Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Lord, Teach Us to Pray"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 24, 2016

Year C, Proper 12: The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”
            At the start of today’s second lesson the author of the Letter to the Colossians writes, “As you 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.”
            Who can argue with that, right?
            Unfortunately, the author of Colossians doesn’t quite tell us how to do all of that – how to live our lives in Christ, how to be rooted and built up in Christ.”
            If you’ve been here more than once or twice you know that I think we continue to live our lives in Christ by living lives of service to one another and especially to the people out there in the world who are suffering in ways that are obvious and those suffering in ways that we can’t even imagine.
            This past week I visited a friend and former parishioner in Florida who heard me preach a lot and who still reads my sermons online and who told me that I’m always “exhorting” people, always challenging you – and I suppose that’s true.
            It’s true that I’m always pushing us beyond our comfort zones, out of our beautiful, cozy, little church and out there into the often beautiful, often messy and sometimes even dangerous, world.
            So, yes, I’m always challenging us to really pay attention to what’s going on around us, to really see the people we walk by on the sidewalk, the people who live across the street or across the hall, to really see God alive and at work in them all.
            I’m always challenging us to get involved in our community organizing effort, Jersey City Together, working with people from all across our city to address public safety, education, and housing.
            I’m always challenging us to remember the hungriest by bringing an item for the food pantry.
            I’m always challenging us to welcome absolutely everybody, especially the people we may not like or trust very much, especially the people who drive us right up the wall.
            That’s not going to change, but there is a danger – there is a danger that with all of this exhorting and challenging and doing, we forget that none of it is really possible unless we live our lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him.
            But, how?  How do we do that?
            We find our answer in today’s gospel lesson.
            We’re told that after Jesus finished praying in “a certain place,” one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
            Jesus’ response, of course, is what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father,” words familiar to us all, words that we say each time we gather here, words that are so ingrained in us that often at our nursing home service people who seem pretty much out of it are still able to say the words of Jesus’ great prayer, “Our Father…”
            We live our lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him, by living lives of prayer.
            Which is one of the big reasons we come here each week, here where we do a lot of praying, saying the words of the Prayer Book, singing the prayers of our hymns, praying for forgiveness, and praying for the many names on our prayer list.
            In fact, I think the prayer list has become one of the defining characteristics of our church. So many people have asked us to pray for them: fellow parishioners, relatives, neighbors, friends, and co-workers – and, a few are on there who haven’t asked. As we’ll see again in a few minutes, the list has gotten very long, so long that, because I worry about the length of the service, I’ve been tempted to shorten it on Sunday, to pray for only the very sick and the new additions to the list.
            I’ve been tempted, but, you know, it’s interesting, some people tend to complain about stuff, but not one person has ever complained to me about the length of the prayer list and the time it takes to read through all of those names.
            And, I think no one’s complained because in our hearts we know that prayer is what we’re supposed to be doing.
            Of course, God doesn’t need our prayers. God already knows the needs of everyone on that list – knows their needs better than they know them themselves.
            The amazing thing is that God could just go it alone – that’s what we’d probably do if we were God - but that’s not how God operates.
            God isn’t a loner.
            Instead, God wants us in on the healing. Not just through our work, but through our prayers, God invites us, calls us to play a role in the healing in mind, body, and spirit of all those people on the prayer list.
            God hopes that we, through our work but especially through our prayers, will be involved in the healing of Jersey City and our broken world.
            We live our lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him, by living lives of prayer.
            Now, hopefully it’s not too hard to pray here when we’re all together, not too hard to pray in this beautiful old place, built long ago as a house of prayer.
            But, praying at home, praying out in the world, during the other six days of the week, when we can get so easily wrapped up in our busyness and business, consumed by our responsibilities and our tasks and our worries, can be a challenge.
            Like the first disciples, we ask, Lord, teach us to pray.
            There are two thousand years’ worth of Christian tips out there on how to pray, how to make time for God, how to pray in a way that helps us to feel God’s closeness, how to pray in a way that’s pleasing to God, but the opening words of Jesus’ prayer point us in the right direction.
            Jesus teaches us to pray, “Father…”
            God is Jesus’ Father – and God is our Father, too.
            A great truth is that even when we’re alone, driving or riding to work, sitting at the kitchen table, lying in bed at night struggling to sleep with a thousand thoughts and worries swirling around in our heads, Jesus is ready to pray with us, eager to pray alongside of us.
            So, I’ve found it helpful to use my imagination when I pray, to imagine Jesus praying alongside me, us praying together to our Father, giving me the words when I’ve got nothing, nudging me in the right direction to ask for the good things that only God can give, to ask for eggs and not scorpions, to ask for the strength to meet the challenges in my life, to ask forgiveness for the times I mess up, to bring my life more in line with what God wants for me, wants for all of us.
            Whether we can imagine it or not, Jesus is right there, right here, alongside us, praying with us that we’ll all have enough bread, praying for our forgiveness, praying that we’ll find it in our hearts to forgive those who’ve wronged us, praying that we’ll know God is with us even, especially, during the most trying times of our lives.
            So, yes, I’m going to keep “exhorting” us - challenging us – and I hope we’ll continue to challenge each other – to break out of our comfort zones, out of our beautiful, cozy, little church and out there into the often beautiful, often messy and sometimes even dangerous, world.
            As we get reminded each week, we have a lot of work to do, but none of it is really possible unless we live our lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him.
            So, we come here each week to pray together, hopefully strengthened to live lives of prayer, hopefully moved to do our part in the healing of the world, hopefully inspired to pray alongside Jesus, to pray together to “our Father.”
            Lord, teach us to pray.