Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

The Lord’s Prayer 7-28-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 11:1-13, I explore the subtle differences that exist between Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer and the more familiar version found in Matthew.  These differences begin to reveal important truth and invitations for us all.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

I have a friend and classmate from seminary from a pretty decent sized community in Wisconsin. He’s a pastor like me…but I think its safe to say that he’s got a pretty decent side-hustle as a wedding officiant.  Every year, typically sometime in mid-late spring, he’ll start posting pictures of himself along with couples that he has married…and I swear he’s posting a new picture at least every other week, if not more.  This lasts all the way into the late fall when the weather stops cooperating…and upper mid-west weddings go on hold for the winter.

I can’t say for sure…but I think he probably performs more weddings in a single year that I have in the entirety of my 6 years here at Underwood. I just don’t have that many weddings…its been 9 total, though I do also have number 10 in the works right now, so I’ll be able to claim double digits in another couple months.

But weddings are fun…and while they all have some things in common, they all have differences as well…little things that make an individual ceremony and couple memorable. Sometimes it’s a song from the ceremony…or a speech at the reception…sometimes it’s the location.  Now of the 9 weddings that I’ve presided over to this point, 5 of them were here at the church.  1 was at slightly larger Lutheran church down in Council Bluffs.  1 was in the backyard of a farmstead just outside of Underwood…1 was in an old historical building down in town…but the one most memorable from a location standpoint…that one occurred over in Omaha at the Performing Arts Center…and specifically at the base of a huge ornate grand staircase that opens out into a large lobby space. (pause)

Now this location was really something…but for me as the officiant…the most memorable part was the logistics of where people were standing.  I was at the very base of the steps…the couple in front of me…but the wedding party…they remained on the stairs…flowing up behind me…and that’s what threw me off…because I’m not used to having people behind me in these situations.

Granted, for most of the ceremony…they were silent…no one passed out and came crashing down the steps, which was good, but there was one moment when they caught my attention…when we reached the portion of the ceremony featuring the Lord’s Prayer.

Everyone present had joined together…including the wedding party behind me…and here’s the kicker…the best man…who was in the closest proximately to me…was Catholic…and of course when we got the ending portion of the prayer…he stopped, though not alone…all the other Catholics did too…but as all of us Protestants kept going I heard “oop.” Which made me laugh.

But it brings up an important point tied in with today’s lesson…there are different versions of the Lord’s Prayer aren’t there?  We tack on the conclusion to the prayer at the end.  In recent years, there has been slight rewordings of various phrases leading to the “new version” verses the old one.

And as we’ve seen today…there’s even some differences in the source material. (pause) The version of the Lord’s Prayer that we are most familiar with is actually found in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus teaches it in the midst of a LONG period of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. He’s busy teaching about the importance of sincerity within our prayers…and then instructs his audience…pray then in this way…and out comes the prayer that we’ll share together a little later in today’s worship service.

But today…we’re hearing of the same moment of teaching out of Luke’s account…and I’m guessing that when I read the gospel a moment ago…you probably picked up on the subtle differences as Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray…the petitions are a little shorter…they’re worded slightly differently…but essentially it’s the same right? (pause)

But what if I told you…that there’s another subtle difference that this particular translation glosses over? Because there is. I picked up on it when I was working with the original language, which I often due…so listen in and see if you catch the difference here.

Father, your name is sanctified…Your kingdom come…you give us today’s bread each day, and you forgive our sins, for we forgive all the ones who owe us, and you do not bring us into temptation…now think about that for a sec. (Pause) Did you catch the subtle difference? Where Matthew’s version…the one we are all so familiar with, does present each petition as a request…here in Luke, Jesus seems to be acknowledging action that God has already or is currently taking. (pause)

Now that’s a little weird isn’t it?  This idea of praying in a way that acknowledges what God is up to as opposed to asking for what we need or want or desire?  And yet there it is…and so what are we to take from this?  What are we to learn? (pause)

That seems to be the question that Jesus goes on to discuss in the next couple of portions of this text from today.  Admittedly, its an odd batch of verses…and in many ways it seems like three different moments that all got smashed in together…but they are all connected with the common theme of prayer. (pause)

We’ve got this oddball little micro-parable that Jesus shares about a guy who gets a random visitor in the middle of the night…and due to his surprise he’s got no food to place in front of his guest…a HUGE issue in a culture that places hospitality above everything else.  And so, the guy does the only thing he can…he runs next door and starts pounding on the door.

Get up…I need 3 loaves…my friend is here and I’ve got nothing to give them.  (Pause) Now imagine your reaction if your neighbor starting pounding on your door looking for baked goods at 2am…probably wouldn’t be very happy would you…you’d probably have a few choice words uttered under your breath.   How dare he…does he know what time it is? Doesn’t he know he’s gonna wake my kids up? The dogs going crazy…all so he can feed someone else.  Has he no shame? (pause)

And here’s the thing…no…he doesn’t have any shame…here’s another language issue.  Persistence isn’t the right to put this…as he continues to knock on the door and ask for help…he’s doing so SHAMELESSLY…because the need to show hospitality to his friend…to honor the depths of relationship…that goes beyond the neighborly faux-pa of waking up the guy next door. (pause)

Now Jesus tells us this parable in response to the prayer…and that’s fascinating…to me…and it makes me wonder…is he telling us that we should be shameless as we approach in God in prayer?  Or is he telling us…ever so subtly…that as we come before God…our requests…our petitions…our prayers shouldn’t even be about us…but about how we serve others.

That the needs we see in the world that we share with our maker in prayer are brought forth without shame…without hindrance…that we should be so moved by the needs we witness that we will do anything to overcome them. Is that what Jesus is suggesting?

That maybe, he is giving us an example of a way to pray that acknowledges the ways God cares for our daily needs…that God has already forgiven us with the expectation that this same forgiveness will radiate out from us to others…that he is telling us how to pray in a way that acknowledges that the kingdom has come near.

Now that’s an interesting point to ponder…because if Jesus has had a recurring theme…a repeating message throughout his ministry as recorded by Luke…it’s the message that the kingdom has come near to you. Not because of anything that we have done or because we have simply prayed for it…the kingdom of heaven comes on its own…but we ask in the prayer that it may also come to us…so that we might be a part of it.

I believe that the power behind this prayer comes from the Holy Spirit…because it is only by the power of God within us that we are able to see past the brokenness of this world and one another and even ourselves to bear witness to the ways that we participate in that kingdom right now. (pause)
Maybe that’s what Jesus is modeling for us in this prayer…an acknowledgment of the good gifts that God is already bestowing upon us…the gifts of our daily needs being met…the gifts of God’s grace and forgiveness for the times when we fail…for the invitation to share that grace with one another…and the knowledge that God does not desire evil for us…but that God desires that we will participate in that which is good within this kingdom that has already come near to us. (pause)

Today Luke’s version reveals a tension…within the prayer that our Lord has taught us to pray, we find both petitions to be asked…and statements to be acknowledged…a tension which is fitting within our lives of faith…as we recognize the promise of God, that we are already claimed as beloved children…and that we feel the effects of this promise in the joy and hope and peace that we experience now…knowing that it is incomplete in this present reality…recognizing that God has also promised will be ours in eternity.

And so…we acknowledge that its done…and yet we ask that it would be so. Amen

One Plus One Equals One 6-2-19

In this sermon, based on John 17:20-26, I explore Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers, just prior to his betrayal.  This unity is not based on everyone being identical, but rather on our shared humanity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I like Math…I just do…because it always works. I’ve heard it said that Math is the universal language…because when it gets right down to it…1 plus 1 equals 2….or Uno y Uno es Does…I could continue in other languages but unfortunately those are the only two I know.  But it always works…if you have something…and you bring in one more thing…then you have two things. Period.

I love math…but…not everyone does…and in my observation, for anyone who isn’t a fan of math, story problems are the bane of their homework existence…I’ve seen it many times as I’ve helped my kids with math homework…and I can remember many of my classmates lamenting them during my school days.

Now personally I’ve never really had a problem with them…because for whatever reason, my brain connects well with the very linear method of thinking required to solve story problems…in order to solve the question, I need to find this, and in order to find that, I need to solve this, and in order to solve that, I need to do this particular process with these available numbers…one thing leads to the next thing, which leads to the next thing.

Now because my mind works pretty well to move through that linear pattern of problem solving, I was geared well to handle geometry during my sophomore year of high school…and in particular, writing geometric proofs…something that the vast majority of my classmates hated…and yet I could sit there and do them all day.

Because this is true, we know that this is also true…and because that is true, we can deduce that this is also true…and if that is true, then we know that this is also true…and so on and so forth…Admittedly, it probably makes me pretty nerdy…but its safe to say that I actually enjoyed the process of moving forward from what was given to end up at the desired result…from start to finish…always pushing forward despite any tricky roadblocks that might get in the way of where we were trying to get to. (pause)

Now today’s gospel lesson offers us something of a similar type of situation. We find ourselves today at the final Sunday of the Easter season…Ascension Day was last Thursday…and so, within our calendar we have passed the point where Jesus returned to Heaven…coming up next Sunday, one week from today, we hit the day of Pentecost when Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon his followers, just as he promised…and with that, we will begin to see and remember the explosive growth of the early church which has led all the way up, across the last 2000 years to today…and which will continue on until the last days…when Jesus will return ushering in a new era…a new reality with a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells among us.

That’s the direction that this is all going…that’s the end game that God has in mind…and in fact, it seems to me that this has been the plan all along…when God sparked off creation, and somehow, someway made the world and everything in it, not to mention the great cosmos that exists out there…and everything in that too…and ever since that initial moment, whenever it was, when God spoke existence into creation…its all been moving forward…and despite your personal thoughts on creation…despite what you might think about the debates between science and religion…it seems to me, that creation…or reality…or whatever you want to call it, continues to move forward…with something of an energetic spark behind it…I happen to think that energetic spark is God…but that’s just me…

But regardless, as time marches on, this reality is moving forward towards something…and the scriptures give us glimpses into the various moments when God has acted directly here within our reality to continue this forward momentum…and now coming all the way back around to the gospel for today…we see Jesus engage in the same sort of forward movement within the context of a prayer.

The entirety of chapter 17 of John’s gospel is a prayer…Jesus has wrapped up his final time of teaching…and just before they head out to the garden to kick off this whole death and resurrection thing…Jesus takes the time to pray.

Now this is a unique situation…because the majority of the time in the gospels we don’t get to hear just what Jesus is praying for. There are brief moments, but they’re pretty rare…but here we have the entirety…and the amazing thing, as we see in the verses just before this one, and then throughout these verses as well…is the fact that Jesus is praying directly for his followers…and remember that they are sitting there at the table with him…think about that.

What does it feel like when someone takes the time to pray for you…and you are there, privy to what’s on their heart for you…it’s a pretty amazing thing…and in this situation…its Jesus…God in human form…God the son…The word of God made flesh…praying for his followers…and newsflash…YOU are a part of that…You…are included as a recipient of Jesus’ prayer…YOU are on his mind.

Father I ask not only on behalf of these who are sitting here, but also on behalf of those who will believe because of their words. (pause). Without a doubt…we are included in that number…because 2000 years after Jesus lived died and rose again…the life altering gospel has reached our ears, and that has brought us here today.

So let that sink in for just a moment. At the Last Supper…just before Jesus endured the most horrific fate that we can imagine…he prayed…for…you. (pause)

Now the basic theme of this prayer…unity. Father, you and I are one.  So let them be one…and all those who will believe later…yah let them be one too…and why? Well so the world will believe that you sent me…and if they believe it, then we dwell with them…and they with us…and we’re all one…and if we’re unified, then they’ll see my glory, and my glory is your glory, and if they see it, then we’ll glorify them too…so let them be one…because we are one, and we want to be one with them…because we love them. (pause)

But the really interesting thing about all of this, is that Jesus’ prayer is almost structured like one of those geometry proofs that I loved so much in high school…and its because of the presence of a single word that is repeated over and over again.  In the Greek, it’s a word called Hina…and its best translated “in order that.” And in these 7 verses, it happens 9 times.

Just like those proofs…since this is true, then we know this is true…and it happens here too. Father I pray for them, IN ORDER THAT they be one…that they be unified, IN ORDER THAT we may be with them and they with us, IN ORDER THAT the world may come to know that you sent me. And they will believe that you sent me IN ORDER THAT your glory may be in them, and if your glory is in them, then your name is glorified in them IN ORDER THAT your love is in them, IN ORDER THAT the world may know your love. (pause)

Its all moving forward…its all moving towards something…and in the end, it seems like God is working in the world, which has been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the end result of this work, which we have not yet reached…is unity…that we may be unified as the one body of Christ, and that the one body of Christ may be unified with God…and as Jesus says…so that where we are, they may be also…that’s where this is all going…and Jesus desires it…not only for those guys sitting at the table that night, but for you and me…and everyone that has come before us and everyone that will come after…that in the end, we may all be unified…that we may all be one. (pause)
Now, how does all this work? Well, I have no idea…but I do know that it involves the power of the Holy Spirit…which Jesus is about to send our direction at Pentecost…the Spirit of God which flows through the world…empowering the church…and empowering us as individuals to join with God in this work of unification.

And what I do know is this…it is only possible because of the hand of God at work…because there are way too many different forces at work here in the world that are trying to push back against God’s invitation forward towards unity…the powers of sin and death…the powers of darkness and destruction…powers that we see first-hand on a regular basis…because pretty much every time we open up the obituaries…there’s another one in there…and death is only one of the forces that work against the unity that God desires for us and with us.

All we need to do is turn on the news and we witness more…anytime the world…which unfortunately includes us as well…tries to throw up some sort of barrier…whatever that barrier is…division based on race, or gender, or economic status, or age, or orientation…and even here within the realm of the church…divisions and judgements based on denomination or Biblical interpretation or tradition.

We create barriers to unity all the time…but praise be to God that no matter what we throw at it…the world…this realty…this creation that we live in…God is moving it forward whether we like it or not…whether we come on board or not…whether we take God’s invitation to join in this work of reconciliation or not…its happening. (pause)

You know interestingly enough, I sat down with several of our members throughout this week, talking about this very subject…and right after one of those conversations, I had the radio playing in the background…and one of those really catchy songs came on…you know the type…the ones that even if you don’t like them, you hear it and it catches your attention.

And this song that came on the radio was Taylor Swift… (sing it) We…are never ever ever…getting back together. (pause) And the more I thought about that blasted song the more it seemed fitting.  Because all that dark stuff within our reality…whatever it is…its trying tooth and nail to keep us apart…to keep us separated…and the world and all the divisions that we create might tell us “We’re never getting back together…its too far gone…never gonna happen.” But God says…Oh yah…you just wait and see.

We may not get it now…because God works in ways that go far beyond our ability to see or do or understand…and what God’s up to doesn’t always make sense to us…in fact the work of God often times to be the polar opposite of what logic says should happen.

And as much as I might love math…and the way that it always works…the unity that God is working towards even throws that for a loop…because math may tell us that 1 plus 1 equals 2…but it seems to me that Jesus is saying that 1 plus 1 equals 1…at least it will when its all said and done. Amen

Grace Requires No Persistence 10-16-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 18:1-8, I explore the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge. At first glance, it seems like its just about praying a lot. But there’s more going on here.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Have you ever heard the expression…10,000 hours will make you an master at anything. (pause) I like that expression…because it implies the importance of hard work and perseverance…that if you are driven and persistent…sticking with anything long enough, then the practice will allow you to master it. I’ve heard it applied to all kinds of different things like drawing or learning to play an instrument just to name a couple.

I was thinking about this whole idea earlier this week, and I found myself wondering…just how long is 10,000 hours? So I did some math…and I did some research…If we started right now…on October 16th, 2016 at about 10:30 in the morning…10,000 hours would be up on Dec 7th, 2017 at about 2:30am.  416 days and 16 hours…of non…stop…work.

That’s a lot time…you can do a lot in that amount of time…and to give you some reference…in that amount of time, you could watch the entire Harry Potter movie saga…8 movies…508 times over.  You could also watch the Star Wars sage, currently at 7 movies…645 times.

Or, given our current activity…considering that my sermons are typically in the neighborhood of about 13 minutes, you could hear me preach 45,153 sermons…which if you’re wondering is about 868 years’ worth of sermons. (pause) I call that, persistence.

Now the notion of persistence is on display today as we hear the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge…which is a really long title for a really short parable…its only 4 verses long after all…and it can be summed up pretty easily.

There’s this widow in the city…and she comes into the judge’s courtroom day after day…making the same request time after time…looking for justice…looking for vindication over her opponent in what is some unknown grievance.

Now the judge ignores her pleas for a while…and interestingly enough, despite anything else that might be going on here…from a legal standpoint, he’s not actually doing anything wrong.  Keep in mind that in Jesus day, women had no legal baring…so she would have needed a man to come into the courtroom with her…not a lawyer per say, but someone to speak for her…different times, different customs. But this lady, being a widow…didn’t have anyone…and so the only things she’s got working for her is a stubborn streak that would rival any 2 year old who has just learned the word “no” and is faced with broccoli at dinner…and as we hear…she just keeps coming. (pause)

And then there’s the judge…and he’s a real winner isn’t he? Despite the legal precedent that I mentioned, it would seem that this guy is pretty much just a jerk. He’s in a position of power…and it seems likely that he abuses it…we don’t know that for sure, of course…but we do hear, more than once, that he has no fear of God and no respect for other people…we even hear him acknowledge this about himself…so there can be no doubt…he’s an A-1 creep…and as such he continues to ignore the widow, day after day, time after time…but after a good long while, her persistence pays off…and he says to himself…even though I don’t care…she won’t leave me alone…and as the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease…and so finally he grants her justice…he finds in her favor. (pause)

That’s the parable…that’s the story that Jesus shares in order to illustrate a point…and interestingly enough…it seems as if Jesus is even telling us what the point of this parable is…something that I appreciate, as it makes interpretation of this parable that much easier.

Listen to the two statements which set up, and then wrap up the story.  “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.”  Then we hear the parable, and then we hear Jesus say directly “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant his chosen ones justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night.” (pause)
Seems like a no-brainer.  Pray more!  HALLELUJAH!!!! That answers the question…I guess I’ll say Amen and go sit down. (pause)

All too often, that’s the take away from this parable…that’s what people hear…that if you want something…all you have to do is pray really hard…over and over again…and eventually you’ll wear God down and he’ll give you what you want. (pause)
There’s a name for this sort of thing…its called Prosperity Gospel…and it’s a simple notion…if your faith is strong enough…if its, BIG enough…well then God will bless you…and God will bless you in ways beyond measure…AKA you’ll be rich and have a lot of stuff…but only if your faith is strong enough.

The theme song for this might as well be (sing) I BELIEVE I CAN FLY…the lyrics include “if I just believe it, then I can do it…there’s nothing to do it.” (pause) Needless to say, this notion doesn’t really sit well with me…and neither does the understanding of today’s parable that all I have to do is pray often enough and I’ll get what I want.

Because we’ve seen evidence to the contrary haven’t we? Haven’t we all?  Think about it…in this life, you will have trouble…Christ himself tells us that…and its true…faith doesn’t excuse us from troubles…often times it almost seems to be the opposite.

But I’ve seen it time and time again with countless individuals who encounter a situation that is totally beyond them, and they pray, and they pray and they pray…and it doesn’t work. I’ve seen families praying for their loved battling disease, and they don’t get better.  I’ve seen people praying that the company they work for will stay open but it doesn’t and they lose their job. I’ve seen couples pray for healing in their marriage and they end up divorced….and I’ve heard the question many times…where was my miracle…where was God on that one? (pause)

It’s a fair question…if all it takes is persistence in prayer then why didn’t I get an answer to my prayer…if the widow received justice then why didn’t I? Isn’t God the judge in that parable? Can’t we wear him down like the widow did? And the answer…even though we might not want to hear it…is No…you can’t wear God down. (pause)
But what if that’s not what this parable is really about? What if the thing that we’re really supposed to be hearing in this parable about prayer is the other thing that Jesus opens with…not losing heart. (pause) Well if that’s the case, then what’s he talking about in this parable that is still about prayer? (pause)
Maybe we need to be asking ourselves what it is that we’re praying for.  I heard someone say this week that when it comes to prayer, venturing too far away from the Lord’s prayer has the tendency to get us in trouble…and as I thought about that, I thought about the teaching that our great reformer Martin Luther wrote in the small catechism on the Lord’s Prayer, something which we study together in confirmation class…something that many of you sitting out there have likely read at one time or another.

Our father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. None of this becomes true by us saying it, but it is true…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. And as Luther says “God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us…and the good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may be done also among us.”

In moments like this, I think its important to remember who taught us that prayer in the first place…Christ, who rest assured, knows what he’s talking about. (pause) Is it our prayer to give praise to the Lord for who he is…and then to pray for the coming of his kingdom and will here in our lives?

Because Jesus tells us, here in today’s story, that when we pray for this God does it. Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, He will quickly grant justice to them.”

Now this is not to say that God grants us whatever we claim as justice…God does not bow to our judgment in any situation…but rather, we need to remember what justice is…and so allow me to reword it. He will grant justification to those that cry out to him.

The presence of the kingdom, which we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer does not equal God giving us whatever our fickle heart desires. Rather, it is the presence of God’s grace justifying us. The kingdom comes to us through God’s actions, and words, and promises to us…all on the basis of his love for us…God’s grace, which justifies us through the saving act of Christ’s death and resurrection, is not dependent on us praying enough, or doing anything else for that matter. God’s grace requires no persistence on our part. God’s grace simply is…and it is already given to you. (pause)
Now all that being said…is there anything that we can learn from the parable today? And I think the answer is yes…and ironically, we learn it from the bad guy…the unrighteous judge…You’ve likely heard me say that when something is repeated in the scripture, its usually important…and the thing that’s repeated today is the judges attitude. He does not fear God, and he doesn’t respect other people…and he’s unrighteous…which might as well be called unjustified…aka, he hasn’t received God’s grace.

I bring this up to remind us of the importance of Jesus’ teachings in another part of the gospel, for when asked what is the most important commandment, Jesus says “love God and love your neighbor.” Not in order to earn anything, but out of gratitude for the free gift already given to you…allow your life, flawed though it may be, to reflect gratitude for the amazing gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And so, if we are going to be persistent in anything, let it be this…reflecting the love of God for us as individuals back to him, and outwards to those that we encounter. And if we can persist in that…who knows that the world might look like.  Amen.



Lord Teach Us to Pray

In this sermon, I explore Luke’s account of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer. The scripture lesson is found in Luke 11:1-13.

You can listen to the sermon here.

Here’s the text of the sermon. Read along if you like. As usual excuse the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember those things somehow.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
There is big news in the geek community. Perhaps some of you have heard it if you, like me, are a movie buff.  In a surprise presentation at Comic-con about a week ago, it has been revealed that Batman will join Superman on the big screen. Geeks everywhere went wild when this news broke…because this is a matchup that we’ve wanted to see on the big screen as long as there’s been a big screen. Superman…Batman…the two biggest names in comic book super hero’s…finally coming together. Now, while details of the story are not available, its still exciting to think of these two characters in the same movie together…because of their obvious popularity.
The interesting thing about Superman and Batman is just how different they are. Superman…he can do anything…because he’s an alien…and the energy from our sun gives him super powers. There is nothing that he cannot do…including racking up huge box office earlier this summer…but Batman…well, I think we all like Batman because he’s relatable. Think about it. Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s human, just like you and me.  Maybe the reason that so many people appreciate Batman so much is that, given enough time and resources…given enough training and most importantly…planning…anyone can be Batman. You see Batman, is a planner…sure he’s got unlimited financial backing and amazing gadgets to help him out…but his most important trait in the fight against crime…his ability to plan for every…single…possibility. Batman has spent years focusing his energy on what he needs to do in any situation…and if we took the time, we could do that too. If we just plan everything out in meticulous detail…if we do everything in just the right way…then my friends…Anyone…can be Batman.
Speaking of training…it would seem that the disciples are trying to do just that in today’s story. They’ve been sitting there watching Jesus pray…something that Luke’s gospel tells us that he does quite a bit…and the disciples think to themselves…you know, I bet he could teach us a thing or two about prayer…I mean, he’s God after all…he’s gotta have the inside track on how to pull that off…Lord, teach us to pray…train us how to do it…correctly…because we want to be the Batman of prayer…ok, so they didn’t actually say that last part about Batman…but you get my drift.
In reality…the disciples are revealing something that is very common. A desire to be better…at prayer. Think about it for a second…how many people feel 100% comfortable with their ability to pray? Just think about it. I won’t ask you to raise your hands one way or the other…but think about it? I think when we’re honest with ourselves…our feeling is that we are a long way away from having prayer mastered. (pause) And you know what…pastors aren’t immune to that either.
What are some of the thoughts that come into your head when you think about praying…especially if you are asked to pray…out loud? I wouldn’t know what to say…I probably wouldn’t pray long enough…or maybe I’ll ramble on too long and people will get uncomfortable. Maybe we should just let the pastor do the praying…I bet he took a class in seminary about doing it correctly. (pause)…although if you are wondering on that last idea…no, believe it or not they don’t teach that class…bummer right?
Many people that I have talked to over the years have expressed the same notion that the disciples are expressing in today’s story. I wish someone would teach me to pray better. I want to be able to approach God in prayer…I feel like I should…I just don’t know how…and so the disciples, in a moment of opportunity…go straight to the source. Lord, teach us to pray.
Sometimes I wish that we had a little more insight into the mind of Jesus in these moments. I wonder if he thinks to himself “Jeepers guys, you’ve been following me around for a couple years…haven’t you picked up on this yet?”  Or is it “Finally, these guys have an actual question of merit. GOOD JOB DISCIPLES!” Who knows…maybe it’s a little bit of both…because, as we see…Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them.
What I love about the Lord’s Prayer, is that Jesus shows us a very simple way to do it. Have you ever really stopped and thought about the Lord’s Prayer?  It’s pretty short isn’t it? Especially here in Luke’s account.  We are more familiar with Matthew’s version that contains a couple extra lines not found here in Luke…but even that slightly longer version is still short and to the point.
So what do we learn from that? Well, it seems that point number one on prayer…excessive windiness does not equal better. There is no magical length that needs to be achieved before God starts listening…you don’t need an exact word count before God considers your prayer to be valid.
Next up, Jesus tells us “pray in this way” and he addresses God as Father.  Did you notice that? We do the same thing when we say “Our Father.” Jesus is telling us here that we are able…and allowed…to address God directly, just as He himself does. Through the work of Jesus Christ on earth, we are made children of God…the Bible tell us this in countless places…and we have direct access to God in prayer…and even more so Jesus is showing us the kinship that we hold with him. God is the father of Jesus and we see here that we can also call him Father.
And just as any child can approach their parents with questions or requests or ideas, we can approach God directly. We don’t need someone else to do it for us? We can do so ourselves.
The next thing that we learn here, is that there’s no special place that we have to go. Jesus isn’t sitting in the temple. He’s not going through a priest…he’s not in the synagogue or at home…quite simply…he’s just…somewhere…and you know what, that teaches us something too. We can pray anywhere….and anytime. God’s always listening. Walking down the sidewalk? God’s listening. Sitting at work? God’s listening. Lounging on the couch? God’s listening. Lying in bed in the middle of the night? God’s listening. Sitting in church this morning…you guessed it…God’s listening. There is no specific time or place that’s required.
We can learn a couple other things from Jesus example on prayer as well. First, we acknowledge the Glory of God. Hallowed be your name…but not just because we say so…it just is…so God, help us to remember your glory.  Then we ask for the kingdom to come…and just what does that mean? Well, that’s a good question…when we ask for God’s kingdom to come…and his will to be done…that’s when we let go of control.
And maybe that right there…is really what we find so difficult about prayer. Because we like to be in control don’t we? Deep down…I think that’s the most basic fear that we all have isn’t it?  The loss of control. The unknown…not being in charge of what happens. It’s tough isn’t it? We like to plan things out…and we like to hold the reigns don’t we? Because we know best right? We know what we need…and we know what we want…no one knows better than we know for ourselves right?
Well…here’s the point where Jesus, in his very simple prayer…in his very simple example…get’s really deep…Thy kingdom come…THY will…be done…Not mine, but yours God. You know, a few chapters later in Luke, we see Jesus praying again…and that time he’s in a garden, and he knows that in just a few hours, he’ll be in agony…and he’ll be killed…but what does he say?  Not my will Lord, but may your will be done.
Can we follow that same example? Are we really willing to let go of control and trust that God’s got our best interests in mind? For many of us…maybe all of us at one time or another…this can feel impossible. We just can’t bring ourselves to let go, but you know what…so many of those things in life…those issues that we’re trying so hard to control…when we’re honest with ourselves…we know that we’ve got no control…and all we’re doing is driving ourselves crazy trying steer things in the direction that we think they need to go.  Sound familiar to anyone? I’m sure it does.
I think of farmers, going out there every single spring…year after year…planting the crops…and hoping…just hoping…that there’s enough sun and enough rain…to make those crops grow…and I’m sure they worry.
I think of people trying desperately to find a new job…fretting over every resume and job posting…thinking if I just try hard enough, I can make this happen.
I think of people watching a loved one that’s sick or injured…perhaps thinking to themselves Why can’t I make them better? Why can’t I? Why can’t the doctors fix this?
We want to control a lot of things don’t we? But that’s not what Jesus shows us today is it?  Thy Kingdom come…well just what does that mean for us?  What does that mean for the person facing the terrible situation…and feeling no control?  And worse yet, what does it mean when we do pray and ask God for help…and maybe the answer doesn’t come…or worse yet…the answer comes back…NO…What do we do with that?  What do we do with the notion that God’s kingdom…and God’s will doesn’t match up with ours?  Or that when we ask for something God’s chooses to wait to respond? Sometimes God waits years…and by then, it might seem like it’s too late…and in that situation…these word’s of Jesus in today’s story don’t seem to make a lot of sense.
He tells his disciples…ask and you will receive. Seek and you shall find…Knock and the door will be opened…Jesus says we’ll get what we ask for so why are there times when God says No? Why are there times when God doesn’t say anything? Why are there times when we ask for the fish and it really seems like God gives us the snake?
I wish I had a good answer for you here…but to be perfectly honest, I don’t. All I can say is that when we pray the words, Thy Kingdom come, we better really mean it…because our short sightedness…caused by the selfishness that resides in all of us…blinds us to the fact…that God is at work.
The kingdom has come…it is here…today and every day. Because God himself broke into our reality through Jesus Christ…we can rest in the hope that in the end, all things will be made new…but that work isn’t done yet…and unfortunately for us in our present, flawed reality…we have to wait for things…and sometimes the Good gifts that are promised to us…don’t seem that great…and sometimes those Good gifts that are promised to us don’t show up in time…but you know what…God knows our needs better than we do. And Jesus himself tells us today, that we can come before God.
There is no magic formula…there’s no special way that works better. There is no right way to do it. Any time, any place, anywhere. IN the quiet of our minds or shouted from the rooftops…anyone…and everyone…can…pray.
We can come before God with our worries…with our fears…with our praise…with everything…and God is listening. But more importantly…even in those times when we can’t see it happening…we can rest assured that the Kingdom is coming…and one day he will wipe away every tear from our eyes…one day. Amen.

Hello 1 Thessalonians

Today’s lectionary reading comes from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10.  In this particular portion of scripture, Paul writes a greeting to one of the congregations that he had started over the course of his missionary journeys. Scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of Paul’s letters that are included in the Bible. Now, I should be able to relay the argument that supports this as I had a class on it last spring, but I’m going to admit that my brain is failing me at the moment and I’m unable to come up with it.  That being said, just trust me, it’s the earliest.

Right away in verse 2, Paul offers us a good example of one portion of prayer life…lifting up those that you know. He says “we always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers…” This offers us insight into just how important the people were in the various congregations that Paul helped found on his various journeys. I can only imagine how long his daily prayers became. Perhaps the best comparison that I can make comes from the movie MASH…not the tv show mind you.   In the movie, the character of Frank Burns, played by Robert Duvall, is a devout Christian and prays every day. In the first interaction with his character, two other characters that share his tent witness him praying for the first time. He begins with the Lord’s prayer, but doesn’t end there. He begins to list various people…he goes on and on until one of the other men ask him how long he goes. He replies “it gets longer all the time…and now I need to pray for you.”  Honestly, its meant as a joke, but I like it…I think its a good example of how we are called to lift up our neighbor. Speaking of the notion of examples…that topic is raised by Paul in this passage. We see in verses 7-8 that Paul commends the Thessalonians for being positive examples of believers for others around Macedonia and Achaia.

Another point that I’m reminded of when reading this passage is a very Lutheran concept of our faith being the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. In verse 5 Paul says that the gospel came in the Holy Spirit. To clarify, as Lutherans we confess that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. This is the notion of sola fide (faith alone). Namely we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. It is only by the grace of God, not by anything we do. Specifically, even our faith is a gift. Without the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we cannot believe and therefore we cannot be saved.

Now, on this topic, I admit that I wrestle. If that is the case I struggle to understand why the Spirit is not at work in all people. Why doesn’t everyone share in the gift in a like manner? I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have a good answer to this question at this point. I hope to someday wrap my head around it, but that will have to wait for another time, because it’s not my reality today.

One final point that I’d like to draw out of this reading occurs in verse 9. Paul says the Thessalonians have turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God. Now, it is likely that Paul is making the point that the believers have turned away from idols, or false Gods to one that is true. Idolatry was a very prominent issue within the various Gentile communities. Many different gods and religions were practiced through the Roman empire and beyond. Thessalonica was no exception. What I find uplifting about this verse is the notion that we serve a living God. By living I’m referring to active. Our God did not simply create the universe and sit back in a chair. God continues to be active within the world every day. Personally, I find that very reassuring especially on days when I’m struggling with something. Its good to know that we aren’t alone.