November 4, 2007

"Not a Jumbled Heap of Words"
Scripture: Matthew 6:7-15
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  I'm going to repeat a story I've told before as a framework for our talk about prayer this morning. As the story goes a man was walking along the top of a steep cliff. Not paying much attention he stumbled over a root on the path and plunged over the edge. In desperation he reached out and grabbed the first thing he could find to latch on to and being successful, clung for dear life to that fragile branch sticking out of the cliff. He began yelling for help and in desperation yelled up, "Is anyone up there?" A voice hollered back, "Just let go!" Completely dumbfounded and in a desperate panic the man hollered for help once again, and again the voice hollered back, "Just let go!" Still puzzled, the man demanded, "Who are you?" The voice spoke back, "This is God. Just let go!" The man, hardly skipping a second hollered "Is anyone else up there?"

  For some prayer comes during times of desperate moments, moments when we find ourselves hanging for life from a cliff of troubles, times when a cry for help is flung into the universe with the hope that something or someone is out there listening and will respond. Prayer for some becomes a divine mystery where we experience such deep love of God that we are transported beyond our normal experience into a sort of otherworld where words simply are not adequate. Most of our prayers lie are somewhere between those two extremes. We acknowledge that prayer is mystery. How and why God answers seems to remain beyond our understanding. We know we ought to pray, but many times, outside of simple intercessory prayer we aren't quite sure how. Others have written such beautiful, elaborately constructed prayers, but when it comes to our own praying we may feel that our prayers are inadequate compared to those wonderful prayers.

  The disciples had the same problem. They knew how to relate to Jesus on an everyday level, but much of what Jesus did was point to our need to communicate with God. The disciples could ask Jesus to please pass the bread, or fill the cup again, or heal that person over there, but did not exactly know what words could be directed to God. Jesus is telling them that their relationship with God is all important, but what does one ask for when the needs of others have already been expressed? How does one communicate with God without asking for anything? How does one carry on a conversation with God?

  So Jesus names all that is needed in prayer for them. Jesus provides a framework for conversation with God. Jesus did not intend for his sample prayer to become a magical formula for addressing God, for getting God's attention. Much deeper meaning comes from the simple words expressed. Today we repeat the prayer at least every Sunday, and some pray it daily or more often. It becomes rote and we can speak it without paying attention to what we are saying because we've said it a million times over. But if we look carefully at the prayer we will discover those deeper meanings and find a pattern for our own prayers. The prayer itself directs us to God by calling upon God's name, and naming the very Kingdom that God wants to come upon this earth. It's all about God! Prayer that starts with God as its center seldom sinks into concentrating on ourselves and collapsing on random thoughts, worries and anxieties. The prayer that calls for the Kingdom of God to be fully present in this world focuses on the will of God. God wants His kingdom to come upon the earth while we are yet alive, while we are participating in life on this earth. Prayer that names what God wants, names what we need the most and what will bring out our wholeness is prayer that helps us communicate most deeply with God.

  Prayer that focuses on God names the needs of others because God wants those needs to be met in order for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. God doesn't just want us to be filled but wants the whole world to be filled. We see a hungry and hurting world, where little children suffer from starvation and sickness, where people are the victims or the cause of unjust actions. God doesn't want the children to hurt and increases our awareness so that we can do something about it. That's the danger and blessing of prayer for the world. We might just have to act for God with God's power to change the way things are. When we see our humanity wrapped up in the whole of humanity, then we are on the right track in communicating with God because we are sharing God's dream.

  When we pray that we do the right thing at any given time we also begin to sense the extreme forgiveness of God toward us because we realize that no matter how much we try to do what is right, we find ourselves stumbling over little pitfalls that lead us temporarily down the wrong path. So we ask God to keep us from falling too far and knowing that God forgives we can keep praying when we do the wrong, anti-God Kingdom stuff.

  Well, with these thoughts in mind I have a paraphrase based on the Lord's prayer: Wow, God. You are an awesome creator! We are part of the great dream You originally had for us. You know that we often mess things up, yet your love and forgiveness keep us from messing up too much. We want to be a part of your dream for creation. Help us to do that, show us how. What can we do to help heal this world? Keep us on the right track. Provide us with all we need to be your hands and feet in this world. Amen.

  Praying is not such a difficult thing at all. With the Lord's prayer as our model, we can name anything that truly needs to be named and God will respond. We don't need beautiful words. I have a suggestion that when we pray, we keep a copy of the Lord's prayer in front of us and paraphrase it often, each time saying it differently as new meanings enter our thoughts. In time it will become easier to do and eventually we might just end up praying deeply and being in communication with God on a much more meaningful level. It's a good start. Then when we call up the cliff as we are hanging on, we might just be able to let go and fall into God's grace in healing and wholesome ways.