When Did You Learn To Pray?
Rev. Tom Euston
Prayer is an essential, integral part of our faith tradition, whether it be prayer together as a congregation or the prayers we offer as individuals. And prayer is not just important in our faith tradition, but in most religions. So I want you to think back, when did you first learn to pray? For me, it was when I was very young and I am sure I didn’t really understand what prayer was. Who taught you to pray? Was it your parents, or grandparents? Was it a Sunday school teacher? My parents taught me. There were four children in my family, and we each took turns praying before we ate at dinnertime. The prayers were simple so that we could memorize them. And then when it was time to go to sleep, my parents would come in and we would pray together. I don’t remember the prayers, but I do remember the part where I asked God to bless those who were important in my life. And even though I may not have really understood prayer at the time, it formed in me an understanding that prayer was important. I don’t imagine my experiences learning to pray were unique, but instead I imagined they are very similar to how many children who grew up in a Christian home learn to pray.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, we read about one of Jesus’ disciples asking him to teach them to pray. Jesus answered the disciple “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.
We all recognize this as the Lord’s Prayer and we are still praying it after almost 2000 years. Then Jesus told his disciples a parable. In ancient times, hospitality was an important thing in Jewish culture. A man went to his neighbor’s home at midnight and asked for three loaves of bread to feed a friend who was visiting, for it was proper to feed a visitor. The neighbor answered from inside that he had nothing he could lend him, the door was already locked and his children were in bed with him, and to go away and leave him alone.
Jesus goes on and tells his disciples that even though the man would not get up and help him as a friend, he would get up if the man were persistent and give him anything he needed. It is like the old saying; the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I think what Jesus means, is that we should not to give up when we pray, but to continue to pray, to be persistent.
There are other characteristics of this prayer that are important. Jesus didn’t use adjectives to soften the prayer. It starts out with “Father”. He didn’t use any adjectives such as Loving, or Forgiving, or gracious, or in heaven, just “Father”. Jesus didn’t ask God for anything, he was much bolder than that. He simply said “Give us each day our daily bread”. No please or any other words to soften the request. The same is true with the other petitions, forgive us and lead us. The language Jesus used was straightforward. There was no sugar coating, and no excessive wordiness. He just stated what he wanted. This fits in with Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees, who would say lengthy prayers in public to give the appearance that they were more pious than they really were.
Jesus ended his parable saying: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Jesus is telling his disciples and us that God does answer prayer, that God is a loving God who wants God’s children to live in peace, to care for each other, to go the second mile for each other, and most importantly, to be in relationship with God.
The Lord’s Prayer is one of two traditions we have in our faith that came directly from Jesus, The Lord’s Supper and The Lord’s Prayer. The words in this prayer come from other prayers of the ancient times, but Jesus made them his own and just as Jesus transforms us, he transformed the words of those ancient prayers in his prayer. Jesus taught that a prayer should be brief and concise, but also that it should be insistent. Our parable today illustrates that as the man became persistent, maybe even shameless as he banged on his neighbors door trying to borrow some bread. Just as the man was insistent, we are to be insistent, never giving up, never being discouraged, even when it appears our prayers are not being answered. It is not that God doesn’t want to answer us, but God wants us to come with a determination that is unwavering. For Jesus, this is important. When we come to God in prayer, we should mean what we say and we should not lose confidence in God, even when God seems to deny our petition. Prayer has no value if it does not come from our trust in God.
The Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer. Each of the petitions is for “us” not “me”, but the prayer addresses our individual concerns, asking God to provide our daily needs, to forgive our sins, to help us avoid temptation and to save us from evil.
Jesus did not speak of death in the Lord’s Prayer, and some may find this peculiar, because many believe the aim of religion is to prepare people for death and the thereafter. But Jesus was more concerned with the present, with the living. The Lord’s Prayer is concerned with the present life. We have many needs and we are called to bring those needs before God in prayer, but more importantly, we are called to know that God is with us now.
And that is the Good News! God is with us now, no matter what we are facing, no matter how good or bad things are going for us, God is with us, to guide us, to comfort us, to teach us, to be present with us. Jesus, God incarnate, came to live with and as a human, experiencing the joys and sorrows humans experience, and therefore knows what we are experiencing. Jesus experienced the best humanity can offer and also the worst, as he was ridiculed, and tortured, and crucified, giving his life for each of us.
Certainly we have enough going on in our lives, in our community, in our country, and in the world to pray about. It seems we are constantly bombarded with news about terrorists, a failing economy, new diseases, and violence. My hope is that we will continue bringing our concerns to God in prayer. My hope is that we will never lose our trust in God. My hope is that we will pray with conviction, for ourselves and for others. My hope is that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together each Sunday, that the words never become so familiar that we don’t feel Gods presence among us. God is here. God is with us. Amen.