7 Pentecost—Proper 12-C–July 28, 2019
Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13
In the 2006 movie “Click”, Adam Sandler goes to Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy a new remote that will hopefully control, among other things, his TV and ceiling fan. In the back of the store he enters a hallway with a sign over it that says, “Way Beyond”. There he finds an employee played by crazy man Christopher Walken, who sells him what is called a “universal remote”, which controls pretty much everything in the universe, for instance now Sandler can fast forward through unpleasant or dull parts of his life.
This is what some people think prayer is supposed to be: a universal remote we can click at the heavens to get God to change the channel of our life. Unfortunately, once they grow up, they realize there is no such universal remote that give us the power to control life from our couch.
As the saying goes, “Life doesn’t come with a remote, you have to get up and change it yourself.”
Others think prayer is a total waste of time, so while they may keep going to church, they don’t really believe in prayer.
So, it may benefit some of us to pay attention when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They notice that Jesus prays a lot. Luke tells us that Jesus prays at his baptism, the night before he chooses the 12, before the first prophecy of his death, at the transfiguration, and in Gethsemane the night of his arrest. If Jesus finds praying worthwhile, maybe there’s something to it.
But his prayers do not show Jesus pointing a remote at a faraway god in the sky, rather his praying takes place within the context of a relationship he has with God whom he calls “Father”. Prayer seems to be a disciplined practice of deepening his relationship with the Father out of which comes forgiveness, healing, guidance, and compassion.
Jesus begins and ends his teaching on prayer showing us the context in which we should pray, namely the context of our relationship with the Father, as if to say if we don’t get this context right, we won’t understand prayer as he practices it and won’t have a clue how to pray ourselves.
Jesus points out this context in the first word of the Lord’s Prayer, which is “Father”. (Luke doesn’t add the “Our” that Matthew does). Prayer is a relationship with the God who is close and caring, not a remote dictator or angry judge.
And we don’t have to get hung up on using the word “father” if the experience of our earthly father is negative. I noticed recently that in Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health, with Keys to the Scriptures which next to the Bible is the central text of Christian Science, she paraphrases the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven” as “Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious.” She wrote that in 1875.
Or what many find helpful is to use the Aramaic word “Abba” which Jesus uses which means “Father” but doesn’t remind us of our own fathers and sounds like a word a young child would use toward a parent.
To call God Father-Mother or Abba automatically situates us inside a relational story in which we are the family of God, the daughters and sons of God. God creates, nurtures, and guides us, because clearly our Father-Mother God loves their children, even more than we love our children.
If our prayer doesn’t lead us more deeply into the mystery of our life in the heart of Abba, it can’t claim to be the prayer of Jesus. In fact, Paul shows us this morning in Colossians that we can address God as Abba, precisely because we have been incorporated into Christ Jesus and therefore, all our prayers are caught up into Jesus’s prayer.
Paul writes:“when you were buried with Christ Jesus in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses…God made you alive together with Christ Jesus, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Therefore, he urges us, having received Christ, to “continue to live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
So, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, which we will do in a few minutes, let’s pay attention to how that prayer begins, for if we ignore the context, then the rest of the prayer may become an exercise in pointing our channel changer toward a remote God in the sky.
Then at the end of his teaching on prayer, Jesus points out once again the context of prayer, when he says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father-Mother give the Holy Spirit to those who ask them!”
Our Abba does not treat us as someone else’s children to be ignored, but as Jesus’ sisters and brothers who can ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of Christ in our lives.
We are God’s children, not because of anything special in us, but through the fact that, as he says, “in Christ Jesus the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and we have come to fullness in Christ.”
Back 30 years ago I saw a short film, a true story I’m told, about a young Mexican boy, who had lost part of face in a fire that killed his parents and destroyed his home. The boy had no one to take him in so he wanders the countryside. One day as he is watching a group of boys at an orphanage playing outside, the priest sees him and brings him to the other boys to see if they would accept him into their community. Most of the kids were repulsed by his disfigured face and turn away. But one boy walks up to him, puts his arm around him, and says: “Tu eres mi hermano.” “You are my brother.”
This welcoming boy is Christ. Jesus puts his arm around us and says, “you are my sister, you are my brother.” You belong here in my home.
Jesus begins and ends his teaching on prayer reminding us that the One to whom we pray is our Abba, our Father-Mother, who surrounds us with love on every side, the One who brings us into this world, is always with us, and never forsakes us. As Saint Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 3:23, “we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”
Jesus without hesitation or exception offers us this promise: “If you then, broken as you are, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Abba give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”
All that is required of us is to ask Abba every day for the Holy Spirit and live every day trusting Abba is answering our prayer by pouring the Spirit of Christ into our hearts in every situation of need. Whether we need bread, forgiveness, protection, persistence, or courage as we follow our brother Jesus to welcome all others, whoever they are, wherever they are, whether in Chelmsford or at the border, or around the world, into our family, the family of God.