Saturday, August 6, 2016

Pentecost 10 July 24--Prayer and Hope

Today I would like to talk about Prayer and Hope.

What is it that we hope for today?  I think that sometimes we hope for too little.  When we say our prayers, we articulate our hopes—we may pray for healing, the healing of our bodies, or those of family members; we may pray for guidance in our own activities; we may pray for patience; we may pray for prosperity—that we might find the right job, or receive a raise, or find the right answer to a hard problem.  But I notice that my prayers can get stuck on my needs.  I pray for myself and the people closest to me, I focus on God’s work in my individual life.  I hope for a better life, but I measure “better” in personal terms—do I have enough money, time, pleasure, joy?  If I hope for personal things, then I feel that God is close to me when I am feeling personally blessed.  I think about my family’s thanksgivings every night.  We give thanks for the friends gathered around the table, for the bounty of the earth in the food that we eat, for the peace that we enjoy in our community, for the security and prosperity that we feel.  Or on days when someone in the family or our circle is experiencing troubles, we ask prayers on behalf of those people.  But maybe these thanksgivings and prayers are too focused on me.  Today’s Gospel points us to different realm for our hopes and our prayers. 

Luke’s gospel, unlike the other three mentions prayer repeatedly.  (One scholar counts 35 instances of prayer in the gospel with eight examples of Jesus praying and the rest focused on prayer instruction to Jesus’ disciples.

Some important instances of Jesus praying in Luke’s Gospel:
·      Jesus’ baptism
Luke 3:21-22
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

·      Routine of prayer
·      Choosing of the twelve
·      Peter’s confession
·      Transfiguration
·      Intercession for Peter
·      At Gethsemene
·      On the cross

If we look carefully at these passages, we can see that Jesus is showing us that prayer is the way to new life in God.  Before every major event in Jesus’ life, there is prayer.  As Luke explores Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, he shows us Jesus in prayer to God.  If we look carefully at the first instance—Jesus praying before he is baptized by John, we can see that Jesus receives the gift of the Holy Spirit with his baptism.  Through prayer and the sacrament of water, Jesus is united with God in the Holy Spirit. 

And there is the same sense of Jesus united with God in the transfiguration, at Peter’s confession, at his trial, on the cross.  Jesus’ unity with God the Father and the Spirit comes through prayer to God.  So when Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray, he is not just showing them what to do—he is also showing them the way into life in God.  Salvation, redemption, new life, comes through Jesus.  In the Gospel of Luke we see that this new life comes to Jesus through prayer.  As Jesus is the Son of God, so we become heirs and children of God.  Praying like Jesus prayed is a way to unite ourselves with him.

We know this unity with Jesus and God through our baptism.  As Jesus was baptized with water and the Holly Spirit, so we are baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. 

In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that prayer is part of the renewal of this unity with God.  Our very life in God is accessible through prayer.  So let’s look carefully at this passage.

Jesus is praying and his disciples see him and ask,  “show us how to pray.”  As I noted before, this is not just about instruction, it is about joining with Jesus.  And Jesus responds with the prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  “Show us how to pray” is part of “show us the way to eternal life”.

The model for prayer begins with praise.  Father, hallowed be your name.”  We have an acknowledgment that God, to whom we pray is divine—bigger than our human realm, more significant that any human—friend, parent or leader who might answer our needs.  Our prayer is not a request for assistance like a phone call to a neighbor, it is for divine help.

The next line is, I think, the core of the prayer.  Jesus instructs us to pray “Your kingdom come.”  This is about an eschatological hope, the prayer that in the future, God’s realm will be realized on earth.  This is a prayer that is much bigger than any one individual’s need.  It is not about life after death, it is about new life, here on earth in the future.    It is in this petition, that I am reminded that I must not just pray for my needs, but for a future in which all people live in God’s kingdom here on earth.  It is a hope for emancipation from our human constraints—an end to oppression and violence, an end to economic hardship, an end to limitations on medical care, food shortages.  It is a prayer that encompasses all people and all of God’s creatures.  IN this prayer we imagine a planet in harmony—back to the Garden of Eden, into the new life that Jesus has promised. 

We move from that eschatological hope, to the hope of sustenance in the meantime.  We live with a sense of God’s salvation which is already realized for us in Jesus, but also the hope of a future in which God’s Kingdom is realized here with us. “Give us each day our daily bread” is the prayer that all that we need would be provided each day.  That phrase “each day”, reminds us of the story from the Hebrew bible of manna in the wilderness.  Israel is warned not to hoard the manna, but to take only what is needed each day.  When the people hoard, take more than they need, they find that the bread has been eaten by worms, because this is what God warned them not to do.  (Exodus 16:16-21).  The key to this prayer is that we pray for enough sustenance for every person, every living thing—but we do not seek to enrich ourselves beyond our needs.  This is a prayer that reminds us, we are not to pray for wealth or bounty for ourselves.  We are to pray for enough for all people everywhere.

“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  In this prayer we are reminded that we always fall short.  Every day, perpetually, we must be renewed by God because we do not do our duty to God, we fall short of God’s hope for us.  And as we are continually called to love our neighbor, forgiving them their offenses, so we hope that God will remember us and forgive us when we fail.

The final petition is for protection.  “And do not bring us to the time of trial."  And this is the prayer that Jesus teaches us, because Jesus himself has been tried, suffered and died for us.  Jesus teaches us this prayer and by it we are united with him in his resurrection, overcoming evil and death.  While Jesus fulfilled the sacrifice of himself, we are bound to him and his promise of new life through our baptisms and through this daily prayer. 

The parable that Jesus gives his disciples further explains this prayer.  The man goes to his friend to request three loaves of bread in the middle of the night.  It’s an inconvenient time because the friend has already gone to bed with his children.  But the man keeps knocking and asking.  The key is that he keeps at it, not for himself, but for someone else, an unexpected visitor.  If this is a model for prayer, we can remember that the right prayers are for the other who has needs, not for my own improvement.  And the persistence is rewarded.  I think that the message of persistence points us to this hope for a future world in which the Kingdom is realized here.  When we pray for the whole world, for those “others” who have needs, and we continue praying, persisting in this expression of need and hope—then God answers with what everything good that is needed.

And what is that “answer” to prayer?  It is not a quick healing, a thing, some magical cure.  Instead, Luke tells this story the answer to prayer is the presence of the Holy Spirit.  “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  If a father would give anything to his child, then the heavenly father will give the Holy Spirit to each of us.  And this gift of the Holy Spirit is the ultimately gift of God. 

Our periscope concludes where I began—prayer is the way to continue our relationship with Jesus, living in him, joining him in ministry, hoping for the Kingdom to come.  The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism giving him all at once the gift of life in God, God in himself.  As we pray, the parable reminds us that we will be given that same hope and the same gift of the Holy Spirit, the essence of all goodness that will sustain us now and throughout our lives.

So, I want to conclude our reflection with the hope that as we pray the Lord’s prayer today, and our prayers of the people today, we might know that we are promised that our right prayers will be answered with God’s gifts to us.  To be right, our prayers must be for the others, they must capture not our immediate needs, but rather our eschatological hope that the Kingdom will be realized here.  We are not praying for ourselves alone, but for all people and creatures everywhere.  And the response of God in this dialogue is the new life that is in Jesus, it is the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we inherit everything that we need—forgiveness of all our sins and the guidance and sustenance that we need to live into the fullness of God’s promise.

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