Earlier this summer, when the temperatures were cooler and a nice refreshing breeze would blow all night, night after night, we were able to keep our windows open, which I love. It was “good sleeping weather,” the kind I really like.
Our neighborhood is usually pretty quiet, so there was nothing much to mar the peaceful experience of the night air gently blowing through the windows, ruffling the curtains and making even our animals sigh in contentment.
That is, until one Friday night when, just after we had gone to bed and turned the lights out, I heard a young female voice a near distance – I couldn’t tell how far away- “Hey!”
My first thought was that someone walking their dog without a leash was trying to call back a wandering canine, because we heard it again – two or three times, a little louder each time, “Hey!”
The voice and the message changed then. “Hey, Somebody, can you hear me?” A few seconds passed. “Help!” Then a little louder, “Help me!” This youngish voice didn’t sound terribly distressed, but it was persistent.
There are several backyards that line up one after another behind ours, and woods behind them, so I began thinking maybe it was kids playing around back there somewhere, in the dark, maybe even playing tricks on us. But then we heard it again, a bit more strident, “Hey, Somebody, help me!”
I wasn’t sure I was hearing correctly, so I went out onto our deck, and then the two of us shared an encounter in disembodied voices – connecting through the darkness. It is comical in the retelling, but that night it was just – surreal.
“Do you need help?”
“Yes!” came back the voice.
“I’m locked in my bathroom!”
I almost responded, “Is this a joke? You’re locked in your bathroom?”
“Help me! I need help!”
It turns out this young lady was indeed imprisoned by a broken doorknob, in the second floor bathroom of her home. To make matters worse she was alone in her house for the entire weekend, as her family was out of town.
Beginning to panic after spending an hour or more locked away as the night settled in around her, she had tried without success to attract the attention and assistance of the neighbors around her. Her imagination awakened, she thought maybe someone was in her house, playing a trick on her. Someone with unsavory plans.
My husband and I finally located her, let ourselves into her house, discovered the problem, and then I kept her company while he went back home to get needed tools. We proceeded to affect a rescue there, in the middle of the night, in a total stranger’s home, under the most bizarre of circumstances.
Had it not been for her persistence, that poor girl would have spent the night – and who knows – maybe even the weekend – locked in her bathroom.
Persistence in seeking help. Persistence in making contact. Persistence in prayer.
The Old Testament lesson today shows us an example of pure unadulterated persistence on Abraham’s part. He is relentless in his mediation between God and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, those wicked, sinful people.
Yet, Abraham argued, they are not all wicked. Surely some are righteous, surely, they deserve to be saved, right? So, if Abraham could find “x”-number of righteous people in the city of Sodom, on their behalf, won’t God be merciful and preserve them all? Won’t God relent and back off on their justifiable punishment if 50 righteous people can be found? Yes? Then – how about 40? 30? 10? Abraham intercedes for all people on the basis of the goodness of God and the faithfulness of just a few.
In our gospel lesson, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They’ve seen Jesus pray. They know that sometimes he leaves them to go off by himself to pray. He prayed before choosing his disciples, he prayed when he fed the five thousand, he prayed when breaking bread with his disciples and friends. Jesus prayed the night before he died and on the way to and even from the cross. Persistence in prayer was part of Jesus’ life all the way to his death.
The disciples know Jesus as their teacher, their master, their friend. Jesus has prayed many times for them and with them. They have witnessed his special relationship to God. He has even called God “Abba,” “Father” – a very intimate way of naming the relational bond he shares with God. So now they ask that question we often repeat, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
On that day, they want to know what magic formula Jesus might want to share with them for praying like he prays. Perhaps they are not confident they know how to do it right – what words should they use? What kinds of things should they say? What should they ask for? What will make God listen best?
I might ask if you ever feel the same way, but I already know you do. Most if not all of us do, at times. We often fear we don’t get it right when it comes to prayer. We worry we don’t have the right words, can’t assume the proper posture, or aren’t faithful enough, confident enough,worthy enough, to pray.
And yet, prayer is the central act in the lives of faithful people.
So, Jesus offers this little prayer that has been known as the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, and recited by heart by the followers of Jesus Christ for over two thousand years.
Lest we think that Jesus is giving us the magic formula for the perfect prayer, we remember that Jesus himself modeled types of prayer that were far-ranging in style and setting, and contained the thoughts of his heart, his concerns, his care for others, the struggles he was facing, and so many other things. The thing is that Jesus showed us – all of our lives should be about prayer, for there is no part of our lives about which God does not care.
We know how important communication is in our lives and in our relationships. Nowhere is this more true than in our relationship with God. If we see prayer as simple communication with God, which it is, it may become much easier to carry out this essential gift in the life of faith.
· So let me ask you, in what ways do we as humans, communicate? Let’s name all of the ways in which we communicate………..:
o Our spoken words
o Our work
o Use of our bodies
o Our actions
Are any of these ways inappropriate to prayer? No. We employ all these methods and more when we make our whole lives a prayer to God. Our prayers may consist of many words, for example, a prayer that begins, “O good and gracious God, we pray for the church, the world, and all of your creation…….”. Or, a prayer may consist of a single word – “Help!”; Perhaps a loving embrace, “peace be with you”; or fervent desire, “forgive me”, “protect her,” “strengthen him.”
When I was in school, we were taught that there are four reasons to pray: to praise God, to thank God, to ask forgiveness, to ask God for what we needed or wanted (even or especially if that need or want was on behalf of someone else). It is the act of praying that is important; it is through the act, that we connect and communicate with a God who loves us as Abba, Father; as one who loves us beyond all reason, and who can use our own prayer to reshape our lives. Ask, Jesus said – ask, search, knock – persistently, constantly, confidently.
It’s a pretty tall order when you come to think of it. Today we acknowledge that prayer and the scriptures that we just read may be hard for us right now. Surely, we are pray-ers. The world is full of people who pray. People have been praying for years; for centuries; throughout the millennia, in fact.
Yet there is no denying that as we look around, as we hear the news, as we look at our own lives, and the world around us, we wonder – does God hear our words? Does God answer prayer? Does God even care?
I won’t pretend to have the answers for why the world is so very messed up, other than to say that we live in a broken and sinful world, in which the kingdom of God has dawned in Jesus Christ, but has not yet come to its fullness. Therefore, daily assaults have our prayer lives going on in over-drive..
Like Abraham, we, too are called be persistent in prayer. The God we pray to is the same one who sent his son to die for this fallen humanity; God desires deep, authentic relationship with us; weeps when we weep; and hears us when we pray, “Abba, help!”
Help the man lying in blood on the street for no other reason than the color of his skin. Bless the police officer who shows up each day in the face of danger and derision and faithfully does what he or she is called to do. Comfort those whose friends and loved ones have fallen to the bullets of too many guns, too much violence, too little understanding and peace.
If prayer is "turning ourselves God-ward," as Jesus shows us it is, it requires our whole being not only turned toward God but dedicated to following Jesus’ lead and example. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…thy kingdom come, they will be done.” With these words we surrender our own authority. We assume we will find God in whatever answer to our prayer may come.
“Hey God, can you hear me?” “Hello, can you help us?”
We pray for peace and believe God is present in conflict and discord. “We need your help! Please help us!”
Through our prayer, we offer ourselves up to God using us as part of the answer – When we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we offer to be part of the solution.
We pray for our daily basic needs, and believe God is present in the same way among the poor, and will use us as well to feed, nourish, walk with, and care for those in need.
In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott writes that the two best prayers are “help me, help me, help me,” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.” May our entire lives be lived between those pleas, in sweet holy communication and awesome trust.