7th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12
The Rev. Meg Lovejoy+
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Author Anne Lamott has distilled the essentials of prayer into three words, “Thanks, Help, Wow” – also the title of one of her books. She says “Help” is the hardest prayer because when we pray for help, we have to admit defeat. We have to surrender and admit that we really aren’t in charge of our lives and it is very difficult. She says, “God is the gift of desperation” when we have reached the bottom and we have nowhere else to turn. There are no alternatives, so we ask for help from God. Usually, we are embarrassed to ask for help, but in this surrender, we are connecting to a power greater than ourselves. We are letting go of the “self” and turning ourselves over to God.
“Thanks” is the prayer of relief. We now understand that help is on the way, that we are not in this alone. God is with us and we now have hope that things will be okay. So we say thanks, God.
“Wow” is when we have so much praise for God that we just don’t know what to say. It is a prayer of wonder in the greatness and glory of God. It is what we say when we remember how much God loves each and every one of us. It is the prayer we say when we are overcome by the beauty of God’s creation.
While feeding my horses and cleaning the barn this morning, I looked up and saw a bright rainbow in the sky. My first reaction was “wow” and then I thought “thanks, God”, for all that you have given us, for the beauty of your creation, and for loving us. It’s simple, yet it’s powerful prayer.
Jesus’s disciples wanted to learn to pray better so they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. The words Jesus gave them are very familiar to most of us. We call on God, as our Father, or our Mother, or as our Creator, which indicates we are praying as a child of God by faith in Christ. We state that we understand God’s name is holy, and this holiness sets God apart from all created things. We ask that God’s kingdom be brought to full realization and established in all the world. The next part of the prayer has three requests from those saying the prayer. We first ask for “our daily bread”, that our basic physical needs will be provided. Secondly we ask for forgiveness of our sins. But, in order for God to heal our brokenness, we must forgive the sins of one another. Luke speaks of this in his gospel denoting “sins” and human offenses against God and states we must “forgive everyone indebted to us.” The third petition in the prayer is that we ask God’s grace be with us when we are tempted and when we incur trials and tribulations (Lk 11: 2-4).
In this prayer, we don’t ask for miracles and signs. We are asking that God grace be with us in providing our basic needs, when we sin, when we need help forgiving the sins of others. It is our prayer that the Kingdom of God be present here and now. It is a prayer of comfort and it needs to be prayed often. I can’t ell you how many times a day I pray this prayer, both silently and aloud, because it pops into my head when I’m stressed, when I’m thankful, when I’m falling asleep, and on and on.
And that leads to the second part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus tells the parable of the person who seeks to borrow some bread from a friend. Normally, this wouldn’t be any big deal, but it’s in the middle of the night. The friend is in bed, the gates and doors are closed and locked, and it’s dark. The person is insistent and won’t go away, so finally, the friend gives up trying to sleep (because there won’t be any sleep until some bread is provided) and gets up and gives away the requested bread.
There’s a favorite Peanut’s comic strip of mine that tells a similar story: Sally, Charlie Brown’s younger sister is sitting at her desk in class holding her wire coat hanger sculpture. She’s upset because she received a “C” on her sculpture so she begins to question her teacher. Was she graded on the piece of sculpture itself? If so, she says, “Is it not true that time alone can judge a work of art?” She asks if she was graded on her talent? If so, she questions if it’s right that she is judged on a part of her life over which she has no control. She continues with questions regarding how she was graded, until in the final frame, she sits with a huge smile on her face and says, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
This is the story Jesus was telling in the parable. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. We are to pray without ceasing. Even though God knows our prayers before we ask (Mt 6:8), this persistent prayer opens us to receive and recognize the blessings God gives and helps strengthen our resolve as we walk through difficult times. Now I’m not preaching Prosperity Gospel here. I don’t want you to think that if you pray hard enough for wealth, fame, health, etc. that God will provide it. What I am saying is that when we pray, God hears our prayer. God isn’t going to give us a snake instead of a fish (Lk 11:11). God isn’t going to give us cancer instead of health. We have Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit right along beside us as we deal with sickness, fear, insecurity, and all the other trials of this life. God hears our prayers and God gives us the Holy Spirit when we ask. God loves each and everyone one of us, so ask and be open to see the answer. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.