Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pentecost Year A: "Shining in the Gift of Prayer"

Philippians 2:1-11

Dear  friends in Christ, Dear People of Grace – Grace to you and peace from God our creator, and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  AMEN

            What are your first memories of prayer? Who taught you to pray?  How do you practice prayer now?  This week we are “shining in the gift of prayer” – and for me – the gift of prayer is linked – first of all to my family, and the prayers my parents always said with us at mealtime and at bedtime. 
            My family taught me my first prayers. 

            But there was also LeRoy Palmquist, my 4th grade Sunday School teacher. 
            Our class met every week in the choir room – there were not enough classrooms – and I have to admit that I don’t remember much of anything we did in 4th grade Sunday School – except for the one week that we did not take out the workbooks.
             Instead, he taught us how to pray.  He taught us how we could make our own prayers, using the acronym “ACTS.”  A stood for adoration, or praise. 
             You always began a prayer to God with praise.  “God you are wonderful, awesome, mighty!”   
            Then you moved to C, which stood for Confession.  You confessed your sins.  “I’m sorry that I hit my sister, or that I doubted your love for me.” 
            The next letter stood for Thanksgiving, and was the easiest.  “Thank you!”  The children at the pre-school are best at saying thank you to God for everything – EVERYTHING. 
            And finally, S stood for supplication.  Which is a word most 4th graders don’t know.  But it meant “asking for help”.  Supplication means saying to God “Help me.”  “Help us.”  
            What are your first memories of prayer?  Who taught you to pray?  How do you practice prayer now?
            We are shining in the gift of prayer this week – and it is a gift – and it’s a gift to be simple in prayer as well. 
            I have never stopped praying those simple prayers I learned in childhood, or the ones that are written down in our worship books.  
            I believe that written out prayers are true prayers,  and also that simple prayers, “Thank you,” and “Help me” and “Wow” can be prayers as well. 
            We are shining in the gift of prayer this week – but it might be good to start with what prayer is – and why we do it. 
            What is prayer – after all? 
            How do you define it?  (maybe ask for some people to say what their definition of prayer is.) 
            When I think about prayer, I often think of the disciples’ simple request to Jesus, “Teach us to pray.”  
            And of course this is where we get the Lord’s prayer, from this simple request. 
            But sometimes when I think of the disciples’ request, I imagine that they aren’t asking, “Teach us a prayer to say,” or even, “Teach us HOW to Pray,”
             “Teach us a METHOD of prayer.” 
            But maybe they are asking, “Teach us to come to you…. With everything. 
            Teach us to confide in your, to ask you, to depend on you, to TRUST you.” 
            “Teach us to pray…. Rather than NOT pray.”  How can we trust you, depend on you, come to you …. ?” 
            Because that’s what prayer is. 
            It is conversation with God.  It is depending on God. 
            It is trusting God – with our secrets, with our needs, with our whole lives –  our whole congregation -- and our whole world!

            And this is where stewardship comes in, too. 
            We are stewards of everything that God has entrusted to us.  And prayer is at the heart of remembering that. 
            Prayer is the foundation of our mission, and our vision. 
            Not perfunctory prayer – “God, bless all the plans we have already made for ourselves.”
             But real, simple, trusting prayer, “God, help us to follow you.  Help us to want for ourselves what you want for us.”
             If it’s true, what the Psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…”  it’s probably a good idea to check in with the owner once in awhile….
            So prayer is the foundation of our lives, because praying reminds us who and whose we are 
            Prayer reminds us of who God is – and of who we are. 
            The passage from our reading from Philippians gets to the heart of this as well. 
            Paul begins with his vision for the congregation in Philippi – a congregation he dearly loves and (if you read the beginning of the letter) prays for always. 
            Paul is writing to them from prison, and he prays for them to be in full accord and to be of one mind. 
            Now anyone who has ever been part of a congregation might think this is an impossible thing to ask.
             We are people with many different ideas.  We don’t all think alike.  Some of us are native Texans.  And some of us emigrated from the Midwest. 
            Some of us have been Lutheran forever, and some of us are pretty new to this particular faith tradition. 
            We don’t all share the same political perspectives – and we might have some different priorities as well. 
            But Paul isn’t asking for uniformity.  He is asking for unity.  And through prayer, I believe we can travel in this direction.
            Because the unity we seek is through Christ Jesus.  Paul’s vision is of him, and his “downward ascent.”  
            For love of us, he came down here to live with us,  to know us and be known by us, to suffer with us and for us, to die for us. 
            This is the direction of our lives as well. 
            We live this downward ascent.  We live our lives – not for ourselves, but for the sake of God, and for one another. 
            As Paul writes in Philippians, “let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.” 
            One of the ways we do this is through prayer.   
            We do this by prayer that is honest – not just saying what we think God wants to hear – but admitting our fears and our doubts and our failings.
            Do you know why we bow our heads sometimes when we pray?    Back in the days where there were kings, subjects knelt and bowed their heads in front of the king, which exposed their necks. 
            They put themselves in a position of vulnerability in front of the king. 
            In one of the powerful moment in the movie, Luther , the Lutheran princes kneel in front of the Emperor Charles. 
            But what they are saying is, you can kill us, but we will not give up our faith. 
            The Lord’s prayer itself begins with this “downward ascent.” 
            We begin by praying that God’s will be done and God’s kingdom come.  Not our will, and not our kingdoms.  But God’s.
             And then we pray asking that God meet our daily needs, and our spiritual needs, and keeps us from temptation and evil. 

            There are many ways to pray and many methods of prayer.  You can color your prayers (I do) and you can use your body in your prayers.       You can pray the prayers in the back of your hymnal, and you can say, simply “Help me.  I am yours.” 
            You can pray like the children, “Thank you God for my dog and for bugs.”  You can pray in silence. 
            You can pray the Faith 5,  which some of our families here use, and which includes time for sharing scripture together and the important moments of our days. 
            You can pray like my Sunday School teacher, LeRoy Palmquist – A for Adoration, C for Confession, T for Thanksgiving, S for Supplication.

            But all of our prayers begin in the same place, with Jesus, the one who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” 
            They begin with the one who came down for us, and in his Spirit, is with us still, even to the end of the age.  They begin with Jesus, and they end with Amen.  Let it be so.  Make our lights shine Lord, for that is your will for us.