Flooding our Life with Meaning: Prayer, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 28th 2013
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 28th 2013
United Lutheran Church, Oakland CA
Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 138 Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) Luke 11:1-13
Flooding our Life with Meaning
Let us pray:
“Almighty and ever living God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour out upon us your abundant mercy, forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience and give us those good things that come only through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Prayer is the theme for this Sunday. His disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” and Jesus complies by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer with the parables that follow all about prayer. In our lives we can anguish, work, and toil, but to get anywhere, we have to learn to pray. In the last service, when I preached at Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, I was lucky enough to have my own son assist me in the liturgy. The way my father, Rudolf E.M. Krey, who was also a pastor, did before me, we knelt down and prayed in the sacristy for the Holy Spirit to be present, really present, to be with us during the service, to fill the needs, and nourish the people. People all noticed how much the service moved them. But we could not take any credit, despite how beautifully my son sang a solo. It was the Holy Spirit, who was very present and touched the peoples’ hearts.
There is real Gospel in the above Prayer for Today; that means really good news. Our Heavenly Father is more willing to hear us than we are to pray and more willing to give us good things (Luke writes the Holy Spirit) than we desire and deserve! Luke cuts right to the chase, because it is through the Holy Spirit that we receive good things. So some questions: Do you feel short changed by life? Do you feel deprived? Are you part of the 99 percent and even down near the bottom of that crowd as well? “Sometimes we’re up and sometimes we’re down, sometimes we’re almost to the ground. Oh, yes, Lord.” Then what we need for our lives is prayer. “It’s not my brother, not my sister, not my preacher, nor my teacher, but it’s me Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
There’s an old popular song that I always remember when it comes to the verses “ask and you shall be given, seek and you shall find.” It’s a Jim Reeves song, but I remember women’s voices singing it. But make believe you hear God singing it to you. I changed the words a little:
Ask and you shall be given,
Seek and you shall find,
Knock and the door shall be opened
into this world of mine.
Call on me in prayer
With my arms unfurled.
I’ll be with you there.
Welcome to my world.
God invites us to pray without ceasing, as it says in your bulletin and our lives can become a prayer if we learn to pray without ceasing. Oh Lord, make our lives into a prayer!
Brian Stoffregen in his online commentary calls prayer a relationship. That is what Jesus means when he invites us to call God, our Father. We should not miss what a marvelous and fearful thing that is. Now you may have grown up in a fatherless family, or have experienced a very negative father and I’ll return to that later. But the relationship with our Father in Heaven is the most wonderful relationship to have. This Father gives us the most loving, but also challenging up-bringing, because our upbringing includes the suffering of the cross. But our Father gives us the strength from heaven above to give us the victory.
In the words of my father: The battle we fight with ourselves is the toughest battle we ever fight and the sweetest victory, we ever win. With this wonderfully strengthening relationship with God, our Heavenly Father, we become more than victorious. That’s because we became God’s children when Jesus invited us to be his brothers and sisters by sharing his loving Father in heaven with us. So now we are the children of God and part of a wonderful new and heavenly family, enjoying the integrity of quality relationships.
So because of Jesus, now we are God’s children and make our prayerful requests to him. Brian Stoffregen compared this relationship with how we respond as parents to our children. When we have children, they often ask for things. A toy gun, for instance. That’s easy. We just say “no.” My father was a machine gunner in World War One and he did not even allow toy guns in our house. Still, we children played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers and we used thin long sticks and imagined them as rifles or we could always use our hands and point our fingers simulating make-believe guns. That’s how much we listened. Once in Germany I preached a really passionate sermon about making peace in the world and I had the youth group, the kids come down both sides of the aisle making believe they were shooting each other in the games we children always played.
“I got you. You’re dead.”
“No, you didn’t. You missed. I’m still alive.” We didn’t have a television in those days, but we still played like we were in shoot-em-up Westerns. Tragically, we’ve grown up to really shoot and kill each other.
That violence runs so deep inside us. But at least we heard a solid “no” from Father and sometimes our heavenly Father also has to say “no” to our prayer. Like children, we ask for things that are not good for us: Our boys wanted a very violent video game. We would forbid them in our house and then in birthday parties they would get them as gifts from other families. I would have to tell the boys. “We don’t want you playing games designed to make you into thugs!” and I was not strong enough, But my wife Nora would take the games way and hide them.
When he couldn’t say “no” directly to his kids, Brian Stoffregen said, he would say, “We’ll see.” He didn’t want to hurt the child’s feelings with a harsh “no.”
So Jesus invites us to have a relationship with God like the one we would have with an earthly father, praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven!” Notice that Jesus did not make it “my Father, who art in Heaven” but our Father. It is very important for us to pray together in community, as well as daily praying ourselves. I am rather remiss, because I only pray before going to sleep. But even there, I discover that I feel a warm presence and it makes me look forward to praying there, although God deserves from me and perhaps you some better quality time and more disciplined prayer.
Praying without ceasing is possible when you are going to an important meeting, for example, and you breathe prayers while you are driving there that it will all come through according to God’s will. Or when you are in a group, praying inside yourself, that God might send the Holy Spirit to be with you, asking God to really be present. I always have to pray for help listening, because I’m such a talker.
The pastors’ bible study at Resurrection Lutheran this Tuesday morning was such a wonderful experience. What a quality conversation we had going over the Sunday lessons and sharing about prayer. And after talking all about prayer for over an hour, a young seminarian, mind you, not one of us old experienced pastors, a young seminarian needing a call, said, “Why don’t we pray right now?” What makes us have resistance to prayer? So we all prayed, each one of us, round robin. When it was her turn, she prayed and she must have had the Holy Spirit because she touched each one of us, praying for the real concerns each of us had, naming them all, just the way we had brought them up.
In this prayer something happened to me that has happened before: during communal prayer, God suddenly reveals wonderful insights to me, about things I was thinking about but had never understood! This time it concerned how to describe the Kingdom of Heaven there in the pastors’ bible study. I’ll never forget the other time. In Bethlehem Lutheran in West Oakland, they sometimes prayed-in a Sunday service. By that I mean they started praying Saturday morning, many members taking turns so that someone was always praying at the altar, all day, then all night, all the way until the ten o’clock service Sunday morning. Bobby McClain championed prayer in that congregation. I remember Florida Washington singing the Lord’s Prayer at the altar in a way that I will always remember. Sitting there myself in the pew awaiting another turn to pray, suddenly all these thoughts from God just poured through my soul that seemed to make all my graduate work integrate together. That’s the way the Holy Spirit speaks to you.
Luther teaches his barber to pray in a writing called, “A Simple Way to Pray for Master Peter the Barber.” He has him recite the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, praying about each commandment, each petition, each article in his own words. Luther did not intend that Peter the Barber recite everything word for word:
Instead (Luther writes) I want your heart to be instructed as to what thoughts should be grasped in the Lord’s Prayer. The heart can, however, (when it has become warm and longingly in the mood for prayer), express such thoughts as well in different ways, with more words or just a few. For I do not even bind myself to such words and syllables; I speak the words one way today and another tomorrow, according to my feelings and what mood I am in. Nevertheless I stay as close as I possibly can to the same thoughts and ideas. Often it happens that, in one part or petition, I lose myself in such rich thoughts that I let the other six petitions go. And when such rich and good thoughts come, then one should forgo the other prayers and give room to those thoughts and listen in silence. Then take pains to make no hindrance, because there the Holy Spirit’s divine self is preaching, and when the Spirit preaches, one word is better than a thousand prayers. In this way I have often learned more in one prayer than I could have ever gotten from much reading and thinking.
Luther just put this experience of mine into words, the ones that I had in prayer. So learn to pray and watch the way God floods your life with meaning. With that our hearts are strangely warmed using the words of John Wesley describing his experience while reading Luther’s Preface to Romans, or the words of the Emmaus disciples, who said, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while Jesus was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Many times, however, like children with their parents, our prayers are filled by requests. Sometimes when God answers these prayers of ours, it is a “no” for things not good for us, and “we’ll see”, or a “yes”, and often we feel that in the times when God says “yes” does God answers us. But that is not true. We are wonderfully blessed with this relationship, this real presence of our Heavenly Father always near at hand.
What to do about an abusive father that makes the wonderful Father Jesus is talking about, a nightmare for those who have been abused. Brian Stoffregen includes a poem by Catherine Foote, dealing with with someone who has been sexually abused. This is her poem told in the voice of a child:
Daddies hold their babies,
daddies hold them soft.
Strong daddy arms hold babies up
and gentle is the hold.
Daddies laugh with babies,
daddies smile with love.
Warm daddy eyes meet new eyes
and easy is the laugh.
Daddies care for babies,
keep them covered safe.
Big daddy hands reach baby hands
and tender is the care.
Daddies and their babies,
eyes and arms and smiles and love.
Then a daddy hurt a baby
Baby cold with fear,
Baby crying new tears,
Baby frightened, lost.
No more smiles for baby,
No more shelter here.
And God, they call you Daddy,
God, they say you care.
Do you hold your babies?
Do you dry their tears?
Do you match them smile for smile?
Do you shelter safe?
God, that daddy stole your name.
God, that daddy made me mad.
God, I want a daddy back
(daddies hold their babies).
God, please daddy me.
Amen. [pp. 44-45]
There is nothing like the protection, shelter, and love of a good father and this poet, speaking in the voice of a child, refuses to let a bad father take that away from her. Naming God, our Father, makes us children of God and family one with another, each of us sisters and brothers, related that way from God’s heaven above.
But Jesus is realistic. He tells about a friend wanting bread for a midnight visitor and going to a bakery, and back in those days it was a house that the whole family slept in. and this prayer shamelessly expects the baker to get up, even if all his children wake up, and give him bread for his guests. If the baker refused, the whole village would know that he transgressed against hospitality the next morning and that he was shameless. Jesus is saying that we have to pray even at inopportune times, when the place that fills our needs must be closed, but we persist until it opens. But notice how he is praying for a friend, not really himself and notice how St. Luke says, how much more the Father in heaven can give us the Holy Spirit, when we ask. St. Matthew says “Good things” because even we, the sinners that we are can give our children good things. The snake and the scorpion are symbols of evil things that we should not give. Jesus says that as inadequate as we are, we give our children good things, how much more can the Father in heaven give us and Luke just plugs in the very best gift, the Holy Spirit.
So our prayers should not be selfish ones, but also for others. The fellow did not disturb the baker and his family for himself, but for the hungry visitors, who came to him that late at night. Luther explained the Lord’s Prayer in many writings and first, he explained that “give us today our daily bread,” meant that we were praying to receive Jesus, the bread of life. But then Luther said, we also had to pray for our daily bread, in terms of our livelihoods, a job with a living wage, a shelter. Like one of the seminarians in our bible study said, she really needed a car. We also have to pray for our own needs, just like a child would ask from a father.
Let me end with just a sentence about each petition of the Lord’s Prayer and you can chime in putting the petition into your own words the way Luther advised Master Peter his barber. Our Father! Hey, we are your children, O God and look to you to fill our needs and help us in any time of trouble. Let us make your name holy, so that we do not tarnish your name by a scandal or giving a bad name to Christians. Let your reign of abundance come about by our sharing with each other and let one injustice after another melt away through the marvels that flood the world with your love. Thy will be done, O Lord not mine. It’s what you want O Lord for me and not what I want. Help me make that sacrifice of my will so that instead of raising hell, your heaven descends upon this world. Oh Lord, give us good jobs, but also not at the expense of the workers in poor countries and stop the foreclosures on houses, and let the garments workers in Bangladesh and other countries not have to die in their unsafe and exploited working conditions. And Oh Lord, temptations are rampant in our lives. Don’t let us think that all there is to life is entertainment. Save us from the pornography of the internet! Free our minds from the constant brain-washing of advertisements and commercials. Deliver us from the evil of racism and lives that feel entitled and want privileges at the expense of others. Stop the hatred and violence that come about because of religions that get mixed up with power and want our religion to make them wealthy. Oh Lord, help us deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow you. Amen.
 Luke 24:32.