Teach Us to Pray
Sermon – Rev. Wyndee E. Holbrook
“Teach Us to Pray”
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 24, 2022
“Teach us to pray,” was the request of Jesus’ followers. Which causes me to ask, “What?? The disciples didn’t know how to pray?” You mean to tell me that Jesus hand selected a group of guys to follow him who didn’t even know how to pray? This seemed curious until I remembered a young pastor’s words when he was asked to start a church, “It’s always easier to give birth than to bring back the dead.” Jesus too was a young preacher who knew his message would require a fresh start.
What motivated them to ask for instructions on how to pray? Evidently, Jesus’ time in prayer was transformative. Perhaps he looked different after communicating with God, or they saw evidence that circumstances changed. The disciples knew they wanted this same transformative access. If John taught his disciples, then surely Jesus would teach them.
This question of learning to pray seemed a little incredulous to me given I’ve been praying as long as I can remember. Is that the case for you? Or is this a practice you’re also seeking to learn? We all have to start somewhere, much like my friend who is in his 90’s. He’s an accomplished man with much success in his life and career. He is someone others, including me, have sought out for his wisdom, and yet, during a recent visit he asked me, “Wyndee how did you learn to pray? Did they teach you at your church when you were a child?”
I was caught off guard, but I quickly realized his question was genuine and the answer was simple. “Yes,” I shared, “my mother first prayed with me at home and then during Sunday School my teachers encouraged us to simply talk to God out loud.” He shared in turn that he had never learned to pray, not from his parents, or in his congregation, but at 93 he was determined to learn. He had contacted a trusted faith leader and was being tutored on how to pray. Why? Because he’d come to appreciate that prayer is transformative.
Thinking further on the topic of “learning to pray,” I sought input from the famed commentary source of our day, Facebook. You may have seen my post this past week, “Crowd sourcing for a sermon, ‘How did you learn to pray?’” Over 70 people readily shared their experiences. A couple were my snarky friends trying to be funny, but overall people were eager to share that, like me, they were grateful to parents who shared prayers at table or knelt by their beds teaching them to pray.
One friend said, “I ease dropped on my mother!” Many noted that they learned by example from people in their churches as well as their households. An Episcopal Bishop, who like me was raised in the Baptist church, noted he learned by listening and “watching the Baptist women in my hometown church. They knew how to pray.” He evidently saw a difference caused by their prayers and, like the disciples, he wanted this same transformative access.
So, what does Jesus teach us about prayer?
He opens his prayer calling on God as, “Father.” I once thought this must have been radical for Jesus’ followers to hear, but not so. Jesus ran with a distinctively Jewish crowd, and “Father” or “Abba” was a standard part of Jewish liturgy.
What was so different?
Jesus knew more than the mechanics of prayer. He knew more than words; he knew who he was talking to. Jesus made prayer relational instead of performative.
Jesus’ instruction is to speak to God as a person. A father whose name is indeed holy. God is the father who is both in heaven and as close as your next breath. The Father God who cares about things as mundane as what you will eat today and is especially concerned that you will eat today.
You likely noted from the reading that Luke doesn’t record what we know as the Lord’s Prayer in the same way that it’s stated in Matthew. Luke was taking Jesus’ message to the Gentile Christians of the Greco-Roman world, whereas Matthew’s audience was Jewish Christians. Matthew shares the familiar text of the Lord’s Prayer in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke conveys Jesus’ teaching on prayer as an opportunity to instruct the listeners about the nature of God.
In Greco-Roman culture fathers weren’t known for love or affection. They were typically the household dictator who determined if a child was worthy to be part of the family or sold into slavery. Luke drew his listeners into a radically different image of who a father could be.
The story of the reluctant neighbor in this passage is not meant to tell us that God is reluctant to respond. No, the message is to remind the listeners that even a reluctant neighbor will maintain his own good name in honoring the hospitality code. The point is how much more the children of God are welcomed regardless of the day or the hour. If even “evil” fathers know how to meet their children’s basic needs, God’s holy name will be upheld by the care of our honorable and loving Heavenly Father.
If you’re needing a fresh image of what sort of relationship you can experience with God, you don’t need to look further than fathers right here in Laurel Heights United Methodist Church.
Think of the tenderness of Jeffery Landers holding Sonny as an infant. The twinkle of joy and pride in John Shaw’s eyes as he plays with his boys. Or Ryan Parker’s adoring patience as he guides Marlow and Rex where they need to go.
Did Jesus give us the image of God as father to maintain patriarchy? Certainly not. Jesus teaches us we are intimately loved by the power beyond our imaginations, he isn’t interested in assigning the Creator a gender. Likewise, his words give earthly fathers permission to love tenderly regardless of culture. Just as we see the reflection of God in the ways Jeffrey, John and Ryan’s parent, this passage is teaching us the immediacy and desire of God to draw close to us. God wants to be involved in our lives. Just as we want to hear from God, God wants to hear from us.
In my family there was a loss a year ago. A young cousin’s wife lost her dad to cancer. On the anniversary of his death, she shared about how much she misses talking with her dad. Though she may be able to say aloud the things she wants to share with him, what she deeply misses is hearing his thoughts. She wants him to weigh in on her day-to-day decisions, what he thinks about her children’s needs, and about the little things in life. She longs to hear his voice.
We all want the sort of parent we would miss if they were gone. Jesus tells us our ever-present Heavenly Father is more than ready to both listen and to respond.
In all the many Facebook messages about learning to pray, the most urgent and heartfelt came from a man who said his experience of learning to pray was like most of those who posted. However, he said, “Please, please tell people what took years and years for me to learn, the importance of waiting on God to answer.”
All relationships require two-way communication.
Jesus teaches us that the parent/child relationship we share with God is foundational, and this relationship carries the responsibility that we take as much time listening as sharing our thoughts and needs.
Wouldn’t today be a great day to spend enough time with your Heavenly Father to hear the voice of God?