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Friday, July 26, 2013

Pentecost 10: "Lord, Teach us to pray"

By its very nature, today’s reading lends itself to teaching, rather than preaching.  Sometimes Jesus preached, and sometimes Jesus teached {I know that is grammatically incorrect, but it sounds better :-) }  The disciples come to Jesus (and today we come to Jesus) and say: “Lord, teach us to pray.”  

And in the first words of the reading, we find an important point: People often feel unable to pray and assume that the ability to pray is natural to some and lacking in others……the disciples are on the right track in realizing that we can be taught to pray.

Jesus divides His teaching into 4 parts, so I will too!
He teaches: 1. What to pray for (in verses 2-4)
                   2. The importance of persistence (in verse 5-10)
                   3. The certainty of a positive answer because of God’s love and goodness (in 
                       verses 9-13)
                   4. The ultimate gift, the Holy Spirit, who is the source and power for all right prayer (in verse 13b).
 

1.What to pray for

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us what is most important and necessary in life, and He suggests how we should rank them (remember looking at the importance of prioritising last week.)
  There are 5 requests; first come requests relating to God’s own interests, namely hallowed be Your name and Your Kingdom come.  
Then follow 3 requests relating to our needs, namely give us each day our daily bread, forgive us our sins……and lead us not into temptation.  
God’s interests are put first, followed by ours.  That is the true priority in the prayer life of a Christian.

God is addressed as a personal and beloved parent, whose holiness and sovereignty we acknowledge with gratitude and awe when we pray: Father, hallowed be Your Name.  
We are acknowledging and confessing that we are in an intimate relationship with God…….........are you?

When we pray: Your Kingdom come, we are stating that our deepest longing is that God’s honour be fully seen in all creation.  We are asking that the reign of God may not merely be a dream we have or something we look forward to, but rather that it is something that is a manifested reality in our midst, in our homes……in Alberton.

Turning to our own needs: Give us each day our daily bread, is an acknowledgement that life is meant to be good and that our physical needs must be met.  But our plea here is for more than food; it encompasses all the necessities of life.  Martin Luther said: When you mention and pray for daily bread, you pray for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread and, on the other hand, against everything which interferes with it. Therefore you must open wide and extend your thoughts not only to the oven or the flour-bin but to the distant field and the entire land, which bears and brings to us daily bread and every sort of sustenance. To put it briefly, this petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in the world.

When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive”, He’s not suggesting that God’s forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving.  Rather, He is simply assuming that those who seek to learn how to pray from Him will indeed forgive their enemies……do you?

The request lead us not into temptation is one that often confuses folk (and I invite you and encourage you to discuss this in more detail in your small groups).  It really is a warning against any smug assumption that we are holy or virtuous.  Without God’s help, we would all fail and fall in the face of temptation.  As a friend of tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, Jesus knew well that temptation can simply overcome people.  And He knew that those driven beyond endurance by poverty, gender inequality, parental abuse, gang life and drugs are similar to ourselves.

Now, besides noting the instruction to put God’s interests first, and then only to pray for our own, we should also note that of the three things Jesus tells us to ask for ourselves, only one relates to our physical needs.  The other two relate to our spiritual and moral needs.  The order is significant: we ask first for our physical needs because meeting these needs is a necessary basis for higher spiritual and moral experiences.

But to the one prayer for our physical needs, we must add two for our spiritual and moral needs.  As simple human beings we need forgiveness each day, just as we need daily bread.  At the same time, the spiritual dimension is linked to the moral one……we are to pray that we may not enter into temptation.

The missionary Donal Dorr has written the following adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer that applies to our own context and embodies most of the principals we've looked at so far……you have received it in your insert today.

Our Father…May Your Kingdom come, and may we be active in promoting it
– a Kingdom of peace and love, founded on true justice…
Give us this day our daily bread, and strengthen us in our efforts to build a world where we all have an opportunity to earn our daily bread through meaningful work, where nobody
has to go hungry and no group lives in luxury while others starve.
Forgive us our trespasses – our failure to believe in Your Kingdom and Your call to us to bring it about, our sinful apathy in the face of injustice, our failure to work together,
our dissipation of energy in fruitless resentment rather than courageous challenge.
Lead us not into temptation: do not test us beyond our strength
by leaving us in our desperate situation.
But deliver us from evil: lead us out of bondage as You led Your people in the past
out of slavery and into the Promised Land; raise up leaders for us as you called
Moses and Deborah; inspire and strengthen them to lead us into freedom.

So Jesus teaches us what to pray for.  Secondly, He teaches us…

The Importance of Persistence

In the parable of the midnight visitor and the man who has no food to offer him, the neighbour knocks at his friend’s door and shamelessly persists until the neighbour gives him what he needs.  There is a link here to our parable from two weeks ago, the Good Samaritan, where the question was asked, “Who is my neighbour” and the answer given was essentially “anyone who needs something I have.”

The Jewish word that Jesus would have used here, which is translated as boldness or persistence, is the Yiddish word, “chutzpah” which means audacity, gall, cheek, brazen nerve, presumption, arrogance, persistence or just plain “guts.”  The interpretation Jesus gives to His own parable is that if someone who is reluctant to help will eventually help just because of persistence, how much more will God, who is actually eager and willing to answer our prayers.  
Be persistent……nag God!.........because, thirdly:

We have the certainty of a positive answer because of God’s love and goodness

Ask and you will receive
Seek and you will find
Knock and the door will be opened

This is TRUTH!  

We have the certainty of a positive answer to all our prayers…not necessarily our desired answer, but always God’s positive answer based on where our prayer began……namely that our first priority in prayer is Your Kingdom come……in other words, “Let what is best for the Kingdom of God happen in my life” and God promises here that His answers will always be what is best for the Kingdom of God and the reign of God.


And just in case we haven’t got the message, He tells another story in which He says no father will give to their child a snake instead of a fish….or a scorpion instead of an egg.  Our God will never do that……never……never!

Now, in my own life, I've sometimes felt that I’m getting a scorpion from God instead of the egg I’m asking for.  But I praise Him and thank Him that eventually I've always (eventually, sometimes after months and other times after years) come to see the truth, that, in a mysterious way I received what is best for the Kingdom of God and ultimately for me and my eternal salvation.  Last week, Martha seemed to get a scorpion instead of an egg when she asked the Lord to tell her sister to help her……but she didn’t, did she?

And so, Jesus ends His teaching on prayer by speaking on:

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

In a sense, He now gives us the most important perspective on prayer, which is:
If you ask for nothing else in prayer, ask for the Holy Spirit, because He is the source and the power for all right prayer.
He is strength for us to persist in prayer.
He is power for us to continue when it seems God is saying no.
He is the very source of life as we seek to live it to the glory of our Father, whose Kingdom we want to see coming on earth.

Ask for the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion:   Jesus has taught us what to pray for; He has asked us, encouraged us, allowed us, to be persistent,  to pray with “chutzpah”; He has assured us of positive answers to all our prayers; and He has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Therefore:   Let us pray.

Questions based on "Lord, teach us to pray"

Study Passages Luke 11: 1-13 and Matthew 6:5-15
Read the sermon here

1.    What is prayer?

2.    How is it possible for the Lord's Prayer to become babbling? How can we ensure that our prayers do not become babbling? Do you think it's useful to use books which contain other people's prayers?

3.    How often should one pray, and where should one go to pray (think carefully before answering this question)?

4.    Discuss the differences between needs and wants. If God knows my needs before I ask Him, what is the point of prayer? Discuss the statement, “One of the purposes of prayer is to inform yourself.” How do our prayers reveal our hearts? How are our prayers a true test of our desires?

5.    Is there a difference between God hearing our prayers, and God answering our prayers? What would you say to someone who says: “God doesn't answer my prayers”?

6.    Discuss what it means to call God “Our Father.”

7.    Identify six petitions contained in the Lord's Prayer.

8.    “Give us this day our daily bread.” Discuss the various things we are asking God for when we pray this petition.


9.    “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Discuss the things we can do, that would help God to answer this prayer in our lives. 



John Wesley's Mom Dies

30 Jul 1742: About three in the afternoon I went to my mother, and found her change was near. I sat down on the bedside. She was in her last conflict; unable to speak, but I believe quite sensible. Her look was calm and serene, and her eyes fixed upward, while we commended her soul to God. From three to four the silver cord was loosing, and the wheel breaking at the cistern; and then, without any struggle or sign or groan, the soul was set a liberty. We stood round the bed, and fulfilled her last request, uttered a little before she lost her speech, ‘Children, as soon as I am released, sing a psalm of praise to God.’

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Pentecost 9: Martha and Mary

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”  “Martha, Martha” the Lord answered; “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I think the story of Martha and Mary in Luke’s Gospel is possibly one of the more misunderstood stories in the gospels.  So let’s have a look at it and then see if it has some application in our lives.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.

They’re on their way from the place where Jesus has just told them the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we looked at in detail last week.  They come to a village where a woman named Martha opens her home to Jesus, and therefore also to His disciples …… 13 extra people for dinner!
The first thing we learn, therefore, about Martha, is that she is a woman of great hospitality.  Opening her home to strangers, welcoming strangers ....... this is a wonderful gift which makes Martha a wonderful woman.  Jesus will later tell a parable where He says: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  
13 extra people to lunch …… how would you feel about that TODAY?

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

So … … you have 13 unexpected guests for lunch today, and your sister, brother, husband, wife … …sits in the lounge … … dreamily … … listening.
13 extra guests means … … a little bit of extra help is needed.
Many of you know how Martha is beginning to feel … … don’t you?  And if you don’t, by this afternoon you will when you’re doing all the work while the rest of the family reads the Sunday paper.

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

DUH!!!
Martha is one of those wise people who has come to learn that tables don’t set themselves, food doesn’t cook itself and tea & coffee don’t make themselves.  
Good hospitality doesn’t just happen, does it?
So yes……Martha was distracted……DUH!!!

She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?

But she’s not so distracted that she forgets to turn to the Lord.  She’s angry……wouldn’t you be?  And I love that she goes to the Lord first – we can learn from this wonderful woman……take everything to the Lord……first.   
And she takes her anger out on the Lord before she takes it out on anybody else……she is teaching us how to pray!
"Lord, I thought You stood up for those who are oppressed, I thought You cared for those who are down-trodden, especially in the home."  Many of us think it is better to pretend that everything is ok and “politely” carry on……not a good person like Martha, she doesn't bottle her emotions up – she takes it to the Lord in prayer.  (Speaking to the Lord is prayer.)

Tell her to help me!

Again, a wonderful example of how to pray.  Tell God your needs, your wants, your desires, your wishes.  You won’t always get them, but don’t let that stop you from asking.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered,

This is soft and gentle, isn’t it?  If it were just, “Martha” it would be harsh.  Jesus’ response to her angry outburst is not to respond in His own angry outburst, but is rather……gentle and loving.
"Martha, Martha"

“you are worried and upset about many things,

There’s a hint here that Jesus can see deep into the soul, which He can of course……especially when that soul is honest and open before Him, as Martha’s was.  It is only when we, from our side, reveal ourselves, open ourselves up to Jesus (who already knows everything)……it is by our opening up that we invite Him in.  Do you perhaps need to open up some area of your life to Him today,....or take some bottled up emotion to Him today?

Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things
but few things are needed—or indeed only one  (Some manuscripts but only one thing is needed) 
Jesus us now beginning his healing work in Martha.  And His healing word to her is a healing word that many of us need to hear, and that word is simply PRIORITISE.  What is important……now?

Mary has chosen what is better, 
Notice, it is not, “Mary has chosen what is good” because that would imply that what Martha was doing was bad.  No……Mary has chosen what is better.  In other words, “What you are doing Martha is good.  But right now, Mary has chosen the better thing to do. Your timing is out a bit.”

and it will not be taken away from her.” 
In other words……"I won’t tell her to help you. I won't answer your prayer."
Martha’s very fair request, petition, to Jesus is turned down by Jesus.....  We all know what it is like  to have prayers go unanswered by Jesus.  Even Jesus experienced a “no” from God when he prayed for His cup of suffering to be taken away.  It sometimes seems that God reserves His “no” for the greatest and most faithful of His people……but that’s another subject.

What can we learn from this story that will help us become more like Jesus?

Well, to begin with, note my question.  It is not what can I do to become more like Mary or more like Martha.  We miss the point of this story entirely if we think its purpose is to show us whether we are a Mary or a Martha.  When we see the story this way, we ending up saying things like: Mary would have spent 67 minutes on Mandela Day praying for the poor; Martha would have spent 67 minutes feeding the poor....or, in response to the Zimmerman verdict, Mary would pray about it, Martha would take some form of action.  And dare I say that on this occasion Jesus might have said; “Martha has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”

Was Jesus a Mary or a Martha?   The question is ridiculous…He was both. Are you a Mary or a Martha?.......the question is ridiculous.

I think we get the real meaning and purpose of this story when we put it in its context.  It comes immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan and immediately before Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

We tend to think in the following way when we misunderstand this story:
Good Samaritans are Martha’s; good pray-ers are Mary’s. This story is placed where it is to show us the importance of both in the Christian life.  You can’t really have one without the other.  A good Mary must have a good Martha in her, otherwise he/she is a person with much faith……but no actions……and this is a dead faith.  Likewise, a good Martha must have a good Mary in her/him.  It is only at our Lord’s feet, it is only in prayer and time with God that we learn to hear the voice that will say to us.... on the road (thinking of the Good Samaritan parable) – don’t stop for that person……do stop for that person……give that person money/food……DON’T give that person money/food……welcome that stranger in your home……don’t welcome that stranger in your home.

I think the key idea in this story is contained in the words, “only one thing is needed.”  What is that “thing”?  
Paying attention to Jesus.

On the road like the Samaritan, paying attention to Jesus.  At prayer, as Jesus will teach us next week, paying attention to Jesus,.....in our home, workplace, church, nation, paying attention to Jesus.

That is what is needed, in your life, certainly in my life, in the life of our church, in the life of our city and nation……pay attention to Jesus.