May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A warm good morning to you all – and hearty thanks to Grace for inviting me to preach this morning.
In our Gospel passage, St. Luke reports that Jesus' disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray." We too want to learn more of how to pray.
For we are being saturated with bad news, so much bad news. We yearn for good news, we yearn to live good news.
I have some suggestions.
First, a theological foundation. We live in this secular world, a material, everyday, world filled with good news and bad news. But we also inhabit another world, a transcendent world beyond this secular world. We live in the world of the living Christ, the loving Christ, the risen Christ.
In our secular world, what goes up must come down. In the transcendent world of the living Christ, what goes down must come up.
This paradox comes from the basic biblical narrative. Jesus came from God to live among us. That's Christmas. We crucified Jesus and Jesus died, dead. That's Good Friday. God resurrected the living Christ, still present among us. That's Easter Sunday.
What went down came up. Crucifixion – down to death – came up to resurrected life.
Our personal crucifixional events go down. Our personal resurrectional events come up. In the transcendent world of the living Christ, what goes down must come up.
Our prayers express that foundational truth. Our prayers strive to make that truth real in our lives.
Jesus' words and Jesus' life teach us to pray in God's transcendent world. We connect with God's transcendent world by connecting with God in our prayers.
Here are six levels of prayer.
First, the level of praying for help. Help me, God. This is our foxhole prayer. We pray for a certain outcome, a certain solution.
Little Johnnie's mom had a baby girl. Little Johnnie said his prayers: "Thank you God for my baby sister. But what I prayed for was a pony."
Perhaps we want to pray in more depth than little Johnnie's outcome prayer. So we go to the second level of prayer – thanks, gratitude. "Dear God, I am grateful for my life, for my friends, for all that goes well in my life." That is good relationship, to appreciate what's well and good. Say thank you.
The third level of prayer becomes more challenging. We admit what we have done wrong and failed to do right. It's our prayer of confession. It requires also our prayer of forgiveness for our failures and wrongdoings. "Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us."
Well – if we pray these first three levels, we are making some spiritual progress. We're ready to pray for ourselves.
We pray for strength, for wisdom, for sound decisions, for courage, for faithfulness, for commitment. That's our fourth level of prayer, called petition. These petitions for our own well-being prepare us for our fifth level of prayer.
The fifth level of prayer is for other people, intercession. We intercede with God for their well-being. We pray for healing, for wholeness, for reconciliation, for wellness, for peace. We voice these prayers – in words – for the well-being of others.
Now, then, we come to the ultimate prayer – our actions, our deeds, what we actually do for others. We intercede for others by living for others. We strive to improve the lives of our neighbors and those we love by doing what we can for them. We live lives of service. We see our living as giving ourselves for the well-being of the world. Our jobs become our ministries. Our relationships become our ministries. We give our time, our talent, and our treasure for the benefit of others.
Our lives become our prayers. Our prayers become our lives. This puts life on a different plane. We live for others, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Jesus has taught us and continues to teach us this: our sacrificial life is our prayer connecting us to God.
Let us pray. Strengthen us, O Lord, to give thanks, to live lives of gratitude. Give us courage to confess our brokenness and reconcile our relationships. Make us determined to live lives of love for others, working for the benefit of our worlds. And all this we ask through Christ our living Lord. Amen.