Week of Sunday July 28
Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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!’
In my 20s my right forearm began to hurt. I'd pick up a spanner and drop it in a spasm of deep pain. It was not constant or predictable—but something was damaged. It was debilitating; I worried that I would have to cease working.
A 'red hot Pente' friend offered to pray for healing. He laid his hand on my arm and despite my acute embarrassment, the forearm arm got hot and then relaxed as though it had received the most immersive, gentle massage, in all creation. The pain stopped right then. It has not come back in 35 years.
Many of us have had similar experiences. Many more of us know deep experience of peace and comfort following prayer. Decisions can be made; courses can be set; life is settled. Prayer works…
… and yet it doesn't. There have been multiple studies, scientifically rigorous, around people who are ill, and their recovery. Prayer seems to have no more healing benefit than not praying! Prayer, when we measure it in the cold light of day, does not work!
I've been discussing prayer, and what it does, and how it works, all week with colleagues and in our Bible study. I can only conclude we do not know how we work or how prayer works.
We often get better when the doctor gives a tablet that is just a sugar pill. That's a well-documented phenomenon! And other times, simple diseases kill us with terrifying efficiency. One of my friends, a good and generous Christian man, scratched himself in the garden. I've done it a 100 times, probably more. He was dead in three days
Here is the first lesson: we do not understand God, ourselves, or prayer. Do not ever presume to say , "You will be healed, " much less demand this of another person. God is not here to be bent to our will. God is not a magic fix it up button. Prayer is not made to work by our faith; I was faithless about my friend who prayed for me. His theology was stupid, even abusive, but I was healed without faith.
This is serious. If I were to stand here and berate you for not having enough faith, and tell you your lack of faith is why someone was not healed, I would expect Church Council to complain to the Synod discipline committee.
It is deeply abusive to presume to understand the mind of God about prayer, and how it works, and to dump our foolishness on other people, when we have only the barest understanding of ourselves. Don't do it! Do your best to ignore those who place guilt upon you in this way. No one can tell you how God will work, or should work, in your life. You do not have to conform to their expectations.
I begin with prayers for healing because so much guilt, and pain, and abuse has been centred around them, not to mention plain nonsense. But prayers for healing are the merest part of praying.
Prayer is not about asking to get things. Prayer is about relationship; relationship with God, and relationship with each other. Prayer reminds us who we are. Wes said at the beginning of Council meeting on Wednesday, "Andrew could you lead us in prayer and remind us why we are here?"
Prayer is just what we do. It is like breathing. It is talking and being with the person we live with.
When you pray, said Jesus not if you pray because you think you have decided prayer works, or because you understand prayer.
When you pray, say this:
Father... Abba... remember, remind yourself God is like this: better than the best of all loving fathers. And if your father was distant, or abusive, or violent, address God with some other name which carries all the love and care and intimacy and goodness that you can imagine. God doesn't care if you say "Father," or if you say "Mother Mary," or even if you say "Aloysius." What God wants is for you to be reminded of love, care, intimacy, safety, and never being forgotten!
Hallowed be your name... hallow... it means worthy, valued, dignified be your name. God is worth it. God really does love us. God is worth it!
Your kingdom come... don't just give it lip service. Don't just say it. Live it. Be part of the coming kingdom. Hallow God.
Prayer goes beyond saying and praying. Prayer is doing – being part of the kingdom. We pray at the end of communion...
God you have put Your life in our hands,
now we put our lives in Your hands,
come out into the world with us…
Give us our daily bread... we re - mind ourselves again. We rely on God; we are not God who makes the world work. We are dependent and frail. Yet God loves us.
It is all right to ask for the simple things. It is all right to be the little child who can barely face the day. Mother Mary, the loving Father, or the distant constant star which shines God into our life because life is too hard to imagine God as a person, will not desert us. We are not alone. We can pray for protection from temptation and trial. It is not too much to say that God is delighted when we ask. It hallows God when we love and trust enough to ask.
Forgive us our sin as we forgive others... Maybe Jesus should've said, "Forgive us our sin as we try to forgive others their debts!" We find it very hard to let go of our grievances and hurts, much less what we think is owed us. God always forgives. God loves us.
The tragedy of Judas Iscariot is not that he betrayed Jesus. The tragedy is that he went and hanged himself. As the hymn says...
I came to bring peace, not to condemn.
Each time you fail to live by my promise
why do you think I'd love the less...
...loves sets no limits
there is no need to fear
love never ends…
This is what prayer is about...
learning the love of God;
beginning to trust;
finding the best of all friends...
Forget getting answers. Live in the love... the love of God.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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