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Teach Us To Pray

Hosea 1:2-10;Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

July 28, 2019 –Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

Finally, the disciples ask for a gift that will sustain them. They have some familiarity with John the Baptist. They may be disciples of John who have now come to Jesus.

So now, they ask him to teach them how to pray, “just as John taught his disciples.” It is the duty of the rabbi to open the way for his people to God. These followers of Jesus will come to understand one day that they are asking this of God.

But for now it is enough that they should want to know. It is enough that they should ask someone who may be closer to God…or more open to God…than they are to show them the way.

They want to draw closer to the Lord than they are. Help us to draw closer to the way and the truth and the life…than we have ever been before. It is good when we ask…of anyone…how we can be more centered, less fearful…more hopeful…less doubting…more faithful.

And prayer is the portal…the path …the way…from where we are to where we want to be. Jesus is blessed by the asking of this question.

Consider the plight of the prophet Hosea. He lives in a far different time and speaks to a far more adversarial people. Like Amos whom we met last week, he is prophesying in the northern kingdom of Israel.

He had his ministry as the Northern Kingdom is about to fall. Unlike Amos he is from the north. He is calling his own neighbors to a closer relationship, but his voice falls silent shortly before the Assyrians overrun Samaria.

No one is asking him how to pray, but he sees the need in the nation for all the people to open their hearts to what is true and loving. Samaria, it turns out, has already turned its face from God and has found entertainment, if not meaning, in the priests of Baal.

This has been a question ever since God’s chosen people returned from Egypt…came out of the wilderness …to take possession once again of the land the Lord promised to Abraham. Is it Baal or God that blesses our lives? To whom should we pray?

The Assyrians have been putting cultural and religious pressure on the Israelites and they have been making progress. They have been so unfaithful to their God…their national heritage…that God is sending prophets to call them back to the one true way.

Last week we read of Amos dropping a plumb line into the middle of them to show that what they were building was not straight and it was destined to fall of its own weight one day.

People were believing what they wanted to believe instead of what they knew was true. Their leaders were corrupt and they knew it, but they followed them anyway because it was easier and less demanding.

So Hosea, like Amos, announces a harsh judgment upon Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and it is as explicit as the plumb line of Amos. His wife, Gomer, is as unfaithful to him as Israel has been to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Their children are named Jezreel, for the place that awaits Israel’s doom, Lo-Ruhamah, or “not loved” because God is to show no love to Israel, and Lo-Ammi, “not my people”, as a sign that Israel would be never again be God’s people.

It is a prophesy of doom, doom and doom, but there is a mysterious promise added to all of this. They shall be as countless as the sand on the seashore one day, and they will be known as children of the living God.

They are castaways and on their own, without a homeland, but they will be a force in the world. Their hardship would impose upon them the skills that would be needed wherever the winds of worldly fortune blew them.

The fall of Israel, the fall of Judah and the horrible siege of Jerusalem await God’s people now, and the diaspora will scatter them…and their faith and their native skills will preserve them through the times of the Persians and the Greeks…and the Romans, and then…

Paul proclaims that they were made alive in Christ. Their hardship has produced a savior that fits the description Hosea gives us. A powerful and gifted man who is forsaken by his own people, despised by the world, abandoned by God…appears and calls his own people and all people back to God.

Jesus suffered as horribly…and died as ignobly…as anyone in the Bible. It is written in Deuteronomy that anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse, and Paul writes to the Colossians and to us today that Jesus, God’s only begotten son, made a public spectacle of the powers and authorities of the world, triumphing over them by the cross.

The powers and authorities hung him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead. In this way, by the goodness of this one human being, and because of his suffering for our sake, one who is innocent has purchased forgiveness for the guilty.

One who was close to God drew all people into a blessed relationship with their creator.

It is uncanny, the way the scriptures fit together. We think they are many stories but it turns out they are one story, and the one who is most unlikely becomes the one who is inevitable…from Abraham to Moses to Elijah to John the Baptist to Jesus…and even Paul himself.

This gives us hope at the same time it humbles us. It crushes us and exalts us at the same time, perhaps like life itself. We are invited into the great mystery by the creator of all life and we are called to become worthy of the gift of the life we have been given.

How do we discern our purpose, our destiny? How are we to clear our minds of the countless voices that descend upon us from day to day? We are the wealthiest people in all of history, I suppose, but our wealth makes us poor. We have so much we are challenged to sort it out, to know what is important and what is not…to find the way to God and meaning and love and home.

So it is that the disciples this morning ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Prayer gives us the opportunity to stop the hamster wheel of emails and text messages and tweets we receive by the dozens every day.

Jesus so often slipped away to gather his thoughts, his emotions and his call into this world. His gifts would have drawn all manner of opposition to him: disbelief… unbelief…belief only in themselves.

But his time of prayer was a refueling station…a time to reboot his thoughts. Turning only to God, he would have been able to put everything into perspective… and so can we.

As we let go of our fears…or as we lift them up…we pull away from all that has been and all that might one day distract us from what is most important. We are not seeking a transaction with God. We are seeking a relationship with our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer.

The disciples can see how powerful prayer is to the one they follow and so they ask him to teach them to pray. He tells them four things.

Put your trust in God. Declare God’s name to be hallowed. God alone is holy and confess that you are asking to become more holy yourself. You trust God to make you more holy and you open your life to God’s ways, place yourself in God’s hand. God is the potter, you are the clay.

Expect him to give you your daily bread…what you need this day, this hour, this moment now. Focus on where you are.

What is behind you is beyond your power to change. What is ahead of you is still beyond your reach. It is what is around you now that you can effect.

What is the best way we can affect it? What is the way you can not only have a transaction in the world but build relationships with your neighbors and your neighborhood?

Give us our daily bread.

Forgive others as you want to be forgiven. Don’t forgive them any more than that…or any less than that. The judgment you give is the judgment you will get.

If you think everyone is lying and cheating, what do you think of yourself? Are you going to turn them around by acting the same way, or do you simply become the thing you hate?

Meet people where you find them, then relate to them as if they were already where they need to be. The week before last I could not find my glasses in the morning. I had this horrible sinking feeling that our new dog had taken them out in the back yard.

Finally, I found them in the living room…with one of the stems chewed off. I took them to the eye clinic and simply showed them to the receptionist. She looked at me sympathetically and asked, “Is the dog still alive?”

It wasn’t the dog’s fault, I told her. Now I put them up higher than my dresser and I am happy to report I had a warranty that got me a new pair of glasses. Forgive as you want to be forgiven.

And lead us not into temptation. Give us the moment we need to gather our thoughts, to balance our feelings, to sort through our options …so that we can become the best person you meant to send into the world on the day we were born.

That is what you are to pray and it would solve most, if not all, of the world’s problems….my world’s problems…if I prayed that.

And pray often. Pray with faith. Pray with hope. And pray some more. You aren’t praying to God simply because you need something. You are praying because you need God.

You don’t want to change the world around you so much as you want to change the way you relate to it…the way you are in relationship with it… the way everyone can learn to love God more and their neighbors more.

I was talking to my father one day and he said there is only one person you can make happy. I asked him, “Mom?” He just shook his head and tapped me on the chest with his forefinger. You are the only one you can make happy and you are the only one that can make you happy …with God’s help.

You are asking that you are the one who will be changed by your prayers and your prayer life as surely as Hosea was changed by the prayer he offered up for his people, Israel… the way Paul was changed by his life in Christ…the way this village has been changed by this church.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.