Sunday, July 28, 2013

Doing the Large Catechism to the Congregation

          In the year 1528 Martin Luther visited churches throughout the German territory of Saxony. He listened to the preaching, he interview both pastors and lay folk.
          By the end he was greatly disheartened—he lamented that the parishioners were all like lazy cows that knew nothing of God and worse still that the pastors didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer.
          And so Luther admonished the clergy to take 4 days a year—Ember Days they were called—days when all the people would fast and study the Small and Large Catechism.
          Well, today, prompted by Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, today feels like a good enough day as any, to be an Ember Day—to tell you about our tradition’s instructions about prayer.

          I will begin, as Luther does, by telling you all to pray!
          Sure, you’ve seen Televangelists pray hypocritical prayers
sure, you are sometimes underwhelmed when the pastor or deacon prays a prayer written by the national church.
Sure, you’ve heard plenty of bad praying.
          But that doesn’t mean you boycott prayer.
That would be like having once been to a bad restaurant that served you rancid pasta and thus deciding to upturn your nose at all food and starve yourself to death.
          No—we pray because God has commanded it of us! God tells us to pray and therefore it is right to do so.
          Not only that—we pray, because God promises to hear our prayer. God not only commands “ask” but also promises “receive” “it will be given” and “I will deliver you.”
          Yet, you might say, “who am I to go before God and talk to Him—am I holy enough to do such a thing? I’m no Peter or Paul, no Pastor or a long time church lady.”
You might not feel good enough to pray to God.
          And it’s questions like that—feelings like that—that bring a core of the Lutheran insight to the forefront
--you see, even something as practical as prayer is fortified with a theology of grace. It’s not our goodness, nor our initiative, but always God’s loving actions for us—God’s gracious yes.
          In fact, it’s not you who prays, but the Spirit which intercedes within you with sighs too deep for words. Your prayers are God’s prayers.
Your prayers express God’s deep loving concern for your needs.
          And that last thing—says something about how we pray.

It’s not all about saying things, let alone saying them loudly or ecstatically. Prayer involves time in reflectionreflecting on where we are at in the world and what abiding needs we have—that we are to bring forward to our loving Father.

          Let us pray
Our Father Who Is In Heaven
          We begin by stating the relationship. It is one of genuine trust—God as a good, loving, compassionate, parent.
That’s who we are addressing. We can come before God with a genuine trust—come before God as God’s beloved child—Jesus himself before the Almighty.

“Dear Father, your will be done.”
“Yes, dear Child, it shall be done.”
A father will not give a scorpion when an egg is needed—nor will a mother give a snake when we are in need of a fish.
          We can trust God.

May You Name Be Hallowed
          One of the great insights Luther borrows from the Augustinian tradition is that prayer is not about making sure something happens,
it is about pleading that we ourselves—the petitioners—the prayers—are involved in it.
          We have no power to make God’s name holy—it is by its very nature Holy.
That is why it is said by Isaiah that God’s throne is surrounded by angels singing continually “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Affirming that which cannot be false—the truth about God’s name is that it is Holy.
          Yet, in our prayer we ask that this Holiness will dwell in our own words and deeds. That our trust in God’s Word, and our living out God’s Promises-for-us, will point to that holiness that already is. That we will be a part of the Holiness of God.

May Your Kingdom Come
          You’re going to get tired of me saying it—but just as prayer doesn’t make God’s name Holy—neither does it make God’s Kingdom come. The rule of the Gospel, the message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—is irresistible. The Kingdom already comes, without our praying for it.
          So we pray that it might come for us as well. That our faith will be in God’s faithfulness, that God’s Kingdom might intersect with our actions—That the Spirit might flow through our whole life and that our destiny might be enwrapped in God’s promises. That the Kingdom will come for us.
May Your Will Come About On Earth As In Heaven
          God’s will, as you might expect by now, is done, yet we pray that it might be done amongst us.
          We hope, we pray, that God’s glory and salvation—that is the Holiness of His Name and the Kingdom of God—those first two things we pray for—might be defended against wills that are not of God—including our own.
          This petition suggests that the Christian life will be one filled with challenge. We can expect misfortune and grief—and for that reason we pray for God’s will to be done among us, that his Holiness and Rule might be preserved among us with steadfast patience.
Thy will, not my will.
Give Us Today Our Daily Bread
          We pray for Bread—but in doing so we pray for much more than simply physical bread, but in fact for all things necessary and nourishing for our bodies, from food and shoes to money and good government, good weather and good friends.
          God provides for every need of the body, provides it to both the just and the unjust, the Christian and the Atheist, Democrat or Republican. It is all here for us, with or without our prayer.
          In fact, since it is all here for us, it would be fitting for all organizations that spend time distributing these things—especially those who govern countries, cities, towns, neighborhoods—it would be good for them, to brand the image of bread upon their bottoms, to remind them that alone is their lot in life—their purpose—and also to remind everyone of that good thing they do, so that we might pray for good to befall our civil leaders.
          We pray for this bread, however—in order that we might realize we receive it from God’s hands, and recognize in every meal, and every good thing, that it comes from the goodness of God. All bread is in a sense, bread from heaven.

And Remit our debt, as we remit what our debtors owe.
          Again, our sins, our debts, are forgiven while we are yet sinners, while we still owe much—released before we pray to God for our forgiveness. It’s always God’s initiative—God’s grace. Prayer isn’t pulling one over on God.
          Yet if you get up the gumption to think that you are without sin—just pause and reflect—for as long as we live in this world we will be caught in conflict with what is right and what is right—many good things competing with one another.
So we constantly need the reminder that God forgives us.
          And one of those reminders comes about when we live out this portion of the Lord’s prayer—when we forgive! When we remit the debts that are owed to us.
          In fact, forgiving those who sin against us, is like a 3rd sacrament—it strengthens and gladdens our conscience; we enter into God’s promise of forgiveness when we forgive! We know we are forgiven by God when we forgive!

And Lead Us Not Into Temptation
          We are never tempted by God, but we are tempted in many ways.
We are tempted by the tenuous nature of our lives, so vicious things can bubble up from within us.
We are tempted by a world in which everyone wants to get ahead of everyone else—and it can drive us mad—that which is outside us can oppress us!
Finally, we are tempted to the very core of our being—despair, blasphemy and worse can enter into our soul.
          And we pray that we might resist these assaults.

But Deliver Us From Evil
          There is such a wideness to the misfortunes that haunt humanity that it is incomprehensible—it can be like an abyss.
Cancer, Suicide, Starvation, Racism, Insanity, Abuse, Addiction, War, Poverty, Despair, Disgrace, and Death.
          But know this, none of these take us beyond the limits of God’s love.
We can, and should, lift up any and all affliction—all needs—to God. God is with us in them all.

Amen—yes is how we finish this prayer
believing with certainty
that God hears it—
trusting God’s promise to do so.
Be confident God hears your prayers—
call on God in every need.


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