Monday Morning in the Preacher’s Study
First thoughts about next Sunday’s sermon
(10th Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2013)
In the Gospel readings of the last two Sundays, Jesus’ disciples had been given fresh insight into the law of loving neighbour and God. Now, they observe Jesus’ intimate communion with God as he sets his face to Jerusalem and prepares to walk a dangerous and uncertain path. Just as Mary had sat attentively at the feet of Jesus, so now Jesus himself sits attentively in prayer at the feet of his Abba.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” they ask, as John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray.
And so Jesus teaches them a prayer—a good rabbinic prayer that draws from familiar passages of scripture and selected quotations from the Psalms, knit together in an integrated picture of God’s responsibility toward us and ours toward God: God is as near to us as a father is to his child; God’s name is sacred; God’s kingdom is at hand; God gives us enough bread for each day. We in turn ask for that bread; we ask for forgiveness of sins, for the will to be generous to those indebted to us; we ask for wellbeing and safety.
As a deacon, I prepare intercessions Sunday by Sunday, inviting God’s people to ask for these very things: for the necessities of life, for relations to be made right with those we have wronged and who have wronged us, for a restoration of what has been borrowed or taken, for healing and safety. The asking is as much an expression of our relationship with God, a relationship of trust and vulnerability and gratitude, as it is of our needs and wants and desires.
If I were preaching on these readings, I would choose to dwell on the verses that follow Luke’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer”, and what they say about being in a trusting relationship with God. I would choose to reflect on the cost and paradox of authentic prayer, on what it means to receive and live out what we ask for, starting with Jesus’ own example.
For the depth and cost and paradox of Jesus’ teaching about prayer come to light in the events and stories in Luke that lead up to his entry in Jerusalem, his trial and crucifixion.
We learn that God’s kingdom comes like a mustard seed or a lump of yeast. We learn that the door will be closed to many who seek entry. We learn that seeking is like going after a lost sheep or looking high and low for a lost coin; it means that fellow heirs to the kingdom might not be among friends or family, but “in the streets and the lanes where you will find the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”
“Save us from the time of trial,” says the Teacher. “Ask, and it shall be given.” Yet when Jesus reaches Gethsemane and asks for the cup of suffering to be removed, what he asks for is not granted. There is indeed cost and paradox to prayer.
If I were preaching, I might also try to link these reflections on prayer with the lessons of Hosea or Colossians, by studying what each has to say about who God is and what God commands.
In the Hebrew scripture, we read how Hosea takes a life lesson from his wife Gomer and the children she bears. The prophetic message he proclaims is about the limits of what God can offer to a people who refuse to be loyal. Yet taken in reverse, we learn that the God to whom we pray is a God who is grounded and fruitful (Jezreel), a God of maternal compassion (Ruhamah), a God of fierce love for God’s own people (Ammi).
In the epistle to the Colossians, we read how baptism immerses us into the life and death of Christ, in whom God makes us fully alive through the strong gift of forgiveness, a nonviolent response to evil, and the disarmament of the oppressive rules and authorities of this world.
“Your kingdom come.”
Maylanne Maybee, a member of APLM Council, is an Anglican deacon serving in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. She is Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a national theological school based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, that prepares women and men for ministry in the diaconal tradition of the Anglican and United Churches.