(A sermon on Matthew 6:7-21)
When a family friend was about six years old, he asked if he could be the one to give the prayer at a holiday dinner table. His parents, good Danish Lutherans, were surprised and proud. Imagine a Lutheran who volunteers to pray out loud! Of course they said yes. When the moment arrived young Jason adjusted himself in the chair to begin his prayer. Everyone waited in anticipation of what the precocious little man would say. After all, we grownups seldom have the chops to publicly address the Almighty, making us happy when a child wants the job.
Jason bowed his head and offered his prayer. “Hi God” he giggled. That was it. He looked up and reached for the mashed potatoes. Today Jason is a married man and there’s not a holiday prayer that goes by without someone remembering Jason’s relational and oh-so-easy, “Hi God” prayer. Why didn’t any of us think of that?
Prayer need not be complicated or formal. Prayer is simply the word we use for talking to and with God-the God I experience as wanting so very much to talk with us, scooting to the edge of God’s chair to hang on our every word, our every hope.
Have you found that prayer is less about individual conversations and more about a continuous dialogue? If you talk to God all day long, you’re in good company. For when we believe in an omnipresent God, there is no where we can be where God is not. God is here, there, in our hearts, in our spirits and, if we pay close attention, in our ears.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book “Eat, Pray, Love” refers to prayer as an awareness of what for her has become (quote), “a now-familiar presence, offering me all the certainties I have always wished another person would say to me when I was troubled.” Elizabeth writes often about her depression and loneliness, times when God’s voice is close and clear saying, “I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long. I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it—I will love you through that, as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and Braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.” (End quote)
A favorite prayer exchange she shares is when a looming divorce took her to her knees. Being as she wasn’t all together comfortable with prayer, she clumsily tells God that she’s a big fan of his work and apologizes for not calling earlier. Then after pouring out her soul, she waits, exhausted and the words come…
“Go back to bed’, said the omniscient interior voice, because you don’t need to know the final answer right now, at three o’clock in the morning on the Thursday in November. ‘Go back to bed’, because I love you. ‘Go back to bed’, because the only thing you need to do for now is get some rest and take good care of yourself until you do know the answer.”
So yes, at its best, prayer is an uncomplicated, easy relational dialogue. But what does God pray for?
When Jesus teaches us what we’ve come to know as the Lord’s Prayer, it also teaches us a profound truth about the nature of God. Jesus makes it clear that God knowing our needs before we give them voice does not preclude our asking, directly and pointedly, that God’s will (in other words God’s prayers) be done on earth, not just in heaven.
Richard Swanson, religion professor at Augustana College, writes “The rabbis understand clearly that when God created the world, God created it richly so that all life could thrive. The very fact that parents and children alike have to pray for food is a sure indication that God’s will is not being done on earth, regardless of how things are running in the heavenly spheres.”
The very fact that children grow up to pray that daddy stop hitting mommy is a sure indication that God’s will is not being done on earth.
In fact, the Lord’s Prayer as a whole constitutes an argument that unless the reign of life holds sway on earth, heaven is quite irrelevant. We are all the body of Christ which is why we pray “Our Father.”
“Treasure this my beloveds” are the words I imagine God saying to each of us while holding our faces, looking with love into our eyes as she says, “I’m here. I love you. There is nothing you can do to make me love you any more, and there is nothing you can do to make me love you less.”
Your treasure – your perfection – is within you already. But to claim it, we must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego, while we enter into the silence of the heart. There we will find God, waiting for us to spend sacred time together.
May it be so. AMEN.
(This post is dedicated to Jason Tewell. Hi Jason.)