Scripture - Psalm 86:1-6, Luke 11:1-13
1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3 be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
4 Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6 Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
7 In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.
Luke 11:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version)
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
*Hymn - It’s Me, It’s Me, O Lord (UMH 352)
We’re continuing our Lent series on prayer - it’s centrality to Christian practice and the ways that it’s woven throughout our daily lives. Last week we focused on perhaps the most common of prayers - that of saying grace at the table, and talked particularly about The Great Thanksgiving that we pray as part of our Communion liturgy - the ultimate Table prayer so to speak.
This week we’ll take a look more closely at intercession - prayers of petition - asking God for the things that we want or need - for ourselves or for others.
Again, this is a common way we think about prayer, right? Someone gets sick, we offer to pray for them. We’re going through a tough time in our lives, and we pray for God to help us. Big, scary events happen in the world and we offer thoughts and prayers to the victims.
But I think many of us, at times, struggle with this kind of prayer. I know I have gone through times in my life where I would sit down to pray and feel like I was talking to empty air. Or I would wonder if my prayers would make any difference at all - some problems seemed just too big, or some people were healed miraculously while others just got sicker. I grew up in a congregation that did Joys and Concerns every week and we did a lot of praying for people who were sick or those who had just lost a loved one. As a kid, I would hear each request named and then the pastor would say her or his prayer and I never really got the sense that this was something we were doing together. It was like the pastor was the one doing the praying and we were being quiet and listening. It was rote and routine - something we did together but I wasn’t able to connect this kind of prayer to prayer in my own life or what it meant to pray with others.
Fast forward a few years to college - I attended a Methodist church in a nearby town - and the spirit was different. Maybe I had changed - I had come to worship there after some time in a church that didn’t have community prayer and I had found that I missed that part of the service - or maybe the community had a different perspective on prayer and the difference it made. What I found, though, was I was in the midst of a worshipping community where prayer mattered. More than that - where prayer together mattered. In the sharing of joys and concerns there was a sense of how we are all part of things together - there was one individual who would always ask for prayers for his upcoming cribbage tournaments, and teens who would pray for upcoming exams, and those who would lift up issues in the world. I remember one Sunday in particular when a girl who was starting her freshman year in college lifted up a concern that she didn’t know if she was going to be able to afford books for her courses. This was a group of people who sensed God’s work in the world and weren’t afraid to take those requests to God in prayer.
It was an attitude mirrored by the Psalmist in our first reading this morning - and indeed, one that is found throughout the Psalms. There’s a boldness to this prayer - in many of the Psalms, there’s no hesitation around asking God for exactly what was needed, particularly when it came to themselves, telling God exactly what they were thinking and feeling and what they wanted God to do. There’s a sense of honest vulnerability before God - the God that knows us inside and out and loves all of who we are - and a bold presence before God in prayer. So many of the Psalms start out as if they were reminding God who God is - you are good and loving and forgiving, you are my God and I am devoted to you so answer my prayer - be there when I call - listen to my supplication. I find that to be such a refreshingly bold statement to make to the God of the universe. There’s a certain degree of trust and security in that kind of relationship to make such a daring request. As I was reading that Psalm this week it reminded me of a lesson that my youth group leader taught me as a teen that God was big enough to take anything that we shared - our anger, our frustration, our sadness, our celebrations - that that kind of boldness in prayer is something God wants and desires from us.
And to pair this kind of boldness with our reading from the Gospel of Luke - where Jesus’ disciples are yearning for him to teach them how to pray...and as we read the passage we are drawn in relationship from the recitation of these words that have been passed down by Christians for generations to the little parable comparing prayer to asking a friend for bread in the middle of the night to the ultimate relationship between that of parent and child and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There’s a wonderful balance here - the freedom and ability to make our desires known to God - our deepest wants and wishes, our longings for ourselves and for the world, our honest pleas for help and desires for our loved ones to be healed or experience wholeness or for everything to be made right around us -- and these lines in the Lord’s Prayer about a focus on God’s kingdom, God’s perspective. There’s nothing in the prayer about perfect health, material wealth, lack of suffering - but in this small prayer there is a lot about getting just what we need for spiritual and physical sustenance, about asking for and receiving forgiveness, and about asking for freedom from that which pulls us away from God’s kingdom. There’s a lot about the Holy Spirit at work as we ask God to Give us our daily bread, to Forgive our sins, to Lead us and Deliver us - again, direct and bold asks...but ones that God wants to hear from us.
When we gather here for worship we take all of these prayers - the ones that come from deep within us and the ones that we share on behalf of others. We - together - petition God for the needs of friends and family members, of our community and of the world, for those who are close to us and those we have never met. I like to think that when we are doing this, we are wrapping the world, those whom we love, and even our very selves, in our care and prayerful intentions - like we become one great big prayer shawl for the world.
I love that we have a practice of sharing prayer shawls with those who need our love and care - and I’m grateful to Gloria who knits many of them. Prayer shawls are based on an ancient practice that developed during the time of Moses - the word in Hebrew for this garment is “talith” meaning “Little Tent” and came about, according to the story, because not all of the Hebrews could fit under the portable Tent of Meeting during the Exodus from Egypt, so these prayer shawls became “little tents” for the purpose of prayer and worship. We use them now to remind people that they are surrounded by the love and prayers of this church. We usually give them out to those who are undergoing medical procedures, but they can also be given to grieving families, as part of a marriage or baptismal celebration, birthday or anniversary or welcome -- any occasion to help folks know that the church is here to remind them of God’s unconditional love and to hold them before God in prayer.
There’s a reflection by Parker Palmer that appeared in the Journal Weavings that ties together this notion of the image of the prayer shawls and the idea that we are those who wrap the world in prayer - that praying for others is like being weavers who create cloaks in the midst of tattered lives.
[He begins by talking about remembering the death of President Kennedy and how his world seemed to unravel when this happened....]
"... I grieved my loss, our loss, then started to reweave–a work, a life, a world–not knowing what I know now: the world unravels always and needs to be rewoven time and time again. You must keep collecting threads: threads of meaning, threads of hope, threads of purpose, energy and will, along with all the knowledge, all the skill that every weaver needs. You must keep on weaving – stopping sometimes only to repair your broken loom–weave a cloak of warmth and light against the dark and cold (oh, all that dark and cold!), a cloak in which to wrap whoever comes to you in need: the world with all its suffering, those near at hand, yourself.
And, if you are lucky, you will find along the way the thread with which you may reweave your own tattered life, the thread that more than any other weaves in warmth and light, making both the weaver and the weaving true–the red thread they call love, the thread you hold, then hand along, saying to another, 'You.'"
That’s what we are doing in prayer - as we pray, we are part of God weaving this world back together, weaving us one to another - as we petition God to restore wholeness to those who are suffering, to those who are struggling, to a fractured world needing to be knit back together, and even to our own souls.
Prayer for and with and on behalf of others springs out of this deep relationship of love and trust that we have in God - the God who holds us through the peaks and valleys of life, who comes and walks beside us in Jesus, and who binds us together in the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
And although we do this every week, share Joys and Concerns to hold before one another and before God, I invite us to do so this week knowing that our prayer does matter. That our prayers for ourselves, others, and the world make a difference as we seek to live life in the kingdom Jesus came to bring. That through the Holy Spirit, our prayers are woven together in ways that enable us to make God’s presence with us and with others known -- and that we do so with the boldness and trust of being God’s beloved children.
With that, I invite us to enter into this time of sharing of prayers with one another - what would we like to hold before God and one another this morning - so that we can pray here in this place but also take these prayers home with us and be in prayer for and with one another throughout the week?
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.