Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sermon: Teach Us To Pray

A Sermon preached in 
Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Associate
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12 Year C
July 24, 2016 (Saturday, 7/23 5:30pm service)
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts
be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

How many of you have ever been asked,
“can you teach me to pray?” What was that like?
Or for how many of you have you asked someone else,
“how do you pray?”

Prayer in any form is a common language.
Prayer is, simply, conversation with God. 
“In the beginning was the logos, the Word,
and the Word was God, and the Word was with God."

Roughly translated, the logos can mean “intimate conversation.”
“…in the beginning was the intimate conversation.” 
And that is prayer.

Sometimes when I am asked how to pray
(it comes up in Baptism preparation,
or in pre-marital preparation,
or when counseling someone about a recent loss or struggle),
I recall the little book by Author Anne Lamott.
Help, Thanks, Wow.[1] 
In about 100 pages she unpacks
with laughter and tears
the three essential prayers for today.
Help, Thanks, Wow. That works, in a pinch.

In today’s gospel text, the disciples ask Jesus
to teach them to pray. 
Jesus responds by instructing his disciples
how to have an intimate conversation with God,
how to have a conversation that centers on the Kingdom of God.[2] 

This Kingdom of God, for Jesus,
was shorthand for his message and his passion,
both spiritually and politically. 
In this Kingdom, God empowered Jesus and his work. 
In this Kingdom, God presented
the mystical reality of all things, seen and unseen. 
In this Kingdom, God blessed the people
with a beloved community. 
This Kingdom of God perspective grounded Jesus
and guided him throughout his ministry.

See, the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed
stood in stark contrast to
the Kingdom of Herod or the Kingdom of Caesar
that surrounded the peasant people, his followers, at that time. 

The Kingdom of God, to which Jesus alluded,
promised a life where God was king
and the rulers of the world were not.
To the first followers of Jesus,
his vision of this kind of Kingdom
offered hope for life on earth.

As scholar Dom Crossan would say,
“Heaven’s in great shape; earth is where the problems are!”
That’s why Jesus taught,
“thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

And, for the earthly life,
Jesus prayed for the basic needs: food. 
“Give us our daily bread” was a real need in the 1st century. 
Bread, enough food, was always an issue for that time.
Many people were hungry, especially in the peasant class.
In God’s Kingdom, there would be enough bread for everyone. 

For this earthly life,
Jesus prayed for the basic needs: forgiveness.
Debt, along with bread, was a primary survival issue
in peasant life. 
Indebtedness could mean losing the land
and could lead to the precarious life
of a tenant farmer or day laborer. 
When landless, people with debt
could then be sold into indentured labor. 

So, this well known prayer names
two central basic concerns of peasant life:
bread and debt forgiveness. 

This prayer invites us to wonder today:
how we can do God’s work in the world
to bring about the dreamed-of Kingdom of God?

What about daily bread:
what do we, personally and communally,
need to sustain us for the journey?
And - to whom might we be invited by God
to provide that daily sustenance? 
What about forgiveness:
to what are we, personally and communally,
in bondage?
For whom can we release from any debt
that we may hold from others,
inviting them to live a liberated life?

Today’s good news is that we are living in God’s kingdom.
God gives us (through others)
the “bread” we need for our hearts and for our souls. 
God forgives us and releases us
from the bondage of what holds us back,
which is why and how we can forgive others.
All this good news is manifest in both
the prayer we say together and
the Holy Communion – the bread and wine – we share.

A few years ago, I came across this little book,
Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus.[3]
It is a study and interpretation of the Lord’s prayer
as translated from the Aramaic,
the language that Jesus actually spoke.

In this small and powerful book
we find an alternative and expansive understanding
of this prayer that Jesus taught. 
Here is one possible translation from the Aramaic:

O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us – make it useful:

Create your reign of unity now –

Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.

Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.

Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.

Don’t let surface things delude us.

But free us from what holds us back.

From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.

Truly – power to these statements –
may they be the ground from which
all my actions grow: Amen.

God’s invitation is to open our hearts today.
God is praying us into a new Kingdom.
God is opening the door on which we are knocking. 
God offers us extravagant Love. 

In this kingdom, bread for the journey is abundant.
In this kingdom, forgiveness liberates our hearts and souls.

Inspired by God’s gift, may we also share in that heavenly kingdom.

[1] Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, (New York, Riverhead Books, 2012)
[2] Sections inspired by Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 131-134
[3] Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus (San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1990)

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