Sermon: Shaped by Prayer

Luke 11:1-13

The other day I was sitting with a hospice caregiver, and we were talking about the difficulties of caring for this particular patient. The caregiver is not family; although she has been caring for the patient for seven years, she is paid, by the family, to care for their father, so they do not have to. The patient has seven children, some of whom do not live in the area, but two live on the same street and very rarely come by to see their father. I was trying to imagine what that would be like and was having difficulty until she told me something even more disturbing.

The caregiver switched the conversation to prayer. I was still rolling to story of the children around in my head, so I was only half-listening, but the caregiver was talking about God’s blessings and God’s grace in her life and how blessed she felt that she was able to care for the patient. She spoke about her faith and how she grew up Roman Catholic but strayed away for a while but has found her way back the last few years. “There was something missing,” but she really could not tell me what it was that was missing.

Then she got very serious. She once again turned to all of God’s blessings and the grace the God bestows on us, and she said that God would take his blessing away as well as his grace if we are not careful. I try not to press my theological understanding on people, that is not what I am there for, but I pushed a little to find out what she meant. She continued that is we do not pray, go to church, and all the rest of the “stuff” God will turn his back on us and take away his blessings and his grace. I was dumbfounded. If you can imagine, I was at a loss for words. The visit ended, and I went on my way, but this conversation was haunting me.

So, I ask you this question, it can be a rhetorical question, but if someone wants to answer and share that would be great. How do you envision God? I mean, what does God look like to you? I do not mean physically, but I guess the better question is, how do you perceive God?

I will start. I was asked one-time what God looked like to me, and I responded by saying that God looked like George Burns in the movie O God. I am sure many of you sitting here tonight have seen the movie or at least know who George Burns is. He is a kind, grandfatherly type of guy. That’s God to me. Anyone else wish to share?

Jesus gives a glimpse into how he feels we should see God, as the father. Now, this is all well and good unless you have a bad perception of what fatherhood is all about, so let’s think of some other words that we can use. Benevolent, loving, caring, do anything for you, teacher, etc. All of these in one way or another describe God, but, keep in mind that human words cannot describe God as God is indescribable.

Notice words I did not use, ogre, vengeful, jailer, judge, tyrant. None of those words were used yet the woman I spoke with the other day talked about a God that would take away a blessing or a grace out of spite; it is as if a father gave his child a candy bar and after one bite, took it away.

In the Gospel lesson we heard this evening, Jesus teaches his followers not only how to pray but how to think about God. I would like us to stray a little away from the image of father for a moment, just in case there might be some lousy father images in the room but also to break down the wall of patriarchy and that God is masculine. God has no gender. God has no color. God has no nationality. God is not partial to anyone but treats everyone equal. So, for this exercise, let’s think of God as a friend, perhaps a best friend. I mean we do not walk up to a stranger on the street and ask them for things, we get to know someone first before we ask them. The same is true with God, how can we dare ask God for stuff, prayers, until we truly know God. Of course, you can but hang in there with me, and I hope it will all make sense.

Jesus teaches us to call God father. That is the relationship that we are to have, parent and child. I do not have children, but I am sure that I would do anything within my power to give them what they wanted if it was in their best interest. That is the key by the way, in their best interest. A child might want a scorpion or an alligator but is that the best thing for them? Probably not. But the relationship that Jesus hopes exists between God and us is that of an approachable parent that we can ask anything of, we might not always get it, but we can always ask.

So, we pray to our friend, our parent, our confidant, whatever image we wish to use, and we praise his name, hallowed be your name on earth as it is in heaven. Do we truly praise God, or do we take his name in vain? How often do we exclaim, “O My God!” Sure, it just slips out, but that is a clear violation of Commandment #1. Do we have another God’s that we place before God? Money, power, politicians, our way, etc. Again, clear violations of the top 10 as I like to call them.

Give us today our daily bread. In other words, give us what we need today and nothing more. This harkens back to the time of the Exodus when the Jews were wandering in the desert for 40 years. Manna came down from heaven to feed them, and they were instructed to take only what they needed for that one day, and more would be provided tomorrow. Many did not trust, so they took more, and when they awoke the next morning, it had molded and was rotten. Give us today only what we need, not what we want, but what we need, and I trust that you will do the same tomorrow.

Then comes the Biggy; forgive us our trespasses, I like trespasses rather than debts by the way I like sins as it says in Scripture, but trespasses work. Forgive us how? As we forgive. See, there is always a catch. The idea here is that we forgive others as we have been forgiven. How have we been forgiven? Completely! So, if we are forgiven entirely, then we have also to forgive completely. This one is hard, I know, but it is essential to our spiritual life. I have mentioned it before, so I will quickly repeat it; forgiveness is not for the person that wronged you; forgiveness is for you! By not forgiving someone, you are giving that person power over a part of your life and a way to control you. Forgiveness frees you of that and allows you to seek your true potential. Think about it.

Lead us not into temptation, or as it says in the Scripture; “and do not bring us to the time of trial.” Let’s unpack this a little.

Back in June, Pope Francis turned some heads when he approved a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer for the Roman Catholic Church in Italy. His justification was that the present reading, lead us not into temptation, was wrong, and it implied that God leads us to temptation. “We fall,” the Pope said, “God does not push us.” So, the Pope changed it to “do not let us fall into temptation.” It is not God who tempts, that is the other guy’s job, we are asking that God protects us when temptation comes, and it will.

There is nothing in that prayer or any of the teachings of Jesus, that tells us that God will withhold his blessings or take them away. God freely gives to us as we need even if we don’t ask. To think any other way changes the very essence of the God that sent his Son to show us the way. He could have just wiped us all off the map, but in his love for his creation, he sent Jesus to show us the way home.

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