesus was, which elicited the request that he teach them to pray. Can you imagine God teaching you how to pray? [read passage]
I remember the story of Cyranno Deborgiac’s friend. His friend was desperately in love with a beautiful woman, but could not tell her. He didn’t know the right words to say, or how to say them, or when to say them. He felt love, he felt the need to express that love, but he couldn’t say it. So Cyranno, who was the man’s friend and a poet, said the words for the man. The woman fell in love with the man’s words that came from Deborgiac.
In some ways, we can sympathize with Cyranno’s friend when we can’t say what we want to say to God. We love God and want God to love us in return, but we somehow get our words mixed up. There are some people who have the gift of praying. They can speak freely, openly, and powerfully to God. They speak in such a way that it would seem that God would be compelled to answer their prayers. Some of you are like that. If you are like that, you may have a hard time understanding why some people choke when it comes to praying.
I used to be the chaplain for my local Rotary Club, and my main responsibility is to get people to say the blessing. You might be surprised how hard this task is. I would estimate that a third of our members who do not have problems believing in God, have problems saying the blessing. Perhaps because it is saying it in front of fifty people. Perhaps because it is a prayer made in public, and their view of prayer is more private. Perhaps because they want time to rehearse or make sure everything is just so. My point is not that some rotarians don’t want to pray. Most of these people are strong believers in God. My point is that if rotarians don’t want to bless the food, then how many of us have a hard time with prayer!
Perhaps we can sympathize with the disciples who said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray!” It was a simple request borne of an earnest heart. Lord, show us how to pray in such a way that our prayers are answered. Show us how to make a request to the king so that we aren’t likely to be turned down. Kind of like, show me how to fill out a resume so that I can get the job. Show me how to write an article for Reader’s Digest so that it gets published. Show me how my prayers can be acceptable to God. Wouldn’t it be nice to pray in such a way that God would almost have to answer your prayer? If that was what they wanted, Jesus’ teaching didn’t fit, because in Jesus’ prayer it is not a prayer that our will be done, but that God’s will be done. It is not that our kingdom come, but that God’s kingdom come. But this is not St. Francis’ prayer, or Niebuhr’s prayer, or some great thinker’s prayer- it is the prayer of Jesus- God in the flesh. It is God teaching us how to talk to God. But God also helps us to pray. Romans 8 says that the Spirit helps us with words that we cannot express.
Perhaps when the disciples said, “Lord teach us how to pray” they were asking for some set pattern for prayer. Perhaps they were looking for a pattern of prayer that they could memorize and repeat again and again. This was a common practice that a rabbi would teach his disciples a special prayer to learn as his followers. There are people today who make fun of those who repeat the Lord’s Prayer each week or more often. But if you put this prayer in its context, surely we can understand it was a prayer to be both memorized and repeated. It was to be memorized and repeated because it was a prayer sufficient unto itself. It was a good prayer not just as a model, but as a prayer. It was to be memorized and repeated also because it provide ins a pattern, a model, an outline for our other prayers. If left to ourselves our prayers may simply be bless me Lord, and by the way bless so and so and so and so. Instead this prayer begins not by asking God to bless anybody. It begins by focusing on God— our Father. Where is he? He’s in heaven ruling the world. What kind of God is this that we come to in prayer? It is a holy God, whose very name is to be said reverently. Before we ever get to the bless me part, we acknowledge that we are working not for our own purposes, but for his. Then there is room for asking for daily bread. Then there is room asking for forgiveness and help in resisting sin and evil. Then the prayer ends with thanksgiving for his purposes, power, and glory.
All the Presbyterian catechisms include the Lord’s prayer as a part of its teaching, because the Lord’s prayer is the ultimate teaching tool. The adult 1998 catechism asks the question: “What is the design of the Lord’s Prayer?” The answer given says: The Lord’s Prayer falls into two parts, preceded by an opening address, and concluded by a “doxology” or word of praise. Each part consists of three petitions. The first part concerns God’s glory; the second part, our salvation. The first part involves our love for God; the second part God’s love for us. The petitions in part one will nto be fulfilled perfectly until the life to come; those in part two relate more directly to our present needs here and now.
As a child when I wanted to write a thank you letter to someone, I would ask my mother, father, or one of my brothers, what should I say? I would ask them for an outline of what I should say. Sometimes they would provide me with a list: put date down, say dear…, write a word of greeting. Thank them for what you received. Sign the message “Love, and your name.”
This would be very helpful. Sometimes they would write the whole note out, and I would just copy it in my own hand. Either way would do just fine to the person receiving the note on the other end. Saying the Lord’s prayer using our own voice and heart, and using the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for our prayer, either way is important. The important thing is that you pray and that if you repeat this prayer, you do not simply stumble through the words rote, in a plastic, mechanical way. But that your prayer be made from your heart.
In using this prayer as a pattern for other prayers, John Calvin (founder of the Presbyterian Church) said, “In so teaching, we mean only this: that no man should ask for, expect, or demand, anything at all except what is included, by way of summary , in this prayer; and though the words may be utterly different, yet the sense ought not to vary.” (Institutes 3.20.49). The Lord’s Prayer contains Jesus’ greatest teaching about God, about our needs, and about how we can talk to God so that He will listen. In the next few weeks we will be thinking on this great prayer. It is an encouragement to be devoted in prayer. Colossians 4:2 says “be devoted in prayer.” The word “devoted” means “steadfast” or literally- enduring and constant. Literally it means [Thayer] “to endure in prayer even in the hard times.”
Lolo Jones of the USA was flying in the 2008 Beijing Olympics ahead of everyone. She was number one in the world in the100 meter hurdles, and was way ahead in the Olympic finals- but then her right foot clipped a hurdle and she fell. Instead of first, she ended up in seventh place- and the whole world watched her fall. But she got back up and finished. How did she overcome her embarrassment? The way she always did- she prayed. She grew up in a six child, single mother home. She can remember sleeping in a church basement and embarrassed to go to preschool there coming up from the basement. Lolo knows there will always be hurdles in life, and she finds strengths in the hurdles and falls through her faith and prayer. Prayer is for the good times and the bad. It is for the hurdles and the straight paths- my friends what we need most is to develop a spirit of prayer- being devoted to it.