Livin’ On A Prayer

Isaiah 58:6-9 (NRSV)

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator 
shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

 Matthew 6:7-15 (NRSV)

“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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.
10     Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us this day our daily bread.

12     And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


Livin’ On A Prayer Sermon

Good morning! Here we are in Lent. Week 2. Maybe you’ve given something up or taken something on this Lenten season as a way to become more disciplined or grow in your relationship with God. Maybe you’ve just decided to be more intentional with your faith journey.

And maybe, still making it worship, whether in person or on livestream, on Daylights Savings counts for something!

We’re in our Lenten Worship Series, called The Walk. We understand that our faith really is a journey. It’s one that we are always walking. Sometimes alone and sometimes together. Sometimes we think we’re walking alone until we lift our heads up and see all these others walking with us.

Sometimes we notice God is with us and other times we wonder where God might be. Yet we keep on walking. That in itself is an act of faith.

So wherever you are with “faith” this morning, you’ve made it here.
You’re walking.
Keep walking.

Instead of a confession this morning, I want to share something strange about myself… and maybe you’ve already noticed?

I walk weird.
Have you noticed?

Don’t worry, all of my friends have too and they point it out as often as they can. I have really good friends, I tell ya.

Y’all walk like this: heal-toe, heal-toe, heal-toe.
I walk like this: toe-toe-toe-toe.

I walk on my tiptoes. It’s my natural inclination. I’m not very good at walking like a “normal person.” It’s almost beneficial for walking up hills… but, oh man, walking down hills just looks ridiculous.

See here’s the thing, for whatever reason, my Achilles tendon quit growing or doesn’t stretch as easy or something. So when I walk like you all do, you know the super-cool-normal-way, it starts to hurt.

One benefit of walking this way for 34 years is that my calves are super strong.  It turns out it’s genetic. My 8 year old does it, too. That girl is gonna have monster calves like her dad.

So whether your faith walk this morning seems pretty normal or others laugh at you when they see you trying, know that in this space here, you are welcome, just as you are.

Will you pray with me?

Holy God, may the words of mouth and the meditation of all our hearts and minds be pleasing to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Quick note: This prayer that you hear Pastor Cindy and I say differing variations of on Sundays is from Psalm 19. It’s a great base for prayer when preaching. And the more comfortable you get with prayer, the easier it is to start adding more prayers. There’s a lot of good in using scripture as a starting place for prayer.

Our worship series is based on Church of the Resurrection Pastor Adam Hamilton’s book. His church is down in Kansas City.  It’s about some of the essential practices of the Christian life. In his book, Pastor Adam lists worship and prayer together in the first chapter as one practice. I can definitely see how they are tied together but we wanted to break them out.

Pastor Cindy took on worship last week and invited us to consider what a life of worship looks like and what it does to us. This week is prayer. It’s about talking with God. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

But I’ve noticed something about prayer… it’s hard. Right?

Why is that? Why do we find it so difficult to pray? Partly, I think it’s because we don’t know what to say or how to best say it. We want to be good at it so we don’t want to say the wrong things.

Whether you find it helpful or feel like it makes things even messier, there seems to be multiple formulas to prayer.

Maybe you know some:

ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (needs of others and self). Those are big church words. So all you need is a Thesaurus handy. Does that even make it easier?

5 Finger Prayer:

Thumb: Closest to you

Pointer: Those that point you in the right direction

Middle Finger: This one is for your enemies… no, just kidding. It’s the tallest finger so it’s for those who lead us, so the middle finger is for the government… you know what, let’s just move on to the next one before this gets out of hand.

Ring: Weakest

Pinky: Smallest, for our selves and our own needs.

So here ya go, there’s a couple ways you could pray. Formulas to pray. I mean, if we need formulas, what does that say about what we think about prayer? I’m sure there’s plenty more formulas if these don’t work for you.

There’s actually another one we all know. The one Jesus taught us. The one we say almost every time the church gathers for worship, weddings, and funerals. It’s a go-to when we don’t know what to say. We just trust that Jesus taught it to his disciples for a reason. But when you read it above, were you like, “Wait a minute. Those aren’t the right words? I feel ya.

Let’s say it together, however you say it is good:

Our Father, who art in heaven….

I want to take a few moments to talk about some of the things that stand out in the Lord’s prayer to me.

First, notice the “our.” God is not just my God but is God of us all. This prayer opens with a reminder that we are a community. We are not alone. We are in this with one another.

“Father” – I’d prefer a non-gendered parental term here because God is not male or female but “father” remains mainly because of patriarchal systems. God as divine parent, mother and father connects with us so there is no foul in connecting to God this way. There’s a deep relationship of love and nurture. You are deeply connected with God. God is not far off somewhere in the clouds, God is here, with you now.

“Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven…” this is an action that reminds us that there is work to be done. Prayer is not just something that we do quietly but it’s also something we live out. We’ll come back to this very important piece soon.

“Give us this day our daily bread…” A call back to God taking care of the Israelites wandering in the desert and giving them mana or bread from heaven. God takes care of us, even when we are lost and wandering. That’s some of the best news, if you ask me.

“Forgive us as we forgive others…” more work on our end. We’re literally asking God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others. How well are we doing at forgiving others? Do we want God’s forgiveness to be like ours? Maybe this is a call to continually continue the super hard work of forgiveness. If this is something you struggle with, join us today at 1pm at Bar+Church at Twisted Vine Brewery. This is exactly what we’re talking about this afternoon. Chances are you’ve got someone to forgive and probably a little forgiveness to ask for. Come share your story.

We’re gonna stop here on the Lord’s Prayer because there’s so much to get to with prayer. I want to go back now and say again that I think prayer can be hard sometimes. That’s okay. But I also want you to know that it’s worth the awkwardness and uncertainty of what to say or how to say it.

I also want to mention that sometimes prayer doesn’t always look like getting on our knees beside the bed and starting with an official greeting to God. We don’t always have to close our eyes and clasp our hands. Sometimes, it’s just in the way we wonder and the way we wander. It’s even in the silence. And sometimes it’s just in the way we live our lives.

During my final year as a student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, my family and I were out in Portland, OR. While we were there we visited The Natural Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother (like that mother language? Sorry, patriarchy.) or more popularly known as The Grotto.

In case you are unfamiliar with it, a grotto is a catholic shrine and sanctuary amidst beautiful gardens. The Grotto in Portland starts at the foot and moves to the top of a cliff with several thousand feet of trails including a trail with the 14 stations of the cross which depicts Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. The grotto is place for contemplation and prayer.

As we were walking the trails, my daughter Audrey asked me why there were candles lit at the first station we encounter. I told her that people lit the candles and prayed. When Audrey asked me if we could pray, I was overcome with joy. I felt like I was doing parenting right. So we prayed.

And then we walked the beautiful trails, just admiring the creation of God and the creation of God’s people hand in hand. The walking itself was prayer. Holding my daughter’s hand was prayer. We get to the next station of the cross, we encounter more candles and she asked if we could pray again.

So we did.

And then at the next station, she asked again, and again and again and in a moment I felt this frustration rise up in me. In my mind I was like, “seriously, child. Do we have to pray at every single station?!”

And then I realized how ridiculous I was being. Here we are, surrounded by the beauty of creation in a place dedicated to prayer and focused on Jesus and if my five year old daughter wants to spend all day praying, well we’re going to spend all day praying! So we continued to pray, her way, 14 times.

I tell this story because even in the most natural places, sometimes prayer can be hard. And also, not to beat yourself up if you’re not the stop and pray kind of person. I think there’s room in our life for solitude and intentional prayer. If it’s not our normal, it’s good to find times to pray that way.

But also, scripture says to pray continually, so I want you to know that your walking, admiring, thinking, silence, and breathing… all of it can be prayer. Can you notice God when you are washing the dishes? How about when you’re walking the dog? Or taking the kids to the park? I think encountering God in the everyday moments of our life is some of the most effective prayer we can do.

I’m so deeply convinced that prayer needs to enter our every day world that we’ve got a little extra joy for you this morning. On the bulletin insert you’ll find lyrics to a song. It’s not in the hymnal but I think it’s one most of us know.

Life happens. The world keeps going. Sometimes we’ve got time to pray and sometimes it feels like we’re living on an unspoken prayer hoping that God is in the midst of our lives. We don’t know if prayer will make a difference or not but we give it a shot…

Tommy used to work on the docks, unions been on strike,
he’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough.

Gina works the diner all day, working for her man,
she brings home her pay, for love, for love.

Sing it with me:

She says, we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love

Insert band: We’ll give it a shot! (sing rest of the song with band)

 

Sometimes we truly are living on a prayer. A simple one that says “Be with me God. I need you.” That’s a faithful prayer. I commend you for praying that prayer.

I think we can also get to this place before God that says, “Hey God, I’m here. Who will you have me be and what will you have me do?”  I think this is important because I’m convinced that prayer transforms us.

When we spend time encountering God, we leave those encounters with something changed. Even more so when those encounters with God are offerings of ourselves instead of always asking God for something.

However you pray, just keep at it.

One of my professors at George Fox, Dr. MaryKate Morse said, “If we imagine for a moment that God is a city, prayer would be the ways into the city. Depending on where you are in life, your way into the city might be a freeway or a boulevard. Or maybe and avenue, alley, sidewalk, train track, bike path, or a winding dirt trail. All of these ways get you into the city.”

As you pray, remember that you are spending time with God, learning who God is and who you are, learning to love God, love yourself, and love God’s people. This happens over a lifetime. So whether your prayer is more like an interstate or a winding dirt trail, keep moving into the city.

And if your prayer has hit a dead end road, don’t give up. You might have to make your own path. Keep walking. Sometimes, we have to remind our selves to pray. Heal-toe, heal-toe, heal-toe.

And maybe you’re lost for words. I think just sitting there with God in your “lost-ness” is prayer. But if you need prayers, there’s so many out there written down and ready to roll. I’ve got books upon books on prayer so let me know if you need one.

There’s a multitude of spiritual prayer practices you can look up as well. One of them is the prayer of Examen which is a just a prayerful reflection on our responses to the events of the day. As you lay down in bed for the night, reflect on God’s presence. What moments of the day were you most grateful? What moments do you wish you responded differently? Where was God in all of that?

Now that we’ve prayed a bit together and sang some Bon Jovi, I quickly want to pick a bone with Garth Brooks. For clarification, I’m 100% on board with having friends in low places. It seems those are the kind of relationships Jesus was pursuing, too. Those places are real places.

But the trouble is his song about prayer. You know it, right? The line says, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” Maybe your theology is okay with it.

Maybe it’s the way we reason for things not working out like we thought we wanted once and then something awesome comes later. Like, if you’ve been divorced and remarried and your current marriage is super healthy. That’s me, by the way.

All of that is fine and good but I don’t want us to fall into the trap of apathy. I think sometimes God wants us to do our part.

Let’s look at that Isaiah passage we read this morning. It describes a fast or prayer that is action related. Our prayer has legs, not just folded hands. Maybe our prayers are unanswered because we haven’t got off our butts enough. Let me quickly highlight a couple lines from that passage:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to let the oppressed go free,
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Prayer is sometimes super intentional word choices, sometime silence, sometimes wondering and wandering, sometimes reflection, sometimes singing, and sometimes it’s getting up and doing the holy work God called us to do. Prayer is, without a doubt, walking. Heal-toe, heal-toe, heal-toe. Amen.

 

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