Sunday, July 28, 2013

10 Pentecost

July 28, 2013


Luke 11.1-13


+ You’ve heard about this ad nauseum this past week—and for that I am sorry. But, yes, this past Thursday, I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my ordination as a Deacon. 10 years of ordained ministry is a hallmark, to some extent. And, this past week, between celebrations, I found myself pondering these past ten years.

In that time, I can say that there have been two consistent questions I have been asked, again and again over those years. So, do you think you can guess what the common questions I have been asked as a priest over the years?

The first question is, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

By far the most common question. And I have explored this many times over the years in my sermons, and I will again.

The second question I asked again and again is, “Why aren’t my prayers answered some times?”

I think it’s an important question. And the answer I always give is, God always answers prayers. But an answered prayer is not necessarily a granted request.

As I’ve said again and again, God is not Santa Claus in the sky, granting wishes to people who have been good, and punishing people with unanswered prayers because they’re bad. Many people think prayer and making petition are the same thing.  But petitionary prayers is not the only kind of prayer. Prayer essentially is communication—communication between us and God. When we pray, we should simply open ourselves completely to God. We should take on a prayerful attitude.

Or, as the Catechism we find in the back of The Book of Common Prayer defines prayer:

“[It] is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.”

For those of us seeking God and striving after, and God, in return, coming to us and revealing God’s self to us, we do find the need to respond in some way.

In our Gospel for today, we find Jesus talking about this response. We find him talking about prayer. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.  Jesus responds by teaching them the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Then he goes on to share a parable about a friend asking another friend for a loan. In the midst of this discourse on prayer, Jesus says those words we find quite familiar:

“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knows, the door will be opened.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the complaint from people about unanswered prayers.

“I prayed and I prayed and nothing happened,” I will hear.

And I definitely not going to tell you how many times I have complained about unanswered prayer in my own life. But when we talk of such things as unanswered prayers, no doubt we are zeroing in on the first part of what Jesus is saying today:

“For everyone who asks receives.”

But rarely do we ever get beyond the petitionary aspect of prayer. Jesus shows us that prayer also involves seeking and knocking. Oftentimes in those moments when a prayer is not answered in the way we think it should, we just sort of give up.

But if we seek out the reasons our prayers are not answered in the way we want them to, we may truly find another answer—an answer we might not want to find, but an answer nonetheless.  And if we keep on knocking, if we keep on pushing ourselves in prayer, we will find more than we can even possibly imagine.

The point of all of this, of course, is that when God breaks through to us, sometimes we also have to reach out to God as well. And somewhere in the middle is where we will find the meeting point in which we find the asking, the seeking and knocking presented before us in a unique and amazing way. In that place of meeting, we will find that prayer is truly our response to God “by thought and deed, with or without words.”

Jesus is clear that prayer needs to be regular and persistent. I have found that prayer is essential for all of us as Christians. If we do not have prayer to sustain us and hold us up and carry us forward, then it is so easy to become aimless and lost.

As some of you know, I lead a very disciplined prayer life. I do so not because I’m acetic or overly-pious or saintly (I’m sure all those words come to your minds, especially those of you who came to the tiki party at the Rectory of Friday night).

But I lead a disciplined prayer because I can very easily become a lazy person regarding prayer.  I pray the Daily Office every day—the services of Morning and Evening Prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer.  I pray for everyone at St. Stephen’s by name through the course of the week.  And I take regular times during the day to just stop and be quiet and simply “be” in the Presence of God.

The Daily Office is sort of the skeleton of my day. I have prayed the Office every day, without fail (well, there have been a few times when I’ve just been too sick to do so), for the last ten years. Actually I was praying the Daily Office long before that, but beginning at my ordination as a Deacon, I promised I would never miss praying the Daily Office. And, for the most part, I have not. I made that promise, because I know that I am a creature of habit. I need the discipline of the Daily Office to keep me in check and to lay down the boundaries, because without those boundaries, I would too easily be led astray.

Of course, the Daily Office was a requirement for all Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Although in our current Book of Common Prayer it is not laid out so clearly, in earlier versions of the Prayer Book, it was emphatic. In the 1662 Prayer Book it says this:

“All Priests and Deacons, unless prevented by sickness or other urgent causes, are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or in the Church.”

And, I have tried to do so every day over the last ten years. Some days not so well, other days better. I have prayed the Daily Office on wonderful days, when it all came together, on bad days when I really didn’t want to pray it all and, by far the majority of days, when I prayed and it was neither great nor horrible. And, as you’ve heard me say again and again, I commend the Daily Office to everyone who has issues like me of needing some structure in their prayer life. Fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes in the evening and a lifetime of spiritual sustenance.

The important thing, however, is not to be bound by structure or rules such as this. The important thing is finding a way in which we can each respond to God by thought and deeds, with or without words. The important thing is to recognize that God is breaking through to us, again and again. We see it fully in Jesus, who came to us and continues to come to us. In response to that breaking through, we can each find a way of meeting God, whenever and where God comes to us, in prayer. In that place of meeting, you will receive whatever you ask, you will find what you’re searching for, and knocking, you will find a door opened to you. That is how God responds to us.

So, let us go to meet God. God is breaking through to us, wherever we might be in our lives. Let us go out to meet the God who asks of us first, who seeks us out first, who knocks first for us to open the door.


 

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