July 24, 2022 The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13

From the Gospel according to Luke, “One of (Jesus’) disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray.” I
speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


It has been my experience as a pastor and priest that most questions asked by both church
members and visitors alike are about prayer: How should we pray? Does God hear my prayers?
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? What is prayer really about? And in this day and age, does
prayer really make any difference, does it even matter? I think that if we are honest with
ourselves, most of us have probably asked those very questions or ones at least similar to them.
As Christians, we know the value of prayer and yet, I think that we often misunderstand its
purpose as well as its meaning for us today. That’s why I find each of today’s scripture lessons so
timely.
One of the disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” What I enjoy about Luke’s telling of
this story is that The Lord’s Prayer, as we call it today, is far shorter than that contained in the
other gospel narratives. Here, Jesus is very direct. He is brief. He prays from the heart. And Jesus
is very intimate in his portrayal of our relationship with God.
The early Hebrew peoples understood God’s covenant with Abraham, their forefather, as
intimate as the relationship between husband and wife. God and the people of Israel walked
together as equals in an ever-increasing commitment of love and service to each other and the
world. While our Old Testament lessons these past two weeks have focused on Amos’ call for a
return to justice and righteousness in how we relate to one another, today’s reading from Hosea
calls God’s people to return to a right relationship with God. See, that intimate relationship
between God and Israel was in deep trouble. The wife (Israel) had strayed, she had been unfaithful
to God’s values, way of life, God’s commandments. She had invited others into her bed – invited
foreign gods like Baal, or the gods of materialism, nationalism, consumerism, and all the other
“isms” that still seduce God’s people today. And Israel’s children were just as evil and cunning as
their parents. So, God tells Hosea, “My spouse (Israel) has been unfaithful! So, I am filing for
divorce”. God says, “I am no longer your God, and you are no longer my people.” To emphasize his
point, Hosea himself marries a prostitute and the names of his children reflect just how far Israel
had strayed from God’s ways. Naming your child Jezreel would be like naming him Mi Lai,
Auschwitz, or any name that reflects a bloody place or event. Lo-ruhama means “not receiving
mercy or not offering pity.” And Lo-ammi means “not my people.” The marriage between Israel
and God was over. Never again would Israel walk with God like a husband and wife. And yet, by
God’s mercy, Hosea still proclaims a message of hope. Someday, he proclaims, a remnant will
return to God and while they will never again walk in this world as husband and wife, God will walk
with them, with us, as a loving parent – and we as God’s children.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus begins by affirming the intimate relationship with God that he
offers to this world. Jesus says, “Father…” the ability to know God as a loving parent has been
restored through Christ just as Hosea promised. And as the Psalmist notes, this restored
relationship with God is marked by grace, forgiveness, a blotting out of the past, renewed life, and
a listening for God’s voice as deeply as God listens for our voice.
Jesus prays from the heart. He offers no magical words. Instead, after recommitting to act in ways
that keep God’s name holy and foster God’s kingdom of justice, love, mercy and grace here on
earth, Jesus turns to our basic needs. No big words or lofty images here. He simply speaks about
our need for sustenance, (daily bread), our need for forgiveness in our relationships by forgiving
just as much as we desire to be forgiven, and our need for safety as we continue our life journeys.
Daily bread, forgiveness, and safety are the basics of life and Jesus’ prayer is pretty much focused
on those essentials.
But then Jesus continues with two short stories, the first of which suggests that true prayer is
always honest. Just as the man is confident of his neighbor’s hospitality, Jesus says we should ask
for whatever we need. In other words, prayer is saying what’s on our hearts, prayer gets to the
point, prayer is an authentic expression of what we are thinking and feeling in the present
moment. Anger? Joy? It doesn’t matter. True prayer is always honest.
The second story suggests that prayer is immersed with and in trust. We believe that God loves us
and desires to give us every good gift. Because we trust this to be true, we pray. Yet, we often see
our prayers go unanswered and still we trust that God is listening. Jesus says that God gives. God
opens. God finds. This is not about answering our every wish, but rather, it is about sharing our
deepest thoughts and desires, our hopes and dreams with the very God whom we say we love and
whom we trust loves us as a good parent should love, nurture and protect their child.
You know, Mother Teresa of Calcutta once described prayer saying, “Prayer is not asking. It is
placing our own selves in the hands of God and listening.” Prayer is marked by simplicity, honesty,
and trust. Jesus says that just as we ask, as we search, as we knock, God, also, asks, seeks, and
knocks on the doors of our hearts and minds inviting us into an ever-deepening relationship with
God that restores broken lives, that forgives, that brings peace, offers sustenance and hope, and
enables us to live what we pray with our lips.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, has been speaking about talking the talk – what we say
with our lips – and says it cannot be separated from walking the walk, from how we choose to live.
The Christian faith should change us to our core. And Paul says we have to live by what we say. To
say one thing and do another defiles the very body of Christ. Paul notes that one’s relationship with
God, as with any relationship, takes time to grow and to deepen. The Christian way of life never
ends in its desire to nurture our relationship with God and with each other. Paul says that prayer is
at the heart of the Christian faith because prayer transforms hearts and minds and fosters trust,
honesty, simplicity, and intimacy with God so that the whole of our lives walks the talk. As we say
in one of our prayers of confession, “Grant that what we say with our lips, we may believe in our
hearts, and what we believe in our hearts, we may live in our lives.” Prayer should change how we
choose to live and in so doing we will find that prayer can change our very environment.
One of the wonderful things encountered by many who enter the physical buildings of Holy Cross
and St. John’s, is a sense – a palpable sense - of the prayers offered years ago by Bishop Ives,
Brother Skiles, and countless others. Many visitors to these historic buildings have commented that
those prayers continue to waft through this place and encourage them to stop and kneel to offer
their own prayers, It’s as if these stones and boards have been so thoroughly soaked in prayer that
they radiate an invitation to know God ever more deeply. No wonder so many lives have been
changed through simply entering these hallowed halls and pausing to speak what’s on the heart
and then, as Mother Teresa suggested, placing oneself into God’s hands and listening for God’s
voice. Prayer changes us, changes lives, changes our world.
One of the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus responded, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive
us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of
trial." Simple and yet, heartfelt words speaking intimately with God. That’s what prayer is and
that’s why prayer still matters.
May God teach us to pray today and every day with simplicity and sincerity. While our Prayer
Book offers some of the most amazing, beautiful, and meaningful prayers, what matters to God is
the heart: an honest and trusting heart. Prayer that comes from the heart leads us to know and
experience God as our creator, redeemer, sustainer, and perhaps most wonderful of all, as an
intimate father and friend forever.
“Lord, in the busyness of our daily lives, our tasks and stresses, and often conflicting priorities,
teach us to remember … teach us to pray.” Amen.