By mtaylor | Friday, July 22, 2016 | 12:47 PM
Col. 2: 6-15; Luke 11:1-13
July 24, 2016
Rev. Rosemary McMahan
Reading this morning’s passage on the Lord’s Prayer brought to mind a conversation I had with a member of my former church. We were talking about writing sermons, and I mentioned how difficult it can sometimes be to come up with something new or fresh to say, especially in regard to such familiar texts. He thought a moment and then replied, “It’s okay not to say something new. We’re human. We forget. Sometimes we need to be reminded about what we already know.” So this morning, I am going to remind us of what we already know.
It’s a simple analogy, but the texts from Colossians and Luke have something in common with my love of flowers. I look forward to each spring when it is time to pull out the dusty terra cotta pots and head to the nursery where I am like a kid in a candy shop, tempted by the aromas and the colors of all the different perennials, annuals, and fresh herbs. I can hardly wait to bring my bounty home and get everything planted in its proper place and sit back and admire nature’s, and my, handiwork. It’s good to feel rooted.
However, as the mild days of spring ease into the hot and very humid days of a North Alabama summer, I admit that my enthusiasm for my plants dwindles. Instead of being happy, spoiled children, they learn to become tough little orphans. I no longer sit in their midst; instead I glance at them out the window, and what I notice most is that they are not as perky, or green, or colorful as when I first purchased them. To be honest, by this time of the summer, what were things of beauty in May have become eyesores. . . until I take the time and effort to apply the Miracle Gro. That magic blue water makes the flowers look a little happier, the blooms a little brighter, and I feel like a much better plant parent.
Caring for plants, or failing to care for them, is analogous to verse six in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." We have received Jesus Christ through baptism. Now, Paul says to us, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him as we have been taught. As his disciples, what have we been taught? Among other things, we’ve been taught how to pray.
Over the years that I’ve preached about prayer and led prayer groups, I’ve heard various reviews about the prayer habits of Jesus’ current disciples, us. Those reviews have ranged anywhere from “I don’t know how to pray” to “Prayer is just one more thing I have to do” to “I don’t pray” which is very interesting to me since the one action Jesus consistently modeled was prayer. In Mark’s short gospel, for instance, Jesus goes apart eight separate times specifically to pray. Prayer was important enough to Jesus that he willingly shows us how to pray when he answered the disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Perhaps this disciple witnessed how Jesus himself stayed “rooted and built up and established” in God through his own habit of prayer which showed in his actions, so much so that this disciple basically said to him, “We want what you’ve got.”
Knowing how meticulous Luke is in placing stories and events in his gospel, it's no coincidence that this episode immediately follows the story of Martha and Mary. We learned from Martha that part of the challenge with being prayerful, rooted people is that we get preoccupied with other demands. And when we become distracted by activity or too busy to pray, we risk becoming like July flowers. We quit blooming. Our spiritual lives droop and fizzle, so we cease to be grateful, we complain, we fret, and we lose our sense of direction because we’ve failed to stay rooted in Christ. So Luke follows the Mary/Martha story with a lesson on prayer. The disciples, and we, receive a prayer and a way to pray called “The Lord’s Prayer.” Prayer becomes our spiritual “Miracle Grow.”
So let me ask you: What are some of your early associations or memories of The Lord’s Prayer? Whose voices do you recall praying it with you or teaching it to you? If you are new to the faith and to this prayer, what surprises, touches, or puzzles you about it? Or has it become, for all of us, simply a rote recitation that we don’t think about anymore? If that is so, we’ve neglected a very precious gift.
First Presbyterian has an active prayer group that meets on Thursday mornings at 11 am. It is open to anyone, young or old, male or female. We typically begin with checking in with each other and sharing individual concerns or thanksgivings. Then we study something—a bible passage, a devotional, part of a book—about prayer. Next we lift our bundle of requests to the Lord, including requests for this community of faith, and we close by praying the Lord’s Prayer. It is in that closing that a calmness and a serenity seem to infuse the room because we’ve re-rooted ourselves in Christ by listening to and attending to what is happening in this very powerful prayer. What we discover is that Jesus has given us a prayer that begins as a lesson in Luke but becomes a description of the very God to whom we pray.
Notice that when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he does two things: he tells them to go first to God, and he reminds them that they share the same Father. Self-help books, books on spirituality, and the Scriptures are all ways of growing, but Jesus says, “First, go to the Source.” Paul reminds the Colossians of that as well, warning them against “philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks.” In the Lord’s Prayer, we begin with our attention on God. Significantly, Jesus doesn’t address, “my Father,” but “our Father.” When we pray this prayer, even in private, we are joined with a community of others praying the same prayer to the same source. This sense of belonging roots us in our otherwise whitewater world.
Next, Jesus reminds the disciples that God's name is hallowed, honored, and revered. In a culture where we casually sling the name of God around and where even innocent little children use God’s name inappropriately, we need to be reminded that we are being invited into relationship with a supreme and awesome Being who loves us and desires us but who is not us. Irreverence and carelessness destroy relationships, as we see so often in our culture, like mildew rots plants. Reverence for God, for each other, and for ourselves is a necessity for both body, soul, and community.
Then we give to God our awareness that it is His kingdom and His will that we want. Or so we say, which is why we really need to pay attention to the words we are praying. Jesus certainly preached about the coming of the kingdom and modeled doing God’s will. As his followers, we ask for God’s kingdom to come not just in the future, but now—thy kingdom come. Now, not tomorrow or next year. We are asking to be in a right relationship with God and with each other so that we can be part of that earthly kingdom-building. This recognition is what we give to God before we ask God to give to us.
Have you ever stopped to think about how incredible it is that Jesus Christ, the son of God, invites us—no, tells us—to ask for what we need? My poor flowers don’t have voices, so they can’t tell me what they need. They have to wait until I happen to notice that they are in desperate want of water or nutrition. Some of us might have difficulty asking God for what we need, or perhaps we wait until we, too, are desperate and hope that God notices. But look what Jesus says. Go ahead and ask! We are invited and encouraged to ask for what we need, to ask for our daily bread, not just with our heads bowed and our eyes closed, but even by pounding on God’s door in the middle of the night.
What do you and I need to ask for this day to stay rooted in Christ? Patience? Faith? A loving attitude? Forgiveness? Reconciliation with someone? A desire for God? Health? An end to worry? Clarity over a decision? Money to pay a bill? The courage to witness? Solace for our sorrow? Jesus tells us to bring whatever that need is to God, “So I say to you, Ask,” and to trust that he will provide, perhaps not in the way or time we expect, but with all the care and wisdom of a loving creator.
Then we come to what may be the toughest part of this prayer. Jesus reminds the disciples, and us, about the essence of discipleship: we are to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. How often when we pray this prayer, "forgive us our debts," do we truly realize that we have a God who does not hold grudges against us but who wipes the slate clean because he took them on himself? Paul writes that God made us “alive with Christ and forgave all the things we had done wrong. He forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross." Our sins have been nailed to the cross through Jesus Christ. No matter how long the journey takes or how difficult it is, we also must nail the sins, slights, and wrongs of others to the cross and forgive.
Jesus tells his disciples very clearly that to receive forgiveness ourselves, we must be people of forgiveness. When we say the words "as we forgive our debtors,” do we mean it? Or do we feel a stab of guilt? Lack of forgiveness is like being a plant with spider mites. Spider mites draw all the moisture and nutrients from a plant and leave it dry and brittle. When we fail to forgive, we are injuring our own souls, and sometimes our bodies, as well. It may take a week, a year, a lifetime, to truly forgive someone, maybe even ourselves, but being rooted in Christ means practicing forgiveness, and to practice forgiveness, we need the power of prayer.
And finally, Jesus says to ask to be saved from times of trial. God does not intentionally send us into times of trial or temptation; we can bring those on well enough ourselves in this trial-ridden, violent, and temptation-filled world. But even so, God is with us in any and all circumstances. God never leaves us orphaned. For that, we can give abundant thanksgiving.
Is praying the Lord’s Prayer the only correct way to pray? No, of course not. But by being reminded of all that it contains, we discover that prayer is not something to be feared or avoided. Jesus describes our God as sovereign, yet also as compassionate, generous, caring, loving, and faithful. Jesus intends prayer to be a life-giving time of relationship-building, of rootedness, with the creator who called us into being out of nothing but love. And if ever we lived in a world that needs the gift and renewal of prayer, it is now. Time spent in prayer, in whatever form our Miracle Grow takes, will keep us spiritually alive and growing, perhaps so much that someone might say to us, “Heh, I want what you have.”