May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord teach us to pray”
And Jesus did just that.
He said, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
We know this prayer. We pray it all the time.
But there’s also some really important points here that we need to unpack:
Points that we often gloss over because we know this prayer so well:
We can sometimes say these in rote:
without paying attention to what they really mean.
So let’s take Jesus’ words here line by line.
The prayer begins: “Father, hallowed be your name.”
This tells us, first of all, that our prayers are addressed to God.
And to God alone.
We might pray with others, alongside others, and for others:
But our prayers are our words to God.
And this opening line of the prayer also tells us a bit about who God is,
and who WE are.
God is Father,
And we are his children.
And even more than that:
God is a HOLY father.
When Jesus says “Your Kingdom Come”
He is telling us not just to hope for or pray for, but to help BRING god’s Kingdom here to earth.
But this is also GOD’S kingdom:
Not necessarily OUR ideas of what God’s kingdom should look like.
This line of the prayer forces us to put God’s hopes and dreams above our own:
And to trust that God will bring them about, with our help and faithfulness.
The third part of the prayer says:
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
In this line, Jesus is teaching us to pray for the things we NEED.
Not necessarily the things that we WANT:
But the things that we need for sustenance, for life.
Next we hear maybe the hardest words of this prayer.
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Here, Jesus acknowledges the reality of sin:
The reality that we ALL participate in.
Jesus announces our need for forgiveness,
And our need to forgive others.
And this line, is a bit different than the one we generally recite.
Here, it says, “for we ourselves forgive EVERYONE indebted to us.”
It’s pretty clear.
That we need forgiveness from God,
And we also need to forgive EVERYONE else in the same way.
A hard pill to swallow.
Which is part of why we need to pray about it.
To ask God to guide us, help us, and inspire us to forgive:
Precisely because it’s sometimes awfully hard to do:
Maybe even impossible to do without God’s help and guidance.
Finally, Jesus tells us to pray:
“And do no not bring us to the time of trial.”
We are familiar with the other words: “And lead us not into temptation: but deliver us from evil.”
In both cases,
We are asking God to guide us:
And to not make us vulnerable to those powers that rage against God’s kingdom.
Now: that was a nice sermon, huh?
To break down the Lord’s prayer?
But Jesus has more to say about it.
He tells a hypothetical story about a cranky friend,
And the power of PERSISTING.
With this hypothetical story, Jesus is telling us to keep praying:
Over and over and over again.
To keep praising God as our father,
To keep naming our needs.
To not give up until God’s kingdom becomes a reality here on earth.
And its worth noting that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray so that we could be passive.
This story about the persistent neighbor
(or in other translations the neighbor is described as “shameless”)
Is a story about someone who has the audacity to keep asking.
And that shameless audacity will eventually get him the help he needs.
Jesus is telling us to pray SHAMELESSLY.
He’s saying that prayer should be like knocking on your neighbors door in the middle of the night DEMANDING loaves of bread.
When the neighbor doesn’t want to get up because he is already in bed,
Jesus’ advice is to keep asking until he gives in.
It doesn’t matter if he wants to give you the bread or not:
He’ll do it eventually if you bother him enough.
Jesus is telling us that prayer is meant to be bold,
Persistent, and sometimes even uncomfortable.
Prayer is meant to be SHAMELESS.
It’s meant to get results.
After his hypothetical story about the shameless neighbor,
Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you,
Search and you will find,
Knock and the door will be opened for you.”
This idea of bold, shameless, persistent prayer is a good reminder to us that prayer doesn’t have to be silent.
Certainly, at times it can be, and maybe sometimes should be.
Prayer happens in dark, quiet, private places.
But prayer also happens in LOUD places. With wailing, shouting, crying tears of grief, reckoning, and yearning.
Prayer happens when we’re alone with God,
And when we’re gathered with others with God.
But prayer is not meant to stay just between us and God.
Our prayers need to have feet and hands.
Prayer is the practice of seeking God’s presence and guidance as we work toward creating a better world.
Prayer is one way we know God is with us, even when the challenges ahead seem insurmountable.
Jesus wanted our prayer to lead us to difficult places:
To challenge us to do uncomfortable things in his service:
(Like continuing to bang on our neighbors door in the middle of the night.)
Jesus wanted us to be unabashedly shameless in our prayers:
To keep asking for God’s presence in our lives and in the world, despite how daunting our challenges may seem.
What is happening in our world today that requires our shameless persistence in prayer?
What is happening in our lives that needs to change?
What are we seeking, and what are we hoping for?
Jesus promises us that if we knock the door will be opened,
But we might have to knock hard and often:
We might have to ask others to join us:
We might have to be loud in our knocking.
Jesus invites us to pray with the assurance that God is listening,
And not only that, but that God is acting on our behalf:
Ready to respond and to transform our lives and the world around us.
And if we have moments when we feel like our prayers are weak,
Or like we don’t know what to say or do,
We can be like the disciples,
who asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
And Jesus, always:
Stands ready not only to answer our prayers,
But also to show us the way in bold, persistent, shamelessness.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Last summer, my husband planted a number of fruit trees in our backyard.
The house that we bought in the middle of North Oshkosh, came with a surprising whole acre of backyard.
When Chris planted these trees,
Neither of us were prepared for how much anxiety the health of those trees would bring him.
He’s pretty constantly nervous about what seems to be excess sap,
About whether there are aphids,
About why this tree hasn’t left dormancy yet,
About whether the trees that lost most of their growth from last year will grow enough to survive this winter.
This anxiety drives both of us nuts.
And in the midst of it all, it’s easy to forget that the point of having these trees,
Was to actually get FRUIT.
Not to fret and fuss about the health of the trees.
But that anxiety,
That amount of time putting out fires,
That majority of my husbands attention goes to the trees that need the most help:
Sometimes makes it hard to celebrate the good that is happening in the midst of them:
The fact that some of these trees are already bearing some fruit:
Even just one year after having been planted!
It’s quite easy to lose the forest for the,
Well, not exactly the trees:
But maybe to lose the forest for the WEEDS.
Church life, especially in this day and age,
Is not too dissimilar to this.
We can get so bogged down in trying to manage problems:
In dealing with the misery people experience,
In negotiating conflict,
In turning to address social ills,
In dealing with buildings:
Running toilets, and higher than normal water bills.
We worry about how many people are coming,
And how old they are,
Worry about whether this program or that will have enough volunteers,
Or even enough participants:
That we forget to take time to simply give thanks for the places where ministry is flourishing:
Where it is yielding what were in this ministry together FOR:
For bearing fruit.
Today, we heard a reading from Colossians.
And Colossians is a book often overshadowed by Ephesians:
Which takes its themes and extends them and makes them more universal.
You add on to that the fact that what we have today is the intro to Paul’s letter.
And it seems like it might not be a reading for an enthralling sermon.
But this introductory material hides within it an opportunity to revel in the sort of unusual:
And NON-controversial aspect of this book of the Bible.
I don’t mean controversial by our modern standards.
What I mean is,
A lot of times: when Paul is writing his letters,
It’s to address a controversy or problem within the community.
But not in this letter to the Colossians.
By all accounts,
Paul seems NOT to have known the church at Colossae.
Rather, he’s HEARD about the faith of the people at Colossae.
What’s more: is that there doesn’t seem to be any real problem in the church that occasioned his letter.
No real conflict.
The issues that Paul addresses throughout the letter,
The issue of the potential for false philosophy of teaching that could lead astray,
Seems more aimed as a general threat posed in the wider church:
Not a particular problem at the church of the Colossae.
Unlike with the Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians,
The Colossians don’t seem to have any active harmful teaching or discord in their community.
And this is good!
It's good because it shows us about Paul’s priorities and what he thought was important in ministry.
Paul decided to write a letter:
Something that involved a scribe, and runners to deliver the letter:
As well as taking significant time to have the letter transcribed,
To send some teaching and good news to a church that he had never visited.
He did this because he was impressed by the strength of their faith:
Of the fruit that they were bearing in terms of growth in good works,
And in terms of the growth in understanding.
Paul understood that it was important not only to correct those who needed correction (as in the case of his letters to the Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians)
But in the case of the Colossians, Paul shows the importance of remembering (and praising!) the real purpose of ministry:
The growth in fruit bearing Christians:
The growth in people who were themselves growing in the knowledge and Love of the Lord:
Of having more and more people actively moving from death into life.
What fruit are we bearing here at St. John’s?
What do we have to celebrate?
It’s easy to get bogged down with the anxiety around what we feel is missing,
And Paul reminds us today to celebrate what is right here.
The fruits of us:
To worship the living God.
The fruits of this congregation:
Moving out into the world:
To support the community through the food pantry, the thrift store, and our healing ministry.
The fruits of children:
Even little acolytes who are distracted by their games of rock-paper-scissors during the reading of the lessons.
I can imagine Paul writing a letter to the church in New London:
Imagine it with me today:
Maybe even turn into your reading insert,
To imagine these words written to us:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in New London:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints:
Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you.
Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world,
So it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from Epaphras,
Our beloved fellow servant.
He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
And he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it,
We have not ceased praying for you
and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,
as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,
And may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
While joyfully giving thanks to the Father who as enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Let us remember the goal that Paul presents to us:
The goal is the JOY that comes from fruitful ministry.
Naming, and celebrating those places (and there are many) where our ministries are bearing real fruit.
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