Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 12 (17), Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
July 28, 2019
Lessons: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand that prayer is central to a deep relationship with God and neighbor AND critical to the vocations of all God’s people.
Key Scripture: He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” – Luke 11:1
“Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.” — Anne Lamott, from Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Don’t we always want an instruction manual or a first-person guide to learning something we perceive to be complicated and/or important? Guess that’s nothing new because in this week’s gospel lesson Jesus’ closest followers ask for this very thing. They’ve been with Jesus in ministry, they have surely observed him praying, and very likely they have participated with him in prayer. They know that John taught his disciples how to pray, so they ask for the same personalized instructions.
Jesus gives them some basic content instructions, ones that we use faithfully to this very day, but he also gives them more. Oh yes, it’s time for one of those perplexing parables! The point of the parable seems to be wrapped up in the word anadaia, translated in the NRSV as persistence. A better translation it seems is shamelessness. In the honor/shame infused culture of Jesus’ day, this is a radical notion. One is called to move beyond the order of the day and claim God’s promises. No prayer, no request, and no need is beyond the scope of God’s relationship with us. Yes, truly, God is as near as our next door neighbor, indeed as near as our next breath.
This means that all aspects of our lives may rightly and practically be infused with prayer. This includes our various vocations—no need to separate one’s spiritual and vocational life into handy dandy life compartments. Keep that flow going from Sunday to Sunday and all hours in between! Remember who you are and whose you are everywhere you go. You don’t have to be all pious, proper, and prudish. You just have to attend to love, being present in the moment and paying attention to the signs of God all around you—even in the office cubicle, on the hospital floor, in the classroom, or wherever you live out your life’s work (and hopefully passion!).
Just think of Abraham in this week’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 18:20-32). Abraham and God are having a real conversation. It’s intense, but Abraham is shamelessly asking God to spare the city (Sodom) where his nephew and family make their home. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have forgotten the command to be hospitable, and in their debased treatment of foreigners have become enmeshed in corporate sin. Abraham contends with God for the few left who are righteous, talking God down from finding fifty righteous folk to spare the entire city to a mere ten to save the corporate soul of Sodom. How shameless and bold are we in our conversations with God? How willing are we to lay bare our heart, mind, and soul to the one who loves us and knows us so very intimately? Do we really need a step-by-step guide to prayer?
I would like to think that we can all get to the point where prayer and conversation with God comes as naturally as breath. I pray that we can get to that place that Anne Lamott writes about so eloquently in her book Help, Thanks, Wow where our prayers simply are a part of who we are, integrally woven into daily life and vocation, seamless and sure in our trust in One who has promised to never let us go.
For this last week, invite worshipers to share stories of how prayer is a part of their vocational life. You might consider these questions:
- How do your prayer life and work life intersect?
- Has anyone at work ever asked you to pray for/with them? If so, how does that feel? Comfortable? Uncomfortable? Something else?
- Can you share a story about a time you prayed at work or for a coworker and felt that God answered your prayer?
- If prayer is not an acceptable part of your work environment, how do you handle prayer on the job?
From the rising of the sun until its setting, prayer is the root of our relationship with the Divine. We shouldn’t leave our prayers and prayer life at home or reserve it for Sunday morning, the dinner table, and bed time. Don’t worry about perfection or formulas and fancy words: The key to prayer is just showing up. Another passage from Anne LaMott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow affirms this truth:
“Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. … Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.”
This week spend time talking about prayer. Do your youth find prayer difficult, simple, or confusing? How do they define prayer, especially based on the lessons for this week? How does it make them feel to know that even the people closest to Jesus had trouble with prayer and needed to ask for direction?
Consider having them take each part of the Lord’s Prayer as written in Luke’s gospel and think about what it means for them today. For example, what does it mean to pray “Your kingdom come” or “Give us today our daily bread”? Why is the prayer written using the plural “us” rather than the singular “me”?
Ask them how you can pray for them during the week. Invite them to pray for one another—shamelessly approaching God to claim the promises.
This week’s focus verse is Psalm 138:1a– I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart…”
Invite the children to think about what it might mean to give thanks to God with our whole heart. Entertain and affirm their answers.
Tell the children that we have a word in the English language to help us understand what it means. The word is wholehearted. Give each child a large cut out paper heart with the definition of the word printed on it. According to merriam-webster.com, wholehearted means:
1: completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic
2: marked by complete earnest commitment: free from all reserve or hesitation
This definition can help us understand what it means to pray with our whole heart. Invite the children to share prayer petitions with you. Finish with a wholehearted prayer that includes a blessing for them. Send them with instructions to pray this week with their whole heart.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
We don’t leave our prayer life inside the church building. It’s fundamental stewardship of our faith to cultivate a life of prayer at home, on the job, and everywhere in between. Let prayer be the glue that truly does hold it all together in your relationship with God.
Stewardship at Home
Practice some new ways to pray this week. Try praying with the newspaper or media feed. Start your work day with five minutes of prayer before you leave your house to commute or before you enter your workplace. Try the Daily Examen. Read more here. Try a neighborhood prayer walk, pausing to pray for people and situations that come to mind along the way. This is a great way to pray with children.
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/07/bold/
Images: lel4nd; Subirachs, Josep Maria, Art in the Christian Tradition; and Lord’s Prayer in Arabic, LadySilke’sWorld, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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