Matthew 6.5-13 (NRSV)
5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.11Give us this day our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
Psalm 86 (NRSV)
1Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
2Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God;
3be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.
4Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
7In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
8There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
9All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
10For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
11Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.
13For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
14O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.
15But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.
17Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
First thing last Tuesday morning I called my cell phone company’s customer service because my phone hadn’t been working for more than a day. The customer service person had me turn the phone on and off, take out the SIM card, turn it on and off again, press some more buttons … She said it had to be a problem with my phone, because it looked like the cell towers weren’t having any problems. I really wanted my phone to work because I had just to drive to Brighton for a Presbytery meeting that night. I had just enough time to get to Frisco and back before I had to leave. I told Sarah my plans and ran out the door to my car. I looked around the parking lot. My Subaru wasn’t there. I ran back inside and asked Sarah if she had noticed it … maybe she drove it last and parked it somewhere different. Sarah had this horrified look on her face. She hadn’t driven it. I looked outside again. It still wasn’t there.
I wondered if any of the preschool teachers noticed it when they came to work that morning. I ran across the street to ask them. A couple of teachers were gathered at the front desk and said they had noticed that my car wasn’t in the parking lot when they came to work.
I couldn’t believe it. Only tire tracks where my car should have been.
Of all the cars in Fairplay to steal I always figured my Subaru would be really low on the list. Who in the world would take that car? Maybe the biggest loss of the whole deal would have been Liam and Violette’s carseats?
Broken cell phones … Presbytery … Insurance … Police … images of hardened Subaru thieves roaming the Fairplay streets by night and wrecking stolen cars somewhere on Hoosier Pass – my mind raced from one stressful thought to another!
I told Sarah what the pre-school teachers said. Maybe I should call the police.
I talked to the dispatcher and described my car. They apologized that everyone was really busy, but assured me someone would call back as soon as possible. I gave Sarah another update.
I decide to take a quick walk around the block.
I stepped out the door … walked across the grass and noticed something in the Post Office parking lot …
Usually, I walk to the Post Office, but Monday afternoon I had to run a bunch of errands, on the way home I stopped at the Post Office. I parked in the parking lot … I must have started talking to someone … or had some really interesting mail … somehow I was distracted and fell into my usual routine, forgot all about my car and just walked home.
No one stole the Subaru.
I lost it.
I forgot it and left it at the Post Office.
(How in the world does someone lose their car?)
I called the police and told them the car had appeared and I was really sorry for using up their time when they were already busy. I went back to the preschool and told them I was a total spaz and found my car at the Post Office – someone told a story about a guy they knew who thought his car had been stolen but it turned out his wife was driving it. The police found her and pulled her over for stealing a car – it didn’t sound like she was very happy when she called her husband and made him tell the police that she was his wife and it was just as much her car as his!
I am such a creature of habit.
(We rearranged the drawers in the kitchen a few months ago and I still open the wrong drawer looking for a fork.)
There are lots of really useful habits. Routines can help people learn and become more efficient … patterns like exercising and taking medicine can help people be healthier … there are lots of ways habits can be really helpful … but, when I follow habits mindlessly … like looking for a fork in the dishtowels’ new home … or forgetting my car at the Post Office and walking home … habits don’t seem all that useful … they can even seem counterproductive.
I am curious if praying the Lord’s Prayer is one of those habits we need to examine once in while to make sure it doesn’t become something we just do without paying attention to it.
Our church building is 142 years old. If South Park Community Church has prayed the Lord’s Prayer together every time we have gathered for Sunday worship, the Lord’s Prayer would have been prayed in this building something like 7,384 times (maybe a few more or less).
I would bet that many of us have prayed this prayer more times than we can remember.
In hopes of not letting this prayer Jesus taught his people become just another routine, something we recite without all that much thought when I invite you all to pray as Christ taught us, we are starting a sermon series that looks closely at the Lord’s Prayer.
Kenneth Bailey, an awesome Bible teacher who lived in the Middle East for a long time and has some really helpful insights that connect scripture to ancient Middle Eastern customs (and who passed away this week) believed one of the most important things the Lord’s Prayer can teach us is found in the prayer’s first words – “Our Father.”
“The modern consensus among scholars is that the Lord’s Prayer begins with the Aramaic word abba (the word we translate in English as “Father”) and therefore we can assume that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the Aramaic of daily communication rather than the classical Hebrew of written texts. The Aramaic-speaking Jew in the first century was accustomed to recite his prayers in Hebrew, not Aramaic. Similarly, Muslim worshipers always recite their traditional prayers in the classical Arabic of seventh-century Arabia. Both Judaism and Islam have a sacred language. Christianity does not. This is a fact of enormous significance. The use of Aramaic in worship was a major upheaval in the assumptions of Jesus’ day. It meant that for Jesus no sacred language was ‘the language of God’ … Jesus lived in a world where the public reading of the Bible was only in Hebrew, and prayers had to be offered in that language. When Jesus took the giant step of endorsing Aramaic as an acceptable language for prayer and worship, he opened the door for the New Testament to be written in Greek (not Hebrew) and then translated into other languages … the long-term result is a global church of more than two billion people, almost all of whom have the Bible available in their own language. Believers are thereby able to break into God’s presence using the language of the heart (Bailey, Kenneth “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” p 95).
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us (and frees us) to communicate with God using the language of our hearts. This is a big thing that can be really easy to miss. Jesus teaches us a prayer that encourages us to share our hearts with God, not worrying about sacred language about how our prayers sound.
Our prayers aren’t better or more useful because we use the right words, the most words, or because we use beautiful words. Jesus teaches that authentic prayer is prayer that comes from our hearts – it is conversation with God that is real and open – maybe it is even a little uncomfortable (I think Psalm 86 is one of those heart language prayers that has some uncomfortable, rough edges.) Prayer uses any means we can to express our hearts to God – in Romans, Paul writes, “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8.26). Sometimes heartfelt prayer might not even have words – maybe its a hoot of joy, or tears, a frustrated shout, a sketch, a paragraph in a journal no one else will see, or even a sigh of relief.
Jesus teaches that prayer isn’t just a habit or routine – prayer is our living connection with God. God doesn’t listen to our prayers because we express ourselves perfectly – God hears prayers because God loves us and God wants to be connected with people …