Proper XII+C 29, July 2016
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Genesis 18:20-32 Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-5, (16-19) Luke 11:1-13
How do we think of God? Do we think of God? In the Older Testament, God is referred to in a rather formal way. In fact, in the whole of the Older Testament, the word Father is used for God only ten times! Even so it is not in the way of a personal relating or biological father but rather as Creator. In stark contrast, Jesus uses “Father” to describe God hundreds of times and the rest of the newer Testament dozens of times.
With Jesus as mentor, the disciples noted how Jesus prayed and something about it amazed them enough to ask Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples. What followed were words that would shatter the Jewish concepts of God, the Jewish approach to God and the Jewish understanding of God forever. Who was God to the Jew of Jesus’ day and generations before him?. He was to the Jew the Holy, Strong and Immortal One whose Name “I AM THAT I AM” or today as many have taught us the sacred Tetragramaton, Y-H-W-H or Yahweh was only whispered by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies once per year.
Jesus gave the Apostles and all who should follow him what has been called the model prayer. Jesus said: When you pray you are to say Our Father. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for Father is Abba. Child psychologists tell us the first word a child usually says is Dada.
A child in Jesus= day would have said Abba, like Papa or Daddy Its use denotes extreme familiarity trust dependence our dependence on God. That was a rude and presumptuous way to approach God. It was unheard of among the Jews at Jesus' time. Their prayers began, "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth," and this iterant Rabbi comes along calling him “Daddy”.
Some of our liturgical prayers begin this way too. And there's nothing wrong with lofty language when in the presence of the all-holy God. But that makes Jesus' first word that much more surprising. Abba, (Father). For the first time in human history, God, the Holy, All Powerful and Immortal One, had a human face. He was no more to be known as a God to appease, a God who looked down disapprovingly on his creatures, a God to fear, He was now to be Papa.
We take this for granted. Hasn't God always been thought of as Father= to all the religions of the world? The answer is an unequivocal NO! To refer to God or Allah as father for the Moslem is blasphemy. God is nothing like humanity, not related to us or like us for Islam. Our relationship with God is Father. Not that God is like an earthly father but rather, God is the model for the fathers in our lives. Historically a father is the head of a family, provider, protector, giver and guide. He is the one to whom his children may run for comfort and freedom from fear.
Why, because he=s our father! Jesus said,Except you come as little children you will not enter the kingdom, (the assembly, the reign) of God. Every time you pray - and it is your blood of Jesus bought privilege to pray as one of his baptized - you are appearing before the throne of the almighty, all-holy, all-knowing God of the universe, and calling Him "Father" because we are now his family. The Apostle John, in exile and writing from the Island of Patmos wrote these words: ”See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” I John 3:1 IHS opened up undreamed of doors of possibilities of prayer with God. To say that the Jewish people had a difficult time in accepting this concept would be the understatement of the decade. Like the followers of Islam, they called Jesus a blasphemer and the penalty for blasphemy? You guessed it, DEATH!
Following this, Jesus said in his model for prayer this element of honoring God.: Hallowed be your name. What is something hallowed something holy? It is something set apart consecrated as we in Christ are this morning. God is set apart by His Holiness and We are set apart by God=s Holiness by the Spirit of God that dwells in our hearts. In the Baptismal Rite in the anointing with oil we say: Cyou are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ=s own forever. Our life journeys are initiated into and imitate the journey of Christ. So it is with Confirmation and Ordination. We show humility in this expression hallowed and respect for God=s name. There is very little respect for God=s name in our day.
Many in our day only speak of God at the beginning of a profane expression. Along those lines, I once saw a little placard that said Jesus Christ is Lord of humanity, not a name for profanity. Jesus then continues this teaching by saying: Your Kingdom come. This means our willing submission to God or our coming under the mission of God and His will for our earthy walk and eventual heavenly journey. Remember Paul said: we are ambassadors for Christ! (2 Cor. 5)
Jesus now tackles our heart problems: forgive us our sins our debt to GodCThis reminds us of our indebtedness to Him. Sin incurs a debt that must be paid. But as the hymn says: Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Lead us not into temptation. Do not put us to the test. Save us from the time of trial. Have mercy on our human condition, our weakness. Jesus gives us elements of prayer. It is not intended to be the end of prayerConly the beginning. As we spend time in conversing with God we become like Him.
What manner of prayer should we have? The book of Hebrew tells us: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” The King James version says: Boldness ! the Yiddish word we might use is Chutzpah! Remember the words I say every Sunday? And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are (what=s the word?) BOLD to say.
Prayer is the chutzpah of a friend pounding on your door at midnight, waking up the kids, to borrow three loaves of bread because he has an unexpected visitor from out of town and his cupboard is bare. That's chutzpah!.and Jesus said in the gospel, "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 (his chutzpah), he will get up and give him as much as he needs." It implies reliance upon the dependability of the relationship shamelessness! But if God is your papa, why be shy? We pray in hopefulness not resolution or fear. Often when we say Anot my will but yours be done.
We are trying to give God an out. It showing a lack of trust a lack of nerve. And what happens when God answers prayer? Too often even Christians say, A what a coincidence!
A coincidence is a miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous. When we stop praying coincidences stop happening. And what does our Episcopal/Anglican tradition teach us? The Prayerbook has four sections called daily Morning Prayer or “daily Evening Prayer!
It was that we might have daily communion with God in prayer. Prayer was as natural to Jesus as eating and drinking are to us. He prayed perfectly, without needing to be taught or encouraged, but for us, prayer is something that must be learned. The disciples got it right. Lord, teach us to pray. We need to pray, to learn the rhythmic discipline of prayer - in the morning when we wake up, during the day before and after we eat, at night before we fall asleep. Each of us needs to learn to pray and to practice the daily life of prayer. Then we will find how unnatural an activity prayer truly is. How our sinful nature finds every excuse not to pray. How the devil cleverly arranges for us to be distracted from prayer. How the world makes prayer into something other than the conversation between beloved children and their dear Father in heaven. But prayer, practiced, learned as a discipline will reap benefits in your life, in your relationship with God, in the lives of those whom you care for and pray for, more benefits that you could ever imagine!
Prayer is a discipline which becomes a habit. It needs spontaneity, It needs authenticity not pretense. It must become an ordinary part of life. Brother Lawrence was a kitchen monk who wrote prayers about ordinary tasks. The book is called, Practicing the Presence of God. While doing such tasks he prayed. Prayer is the umbilical cord between humanity and God. It should be natural for us, but it requires work. I’m still working on it! It requires Practicing the Presence of God.
I read a story about a pastor who went to Korea and was very impressed with the attitude toward prayer of the Korean Christians. Many of them arose very early in the morning and went to the Church where they would pray for an hour before going to work. He came home excited to attempt this himself. The first morning he set his alarm early, went to the Church office while it was still dark and quiet and sitting at his desk he began to pray. He prayed for the sick, those in the hospital, those anxious and afraid, he prayed for those who would be working that day, all those who would be at home, at school and on the road traveling, the Church at home and abroad, the nation, its leaders, the nations of the world and their leaders. He prayed for everything deserving of prayer and not deserving of prayer. When he finished he looked at his watch and only ten minutes had passed. We may laugh but many if not most of us are strangers to prayer. We and God are barely on speaking terms. It is no wonder a disciple of IHS asked Him to teach them to pray.
You and I are to come boldly to God in confidence as our Father who we love and who loves us. It is the norm for us. A prayer less Christian is barely Christian. Today let us take these words of Christ to heart. Let us let Christ, teach us to pray