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Monday, September 12 2016

Pastor Randy

Matthew 6: 5-13

Children often have a wonderful attitude when it comes to God and church.  Sometimes this is reflected in the prayers that they pray.  Let me share a few actual prayers that are from a collection of these prayers entitled “Dear God”

Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.     
Dear God, I read the bible. What does begat mean? Nobody will tell me.  
Dear God, My Grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?
Dear God, Please send Dennis Clark to a different summer camp this year. Dear God, I am doing the best I can. Really.
Dear God, I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday night. That was really cool.  

Ah, if only it were that simple!  Well, today we begin an eight-week series on the Lord’s Prayer.  I have no idea where this series is going to take us.  On the surface of it, it seems like prayer should be an easy thing.  Just open up your heart to God,  and let the words come out.  

But you know it isn’t quite that easy – especially if you’ve ever been asked to pray in public – at a Bible study, at a holiday family meal, or whatever.  

So let me ask you a question.  Have you – at any time in your life – have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know how to pray.  I wish I knew how.”  Have you ever asked someone else – a teacher or a pastor – to teach you how to pray?  Have you ever been too embarrassed to ask the question?  Well, let me tell you, you’re not alone.

Often the challenge is that prayer takes time.  But there’s always something else to do.  “I’ll get down to praying when I have the time.”  Gotta read the newspaper, get the oil changed, walk the dog.  Gotta binge watch old episodes of “Friends” on Netflix.   

Listen!  The best way to learn how to pray is to – pray, right?  I can’t learn how to shoot hoops until I make time to shoot hoops and practice that.  I learned how to play the organ by making time to practice and to play the organ.  So finding time to pray is not a good way to begin.  Making time – not finding time – making time – and then doing it – that’s how you and I learn how to pray.  Morning – evening – middle of the day – on the fly – I don’t care – doesn’t matter.  You do what works for you.  Make a time at a time that works for you, and then stick with it.  Martin Luther advised that it be the first thing you do in the morning, and the last thing you do at the end of the day.  That’s what worked for him.  That doesn’t work for me, cause I gotta tell ya – praying is not the first thing on my mind when I get out of bed in the morning.   

So making time – no matter what your schedule looks like – is a key to learning how to pray.   Just do what works for you.   And know this.  If you are struggling with knowing how to pray, remember that you’re not alone in that struggle.  Even the disciples of Jesus struggled, asking that now famous question, “Lord, teach us to pray.”   

By the way, this is an amazing request.  They did not ask Jesus for wealth or popularity.  They did not ask Jesus to teach them how to run a business meeting – or how to run Vacation Bible School.  No.  What they wanted to learn more than anything else was how to pray.

Jesus taught the disciples how to pray by giving them an example.  We know it as the Lord’s Prayer.   Although I would never change the name of this prayer, it would be better if we called it The Disciples’ Prayer.  It is a prayer that we as disciples pray.  And when you take a close look at it, what it really is is a model of what prayer can look like.

Now, I suspect that most of us memorized the Lord’s Prayer before we could even read.  And sometimes I lament the fact that we all have it memorized – and I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have memorized it.  Praying a prayer together that we have memorized – like the Lord’s Prayer – is a wonderful thing.  The problem is that too often they are just words.  It’s easy to engage the head, but not the heart.  Do you understand what I mean?  

So – this can be a prayer we pray together – but it can also be a model for what prayer might look like.  And having said all that, have you ever realized just how dangerous a prayer the Lord’s Prayer can really be?  We are calling this series, “The Dangerous Prayer.”  As we go through this series today and over the next seven weeks we’re going to pick it apart.  And I hope you’ll understand just why we are calling this a dangerous prayer.  Think about it.  “Do you really want God’s Kingdom to come to you?  Do you really want to pray, ‘Your will be done?’”  So today we begin with, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  

In prayer, the first thing we do is address who it is we are praying to.  Our Father.  Jesus called the Father, “Abba.”  Abba is not a rock group from the ‘80’s, but it is a Hebrew word.  The closest we can come to translating that word into English is “Dad,” or “Daddy.”  What Abba is is a word that expresses a deep and intimate relationship.  God wants to be in relationship with you.  Deep.  Personal.  Intimate.  God wants to be up close and personal with you.  This is a prayer of deep intimacy.  By addressing God as Father – which, by the way, is the name that we are given to address God with – and I’ll say more about that next week when the focus will be on, “Hallowed be thy name,” but for today let me say that when we pray, “Our Father,” we are asking God to be intimate with us – and for us to be intimate with Him.  To enter into every area – every arena – every moment of our lives.  If that kind of intimacy with your loving, Heavenly Father is something you’re not used to, then right off the bat – can you see why this can be a dangerous prayer to pray?  I know.  Some of us would rather hold God at arm’s length.  You know – close, but not too close.  Am I right?

And yet, Jesus calls God Father or Abba.  And tells us that it is okay for us to call God Father or Abba too!  These are terms of endearment – closeness – intimacy.  And yet, I know that some people – probably more than we might think – have a hard time thinking of God as a loving Father.  And the reason why is that some of us have no idea what a loving father might be like.  Either their father was absent – even when he was there.  Maybe their father abandoned them at an early age.  Worse, perhaps their father was cruel or abusive – and they grew up not liking – or maybe even hating their earthly father.  When it comes to being a father, some men can be real schmucks, you know that? (Too many of you are shaking your heads.)  Some fathers have no idea what it means to be a dad.  

Yeah!  I get it.  If your earthly father was a lousy role model – you’re going to have a hard time accepting the idea of God as Father.  I get that.  But let me tell you this.  There is no such thing as a perfect father here on earth.  Now I know of one exception to that.  I am not afraid to say that I was the perfect father.  I was the perfect father – and then I had children.  No – on this side of heaven there is no earthly father who comes close to the loving, heavenly, Father God that we have – the Father God that we pray to when we pray the Lord’s prayer.

So it is good to start the Lord’s Prayer this way – addressing God as “Our Father.”  This is not some generic god we are praying to – a generic god who has no name and who is offensive to no one, and acceptable to everyone.  I gotta tell you –I don’t know that god.  Our God has a name – and Jesus tells us that we can call God, “Abba, Father.”

But the wonderful thing about this prayer is that we are invited into this loving – wonderful relationship with God the Father – made possible through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ – and through the person, and the power, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.    
So if we understand – and when we experience – this intimate relationship that we have with the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit – if you truly mean it when you acknowledge God as Father – do you understand what that says about you?  It says something about who you are.
So when it comes to prayer – do you know who you are? One of the most important chapters in the Bible is in Romans 8.  Listen again to what Paul says here.   “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God…, you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, “Abba! Father!”  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”  
Did you catch that?  I say this all the time.  Ladies – girls – you are  daughters.  And gentlemen – boys – you are sons.  You are daughters and sons – you are adopted daughters and sons of the Father.  And it is in the waters of baptism that we receive that adoption.  Here it is that we are named.  Here it is that we are claimed.  We are made sons and daughters of God.  You now belong to God!  
I know, it’s kind of a mystery, but this is what God – this is what the Father – says He does for us.  The Father adopts us into His family.  We are adopted into God’s loving family.  That of course makes all of us brothers and sisters in Christ.
Folks – I want you to know that you are no accident – the product of a universe that came into being by pure chance.  No.  You are a daughter – you are a son – of the living, loving Father God who has been watching over you from the day you were born.
So if you want to learn how to pray – here is a place to start.  Know who you are – and who it is that you’re praying to.  And the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer – like – in just a couple minutes from now – and you’re really wanting to recognize God as your loving, heavenly Father – then let this prayer remind you of it.  There will never come a time when God the Father will ever stop loving you.  No matter what you’ve done – no matter where you’ve been – and if you’re prone to wander – no matter how long you’ve been away.  God will never stop loving you.
May this prayer – this dangerous prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer – let it remind you of who you are – and to whom you belong.       Amen

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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