“The Practice of Prayer”
July 4, 2021
Scripture: Luke 11: 1-13
Sermon: “The Practice of Prayer”
An eighty-year old woman came forward for communion and after receiving it, she would go back to the pew and kneel. She kneeled on the hardwood floor with her back to the altar, head bowed and hands folded neatly on the seat of the pew. This was her practice of prayer. When asked why she did this her response was, “This is how we’ve done it here all my life.” This practice was the way she confessed her sins. Though in this day and time, her fellow brothers and sisters stopped doing it like that…she continued. I remember one time I went to visit and elderly man in the nursing home. After we talked, I asked if he’d like me to pray with him. He immediately agreed, stood up and turned and kneeled at his twin bed—just like his mum had taught him to do since he was a little boy. Even in his very old age with wobbly knees, this was his practice.
Today’s Scripture is about the practice of prayer. Just as Jesus model’s for the disciples how to pray, the church gives us certain practices over the centuries on the practice of prayer. The liturgy of the worship is a practice of prayer. When we gather here we’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer together again. I grew up in the Methodist church saying the Apostle’s Creed and singing the Gloria Patri week after week. Jesus taught the disciples how to pray by praying the Lord’s Prayer. In praying that prayer, we are to be made more forgiving, we are asking for our daily bread, we are being formed in the nature of God just by praying.
The liturgy of the Holy Communion is also part of a practice of prayer. As the liturgy becomes more a part of us and our lives, the Holy Spirit is invited to lead us and guide us and help us to be more Christ-like. There’s a story I was told by a pastor of his driving to the hospital at 3:30 in the morning to meet a frantic husband and wife. The wife’s gall bladder had ruptured and the surgery would take place within minutes. The pastor realized that in his flight from the parsonage, he had forgotten any “tools” of ministry, like the Bible, or a prayer book, a hymnal, anything! Naturally, the couple looked to the pastor for guidance. All the pastor could say was “The Lord be with You.” And the husband and wife responded in unision, “And with you also.” The pastor continued “Lift up your hearts.” They in turn said, “We lift them up to the Lord.” That is all they could say. Suddenly, peace filled that room. What was once panicky and frantic was now composed and calm. The liturgy of the Eucharist was embedded in their hearts, and they together, in the practice of prayer, invited the Lord’s presence into that room.
I remember back in the day when Jason and I used to go to baseball games—wherever we lived, we’d find a ballfield! So, we’ve missed going to see the Canadiens over this past year, but given the recent heatwave, I don’t think you’d find us there even if we could. I remember seeing Garciaparra, one of the greats of baseball, and reading about how he practiced daily on catching ground balls—over and over again! Now, I used to play baseball—I’m telling you, it’s pretty embarrassing when you miss a ground ball! You think it’s the easiest thing to catch. You not as easy as you think! You put your glove down and ‘Whoops!” There it goes!! It’s like a basketball player missing a free throw. It shouldn’t be that hard to make it work.
But if Garciaparra was so great, I couldn’t really understand why he’d put so much effort daily into practicing something like catching a grounder, so relentlessly. But, he did. Practicing something over and over means that you really will get better. But not only do you become better, what you practice becomes a part of you...it becomes second nature. So, as the baseball player practiced daily, catching a grounder becomes second nature. Maybe Jesus would like us to practice that at prayer! So much so, that it would become second nature to us to do so…daily!
In the practice of coming to God in prayer, God gives us what we ask. I’ve always been somewhat confused by verses 9-13. Let me reread them for us again (READ VERSES)
I’ve asked for quite a lot of things that I have never “received.” What’s up with these verses? What do they mean? Well, Jesus is trying to reach us with a common point. We are evil people who need to be redeemed, but even so, we, who are evil, would not think of giving our children a snake or scorpion instead of a fish or an egg. God, however, exceeds all our earthly expectations of giving. He gives us the Holy Spirit.
So, God doesn’t necessarily give us the “things” that we think we need, but the Holy Spirit, which is the greatest gift of all. And because we may not know what life will throw our way, the gift of the Holy Spirit in our midst, might be our most needed thing.
The disciples are asking Jesus how to pray, and Jesus responds by assuring them that God answers prayer. When we pray the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples and teaches us, we’re not necessarily getting the “A” on the test, or the bonus cheque we’re hoping for, or the new car we’ve waited for all our life for…we’re praying that we can love our enemies, we’re praying that the hungry will be fed, we’re praying that God’s kingdom will come. Jesus shows us that by such praying, our nature becomes more like God and he gives us what we ask.
The practice of prayer…prayer is not something that is always easy. Sometimes we’re so mad at God, the last thing we want to do is pray. But deep down, we have imbedded in our hearts and in our minds and in our souls, the prayers and practices of the liturgy of the church over years and years of living in the wake of Christ. When we don’t have the strength to pray, like the couple and the pastor in the hospital that early frantic morning, the practice of prayer takes over. When we are so distraught that we don’t even know how to pray, the practice of prayer takes over. We pray, and God gives us the Holy Spirit…and there is peace.
I have a favorite monastery where I love to go and stay—Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina in the great town of Moncks Corner, South Carolina. I went for a week away from everything and with some very big decisions to make. So, I went with a list of what to pray through for the entire week. The very first day, the monk led myself and others into the guest area and shared the details of the grounds. Then he said, “I bet you’ve come here this week hoping to get some answers from God—with many things to pray about.” We all nodded. He continued, “I bet you may have even written these things down on a piece of paper!” How did he KNOW!? I nodded with enthusiasm. “I’d like to ask you to rip that piece of paper up and throw it away.” What? He said…rather than come to God with a list, just come to God this week—just simply “be” in the presence of God and listen.
Contemplative Prayer was what he taught us that week. And the realization that sometimes we just need to sit in the practice of prayer as the Holy Spirit comes deeper into our lives. The Scripture today starts out by saying that Jesus “was praying in a certain place.” We all need to find that “place” in our lives where we can pray. We find that place on the back porch early in the morning, or in a room of the house in the evening where no one disturbs us. Regardless where we find that place to pray, we need it! We may have to go away for an entire week to a monestary just to find it! Jesus needed it, too. God hears all of our petitions, and we are assured God’s presence and his greatest gift…the Holy Spirit.
As I said earlier, sometimes when we pray, we don’t even know where to begin. The prayer that has become second nature to us can be our model. When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we can use it as a full meditation. For example, pray “Our Father” and reflect on the glory of the Holy Father and all that encompasses the nature of God. Reflect that God as father, also comes to as mother, as creator, as Holy One…and goes beyond any mortal definition. Then pray “Who art in Heaven.” Heaven is such a glorious and marvelous thing to even think of! Reflect on this…pray like this…when asking to “give our daily bread,” pray for all those who don’t have bread this day. Pray for God’s kingdom to come! For they will to be done! The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught us, is a good place to start practicing. A beautiful description from Evelyn Underhill is that in all respects, the Lord’s Prayer is a “concise direction for the Godward life of the soul.” Whether you’ve prayed it all your life, or are newer to the faith and eager to learn. Find that certain place to pray and practice. And then practice, practice, practice on a daily basis. You will receive the Holy Spirit. And now together in the practice of prayer, let us pray the prayer our Lord taught us to pray…
Who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom
And the power and the glory
For ever and ever. Amen.