Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 29, 2001
The Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
Sermon: "The Simplicity of Prayer"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "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." And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything. 'I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
The Simplicity of Prayer
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - July 29, 2001
Bedtime had arrived in the household for the young three-year-old child. The mother picked up her child and helped the young boy get ready for bed. The young boy went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and then knelt by the bed to pray. His mother knelt beside him. She asked, "What do you want to say to God?" The young boy replied "I want to pray what I learned in Sunday School." The mother said alright and the boy began the Lord's Prayer. "Our father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name." That's right the young boy called God "Howard" not "hallowed." The mother gently corrected her son. Somehow, I believe God didn't mind being called Howard. I believe God was just happy to hear from this small boy.
I also believe God has a strong desire to hear from and respond to us. Deep down I believe we have a strong desire to talk to and hear from God. However, I believe we have trouble praying sometimes. For example, I was at a conference and the discussion was about prayer. On a piece of newsprint people had written how they pray or what prevents them from praying.
One person had written: "I try everything I can think to do about a problem first. If those ideas don't work, I ask my friends. If my ideas and their ideas don't work, then I pray."
Several people said they were afraid to pray. One person wrote they were unsure of what words to say. Another person wrote they were afraid their words wouldn't be good enough. Another person said they really did not know what to pray about. They were afraid they might pray for the wrong thing or the wrong way, and God might answer their prayer the way they asked.
Do any of these thoughts from these people resonate with you? Some of them resonate with me. Sometimes I have felt that I should be able to handle a problem on my own. Sometimes I have been in a situation and I don't know what to pray. I have been with a person or a family where a loved one is dying. It is really hard to know what to pray.
As I read today's Gospel and reflected on it I became very thankful. I realized I am not the first person to struggle with knowing what to pray. I also had a little insight into how to pray.
My first insight occurred within the first three lines of the Gospel reading. The disciples had been watching Jesus pray. When he had finished the disciples asked him to teach them to pray. These words almost jumped off the page at me. The disciples had questions about prayer too. They wanted to learn how to pray. They had watched while John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray, now they wanted to learn. I get the feeling they thought there must be a right way. Knowing they had questions about prayer makes me feel better. Isn't it comforting to know the disciples, the saints of the church, had questions about prayer too?
The next thing that happens is that Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. We call the prayer the Lord's Prayer and we pray it every Sunday. Actually, we pray a version of it. Say the Lord's Prayer with me one time. Now, let's look at the lesson.
"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."
Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray in simple terms. The prayer begins with recognizing God's holiness. The word hallowed simply means holy. Then the prayer asks for God's kingdom to come. The prayer moves to asking for basic needs, then the forgiveness of sins, and protection from the trials of this world. The entire prayer is five lines long. Yet it covers every aspect of our lives. Jesus is teaching the disciples, teaching us, how simple it is to pray. We don't have to worry about the right words. We don't have to know exactly what to pray for. We don't even have to try everything else first and then pray to God. We really need to keep it simple. Because when we pray simply, then we can pray all day. We can say thank you for the morning sun. We can say a simple blessing at a meal. We can say thank you for keeping us safe during the day. We can ask for forgiveness when we screw up. Keeping prayer simple, keeps prayer from the heart and not from the head.
To close I would like to share with you some examples of simple prayer. They are from a book called "Children's Letters to God" by Stuart Hample.
"Dear God, thank you for the baby brother but what I prayed for was a puppy. Joyce."
"Dear God, It rained for "are" whole vacation and is my father mad! He said some things about you that people are not supposed to say, but I hope you will not hurt him anyway.
Your friend, but I am not going to tell you who I am."
"Dear God, I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was cool. Eugene"
"Dear God, I am doing the best I can.
Prayer is not to be difficult. Like these prayers, talking to God is like talking to your best friend. The words are easy. They come from the heart. There is no fear they will be misunderstood or shared. And if we ever get stuck, and don't know exactly what to say we can remember Frank. "Dear God, I am doing the best I can."