“Pray This Way” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew
There are believers who love the Bible like a best friend – so much that they turn to it every day. They love to study the Bible and read what other students of scripture think about it. And there are students of the gospel of Matthew who have read it so many times, that they’ve lost count.
And most serious students of Matthew will tell you that Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) are the finest nuggets of gold in the gold-mine of Matthew’s gospel. Some will say that almost everything that Jesus says anywhere else in the gospel of Matthew is previewed in the Sermon on the Mount.
It has been fundamental to Church of the Brethren values, teachings and practices. It is so concentrated, so densely packed that we can spend the rest of our lives reading it again and again and again and wondering how – oh how – we can ever live the life to which it calls us.
BUT we’re not studying the Sermon on the Mount this Summer because we love its words. No, we’re studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount because it is JESUS’ Sermon on the Mount!
As we have observed together, the disciples and the crowds gathered around Jesus to hear what he would say because of who Jesus was. And we gather with them to hear Jesus’ teachings because of who Jesus IS for us, because of what he means to us, because we love him and want to live lives pleasing to him.
So we gather to hear Jesus’ message about the life to which he calls us and today we delve more deeply into what he taught about prayer.
Perhaps you remember that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:1-18 to mind our motives in giving, fasting and prayer and to aim our acts of love and devotion toward God, in secret, so that the God who sees in secret may reward us in ways that the world cannot give, and can never take away!
But more than simply warning us to mind our motives in prayer, Jesus elaborates! He gives us more! Jesus gives his followers a guide to prayer! Author, pastor & teacher Richard Foster describes it as a “total prayer.”
It isn’t the only prayer we can pray. We don’t have to use any particular formula. I am sure that God hears every prayer that anyone prays to (HIM), and the best prayers are those that come straight from our hearts, like “Oh God, help!” or “Thank You God!”
What is more, I am sure that GOD hears and under-stands our prayers even when we garble them. Even when we can’t seem to find the right words. I base my confidence that God hears and understands on Psalm 139:4 “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, You know it completely.” – And on the apostle Paul’s assurance in Romans 8:26 & 27: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And GOD, who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for [us] according to the will of GOD.”
As I suggested last week, when we don’t know how to pray, a good beginning is silence. – Because as the Psalmist assures us, God already knows what we’re thinking. But if we want to reach out to God, and there’s nothing in particular that we want to say, Jesus offers us a guide to prayer, which we call Our Lord’s Prayer.
And I wonder if maybe we can learn about prayer if we slow down and take our time to really think about each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. Our drama this morning has already pointed us in this direction, but I think there might be even more to explore…
So what does it mean when we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” The Gospels tell how again and again, Jesus calls God “Father” and even “papa” or “daddy.” That tells us a lot about how Jesus felt about God… We know that there are people for whom “father” or “dad,” etc. bring up bad, painful, ugly memories. Bless them. They have suffered.
But Jesus has a great relationship with God! – As warm, loving, and trusting a relationship as you or I can imagine. Do we have to call God “Father” for God to hear our prayers? I don’t think so. But Jesus’ relationship with God is like a beloved son’s relationship with the best dad (or mom) you can possibly imagine. And Jesus encourages us to imagine our relationship with God as good as Jesus’s relationship is…
And what does it mean to say “Our Father who art in heaven?” “In heaven?” Where is heaven exactly? I don’t know… If you have an image of heaven that works for you, that is based on what scripture and Jesus say about heaven, then GOD bless you. But if heaven is for you a mystery that can only be solved after we leave this earthly life, that’s OK too.
What does it mean to talk to God in heaven? For me, I think of “heaven” as a place, a space, a reality, a realm where everything is right and good for everybody and God is there in the midst of it all.
So this God Who loves and cares for us exists completely independent of us in a place where “All [is] well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” What does it mean for God’s name to be hallowed? If you look it up, to “hallow” something is to count it “holy,” “sacred.” If we pray for God’s name to be “hallowed,” does that mean that we want God’s name to be honored, respected, revered? Yeah, something like that…
Maybe there are people who mean so much to you that hearing or saying their name makes you smile… If you think of those who are so dear to you, think about what their name means to you. A little boy once said that he loved the way his name sounded in his grandmother’s mouth… So a question: How does God’s name sound in your head, in your heart, in your mouth??? Is God’s name “hallowed” by the way you think and say God’s name?
“10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that the second petition explains the first petition: what it should mean for God’s Kingdom to come… When God’s Kingdom comes, then what God wants for people and the world will be accomplished everywhere, around the world, in every life…
Would that mean that everybody in the world would have enough to eat? A safe and secure shelter from the elements. Decent clothes to wear? Access to healthcare? I know this sounds crazy – maybe scary to people like me who consume more than my fair share of the things that make life pleasant…
But I don’t know how to read this petition any other way. If every person is a child of God, if God loves all the children of the world, doesn’t God want all of God’s children to have a good life?? Food, Shelter, Clothing, Health? Can I honestly, sincerely pray this if it means that I will live more simply so that others can simply live??
“11Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s a straight-forward petition, isn’t it? Give us today enough to eat – enough food to sustain life…
But is that a prayer I need to pray? Do you? I have never worried about having enough to eat. I’m not sure I know anyone personally who needs to pray for daily bread. But you and I know that there are people not so very far away who are food insecure. Who need the food stamps, who depend on food pantries, who need all the help they can get.
Maybe you and I don’t have to worry about the basic necessities of life. And yet, what does it mean that in the prayer he teaches us, Jesus encourages us to ask God for such basics? – That God cares about our most basic needs, the common every-day matters that concern us. Food, shelter, health, the every-day stuff that we must have to live.
And what does it mean that Jesus teaches to ask for such basics?? Maybe asking reminds us that we would have nothing had God not put us in this world that provides us everything we need to live – indeed to live very well! In prayer we ask for our daily bread, remembering that, like the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness, we would quickly die of hunger or thirst if God didn’t provide so richly for us…
“12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”’
We say it every time we pray our Lord’s Prayer, and yet, as the drama highlighted for us, we have prayed it so often that we don’t really think about it.
“as we forgive our debtors…” Maybe you remember the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 18 about the servant who owes his master 10,000 talents – worth several millions of U.S. dollars. You remember that his master forgives him that whole debt and “that same servant went out and found a man who owed him 100 denarii”, less than $200, demanded payment and when he couldn’t pay, had him thrown in jail until he paid his little debt. When the master heard about it, he confronted him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)
Forgiveness is a big deal for Jesus! In fact, you probably noticed that after Jesus teaches us the prayer, he comes back to the subject in Matthew 6:14-15. And warns us in terms very similar to the way he concludes the parable in Matthew 18: “14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
We pray better when we really pay attention to what we’re praying and – if we have the courage – invite our Lord to show us where we need to act on what we’re praying…
“13And do not bring us to the time of trial…”
Does God bring us to times of trial?? I think of two times when Jesus was tested. When (Matthew 4:1ff) right after he was baptized, Matthew says that “…the Spirit let him into the wilder-ness to be tempted by the devil.” And in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36ff) where Jesus prayed 3 times that he might be spared the suffering that seemed inevitable. In both cases, God lets [his] beloved son suffer trial & temptation.
This makes me wonder about trials, temptations and suffering. Where do they come from? Does God send them? – Or does God simply allow them??
But if I come at this another way, I think of life-guards, fire-fighters, police offices, all the people who are trained to respond to crisis. They are trained, aren’t they, to respond well to crisis situations. And the training pretty often involves simulated and real crises: fires, active shooters, someone drowning, a baby coming before they can get to the hospital. In times of crisis, we want help from people who know what to do – even better if they’ve already been through it…
We don’t wish crisis or disaster on anyone. But when they come – and sooner or later they do – we hope that the responders have faced such crises before. We don’t wish trouble, trial or temptation on anyone, and Jesus teaches us to pray to be spared. But when crisis and suffering come, we can pray for God to be with us and get us through it… And when, with God’s help we survive, we are better prepared for the next crisis. – Or better prepared to help someone else face a similar trial…
“do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil [one].” Some versions say “from evil” others say “from the evil one.” I don’t know whether I believe in a “literal” devil… But I have seen and heard some really evil things…
Are there any grown-ups who haven’t seen or heard, or faced some really evil things?? You’d have to have lived a really sheltered life, wouldn’t you… Surely you don’t need for me to give examples of unspeakably evil acts that destroy life in war zones, school zones, shopping malls, but also in homes and offices and churches…
Whether or not there’s an actual “evil one” or just a force of evil prowling around our world, lurking in dark corners and shadowing our lives, I understand why Jesus teaches us to pray for help, relief, rescue from the evil afoot in our world… (Because we surely need it…)
God knows, Jesus knows that life can be tough, daunting, fearsome, so he offers us this prayer which can be prayed any time, any where. You don’t have to use these words. I’m sure that God loves to hear our prayers in whatever words we use.
But if you want to pray and you don’t know exactly what to say, Jesus has given us this “go-to” prayer that will most always leave us in better place than we were before.
Will you pray it with me??
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours now and forevermore.