7/28/13 – PRAYING by Lynn Naeckel

PROPER 12 C, Luke 11:1-13

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches what we call The Lord’s Prayer to his disciples. The form of the Lord’s prayer in Luke is slightly shortened from the one in Matthew, which is more like the traditional prayer we know. The first two sentences are praise and acknowledgement of God and his will for the earth – that his kingdom might be established here. This is followed by three very basic petitions.

· Give us what we need each day to sustain life, both physical and spiritual.

· Forgive us for the things we do wrong as we forgive others who do us wrong.

· Save us from the time of trial.

This last line is different from the Lord’s prayer we all learned as children. It’s the result of advances in linguistic studies and is considered a more accurate translation of the original text.

The problem with “Lead us not into temptation” is that it always made me wonder what kind of loving God would lead me into temptation? Does God send temptation our way just to see how we’ll do? Would good parents do that to their children?

To ask, “Save us from the time of trial,” makes more sense to me. In the first few centuries that would be the times of persecution, when Christians were offered the choice between renouncing their faith or going to their deaths. Luckily we don’t have to face that sort of trial in our culture, but I can think of lots of other trials one might endure that would test one’s faith.

The question I did not find answered in the commentaries is this: Does save us from the time of trial mean “Dear God, please don’t let this happen to me?” or does it mean, “Dear God, if this happens to me, please walk with me and keep me on the right path?” Maybe it means both, but it’s something for you to consider.

We’re so familiar with this prayer that we may pray it by rote without really thinking about what it means or what our own intentions are. And I do think our intentions are very significant when we pray.

So whether you say “lead us not into temptation” or “save us from the time of trial” ask yourself what you mean by that. What do you intend for it to mean to God. What temptations or what trials are the ones that you fear most?

The second half of the reading today encourages us to pray with persistence. The parable of the man who won’t get out of bed to help his neighbor is about asking persistently until you get the results you want. The word persistence in this passage actually means shamelessly. That is, to ask, without shame, over and over as often as necessary.

The last lines of the reading actually take us back to the beginning. “Is there any among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy spirit to those who ask him?”

Aha! Jesus is talking about asking, seeking, knocking, in search of the Holy Spirit, not worldly goods or sucess or some sort of advantage for the seeker. Jesus is talking about what happens when we seek the Holy Spirit – when we seek to encounter the Holy in our daily lives.

Christians from day one have prayed this prayer daily or weekly, but I wonder how prepared we are to have our prayers answered? Praying for a comfortable life is not the same as praying for an encounter with the Holy. Rather it’s just the opposite. How comfortable were the lives of those people in the Bible who were touched by the Holy Spirit? Why would it be any different today?

Here’s the problem. When you invite the Holy Spirit into your life, you are opening yourself up to change, because such an encounter demands a response. Many of us aren’t prepared for this. “Sure I’d like to see and experience the holy each day, but I want to go on living my life the same as now.” Sorry! It just doesn’t work that way!

When it comes to responding to the Holy Spirit’s call to us, I’d rather support those who are doing good rather than do it myself. I think of this as being a Good Samaritan from a comfortable distance. Father Tom from St. Thomas told a great story about this some years ago. Some of you may remember it.

A priest in an inner-city church went each day to the grocery store to buy bread, peanut butter, and jam. He went home, made sandwiches, and in the evening went out on the streets offering the sandwiches and conversation to the people he found living rough.

A business man in the suburbs heard about the priest and was moved by his dedication. He sent the priest a check for $50 and attached a note saying how much he appreciated what the priest was doing and to use the money to pay for the sandwich supplies.

The priest sent the check back to the man with a note attached. It said, “Make your own dam sandwiches!”

We each have to do our own responding. So consider carefully what you pray for.

There are branches of Christianity that teach people that if they follow all the rules, God will take care of them and protect them. But if disaster then strikes such a family, the assumption is that they must have done something wrong, much as Job’s friends assumed about him.

Our tradition accepts the reality that bad things happen to everyone, and that rather than praying for an easy life, we pray for the strength to endure whatever happens to us. We don’t pray for a parking space, we pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit in all that we do.

And as for petitions, perhaps all we need to do is pray for the Holy Spirit to be present with the people we want to pray for, or just visualize those people and trust God to be with them, leaving the details to God instead of telling God how to fix things.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Annie Lamott said there are only two prayers that are necessary: “Thank you, thank you” and “Help me, help me!” And I say, “Pray unceasingly. Use words only if necessary.” AMEN

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