July 28, 2019

Proper 12     

Hosea 1: 2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-19, Luke 11:1-13

The Rev. James M.L. Grace 

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN

            There are so many reasons not to embrace the Christian faith: the hypocrisy of Christians, the narrow mindedness of denominations, clergy sexual abuse scandals, clergy who drive Lamborghinis, and the list just goes on and on.  So many reasons.  Here’s one more to add to the list: prayers that seem to go unanswered.  That’s the ace in the hole for every atheist’s denouncement of Christianity – which is that the God we purport to worship is asleep on the job, otherwise our prayers for healing and peace in the world would be answered.  Any quick glance at the newspaper or of the news would seem to provide evidence to the contrary.

Epidemics of famine, disease, pollution, war – they all are all seemingly valid arguments for every atheist who wishes to proclaim that if God isn’t dead, God at least is either passed out, unaware, detached, or completely uninterested. 

            Why do we pray?  Are we asking God to do something for us?  Are we asking God to alter physical properties of the world so that we might be protected, even if that means other people suffer?  If a hurricane forms in the Gulf of Mexico, and we pray that Houston not be in its path, then where do we expect it to go?

If you remember nothing else from this sermon (and you probably won’t) remember this: prayer is not about changing God’s mind.  Prayer is not about asking God for a promotion, or to win the lottery, or to magically change your spouse or significant other into someone who is less annoying.  Prayer isn’t magic. 

            Neither is prayer is not an attempt to micro-manage God into following our agenda.  It is not a process where if we just pray enough we will some how change God’s mind about something, and maybe enlist God onto “our side”  - that we will manipulate God into doing our will.  That’s not prayer, though I thought it was, for a long time.

Prayer is something else entirely.  Prayer is a conscious surrender of our will to God, that God would take it, redeem it, transform it, and that somehow through a miracle, we would ask not that our will be done, but God’s will be done.  Someone much smarter than I, a Danish philosopher named Soren Kierkagaard, once said that “prayer does not change God, it changes the person who prays.” 

            Are you being changed by your prayers?

            Today in the Gospel reading from Luke, we observe Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray, and he does so in a very simple way, sharing a prayer with them that we call today “The Lord’s Prayer.”  He then follows the prayer with a short anecdote about being persistent in prayer.

For a long time the meaning I took away from the story of the friend who comes and knocks at the door asking for bread in the middle of the night was this: if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.  If I offer a prayer to God, and it seems to go unanswered, that just means I need to pray more persistently.  I need to try harder.  My prayer wasn’t good enough.  I need to go back to the door, knock harder on it, even bang on it if I have to.  If that doesn’t work, I should start trying to kick it, or even try breaking and entering if need be.  If God won’t answer the prayer, I’ll just have to answer it myself.

            Much of my spiritual life has been ruled with this kind of thinking, that if I knock and the door isn’t opened, I have to find a way to open it myself.  In doing this for a long time, I was blind to the fact that I was leaving God out of the equation.  If I could answer the prayer myself, I had no need for God.  You are correct if your assumption is that this never worked out well for me.

I see the story of the persistent, middle of the night, friend knocking on the door quite differently now. It’s no longer a story about trying harder with more persistence, about forcing my will upon God.  It’s rather a story about praying without ceasing.  Prayer without stopping.  It’s about an ongoing prayer life that deepens over time, not because we’re trying harder at it, not because we’re forcing it; but because we are voluntarily surrendering our lives over to God and we are feeling the peace which comes as an inevitable result of that decision.

We pray in a persistent way not to try to change God’s mind, but to allow the opportunity for God to change ours.  I promise you that if you choose to pray in an ongoing, persistent way, if you try to imagine how your life will be improved one, two three years from now, I guarantee you that you will sell yourself short every time.  You will be amazed at what God does in your life not because you did anything to earn it, but because you showed up to the door every day to knock on it – not that it would be opened, but that your soul would be.

            That’s the power of prayer, for me.  What is its power for you?  AMEN.