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Almost a year ago, you may remember that our daughter Anna was diagnosed with B cell non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The news was a shock to all of us as days of uncertainty unfolded for the Welkers.
But one thing I remember that sustained us through those times was prayer. Not so much our prayers… but yours… the prayers of the people. To know you were praying brought a strength I had not expected or experienced before.
I remember describing it this way… that every time we were feeling overwhelmed… your prayers would lift us up like an updraft for a falling bird… I remember the passage coming to mind… “You shall mount up with wings like eagles… walk but not faint…” and the image of what lifted the eagle was your prayers.
So when we come to the prayers of the people in worship, I do not take it lightly. When we end those prayers with the Lord’s Prayer, I recall how important prayer was to Jesus… though I think we tend to forget that part of his life.
Ask many people, even present day disciples—to describe Jesus and they will tell you he died on the cross… he rose from the dead… those who describe him will tell you about his teaching on love, forgiveness… how he cared for the poor, the least, the last, the unlucky, the lonely and the lost… how he preached his first sermon on justice… They might describe him as a man of action but few may describe him as a person of prayer.
Which is odd because the first disciples and the first gospel writers saw prayer as central to his life, his ministry and his relationship with God.
Which is why I like Luke’s version of how we came to learn the Lord’s Prayer… It is prompted by one of his disciples noticing that he prayed in a certain place… and he makes this simple request: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples”
This was not the first, nor would it be the last time when they noticed Jesus praying…
As Philip Yancey noted in his book on prayer:
“The Gospels record just over a dozen specific prayers by Jesus, along with several parables on the subject. He followed the normal Jewish practice of visiting the synagogue, the ‘house of prayer’ and of praying at least three times a day…. (prayed three times a day) Like most of us, Jesus turned to prayer in times of trouble. No doubt he prayed intensely as he fasted and meditated on the Bible during his time of wilderness tempting… his prayers in the garden of Gethsemane pushed him to the edge of endurance (reaching a point when he could take no more), and three times he fell to the ground overcome. Jesus prayers held back nothing. The other typical form of request, prayer for trivial things, apparently had little place in Jesus’ practice. Common, everyday things, yes: the Lord’s Prayer mentions daily bread, temptations, and broken relationships, but these requests are hardly trivial. Jesus’ prayers, in fact, show a remarkable lack of concern about his own needs. ‘Take this cup from me’ may represent the only time Jesus asked something for himself (but even then, he said, nevertheless, not my will by thy will be done). If he made few requests on his own behalf, Jesus often lifted up prayers for others. He prayed for children brought to him by their mothers, and for ‘the people standing here’ at Lazarus’s grave side, and for Simon Peter who faced a time of testing. In [one of his final prayers from the cross, in one last gift of grace, he prayed for his persecutors] , ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ When alone, Jesus relied on prayer as a kind of spiritual recharging. After a [long and] exhausting day of ministry—recruiting disciples, preaching to the crowds, healing the sick (in other words, doing the work of the kingdom of God)… he would withdraw to an isolated place to pray.”
Seeing that Jesus was such a person of prayer—how important prayer was to Jesus and central in his life and ministry– it is no wonder that eventually one of the disciples would ask him to teach them how to pray… like you would ask an athlete to teach you their sport…a golf pro, their swing… or a musician to teach them how to play or sing… the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray…
Today, I want to close with a special form of prayer for our contemplative service—a guided meditation… that helps us listen and use our imagination — using this story from Luke as inspiration. You know there are two basic ways to be in prayer- one is to talk… the other is to listen. Sort of makes sense because at heart prayer is simple… prayer is simply a conversation with God…and good conversation always involves a fair share of talking AND listening. In prayer as in relationships, many of us are better talkers than listeners. Listening is hard work, much harder than talking for most of us.
So today, I want to give you a chance to listen as I guide you through a meditation.
I invite you to listen to what God may be saying to you about your prayer life… about the gift prayer is for our faith…about praying for others… and even about praying for the coming of God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven…So, I invite you to relax in your pews… close your eyes… slow your breath… and let me take you on a journey… a guided meditation about Jesus and prayer…to guide you into the presence of God.
I want to take you back to a time long ago… and imagine that you have been following Jesus for some time now… watching him…(what does he look like?) listening to him…(what does he sound like?) He has captured your imagination… he has captured your heart… he speaks about God in a way no one else has… what is it about Jesus that draws you to follow him?– is it his teaching and preaching—speaking of God in a way you’ve never heard anyone speak of God before… or maybe he’s helped you understand the scriptures in a brand new way… or maybe he just speaks to you and your needs…What is it about Jesus that draws you to follow him?– is it his healing—you’ve seen family and friends bring loved ones to him who are sick… he is a great physician…– is it because you are one of the many who people call a “sinner”—and Jesus offers you forgiveness… a second chance…– is it because you hear him call for justice for the oppressed… is it his radical message that the kingdom of God is near… a kingdom that challenges all the kingdoms of this world… and challenges the hypocrisy you see from religious leaders…What is it about Jesus that draws you to follow him?
You have been on the road with Jesus for a long time now… and one morning, after a good night’s sleep, you awake– … you take a walk… and you hear a voice… you hear Jesus talking…You slowly move closer and use the trees to block his view of you. When Jesus stops speaking, there is silence. You freeze. You don’t want him to know you are there. You strain to hear the other person’s voice, but you still can’t hear anything. After a long period of silence, you finally hear a voice. But it’s just Jesus speaking again. You can’t make out his words. Who is he talking to? What is he talking about? You begin to inch even closer, moving as quietly as possible.
After Jesus finishes talking once more, there is another long period of silence. What’s going on? You move even closer and as you do, you step on a small branch and it makes a tiny sound… but it is loud enough for Jesus to hear it.
Now Jesus turns toward you. You feel embarrassed, but he motions you over.
So you walk toward him. Jesus seems happy to see you, happy you’re there. As you get to Jesus, you realize there is no one else around. Did the other person run away when they heard you step on that branch? Did you interrupt whatever Jesus was doing?
Jesus, seemingly knowing your thoughts says, “I’m glad you’re here. Don’t worry; there was no one else here. I was praying.”
And you realize that you have a question you’ve long wanted to ask Jesus… it is a question about prayer… a request, really… something you’ve wanted to request for a long time… because prayer has been so hard for you… you’ve tried to pray but don’t know how to pray or what to pray for…So you ask Jesus your question:
Lord, (will you) teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers?
And Jesus, looks at you, as if he has been waiting for you to ask that question for a long time… Jesus looks at you and says, “Let me teach you a special prayer. I’ll say it first, and you repeat after me.”
Father, help us to honor your name
Come and set up your kingdom
Set the world right
Give us each day the food we need
Forgive our sins,
As we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us.
And keep us from being tempted…
P78-79 Prayer- does it make a difference?