St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-22-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-22-2019

Pray for What?

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, Psalm 79:1-9, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

We pray often; that’s a big part of our faith. Yet every now-and-then, we might wonder if we are praying the right way and for the right things.

Prayer is, no doubt, a powerful tool. Through prayer and through faith, as Bryan mentioned a couple of weeks ago, mountains can be moved, demons can be cast out, lives can be changed, the world can be changed! Through prayer we have the full power of God available to us!

With such power to grasp, can it be abused?

Well, I think we can pray in abusive ways, but I’m sure God has a good filter on his power, not an automatic, affirmative response to our every request. So, I’m sure we can pray abusively, but I’m equally certain that God won’t answer those prayers, at least not the way we might be thinking, or wish, he will.

Is there a special way we should pray; a special framework for prayer that better assures God’s attention?

Well, some would say there is; usually using the Lord’s Prayer as the outline. By this all prayers should contain…

Praise: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Affirmation: Thy Kingdome come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Request: Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Acknowledgement: For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.

I don’t really disagree with believing that this is a good basis for structuring a prayer. But I don’t believe that a perfect framework makes the difference between God’s hearing and heeding or not. In fact many of my personal prayers are far less structured or thought out. Like… “What a beautiful sunrise, thank you God”! Or “Oh God, give me strength”.

I am confident that God hears even these little praises and requests with as much attention as any long, perfectly structured phrases I might utter.

Another thing often discussed regarding prayer; is there a proper posture for prayer?

Some will say a bowed head at least, if not prostrate on the ground, showing humility; hands being placed together adds to that humility, kneeling does so as well.

This might be good for prayers of confession or asking for deliverance but I think it certainly falls short for offering praise and gratitude. And, there are certainly times when a prescribed posture is impractical if not impossible; like when you’re asking for divine intervention as you navigate the freeway during rush hour. By the way, that’s not a good time to close your eyes in prayer either.

Should we pray aloud or is silent prayer acceptable?

Corporate prayer, of course, is best participated in with audible voices. But, again, I firmly believe God will hear and heed whatever way we lift our praises and requests; be it shouted, whispered, or stirring silently in our hearts.

And then there’s the issue of who we should pray for as raised in today’s Epistle reading.

Of course we pray for ourselves and our friends, but what about strangers? I’m sure we would all lift prayers for those we don’t know when we see the need. But what if they aren’t Christians; would we still pray for them? Or if they are of a group we consider our enemies; nationals of another nation that opposes ours, leaders of other nations that oppose ours, leaders of political or social movements we don’t agree with, do we still pray for them? Christ tells us to.

And if we do muster the strength to pray for our enemies; what do we pray for? Do we pray for their death and damnation to hell? Do we ask for their destruction? Do we pray for them to fail? Is asking for them to be changed, to be converted to our way of thinking, our way of living, our way of worshiping appropriate prayer?

These are tough choices to make. It’s hard enough to make the decision to pray for those who stand in opposition to us, harder still to do so in a way that doesn’t make us as hateful, hurtful or just plain wrong, as we perceive them to be. But Jesus gives us, by example, sound advice on dealing with these difficult choices.

For one, we go back to the Lord’s Prayer. Nowhere in that prayer does Jesus use words of condemnation of, or victory over our enemies. He does not even call for the failure of evil, only that we be delivered from evil. And the only change he calls for is that God’s “kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Another example comes as Christ prays on the Mount of Olives in the night of his betrayal where, knowing his fate, in great anguish prays “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Even in that most horrible moment, fully aware of the pain and shame that he is about to endure, Jesus doesn’t ask for the destruction and condemnation of his enemies, not even for their failure, but that God’s will be done, not his.

That is how we pray for everyone, including our enemies and ourselves; with prayers that exclude no one from the Kingdom of God but rather makes everyone a part of that Kingdom; prayers that make Christianity a positive force in and for the worldwide society.

When the choices of how, who, and what we pray for are in our hands we, all too often, pray from a perspective of self-interest. But when those choices are placed in God’s hands, dealing with the unfavorable realities of life in this messy world, the concern for others and our own self-interest are no longer incompatible, no longer contradictory, and therefore no longer a cause of conflict.

Not our will, but yours be done…

Amen

 

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
8:19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)
8:20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
8:21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!

Psalm 79:1-9
79:1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
79:2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
79:3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
79:4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.
79:5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
79:6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
79:7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.
79:8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.

 

1 Timothy 2:1-7
2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,
2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,
2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.
2:7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Luke 16:1-13
16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.
16:2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’
16:3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.
16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’
16:5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
16:6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’
16:7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’
16:8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.
16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
16:10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”