Sermon for Tenth Pentecost -
By Vicar Julie A. Kelly -
“Two little mice fell into a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. But the second mouse struggled so hard that he churned that cream into butter and walked out. Amen.”
What kind of prayer is THAT for a meal??? Talk about awkward. To the viewer, it is obvious he did not know how to pray and I am sure in that moment he was wishing someone had taught him how! Which sets the scene for our gospel lesson today.
Before this scene with Jesus, John the Baptist preached to the people who had not heard from God or the prophets for 400 years. They were hungry to know that God had not forgotten them and they were hungry for ways to connect with God. So John not only preached, but also taught them prayers to help them in their daily journey of faith and unfaith.
Now Jesus, who has just finished praying, is asked to do the same. They know that Jesus gets something out of that prayer-in the same manner that we see someone benefit from a diet, face cream or financial advice and want to be able to have that for ourselves, the disciples see a difference in him and they want that, too. They want to know how to do this right so they get the most out of it- so that they might also have the ear and peace of God.
And just as it always does, Jesus’ response speaks volumes between the lines. But let’s be careful to understand Jesus is not saying this is the only prayer to pray- nor is it meant to be the formula for all prayer. Instead, this is one example that is a plug and play kind of prayer. Do you remember Madlibs? Well, Jesus is teaching the disciples an outline for how to pray, just like Madlibs teach us how to write stories and have imagination.
There are many ways to pray and not one of them is right or wrong. Prayer is not just petition or asking for something. Sometimes prayer is for thanksgiving, for the bounty in our lives, and our joy, and still others prayer is for conversation or outpouring of feeling and experience, meant to share our lives and thoughts with God and let God in. Prayer can look like yoga meditation, like making love with your mate, like singing in the shower, or dancing in the car or like silent kneeling with hands together and head bowed. Prayer can be formal, memorized, historic, or it can be winged and created on the go. It can be moans and groans, merely breathing in and out, shouts of pain and anger, or hallelujahs.
But there are days, weeks and even months when we turn our prayer into a plastic and unfeeling habit or undone task. Times when we are so overwhelmed by the events of the world or our lives when we don’t want to feel but still have a need to talk to God- to someone bigger than us who sees more and understands. And when we feel like we don’t know how to pray, whom to pray for, or for what to pray, we have the Lord’s prayer to show us how.
Jesus begins by teaching us that prayer begins with putting God first, not us. Why? Because when we put ourselves first, we often end up asking for things that are not good for us in the big picture. That is why this prayer is not a ‘me prayer’, but instead, a ‘we prayer’. When we get out of our own heads and hearts, praying for the world around us, our needs are put into perspective.
Which brings me to the next point. This prayer also only asks for what is needed today- now. Not the future which we cannot know, but what is needed now. Not riches and fame but sustenance and protection. It asks for just enough because we don’t need more- we have salvation and reconciliation in Christ Jesus.
This also indicates when we should pray- daily or more often. When we are asking only for enough for now- that means checking in with God more often. It is the difference between grocery shopping for the month and shopping for the day. Some say shopping for the month saves money, but we also buy food we don’t need and more than can often be eaten or stored. Instead, when we attend to just today, we can be more intentional and accurate- so goes prayer. So pray often.
Which brings us to the question, whom shall we pray for? When Jesus tells us to pray for forgiveness and to forgive others, it is specific advisement to pray for those who are not on our A list; to pray for not just our best friends, lovers, family, but for the one who stole from us, who hurt us, who lied to us. To pray for the least is to bless not just them with recognition as God’s people, but also opens our hearts to be forgiving.
So if we are doing all this prayer for others, for God’s desires, you may well be wondering, may I pray for myself and what shall we expect in return or response? Jesus answers this, too. Even when we may be bugging God with our requests, God will respond- and not with cruelty- but with kindness. God hears our prayers- all of them. From the prayers that ask for the prettiest prom dress to the ones asking for our loved one in a coma to wake up and live. God hears these and is present with us. God wants to know our hearts and responds to us with loving, compassionate, presence. And no matter what the outcome, prayer is not always about changing what is in front of us, but finding strength in fighting it or accepting it, in forgiving or being forgiven, in giving or receiving. I cannot explain why one prayer to live through cancer seems granted and another denied, except to say this, maybe God doesn’t answer prayer as much as God promises to respond with love, comfort and hope by being present with us in all of our days.
I don’t have all the answers to how prayer works, and I call BS on any one who says they do. But CS Lewis got it pretty well figured out. He wrote, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
Jesus knew this and doesn’t teach us how to pray with some magical formula for prayer that guarantees the world will change, but instead a pattern for prayer that changes us and helps us to live faithfully in this world by the presence of the Holy Spirit and grounded in the promise of ‘God with us.’
Julie A. Kelly
Vicar - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for Tenth Pentecost
Written by Julie A. Kelly
July 24, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California