OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN PRAY BEGINNING WITH GOD Ash Wednesday 2014 March 5, 2014 Luke 11: 1-4 PRAYER IMAGE TITLE

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1 1 OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN PRAY BEGINNING WITH GOD Ash Wednesday 2014 March 5, 2014 Luke 11: 1-4 PRAYER IMAGE TITLE When all else fails, read the directions. How many times has each of us bought a new toy, or a new gadget, appliance, or piece of electronic equipment. And when we got it home, we did not take the time to read the directions. Instead we dove right in and tried to make it work. Only to fail. So we had to go back to doing what we should have done in the first place. And that is read and follow the directions. All of us know that Christians ought to pray. Fine, we say, but how should I pray? I want to pray. I believe in prayer. I know that I should pray more. But I am not really sure that I know how to pray. It s really interesting that the only thing that Jesus disciples ever specifically asked him to teach them was to teach them how to pray. They did not ask him to teach them how to do miracles. Or how to tell parables. Those amazing stories by which Jesus always said just the right thing on every occasion. Rather the only thing that they ever specifically asked him to teach them was to teach them how to pray. And when they did, the instructions that he gave them were in the form of a prayer. A model prayer. A prayer that we call the Lord s Prayer. Jesus was a Master Teacher.

2 2 So Jesus knew that sometimes the best way to teach someone how to do something is to show them. So when they asked him to teach them how to pray, he showed them. He said WHEN YOU PRAY, PRAY LIKE THIS And that will be our theme for the next six Wednesdays. When you pray, pray like this. On these Wednesdays during Lent our request will be the same as the disciples request: Lord, teach us how to pray. Tonight we will look at the first phrase of Jesus response: When you pray, pray like this Our Father who art in Heaven. 1. BEGIN WTH GOD The first thing Jesus is saying is, When you pray, BEGIN WITH GOD. And that should not surprise us. For every major pursuit of our Lord s entire life he began with prayer. Before he chose his twelve disciples, he prayed all night. For whom he would choose as his first followers was far too important. How it would go after he ascended back to the Father was far too dependent upon whom he would choose for him not to spend an entire night in prayer. Just like for this congregation. Whom this congregation chooses as your next pastor is far too important and will have far too great an impact upon the entire future of this congregation for this congregation not to spend an enormous amount of time in prayer. We thank God and every one of us needs to thank God for everyone who is spending a lot of time in prayer for this concern. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, even though he knew that everyone else would fall asleep. At his baptism, which began his public ministry,

3 3 he prayed. Before feeding the five thousand he prayed. Before raising Lazarus from the dead he prayed. Every major experience of his life he began with prayer. And every prayer he began with God. And for us Christians, every experience of our lives should begin with prayer. And every prayer should begin with God. Worship begins with God. We start our marriages here in church with God. Although our nation has fallen far away from being a nation focused and centered on God, still our country had its beginning with a unique sense of dependence upon God. Whenever we pray, and whenever we do anything else in our lives, we need to begin with God. The first half of the Lord s Prayer focuses on God. We focus on God and who he is before we turn our attention to ourselves and what we need. The Ten Commandments follow the same formula. The first three commandments tell us how we can live in right relationship with God. The next seven commandments tell us how we can live in right relationship with other people. The First and Great Commandment tells us to love God first. The Second Commandment tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I believe the order is intentional. Because without the former - without love for God we would never be able to do the latter love other people. PICTURE OF WALNUT HOUSE BEFORE YARD PUT IN (no words)

4 4 I remember when we moved into our home in Walnut in 1985, we were told that we would have six months to put in the front-yard landscaping. Because of the size of our yard, I knew that it would take much longer than six months before I would be able to bring the water from the north side of our front yard north of the driveway - all the way around the back to the south side of our front yard south of the driveway. So I dug the trenches and put in the ground on the south side of the driveway all the PVC pipe and all the risers that I would later use. And then I put in all the grass and plants over the pipe, even though the pipe had not yet been connected to a source of water. For several months Terry and I had to water the south section by hose. It already had all the pipes and all the sprinkler heads that it would ever need. But it had no water. Until several months later, when I connected those pipes to a source of water and opened the valve. And when I did, water flowed freely to the thirsty plants. In the same way, if I am not connected to God, I will have no power to live the Christian life. But if I am connected to God, then his life and his love will be able to flow freely to me and through me. BACK TO PRAYER IMAGE 1. BEGIN WITH GOD Yes, prayer begins with God because life begins with God. When the author of Genesis said, In the beginning, God, he could have been talking just as much about our regeneration as he was talking about our creation. God comes first. There should be no higher priority in all of life. A man by the name of Douglas Steere

5 5 was writing a book entitled, Dimensions of Prayer. In that book he maintains that all prayer begins with three central affirmations. First, we come from God. Second, we depend upon God. And third, someday we will all return to God. Beginning our prayers with God simply reflects reality. God comes first, or nothing else that really matters ever comes afterwards. So how do we pray? We begin with God. Our Father, who art in heaven. 2. PRAY SIMPLY And then, second, Jesus is saying, PRAY SIMPLY. Just as children speak to their father. Martin Luther said it so well in his explanation to the Introduction to the Lord s Prayer in his Small Catechism. He said: We are to pray to God with complete confidence, just as children speak to their loving father. We can address God simply as Father. We do not need to use any holy sounding language. We do not need to sound pretentious or phony. We can talk to God just like we would talk to anyone else whom we know very well. A little child prayed, God, please bless Mommy and Daddy, and Jimmy and Joey, and my dog Prince. And please bless all the children everywhere. In Jesus Name. Amen.

6 6 Now I really think that that is a pretty good prayer. It begins with God. It is in a simple language that a child could use. And it expresses concern for others. Our prayers need to be like that. 3. YOU ARE A PART OF A WHOLE FAMILY OF PRAY-ERS And then, third, Jesus is reminding us that WE ARE A PART OF A WHOLE COMMUNITY OF FAITH. WE ARE A PART OF A WHOLE FAMILY OF PRAY-ERS. Jesus started out not, My Father, but instead, Our Father. The Christian life is not the life of an individual living in lonely isolation. Rather we are members of a whole community. A self-centered prayer is no prayer at all. I believe it was the great Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, who once wrote, A self-centered prayer is like cigarette smoke in a closed room. It never rises above the ceiling. IMAGE OF SEVERE TROPICAL STORM (no words) I know someone who, several years ago, was with a friend in a small boat, docked off the coast of the island of Fiji. A tremendous storm hit. With hard-driving rains and hurricane-force winds. After several hours, they were not sure how much longer they would be able to hang on. So they sent up a flare. Which ascended about ten feet, hit something they could not see what and then immediately came back down. The following morning, after the storm had abated and the sun had come out, they found out why

7 7 the flare had not gone up any higher. The wind had pushed their boat from the water into and part-way through the lobby of a hotel. Their flare had hit the ceiling of the lobby and then had come crashing back down onto the deck of the boat. And self-centered prayers go no higher than that. We need to remember all the other people who are also praying, Our Father, tonight. Even as we are praying. People from all towns and states and countries and races and language and ethnic groups. Even people we do not like and people we strongly disagree with are praying, Our Father, tonight. BACK TO PRAYER IMAGE 3. YOU ARE A PART OF A WHOLE FAMILY OF PRAY-ERS A man by the name of Huston Smith, in his book, The Religions of Man, wrote: The people across this planet have all become our neighbors, so we need to become world citizens. And then he continues, When historians look back upon our era, they may remember our years not for the release of nuclear power, nor for the spread (this was before the fall) of Communism. But as the time when all the peoples of the earth first had to take one another seriously. Our Father, who art in heaven. The world is just too small we are just too close together for us not to be able to get along. IMAGE OF COWS DRINKING FROM A POND (no words) The story is told of an old farmer,

8 8 who was very jealous of his neighbor s cattle. So he poisoned his neighbor s pond. The next morning he went out to the field and found much to his great delight that his neighbor s cattle had all died. But then he found much to his great horror that all his own cattle had died as well. For, you see, his neighbor s pond was directly connected to his own pond by an underground stream. If I seek my neighbor s welfare, I will share in the benefits. But if I poison my neighbor s pond, I will poison my own pond as well. I need to remember that in all my practices as well as in all my prayers. BACK TO PRAYER IMAGE TITLE And so, we all know that we need to pray more. So we say to Jesus, Lord, teach us how to pray. Jesus replies, When you pray, say, Our Father, who art in Heaven. When you pray, begin with God. Pray simply just as children speak to their own good father. And always remember that you are a part of a whole world-wide family of pray-ers. Amen.

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