About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Lord Teach Us To Pray

Luke 11:1-13 
Lord, Teach Us To Pray
A couple of days ago, things like plagiarism seemed important. 
I want state for the record that neither Michelle, Sasha, Malia, nor Bo Obama contributed in any way to this manuscript.
Include also, Melania Trump.

I do read other people's sermons for education, inspiration, and sometimes, pure shock value. 
When I cite, borrow, or steal their good stuff, I verbally attribute and/or make footnoted reference in the written text, available weekly at my sermon blog, ButICouldBeWrong.org.  
I call the blog, ButICouldBeWrong because once you begin to grasp the concept of infinity you realize there is literally a boundless number of ways you can be wrong.
For every one way to be right, there are infinitely more ways to be wrong.
The statistical probability that anything you say is right is infinitesimal.
So, any time we open our mouths, especially if we are standing in front of a microphone attempting to speak for God, we should exercise immeasurable humility.
But, that's no fun at all.
Humility is boring.
Blurting out whatever explodes into your mind is so much more entertaining.
It's thoughtless, but it's honest.
Think about it: if you had to tell the entire genealogy of a joke - who begot it from whom and from whom-whom-whom - you'd never get to the punch line.
Invited to Yoda's parties, you would not be.

Prayer is different.
God does not require source citation.
You are free to quote, copy, or steal from Jesus, completely without fear of Internet trolls or lawsuit.
They call it The Lord's Prayer, but the Lord did not copyright it.
He gave it freely, to those who asked.
Almost... like a gift.

Prayer is a gift.
Prayer is the gift of infinite correctness.
Prayer is the gift of infinite correctness - but NOT because your prayers might be the right prayers,
Prayer is the gift of infinite correctness - but NOT because your needs, wants, and wishes might be the right ones,
Prayer is the gift of infinite correctness - but NOT because your prayers are aimed correctly, 
or phrased correctly, 
or spoken more earnestly, 
or repeated more repetitively than those of other, infinitely ignorant, misguided people.
Prayer is the gift of infinite correctness because prayer is built on the bedrock belief -
Forged from the the solid core faith that God is God, and you - and I - are not.
Prayer is the act and art of saying, "You, Lord, are God… and I am not.
Prayer is saying, "Therefore I pray to you, God, and not the other way around."
"You, Lord are God, and I am not."
What could possibly be more true than that?

And so.
Prayer is humility made real.
Prayer is the gift - from God - the gift of infinite humility - and equally from God - the gift of ultimate love.
Once you begin to grasp how your humility and God's love come together in prayer, you open the door to the miraculous possibility - even, probability - that you could be right.


11:1 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." 
Does that request seem strange to you?
It does to me, on a couple of levels.
Not wrong, necessarily; just strange.
First, doesn't it seem strange to you that the disciples would have to come to Jesus and ask him to teach them how to pray?
I mean, really.
How much more Disciple 101 can you get?
If Jesus were doing PowerPoint, that would be slide number - at least 3 or 4.

Decades ago, when I was in seminary and thought I knew things, as I was studying by candlelight, being taught by erudite men and women whom I trusted had the ear - if not both ears - of God, I asked,
"Why aren't there any classes on prayer?"
Add that to the long list of useful things that might have been taught in seminary.
Things like, How to locate a septic tank, Basic copier maintenance, and
Children's Sermons.
That one could easily have been combined with Prayer.
Because if you're doing Children's Sermons and you're not praying beforehand… May God have mercy on your soul.

The disciples see Jesus praying.
They come to him - after waiting for him to finish - polite boys - and the one of them who drew the short straw says, "Lord, teach us to pray."
Did they not know?
Wouldn't you think that'd be on the application?
Do you pray?
Do you use drugs?

But that's just the first half of the request.
The second half is equally strange, but also kind of revealing.
Put it together and what have you got?
"Lord, teach us to pray… as John taught his disciples." (Italics added)
Ohhhhhhhhh. Now I get it.
It's not that they didn't know HOW to pray.
They weren't THAT clueless (probably).
They just didn't know how to pray as John's disciples did.
They wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray because older Cousin John the Baptist taught that course in HIS curriculum and THEIR master teacher hadn't.

Oh, OK.
Maybe I'm just cynical.
I could be wrong.
But I'm probably not.
Because being a preacher, you learn things about people.
Basic lesson - not #1, but definitely in the top 10 - The grass is always greener at the other church.
Their preacher looks better in skinny jeans.
Their band plays louder.
Both of which are absolutely true here at Lake Hills.
Doesn't matter, because we've got Carla and we do know how to pray.
The disciples didn't have either one, so there. We're doing alright.

Even if the disciples were completely innocent in their request, saying "Teach us to pray, as John taught HIS disciples," shows either one of two things.
Either they were ashamed because they didn't know, or they were envious because other people knew better.
They wanted to turn prayer from a gift into an achievement.
They wanted to make prayer a qualification, a certificate of being right in God's eyes, or at least in the eyes of other disciples of other teachers.
It's because of basic human truths like this that Jesus taught far more about how to pray than what to say.
He said,
"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.
He said,
"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.
He said,
But 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. (Matthew 6:5, 7, 6)
There are an infinite number of ways to pray wrong - and most of them involve doing it for the sake of your ego, whether it's bruised or over-inflated.
Praying for show,
Or praying from envy,
Or praying for an award -
Well, not being God, I can't say it's always wrong, but I can say Jesus taught an infinitely more right way to go about it.

Prayer is the gift of infinite humility and ultimate love.
Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble.
It's hard to be humble - when you're right.
Religion is very bad about that. 
Religions - name your brand - religions win converts - win - by convincing people that their way is the right way.
Which means everyone else is a loser with a capital L on their forehead.
Prayer is a gift, a good gift from God.
That's not just me making that up.
Jesus thought so.
He said,
"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. 
For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 
Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 
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!" 

If we who are so often wrong - evil - Jesus says, understand the meaning of a gift, wouldn't you think God would know even better?
Prayer is the humility of knowing that whatever we're praying for or about, God already knows.
God already knows and God knows better than we do.
We pray correctly when we enter it with the humility, not expecting rewards, but waiting, anticipating, God's good gift.
Humility is the one right response to the infinite space of God.
Praying to God, we receive the gift of knowing - for at least a few seconds - that we are not God, that we are specks of dust swept up in the stars.
And yet.
And yet, frail and brief as we are, here we are.
We exist.
We humble sparks fly heavenward on the flames of the Holy Spirit. 
It's a gift.
It could only be a gift.
Life illumined by the one, right thing, the ultimate love of God.
God who knows us.
God who loves us.
God who sees us and cares for us, not for our achievement but as a gift.
Of course, I could be wrong.
But I don't think so.


So, Lord, teach us to pray.
Lord, teach us to pray, not as John taught his disciples but as you taught yours.
Lord, teach us the words.
Lord, teach us the ways.
Lord, teach us YOUR ways.
Teach us YOUR words.
Don't make it original, because then we'd get all proud of ourselves, if we weren't proud enough already.
Don't make it punitive, because we really don't need more bad news about the state of humanity.
Let us learn to pray, strengthened by your gift of infinite humility and uplifted by your gift of ultimate love.
Help us do this one thing right.
Let us pray...
…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.