Lectionary Reflection for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost
July 28, 2013
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7
Prayer can be a difficult aspect of faithful discipleship. You’ve probably experienced a number of prayer avoidance tactics when you ask a room full of God’s beloved for a few volunteer pray-ers. Suddenly people begin to inspect their shoes, or flip pages in their Bibles with intense concentration, or even squiggle and squirm like they have ants in their britches. A few will take a more direct approach and just say no.
There is a fear of prayer–at least public prayer–among many of the faithful. Of course, even Jesus was asked by his disciples for instruction in how to pray, and it’s because of that request that we have our most treasured and oft-intoned prayers. Why is this crucial source of connection to God, even though mediated by the Holy Spirit and invoked in the name of Jesus, such a pesky part of discipleship for so many in our communities?
I suspect there are many reasons that Christians find themselves consternated by the prospect of prayer. Often cited causes of “prayer phobia” include not having the eloquence of some of the printed prayers used in worship or the public speaking skills of worship leaders and clergy; others have had experiences of feeling that their prayers aren’t answered. Still others have been made to feel that their prayers are inadequate or somehow lacking. Countless variations on this basic symphony of complaints exist.
This week’s readings from Luke and Colossians give us some important hints about how to counter consternation and equip everyday disciples to become more confident pray-ers. First of all, in Luke’s gospel we have the ultimate teacher providing clear, concise instructions and a solid rationale for being bold in our petitions to and encounters with God. Jesus tells us to ask simply, directly, and with the confidence we would have waking up a friend and neighbor in the middle of the night to meet a pressing need. Jesus tells us, in effect, that God is lavish with the gift of the Holy Spirit; we have nothing to fear.
But we Christians do fear and fret about issues of faith. Paul is addressing this very sort of thing in his letter to the church in Colossae. They are worrying about all manner of stuff in relation to their salvation and right practice. In verse 6, Paul reminds them that they have already received Christ Jesus the Lord and therefore need only to continue to live in him, to remain connected to him, to deepen the roots of faith, and to give thanksgiving. Paul also mentions being “taught.”
So here’s where those who lead come in to this equation. How are we teaching prayer? How are we forming faith in deep, meaningful ways in the lives of the people with whom we serve? Are we instructing them in the proper use of the “tools” of faith–prayer, worship, study, service, relationship, and generosity? Like learning to play golf or sail a boat, instruction must start very basically, must be repeated frequently, and opportunities for practice must happen.
Our congregations, in effect, become labs for faith development, practice gyms for building faith muscle, and dance studios for learning to move to the rhythms of the Spirit and follow the lead of the Lord. Paul underscores Jesus’ wise words about the nature of God. There is no need for consternation; instead let our houses of faith be places of education, practice, and cultivation. Practice might not make perfect, but after all, we are works in progress. We are forgiven and made alive in Christ so that even our very lives may become a prayer of praise to God. Go and tell this good news, dear Christian friend. Go and show how you practice a life as prayer. Go and be a beloved child of God in this beautiful, wounded world.
Consider a way to think about the Lord’s Prayer in the lyrics of hymns. Choose a hymn to represent each prayer petition and sing one or more verses between each petition, offering a brief reflection on that particular petition in relation to the hymn. The more fresh ways we can give people to think about this familiar prayer, the greater possibility there is to experience its power and radical nature afresh.
Unpacking the “Gift of Faith”
Using the lesson from Colossians, talk about how this gift of faith we have connects us with God. It began at the moment of baptism and will continue forever. Consider reading this passage as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message. Peterson’s words may help your youth connect with the words in a way other translations and paraphrases do not. Paul, in Peterson’s words, speaks like a Nike ad, saying “Just live it.” Invite the youth to describe what it might mean to live a “simple” faith. How does focusing on Jesus and following his lead help us keep it real and keep it simple?
Psalm 138: Acting Out a Song as Prayer
Children enjoy play acting, and Psalm 138 provides a good opportunity to harness those creative impulses AND have some fun in the process. This psalm is filled with action words that child can pantomime along with you. Ask a good reader to read the psalm slowly and with emphasis while you help the children put action to their prayer song. Words and phrases like “give thanks,” “whole heart,” “bow down,” “when I called,” the LORD is high, yet cares for the lowly,” “walk in the midst of trouble,” and “right hand shall save me.”
Finish with a simple prayer petition of thanks and offer a blessing on the children for the coming week. Invite them to respond to the prayer using this closing:
Leader: “And all God’s children say…”