The Prayer Jesus Taught"the good news is that God already knows, God is already with us, and God will renew us"
Read the Sermon
Thank you for joining us at Grace – it is great to be with you all today, thank you for being with us on Facebook or watching from our website. We are continuing to journey through the Sermon on the Mount together and as we do there is one announcement that I need to lift up before we move on.
As you may have noticed, the date of Easter is different every year. Christmas is always December 25 but Easter moves around because at the Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The reason for celebrating Easter as we do is that the seasonal change mirrors the resurrection that Easter speaks of. It also keeps us connected to the Jewish holiday schedule that Christ would have known. Just as life is springing back after winter, with Easter we celebrate this same Spirit springing us back to life.
This year, the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox is April 12. The current State of Public Health Disaster Emergency that Governor Reynolds prohibits gatherings of ten or more people are prohibited and that prohibition is currently set to expire on April 16, with schools opening on the 13. With everything that we don’t know at this moment, there is a chance that we will be back together on April 19 at Grace, but as COVID-19 continues to spread, our first in-person gathering may be pushed back farther than April 19.
Here’s what all this means for us – we’re going to celebrate Easter twice this year. It will be Easter on April 12 and it will be Easter when we come back together at Grace. There’s a hymn called, ‘Easter People, Raise Your Voices’ and one of the verses says, “Every day to us is Easter with its resurrection song.”
What I’m holding onto is that when we get to come back together, we will do so because we came through this together. That’s resurrection.
Until we get to that first worship service in our sanctuary, continue to reach out to one another and check in with each other. I just got a card yesterday from Dan and Mary Paulson and it made my day. The small acts that we do to let one another know that we care aren’t so small in this moment. So keep doing what you’re doing, be a people worthy of being called Grace and live with the love that God has already given us.
Now, let’s take a moment to center ourselves, to catch our breath and remember that God is already with us. So let’s take a moment of silence and prayer.
God you invite us into your presence, weary or heavy-laden, we dwell in the presence of the divine. We come with our grief, our anger, our fear,
our hopes, our dreams, our love, trusting all is welcome here. We come to hear and proclaim the Good News that sets us free, believing that love is yet alive, come and the Spirit is stirring among and within us. Open our hearts and minds so that we might be renewed together. Amen.
Our reading from the Sermon on the Mount this morning comes from Matthew, chapter 6, verses 7 to 15.
When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your [God] knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly [God] will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your [God] forgive your sins.
– – – – – – –
We have been journeying through the Sermon on the Mount, looking at this teaching from Jesus and seeing how it builds and develops. At first glance, the Sermon on the Mount appears to be this meandering teaching that wonders from one place to another, but together we’ve been able to see how it builds and grows and develops.
If you have missed any of our teachings on the Sermon on the Mount you can find them on our Facebook page, at gracedesmoines.org and we’ve started a youtube page too and the last two weeks of this series are available there.
Last week we looked at what Jesus meant when he said, “…when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. In teaching us to see ourselves at the people God already knows we are, Jesus is reminding us that things in this life go from new, to normal, to second nature. When we are just getting started, when we are beginning, when we are learning, everything is new which means everything doesn’t come naturally. And yet, as we learn, as we continue to grow and develop, the patterns and habits of our lives become normal and from there they become our second nature, like riding a bike.
When you first learn how to ride a bike you have to think about every aspect of getting on the bike, picking up one foot, picking up the other, and keeping your balance. But over time it becomes normal and your movements become natural, so natural you don’t have to think about it anymore, it’s second nature.
In times like this, when everything is new, when the world is shifting all around us in a multitude of ways, we have to remind ourselves that this is new, it isn’t our normal, but we can learn, we can grow, we can be patient with ourselves and one another as we discover this new life together.
As comforting as that is, we also need to admit that when everything is new and different, when we are beginning, things are also frustrating, confusing, and we can be anxious.
I was thinking back to my brief time as a baseball player in elementary school. I was on YMCA teams that started with t-ball, and as we learned the game we would progress to coach pitch, and from there we were finally able to pitch.
I would get distracted during the game, I’d see someone I knew in the stands, I’d watch cars drive by, my head wasn’t always in the game, so I played left field. But there were times when I paid complete attention, and that was when I was at bat. I loved being up to bat as a kid because when it’s t-ball or coach pitch, almost everyone is an amazing batter. It’s more of a struggle to stay off base than it is to get on.
Even when I moved up to the next level, I was decent as a batter, for a kid playing against other kids that were still learning how to play baseball. But all that changed the first time I got hit by a wild pitch.
There was a game where at my first at bat, I was hit. And I was hit at my second at bat. And I was hit at my third too.
One of my more vivid childhood memories is getting hit three times during one game and I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t like playing baseball anymore.”
I know that if the person I am right now went back in time and talked to little Nate and said, “Keep your chin up kid, things will move from new to normal to second nature”, little Nate would have said back, “If second nature is getting hit with a baseball, I quit.”
We all have the moments where we just want to quit.
Has anyone else been exhausted?
There are days when I can hardly keep my eyes open till 9 and when I think about my day I just retrace the different places I sat to read or write or make a call. None of my activities are physically taxing, and yet, they are exhausting because that’s what stress does to us.
We are beginners, we are learners, we are discovering what it means to love ourselves, one another, and God in this moment, but when everything is new, it’s natural and normal to find ourselves feeling frustration or even anger because we don’t have a new normal that we can fall back on.
Too often we confuse our capacity for love and understanding and mercy from the well that we draw from.
I don’t know how you’re feeling at this moment, but for myself, all I know is that if I can only make it through this with my love and understanding and mercy, I’m not going to make it and I’m going to keep finding new grey hairs.
Too often we confuse our capacity for love and understanding and mercy from the depths of the well that we can draw from.
This is why after Jesus teaches us what it looks like to grow, after Jesus reminds us that we are beloved and blessed no matter what we’ve done and no matter what has been done to us, after Jesus says that we are, not that we could be, not that we can be, but that are we salt and light, after all this, Jesus teaches us to pray.
When we pour ourselves out into this work of caring for one another, into learning new ways to live and be in the world, as we empty ourselves, we have to be refilled. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray.
When you think about prayer, what sorts of words or images come to mind? One picture that I often think of with prayer is a painting that was in both of my grandparents’ homes and it was of an old man sitting down at a table with some bread and he had his hands folded and his head bowed down.
Maybe we picture a scene like that, maybe when we hear the word prayer we think of pious individuals, we see monks or nuns. On the other hand, when we hear the word prayer maybe we imagine the televangelists that somehow make it onto national news and say this virus or any other natural disaster is God’s anger directed at us.
Prayer can be a tricky word. At it’s best, it’s sweet like a peach, but at the same time prayer is hard like the pit.
Before we get to the prayer that Jesus teaches you, I want to tell you a story about St. Patrick.
St. Patrick’s day was a couple of weeks ago and St. Patrick is celebrated as the apostle of Ireland. It’s a little difficult on this side of history to imagine it, but there was a time when Irish Catholic was a phrase that didn’t make sense.
St. Patrick grew up in England, and when he was in his teens, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. Imagine Bono with a parrot and an eyepatch.
For six years, Patrick was held in captivity. During those six years, Patrick spent a lot of time in prayer, seeking mercy, understanding, patience, and forgiveness. This practice of prayer influenced other areas of his life, and Patrick started to see that God was already with him in countless ways. Prayer, for Patrick, wasn’t about asking for anything as much as it was about paying attention.
After six years, Patrick heard a voice, he had this vision in his mind of a ship waiting for him at the shore, and the voice told Patrick that soon he would be home. So Patrick started walking towards the shore, which was 200 miles away.
28 days later, Patrick saw a ship waiting at the shore, and he sailed home.
But that’s not where the story of St. Patrick ends.
He studied, became a priest, and eventually traveled back to Ireland as a missionary.
As a missionary, St. Patrick took an interesting approach to telling the people in Ireland and about the God we know in Christ. Because St. Patrick didn’t condemn them, he didn’t say they were all going to hell if they didn’t believe as he did, instead, St. Patrick said you already know this God, you just don’t know God by name. St. Patrick started explaining the Christian faith in a new way, famously with a shamrock, explaining the trinity like a three-leaf clover.
When St. Patrick taught people to pray, this is what he did:
Patrick would tell people to imagine they were in their garden (because in a time without grocery stores everyone had a garden). Patrick would say imagine you are in your garden, and Jesus is there talking with the disciples. Now, when Jesus says talking with the disciples, he meant the 12 closest followers that Jesus had, he also meant Mary, Martha, and the other women that followed and supported Jesus. Patrick also meant the desert fathers and mothers, he also meant Paul and the authors of the New Testament. Patrick wanted people to imagine a crowded and talkative group of people that we trying to follow Jesus, spending time together in their garden. Patrick would ask, as he taught people to pray, imagining all these people in the garden, what are they talking about?
St. Patrick wanted us to open our imaginations up with prayer, to see ourselves as taking part in this ongoing dialogue with the divine.
Prayer, at its best, cuts through the noise and the fear and the ego that gets in the way of the ever present interior conversation that we are having with God.
Before Jesus teaches us to pray, Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your [God] knows what you need before you ask.”
According to Jesus, prayer isn’t a check-list that we go through, it’s not something to achieve or accomplish, whatever we need God already knows. For Jesus, prayer is less a ritual or routine as it is a reality to embody.
In Greek, Jesus says that we should not battalogeó when we pray; we shouldn’t “pour out a flood of empty words”. You could also translate it as don’t blubber on and on with nonsense.
I sometimes think about it like this – have you ever been talking with someone and you know what they want to ask you for a favor, but they feel like they need to butter you up first, so they are chatting and complimenting you, but in your head, you are thinking, “just get to the point!”
In our reading this morning, before teaching us what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to us, it’s not your words that makes God hear you. Jesus says that God, “knows what you need before you ask…”
The essence of prayer is the love of God and sometimes we confuse the mechanics of prayer with the essence of prayer. The mechanics, the words, images, techniques, and styles of prayer that we have, it’s all there to open us up to the love that is God.
When Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, Jesus gives them a new imagination, to see and understand prayer in a different light.
Like the disciples, sometimes we think that we don’t know how to pray. And yet, at the very same time, we pray, not because we are religious, but because we are human. There is something in each one of us that longs to reach out to the divine.
Does anyone else underlines passages in a book or writes notes in the margins? I do that all the time and recently I was re-reading a book from school and there was a passage that was underlined and as I re-read it this week I found that sentence confusing but another passage was profound.
When that happens, when other words stand out to you, it’s not that the words in the book have changed, you’ve changed.
Prayer is not the words or the images that we use, in the end, those are only excavation tools that help us enter into the ever-present and ongoing conversation that we have with God about the life we find ourselves in. If you’re not sure how to pray, what words or phrases or images help you to get back into that conversation? Can you imagine Jesus and the disciples hanging out in your yard? What would they be talking about today?
If you’re still not sure what to say or do, try this – think about your favorite song or the song that inspires you to turn up the radio and sing along because it’s your jam. When the music plays, what’s happening within you? How has the music and lyrics taken a hold of you?
Sometimes when we pray, we have all the words and they come to us quickly, but other times, we just don’t have any words at all. So in those moments when you can’t find the words for yourself, whose words can you draw on? Maybe your prayer could be your favorite song? Or could prayer be the songs or the poems that bring you joy, what inspire you? Could you pray and live through the music and the lyrics that bring you peace and therefore brings you closer to God?
Jesus says, “Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly [God] will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your [God] forgive your sins.”
Prayer is never simply the words that we say, it’s the life that we live. As Christians, we cannot pray for our lives to go one direction and then finish our prayer and start living another way. That’s not prayer, that’s just babbling on and on.
Prayer is a challenge to live differently, to be faithful and trust in grace.
Jesus invites us to pray for, and embody, the love of God, to be a people that, just like Jesus, live as we pray and pray as we live, grounded, centered, and rooted in the love of God that will never let us go.
Of all that can and should be said about this prayer that Jesus teaches us, the one idea that has struck me the most this week is that Jesus says, “God knows”.
In a time of worry and stress and uncertainty, in a time of disarray and confusion, as we try to move from new, to normal, to second nature in this new life that we are living together, with everything that we don’t know, God knows.
Sometimes the difference in our souls between defeat and determination is a millimeter.
What keeps me moving a millimeter at a time isn’t my strength or grace or mercy, it’s the depths of grace that I draw from, it’s the prayer that forces me to remember that God already knows.
If you don’t know what else to pray, saying to God, “you already know” is enough.
As the great poet Pablo Neruda said, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
There is an insistence, and persistence in life that keeps unfolding without our energy or effort.
We cannot confuse our energy or our efforts with the well that we draw from.
There is a depth of mercy and grace and love that is far deeper than anything within us, and the good news is that God already knows, God is already with us, and God will renew us.
By our efforts, by our energy, we can only go so far, and God already knows. We can and we should strive to take every step forward possible, but we can only do so if we remember that when we give, when we pour ourselves out, we have to receive and be refilled.
As Teresa of Ávila prayed:
“..May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
As we come together in prayer now, let’s remember those in our community and in our lives that we want to lift up, feel free to write in the comments any prayers that you have. We’re going to join together now in a prayer written by Anna and M of enfleshed and we will provide a link to them in the comments if you are interested in their work that speaks to the God that already knows and is already with us. Let us pray:
when loved ones, strangers, and kin are tucked away in isolation,
fighting for their breath and yearning for home,
the chasm between us feels impossible to bear.
Will you, Sacred One,
whisper to them the words of comfort we long to speak?
Will you wrap your embrace around them as if our arms?
Let their hands feel our gentle squeeze.
Their cheek, our kiss.
Upon their chest, a calming hand,
a promise of our care through the rising and falling,
in every reach for life…
Assure them of your love, and ours.
Call for a holy cloud of witnesses to surround –
draw close every saint who knew and loved them.
You do not abandon anyone to suffer alone.
Wherever there is pain, fear, or distress,
You are already there,
willingly sharing with us in our hardest hours.
If death comes,
welcome them gently into the fold of eternal love
where peace and rest await.
In life and in death,
we take refuge in your Presence that stretches across time and space,
a Sacred meeting place where we find each other
even when we are apart.
May it be so.
If you want to give to Grace during this time, one of the best ways for you to do so is to give online. You can visit gracedesmoines.org and give there, you can also feel free to put a check in the mail and send it to the church. As we continue to pay and support our staff so that we can all support one another, your gifts are making a huge difference.
In addition to what we can give financially, together let’s think about the ways that we can be an offering to ourselves and one another. If prayer is how we refill and renew ourselves, if prayer is how we fill ourselves from the depths of the well that is God’s grace, mercy, and peace so that we may share grace, mercy, and peace with one another, what are the ways that you can refill and renew this week? Or if you are spending time with others at home, my guess is your home feels a little smaller than it used to by now. How can you give one another space, how can you refill yourself and what can you do to help someone else feel renewed? Maybe it’s going on a walk, working on a craft, taking a nap, listening to your favorite song, or simply saying to God in prayer, you already know.
God knows what you need, and God knows we can give ourselves everything we need on our own. So may you let yourself be renewed and refilled by the God that already knows and with that, may we all live with grace and peace. Amen.
Watch the Live Stream
March 30 – April 4, 2020
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – Psalm 147:1-5
Notice – Psalm 147:3 offered a word picture of God as a caring healer, perhaps a devoted parent, tenderly bandaging the wounds life inflicts on all of us. A bandaged physical wound sometimes leaves a scar, and so does a broken heart. When has God given you healing, either directly or through one or more of God’s faithful human servants? How has God enabled you to go on with life despite whatever scars your spirit bears?
Pray – Healing God, when my heart breaks, you extend comfort and healing. As I meet others whose hearts are breaking, give me the courage and caring to offer them your healing. Amen.
Read – Matthew 26:36-38, Hebrews 4:14-16
Notice – About Matthew’s painful portrayal of Jesus’ garden agony, scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “When we ourselves find the ground giving way beneath our feet, as sooner or later we shall, Gethsemane is where to go. That is where we find that the Lord of the world, the one to whom is now committed all authority (Matthew 28:18), has been there before us.” * The letter to the Hebrews apparently spoke to people disowned by family and facing the Roman Empire’s fury. The writer said Jesus “got” their pain. “When we have a sad and sorry tale to tell, when life has drenched us with tears, we do not go to a God who is incapable of understanding what has happened; we go to a God who has been there….It makes God able to help. He knows our problems because he has come through them.” ** In what ways does Jesus’ experience-based understanding make you more confident that he can sustain you when you hurt?
Pray – Jesus, in my dark moments, help me remember you agonizing alone in the darkness of the garden. As my heart links to yours, remind me that I am never alone in the darkness. Amen.
Read – Matthew 14:22-33, 11:27-30
Notice – Seeing Jesus walking on the lake terrified the disciples. Their own lack of power was frightening, but the idea of a power beyond their imagining was more so. Do you ever find the idea of God actually “showing up” a bit scary? In what ways does Jesus’ divine power reach beyond our usual human ideas? What gives you confidence that he always uses his power in ways that are good for you?
Pray – Jesus, I need your rest, your peace, your freedom from fear. Help me to hold firmly to your claim to be the great “I AM,” who is always on my side and at work for my good. Amen.
Read – Isaiah 40:26-31
Notice – Isaiah 40 spoke to Israelites who faced a long, hard trip on foot from Babylon to Israel after years of exile. Did God see their hardships? When have you felt as if your world was falling apart? Have those times ever led you to the idea expressed in Isaiah 40:27: “My way is hidden from the Lord; my God ignores my predicament”? Is something making you feel that way right now? How can your faith in God’s caring give you a stable place to stand if everything else seems to be crumbling? If you’re not in crisis, what makes it valuable to deepen your trust in God before the next time everything seems to fall apart?
Pray – Jesus, you know firsthand about the joys and sorrows that are part of the deal of being human. Teach me how to look to you as my light and strength even at the most frightening times. Amen.
Read – 2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 16-18
Notice – Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to a community of Christians many of whom had turned against him (even though he himself had won them to faith!). It was a painful disappointment, after years of struggles as he traveled and shared Jesus in the Roman world (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Yet he trusted that, if he kept his inner spiritual focus on God’s eternal love, nothing in this world could crush or destroy him. Paul’s description of himself as a “clay pot” (verse 7) wasn’t false modesty. It was a way to recognize the abiding truth, with which all of us must wrestle with at times, that God is God and we are not. How can learning to see yourself as a “clay pot” help put you in a better position to avoid feeling crushed by any type of human blows to your ego?
Pray – God, some days all I can see are my failures, my setbacks, and my pain. On those days especially, I really need your grace to show me life as you see it, to show me your reality. Amen.
Read – Psalm 139:4-12
Notice – Have you ever feared that God had given up on you? Or maybe had a time when you tried to run away from God, either in shame or in defiance? The psalmist said that, no matter where we go, God goes there with us. Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer (which we say each week in worship) with “Our Father who is in heaven.” “Heaven” translates the Greek word ouranos, which meant, not a place far away, but “air,” “sky,” “heavens.” Jesus was not saying God is far away, but around us, above us, even within us, wherever we go—the same idea as verses 7-12 in today’s reading. What helps you experience God’s presence? What spiritual difference does that make for you?
Pray – Jesus, at my worst, I feel like hiding from you. At my best, I want you to stay with me all the time—and that’s exactly what you’ve promised to do. Amen.