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Sermon: 7th Sunday after Pentecost July 28 2019

Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
July 28, 2019
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

I could talk for hours about this one.  We could break down Jesus’ response:  First you get your Father’s attention, then you say where God is (where we are not), and ask that God act as God desires both in heaven and here on earth; then you ask for your need to be met; for forgiveness (noting that you are forgiving anyone who hurt you as well); and finally, for guidance away from the bad and toward the good.

Or we could go to the catechism in the BCP (page 856) and read that there are 7 kinds of prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation (self-offering), intercession (on behalf of another), and petition (on behalf of oneself).

Which of those are in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples?

I went on line and looked up “kinds of prayers” and a couple other ones were: “prayers of imprecation” – that is, asking God to curse someone, rather than bless them – and “prayers of spiritual warfare” – such as exorcism or to send the devil packing.

There are still other things prayer may be:  contemplation or meditation, for example, when we are focused on an image or a text, seeking to find something there that speaks to us of God … and this leads us to prayers of seeking God’s input and listening for that.

Sometimes a prayer might be one of bringing out a concern or a question and just leaving it there before the throne of God, because we don’t even know what to ask about it, but we sure want to know what God thinks about it.

Sometimes a prayer may even be a poem that comes to us when we are struggling to figure out a problem – I get those sometimes; I don’t even realize I’m actually praying rather than just yelling, until thoughts and images start coming into my head or my pen or my laptop, things I would never have been able to say or think up myself.  This might be a sign of another prayer, one that Paul spoke of when he said that when we pray the Holy Spirit prays with us in sighs too deep for words.

Prayer can be music – with or without lyrics.  Prayer can be visual art.  Prayer can be dance.

And our prayer book is filled with prayer – most in a particular pattern common to the Anglican-Episcopal experience – but it also contains ancient prayers from our Jewish ancestors in the faith, which we call psalms.

I prayed a couple weeks ago as I was falling; it consisted of one word, repeated until I hit the ground:  No no no no no no no!

The formal definitions of prayer, such as those in the catechism, miss out on a lot – and one of the ways in which they miss out is that they don’t include God’s voice, God’s response, God’s answer.

Prayer is just half the conversation.  Our half.  Prayer is also something that God shares with us – not just by means of the Holy Spirit in sighs too deep for words. 

Now God does not need to pray for us, of course, and that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m reaching for something indefinable and mysterious:  the other half of the conversation.

Some folks get clear articular messages from God; we find records of those in the prophets; but even today we might have a friend who says something like, “God laid it on my heart to call you today…”  I have one friend who does that all the time.  I may wonder if it’s always God, but I can’t forget that I’ve heard a few clear messages myself – usually telling me things I’m trying really hard to overlook in my spiritual life, but sometimes out of the blue altogether.

Maybe God’s response is not what we would call prayer, but it should lead us into prayer, into the conversation, the thinking, the offering, the puzzling, the joy, or the sadness, or the work that we need to do.

There are body prayers, and there are waiting prayers, and there are places of prayer that are holy to us or to others – the wailing wall in Jerusalem, the Kab’bah in Mecca, the tomb of St. Peter in Rome, any garden, the woods, the seashore – places where our spirits are opened, where time seems to stop and the earth seems to breathe and our hearts seem to beat with greater excitement just to be in those places.  

And for us, inside our doors: the altar rail right here in Christ Church may be one of those places for you.

Yes, we can pray anywhere, and it would be a good thing to do; but this building, these walls, these steps, these pews, this rail, these windows – this is our own house of prayer in community, in quiet contemplation, in joyful song or praise-filled hymn, in confession, in sharing the peace, in sharing in the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharistic feast, sharing with others right next to us, becoming one, becoming church, renewing our spirits, refreshing our souls, remembering all that God has done for us.

We bring our day-to-day small concerns, we bring the big questions, we bring our hopes and dreams, our fears and sadness; we bring our friends and loved ones, in our hearts or in physical reality; we bring ourselves to this place; we come here to pray together.

There’s an expression that you may have heard from time to time, or not: “lex orandi, lex credendi” – it’s Latin, and literally means “the law of praying is the law of believing.” Or, we could say, “the way we pray shapes our beliefs.”  And the converse is also true: “our beliefs shape the way we pray.”  This law is more like the law of gravity than the law as passed by human authorities that we are required to abide by. 

The law of gravity is different: we have no choice, whether we choose to obey it or not, it’s pretty firm, and even if we have wings or a parachute, if we step off the top of a tall building, it’s going to eventually bring us to earth. 

Human-made laws, well we’re supposed to follow them, but there is a whole philosophy of the higher law – so if the Congress passed a law that said, for example, everyone must kill his or her neighbor, then the higher law says, No, we mustn’t. 

The law of praying is the law of believing.  We pray a certain way, and it affects, as it is designed to do, the way we think, what we believe: if our prayers are imprecations, our belief may tell us God is angry; but if we pray for mercy; we will come to believe that God is merciful.  If we pray for love, then we will come to love:

Jesus said, “Search and you will find”:  you will find what you seek.  So seek the things that are of God: God’s authority, God’s generosity, God’s mercy, God’s guidance – this is the lesson of Jesus’ prayer.

And it is good.