Committed to Christ: Prayer; Matthew 6:5-14
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; September 12, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
My computer is one of those things I depend on most every day. I write sermons and letters and documents that are important to the work and the life we do here together. I can connect to the internet and find the answers to most any question I might have. I can order things I need and don’t need, pay bills, listen to music, to broadcasts and other people’s sermons. I can zoom with others wherever they might be: that was our primary method of getting things done during our Covid shutdown. Dorothy’s witness on prayer you listened to a little bit ago was recorded by me in my office here in Plymouth while Dorothy talked down in her home in Murray, Kentucky. It’s pretty amazing what we can with this flat, rectangular thing.
A few years ago I attended a conference and one of the members of a group I was in asked if I knew my computer could do—some such thing. I handed him my computer and he set everything up so I could quickly and easily—do whatever it was. It sounded like it would a very helpful thing to know how to do. Too bad I can’t remember what it was.
I realize I only use a small fraction of what this little piece of machinery is capable of doing; it has power beyond my ability to understand. Still, there are people who help me out along the way. The guy at the workshop. At church, Kathy can almost always help me get unstuck. Every now and then she’ll consult with her husband Steve who knows a lot about computer, too. I’ve called and carried my laptop over to Bob Barcus at Apheus; he’s been really helpful, too, when I’ve needed some help.
As big of a deal as my computer might be in my life; prayer is an even bigger deal. All kinds of power and possibility at our fingertips. It’s an amazing resource that seems to come so easily for some folks—while others of us need a little instruction, coaching and encouragement, along with some time to develop the practice and the skill and the habit: to be able to make full use of what we have available at our fingertips.
This week we begin the series we introduced before Labor Day, “Committed to Christ,” and today we’re talking about prayer. I think what Adam Hamilton said about prayer is too often true, “God offers us an ocean, and we choose a puddle instead.” God gives us this amazing possibility. God invites us to go deep. God invites us into relationship. God wants us to experience the joy and the peace and the hope and the power and the strength that comes with that relationship. But we don’t always embrace the gift and receive the full benefit of what it has to offer.
We’re going to talk a bit about how we might do that this morning…
We’ve read from the Gospel of Matthew which comes in the midst of a series of teachings, as Jesus sits on the side of a mountain with his disciples and others gathered round. There is a similar text in Luke: as Jesus prays, one of his disciples comes to him and asks him to teach them to pray, as John had taught his disciples. Jesus responds, teaching them the words that we have come to know as the Lord’s prayer.
For those who have been a part of the church for a while, the words are familiar. So familiar, perhaps, that we don’t even think about them much anymore; we simply repeat the words—usually in the company of other Christians, in the context of worship, as we join our voices in the comfortable cadence of the gathered community. That’s not all bad. There are folks who have these words so engraved in their hearts and minds that even though their memories are failing in too many other ways, these words remain familiar and become a connecting point in a world that is sometimes confusing and unfamiliar. As a pastor, I admit that there have been times over the years, when in the midst of the prayer my brain will just go blank (yes, it happens at other times as well), but you carry me, and the words continue to flow out of a deep place—a place filled with memories of repeating that very same prayer with loved ones long gone, with communities far away, with times sweetly remembered.
Familiarity with these words is not a bad thing.
And yet, their familiarity can prevent us from considering their full meaning. It is a prayer that is life-changing, life-giving and life-forming. It’s instructional—and though we may learn it as little children, it’s a prayer that takes intentionality to live out no matter how old we are. We may repeat it with little difficulty, but living it can be a challenge.
Jesus said, pray this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
We might say, Holy and awesome are you, O God. I praise you, I recognize you as the creator of the universe…you are the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Your kingdom come, your will be done.
This is where the prayer can start becoming a little difficult. Your kingdom come, your will be done. Not my will. This familiar prayer redirects us from what we want to what God wants. Okay, may thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus had some things to say about this. Really, lots of things to say about what he means: on earth as it is in heaven. In the Gospel of Matthew we read that:
The kingdom of heaven is like…the man who sowed good seed in his field, but while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat then went away. When the wheat grew, so did the weeds. What should we do, the servants asked: pull up the weed? No, the master replies, let them grow together until the harvest (13:24f).
The kingdom of heaven is like…a mustard seed that a man takes and plants in his field. It’s the tiniest of seeds, but it grows and becomes like a tree, and the birds can all come and perch on its’ branches (13:31-32).
The kingdom of heaven is like…yeast that a woman takes and mixes into a large amount of flour until it’s worked all through the dough (13:33)
The kingdom of heaven is like…treasure hidden in a field. When a man finds it he hides it again and then sells everything he has to buy the field (13:44).
I don’t think in the prayer Jesus is suggesting that as we speak of heaven/the kingdom of God that we’re asking for streets paved in gold, where we’ll all have a sweet house with a man cave and a housekeeper and a cook who prepares all our favorite dishes without fear of heartburn or weight gain.
On earth as it is in heaven…Jesus has something bigger in mind than all that…
Give us this day our daily bread…
Sounds as though we’re to ask for what we need, rather than what we want, doesn’t it?
And here’s the big one, I think, because he adds a little more on about it at the end of the text: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Asking for forgiveness makes sense, and we want and need that, but this sounds like we’re to ask that we’re forgiven in the same measure that we forgive others. But what if we don’t really want to forgive that other person, Jesus? What about that? What about the forgiveness I need? Can’t we just talk about me?
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. Yes, please. After we consider all the rest of what we’ve just prayed about, that’s definitely needed. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. That’s the language we’re used to. Deliver us, please, from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Living out the prayer and the life taught by Jesus can be challenging. But living it out our own way can be even more difficult. We’re not meant to do it on our own. We’re not meant to do life on our own. And though some of us may live on our own, we each are given the reminder this day—that God wants to be a part of our lives and in relationship with us. God wants to be in communication with us. God wants to be a part of our daily activities: our decision-making, in our work and our finances and our families. God wants to be in relationship with us. And a major piece of that relationship is nurtured with prayer.
I want to share with you the results of the members of our congregation who have already completed the anonymous survey that I passed out last week, and responded to the questions about prayer. If you weren’t here last week or haven’t turned yours in yet, please go ahead and do that, and I’ll be able to add your responses to what I share next week.
So far, we have 18 respondents who have completed the survey. A couple of us pray only when facing difficult circumstances, and a couple of us pray about once a week, mostly during worship. Several pray 5 times/week and several of us have a daily prayer routine that we carry out faithfully. Nine of us would like to continue to grow in our daily prayer life.
As we each consider where we are in our prayer life, and where we might like to be, I want to invite you to consider taking a next step in wherever you are now. Please take the commitment card that you received at the beginning of the service, and consider what you might want to do as I read through the possibilities. You can even add one of your own if one of this list doesn’t fit for you.
As you consider your own prayer life, I want to offer this to you: God hears you and wants to hear whatever you have to share. There are no particular words that will trigger God’s interest above others, no special language needed, no particular time or place required. Some of you have a routine of prayer as you drive to work, others of you have a journal where you jot down concerns that you take to God in the morning or before you head to bed at night. What works for you is what’s best for you, and if what you’ve tired hasn’t felt good or hasn’t worked, if you’ve haven’t able to stick to it, try again, try something else, try another time.
If your words feel inadequate (they’re not), try a prayer resource. You can read the Psalms, or start reading one of the gospels, and end your reading with a sentence or two to God. God hears you.
Devotionals are available to you. The Upper Room and Daily Bread are devotional guides that’s available to you from the church if you haven’t ever used one before and would like to try one of them. There are a few in the red basket in the hallway behind the sanctuary. If we run out, we’ll get more! Wherever you enjoy browsing books, whether it’s online or at a favorite bookstore, there are all kinds of options available…
It’s okay to be in the position of learning when it comes to prayer. It’s like learning a foreign language: we learn one word, one phrase at a time. We can’t expect to be proficient when we’re just getting started.
Prayer is a gift…an opportunity…for relationship.
I invite you to fill out the commitment card as Kay/Tom plays and either bring it forward now place it in the box as you leave. The act of making a commitment is an important thing for us: it’s a personal response to an invitation. After the first of the year, your commitment cards will be returned to you so you can see if you’ve been able to do what you hoped you would. It will serve as an affirmation, a reminder, or an encourager.
May God grant you grace as you respond. Amen.