On Prayer

2 08 2007

Text: Luke 11:1-13

“Pray for me.” “My mother is ill, please keep her in your prayers.” “My husband and I are going through a rough patch, please pray for us.” How often have we heard requests like these? For myself, I am always a bit surprised when one of my secular friends asks me to pray for something or someone since they are usually very proud of their non-affiliation with any brand of faith or religion. Why do we perceive prayer to be so potentially powerful? What is it for? Do we think of it as a form of magic, where as long as we are in God’s good graces he can help us when we are in trouble or protect us when we need it? Is it merely a way that we can communicate with God, to let him know what is going on in our lives or our hearts.

Prayer is part and parcel of a healthy Christian life. It is a way that we can communicate with God, to let him know what is going on in our lives or our hearts. Scripture says that we are to “pray without ceasing.” Sometimes when people are seeking counselling or advice from fellow parishioners or their priests, a qusetion they get asked might be, “How is your prayer life?” One of Jesus’ favourite themes in the Gospel of Luke is prayer. Actually, passages on prayer are mentioned in this Gospel more than Mark and Matthew combined. The Gospel of Luke begins with Zechariah praying in the temple. We find Jesus praying at his own baptism. Jesus also chose the Twelve after he had prayed all night. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them what has come to be called The Lord’s Prayer, which is found in this past Sunday’s reading, as well as a parable to encourage us to pray.

The parable can be read in several ways. We see a contrast between the unwillingness to help one’s neighbor versus God’s ever-present desire to help us. It also encourages persistence in our prayers even when God doesn’t appear to be listening or willing to answer. In fact, we are so encouraged to be persistent because we may rest assured of God’s gracious character. So then, is it worthwhile to pray when it seems that prayer goes unheard? The short answer is, “Yes, of course!”

As we look at the Lord’s Prayer, we can find Jesus’ emphasis on several points. One that jumps out is that there in no “I” in the prayer. It is not individual, but communal. It is a prayer sent to God by the entire Body of Christ. “Our Father,” “Give us this day,” “Forgive us our sins.” Prayer, you see, is not an individual matter, but a matter or corporate worship …. a means by which we can commune with and communicate with God. Even our petitions for forgiveness are not on an individual level, but a communal act. We also see in the Lord’s prayer our constant hope where the Kingdom of God is realized in the coming of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is already here, with us, but there is still a “not-yet” dimension as God’s inbreaking into the world continues.

Many sermons and relfections have been written on this particular prayer. It is a pattern for how to pray and it is also a mark of identification as a Christian. What Luke has done is to share with his readers the prayer of the Christian community. In the Didache (an early Christian catechism/liturgical guide … call it the Book of Common Prayer 1.0), it follows the section on baptism, so we can rightly call it the believers prayer. It was one of the first things a new Christian learned, so it is a mark of identification not only with the community, but with Christ. Through our sacramental union with Christ in baptism, our death and resurrection are realized just as we share in Christ’s own resurrection.

This is why we are able to persist in prayer when things are not going well. This is why we can cling to hope and never lose heart when it seems that all might be lost. Before he died, Jesus told Peter, “Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail … ” We know that Peter’s denial did not turn into failure, but the way was made clear for reconciliation and redemption. Even when heaven seems deaf to our cries and pleas, we may persist because of the character and promises of God, the one whom we call, “Our Father.”

Amen

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