Exodus 33:17-23 (NRSV); Matthew 6:7-18 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – October 22, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Exodus 33:17-23 (NRSV)
The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
Matthew 6:7-18 (MSG)
“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.
Everybody does it. Right?
In fact, I am SURE that if I were to ask you all if you pray every day, EVERYONE’S hands would go up.
There are as many different WAYS to pray as there are people praying.
Y’know … in the old, old days, only the priests and holy people were allowed to pray. But that’s not how we are … and last week, when the AoF Council met – the Acts of Faith Council, that is – we spent some time together practicing how to pray out loud with each other.
We took the idea put forth by Annie LaMott in her book that both CLASS ACT and Food for Thought have read, Help, Thanks, Wow! and realized that most of our prayers are either asking for HELP about something, saying THANKS for something, or just plain WOW! over something amazing.
If you ever have to pray with someone … or FOR someone … you can put a prayer together by just thinking of those three things … though most of us would change the order and do WOW, THANKS, and then HELP … something like, “Dear God – you are so amazing. We thank you for loving us (or for the beautiful weather or whatever something is that you’re grateful for). And today, God, we just want to ask your help with ….” Whatever it is.
Wow … Thanks … Help.
Prayer is not hard.
And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or written out.
For MOSES … prayer was conversation with God. Whether he was at the burning bush and asking God for a name to refer to him by (the I AM who I AM) … or on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments … or TODAY … having a talk with God and then seeing his back … prayer for MOSES was conversation. He argued and negotiated with God frequently.
Y’know, there have been COUNTLESS books written about prayer over the years. Some of them are about the KINDS of prayer – prayers of petition where we’re ASKING God for something; prayers of lament where we are heartbroken or SORRY for something; prayers of JOY … prayers of CONCERN … Some books are about how TO pray.
But prayer is not so much something that we do or say as it is a way of BEING … an ATTITUDE.
For instance, some of us were taught to kneel at our BEDSIDE when we prayed at night. That’s not a BAD thing … we were being taught to subjugate ourselves to God, because when we kneel, we are DEMONSTRATING that God is in CHARGE.
Others of us were taught to pray through playing a musical instrument or singing … or doing some kind of ART … or walking in NATURE. “Communing with nature” is often another way of saying, “Communing with God,” which is another way of saying … PRAYING.
Some people – even some churches and MINISTERS – make a big DEAL out of praying “just the right way” … as if there were magical words to say. And Jesus talks about them in today’s reading where he says: The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-IGNORANT. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling TECHNIQUES for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense, he says … This is your Father [or Mother that]you are dealing with, and [they] know better than you what you need.
So Jesus gives us this EXAMPLE in what we call the Lord’s Prayer – or the “Our Father” and I want to spend just a little time looking at that prayer because we have already PRAYED it twice today so far… once in the beginning, and then again in the Scripture lesson.
It starts off with “Our Father” … notice that it’s not MY Father, it’s OUR Father. Nobody owns God. It’s not that one church has a corner on the market. God belongs to EVERYONE … Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu … fundamentalist, conservative, liberal … spiritualist, Unitarian, pagan … God belongs to EVERYONE and not just me!
And this whole Father thing?
Jesus probably, ACTUALLY said ABBA … Daddy. A FAMILIAR name for a parent. God is without gender so it could just as easily be MOMMY or Mother. But it’s a loving parent who is CLOSE to us …
Our Father … who art in Heaven …
This familiar God lives in HEAVEN, overarching all of Creation.
So it’s our Father / Mother God who is in Heaven overseeing all of EVERYTHING …
“Hallowed be thy name.”
That’s Elizabethan English. Today we’d say, “holy or revered is your name.”
“Your kingdom come?” Well, that’s pretty much what we talk about every week here, isn’t it? … the KOG … that place where God’s LOVE and JUSTICE rule EVERYTHING!!! That place where people all operate at their best all the time.
“Your will be done…” not OUR will … GOD’s will. Not MY will … but THY will be done HERE … on earth … in our FAMILIES … in our own HEALING … with our FRIENDS … at our work places. GOD’s will be done … be ENACTED … be brought to fruition HERE just as it already is in heaven.
The whole first part of the prayer is honoring how important GOD is, isn’t it? It’s recognizing that God is in charge and that we WANT God to be in charge EVERYWHERE in our lives, just as if we were already living in heaven.
Well, then it goes on to say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Both physically and metaphorically … give us everything we need to survive, God. Give us the FOOD that we need for our bodies and also for our souls … for our minds and our hearts. Give us all that we need. Oh, and by the way …
Please “forgive us our debts (or our sins, or our trespasses) as we forgive our debtors … those who sin against us … or those who trespass against us.” In OTHER words … however we are gentle with others, please be gentle with us. However we hold grudges over others … well, you have the right to hold grudges over US because however we do it, that’s what you’ll do with us.
OR it could be the other way around … “as YOU love and forgive us … teach us to do that with others.” That’s the thing about the word “as” – it doesn’t delineate which comes first … the thing BEFORE the “as” or the thing AFTER the “as.”
*I* tend to see it as wanting to be more like GOD, so when I pray this, I’m asking to learn how to forgive better.
This whole middle part is about US. The first part was about God … the middle part is about us. Who is the third part about? God, again. “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” Or in present-day English, EVERYTHING is yours … Creation (that’s the kingdom), the POWER … there is no power greater than God … and GLORY.
Not just now …
For all ETERNITY.
This is a prayer about RELATIONSIP … us with God, God with us … us with others, and others with us … and it acknowledges our place in the Kingdom.
And that’s our Lord’s prayer.
The prayer of Jesus. Right?
Yet nowhere in it is JESUS mentioned.
Think about it.
HE taught it … but this is not a prayer about HIM.
It has become associated with Christians around the world because Jesus TAUGHT it to us … but it can easily be said by Jews or Muslims or Hindus, or anyone else because it is ABOUT God … it is directed TO God … and it is about our RELATIONSHIP with God … however we define that.
Even when it comes to THIS prayer, though, we have to remember that the words just don’t MATTER. Right? We (red)read in Matthew just now: “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” And that REMINDS us that prayer isn’t about words … it’s not about prescribed RESPONSES …
PRAYER is about INTENT.
What is your INTENTION in praying?
Do we enter into it with a pre-planned outcome that we are trying to get God’s APPROVAL of? Are we trying to ENGINEER a situation? Are we trying to make it about OUR will and not God’s???
Jesus tells is that prayer needs to be a connection between what God does and what WE do.
Prayer is about opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit so we can become REALIGNED with God … because frankly, when we are in synch with God … we are LIVING in God’s realm … we’re living in the Kingdom of God.
Sometimes there are no words for prayer.
Let’s face it …sometimes all we can do is sigh … or cry … sometimes we are in such a state of AWE that words are useless.
So every once in a while we need to pray with our bodies.
I’m sorry that Pastor Katrina isn’t here today because last week she taught us a most BEAUTIFUL Body Prayer at the AoF Council meeting. And although she taught it to us standing up, it can be done from a seated or even a lying DOWN position, too.
I’ll demonstrate … then we’ll do it together with me telling you when to change the position … and then we’ll do it on our own but because you’re sitting next to each other, just be careful not to whack somebody when you’re praying – that’s probably not a GOOD thing. 😊
We start with our hands together … bringing us back to CENTER. And with each pose, breathe in and out deeply. *I* think of breathing in the Light of God, or the LOVE of God, or the PEACE of God, and breathing out anything I need to let go of.
So … Center … breathe.
Now … arms up, if you’re able. Reaching for God. And if you’re not … just your HANDS up and breathe in and out.
Back to Center and breathe.
Next we’re going to reach out towards each OTHER and breathe in and out.
Back to Center and breathe.
THIS time we’re going to reach to OURSELVES and HUG ourselves and breathe.
And back to Center.
One more, down to the PLANET … down to the EARTH and breathe in and out.
And finally … back to Center … breathe in God and breathe out anything NOT God.
And that’s the whole prayer. Isn’t it lovely?
- Let’s do it again all of us together and I’ll lead.
And then one more time where you do it at your own pace.
This is a WONDERFUL prayer for us to do every day … or even many TIMES a day.
So whether you pray with your body … or you’re in conversation with God like Moses … or you pray the Lord’s prayer … or you think about Help, Thanks, WOW! … or you just quiet your mind and fall asleep in deep PEACE … your homework this week is to try a DIFFERENT kind of prayer before next Sunday.
OK? Be INTENTIONAL … maybe you’ll just do the Body Prayer every day … or maybe you’ll intentionally and SLOWLY say the Lord’s Prayer … whatever it is … practice praying and we’ll talk about it next week …WHICH, by the way, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation!!!! It’s also the 300th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in this country. Reformation Sunday!
Next week. Amen.