Sermon for Sunday, Pentecost 7, Proper 12C, preached on Sunday, July 28, 2019,
by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich
We pray, that’s what we do. Daily, we come before the Lord; we fold our hands and bow our heads and we talk to God. Sometimes these prayers are written prayers, prayers we’ve learned as children, prayers that’ve been passed on through decades and centuries and even millennia. Sometimes these prayers are extemporaneous, spoken on the spot, unique to that time and that situation.
But have you ever wondered why we pray? WE PRAY BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE AND WE PRAY BECAUSE OF WHO GOD IS.
We pray because of who we are. We pray because we’re in need. All of us are in need, every single one of us, whether we think we are or not.
We’re in need of earthly things. This need is different for different people; and at different times in our lives our needs will be different. During these needful times we find ourselves more willing to pray. Think of life changing events, medical troubles: heart attacks; strokes; cancers. As we lay in the hospital bed, or as we surround our loved ones in that hospital room, we pray. Think about serious car accidents. As we stand looking at our vehicles crumbled, as we get a phone call telling us our teenage son or daughter has been in an accident, we pray. Think about job loss. As we contemplate what the upcoming days, weeks, and months hold for us and our family, we pray. Think about deployments. As we worry about the safety of our spouse or child, we pray. Think about trouble in marriages and between parents and children. As we wonder if there’ll ever be peace and reconciliation, we pray. The list of earthly needs could go on and on. We’re in great need. … But let us not think that these are our only needs.
We pray because of who we are. We pray because we’re sinners and we need God’s forgiveness. This is our greatest need, because God’s forgiveness in Christ gives us everlasting life. When we pray for healing in the hospital room and for safety during accidents and deployments and for another job to pay all the bills, we’re asking God to care for us in our temporal lives; and this He promises to do. Jesus pointed His disciples to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and explained how if God cares for these, then He certainly will care for you (Mt 6:25-34). But our Creator doesn’t just promise to care for your earthly life. God promises to care for your everlasting life. He promises you salvation. And it’s with these promises that we pray.
We’re in need of forgiveness so we pray for God’s promised forgiveness. We come before our Lord and remind Him of what He says. We hold Him accountable to His promise of forgiveness in Christ.
We pray every day, we confess that we’re sinful and unclean, that we’ve sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone. We confess we deserve the Lord’s present and eternal punishment. And with this confession we pray for God’s promised forgiveness in Christ. And He answers this prayer, because of who He is.
We pray because of who we are, and we pray because of who God is. He’s our Father who invites us to pray.
We often think of prayer as something we’re commanded to do, and we are. St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians says “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:16). But this command isn’t a dominating law. This command is a gracious invitation. We get to pray to God. God wants us to pray to Him. He wants us to come to Him with our petitions and needs. He wants us to do this so that He can answer our prayers. He wants us to do this so that we’d look to Him for everything, realizing He’s the source of all good things.
We dare not come before God on our own, thinking we’re worthy of asking Him for whatever we want. Instead, we come before Him because He’s invited us, because He’s made us His children through the waters of Baptism. And as His children, He’s given us the ultimate prayer that asks for everything we need.
The disciples saw and heard Jesus pray, and they wanted Him to teach them how to pray. We might think this request is a bit silly, after all prayer comes naturally, doesn’t it? … No it doesn’t. And here is a perfect example of that.
At the National Youth Gathering, our youth took part in a “homeless” experience. We walked through different stations that talk about homelessness and ways in which we can help our neighbors with this need. And after each station, the leaders asked for volunteers to pray. What do you think followed? A period of awkward silence. No one immediately spoke up. This could be partly because teenagers aren’t usually willing to put themselves out there in front of strangers, but it’s also partly because we don’t think we know how to pray. And in truth, we don’t. On our own we don’t know how to pray. We need to be taught.
Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. He didn’t teach them a specific posture for prayer, although the traditional folding of hands and bowing of head are good to help us stay focused in our prayers. He didn’t teach them an acronym like ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) to help organize their prayer, although that can be good too. No, Jesus gave them a specific prayer, specific words to come before God with. When you pray, say: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Lk 11:2-4) This prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is a prayer of God’s promises. This prayer is pleasing to Him, and in it, we pray for all our needs, both of body and soul.
With the Lord’s Prayer we ask for our earthly needs. With the Lord’s pray we ask for forgiveness. With the Lord’s pray we ask for God to protect us from temptation. With the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to rule our lives and to lead us into godly living, and to bring us into salvation. And all these petitions, He answers. He answers them because He is merciful.
We come before our Lord because we’re in need. We suffer in this world, from sickness and disease, from spiritual distress. We need our Lord to carry us through. But we dare not pray of our own worthiness. We pray because He invites us, because He has made us His children. And we pray because God is merciful, promising to hear us, promising to give us what we need. So, with faith, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.