9 September 2018 Sermon (St Vigor, Fulbourn)

How should we pray?

I heard a sermon recently, where the preacher said “Prayer is easy”. I thought, “Well, it isn’t for me…”

One of the few people I’ve known who made prayer look easy was my grandmother Rosemary. She had a long list of people she prayed for every day. She spoke as if God was an old friend – they were happy in each others’ company. I was on her prayer list. That comforted me.

I hope one day I might have that same relationship with God my grandmother had. I don’t know exactly how I get there, but I think prayer might have something to do with it.

Why do we pray at all?

Jesus says “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Why is there any need to pray at all if the Father already knows what we need? God knows what we need, but do we know what we need ourselves? Prayer may be a part of working out what we really need. [We are not in the business of trying to change God’s mind when we pray. It’s not about changing God; it’s about changing us.]

When should we pray?

Jesus says “whenever we pray”, meaning regularly. [Jewish communal prayers of Jesus’ time would have been three times a day, like our pattern of morning, evening and night prayer.] Prayer is a habit that keeps us secure and grounded.

As well as prayer together, Jesus speaks about time alone. Throughout his life, he took himself away to deserted places to pray.

What should we pray?

It can be so difficult to think of what to say. The more I’ve learnt about prayer the less I try to make up on the spot. So many wonderful prayers have already been written. [Some people find the slower pace of writing down their prayers helpful.] Or prayer may just be resting in silence with God.

We can pray using the prayer Jesus himself taught us. Maybe saying it silently or aloud, or using it to direct our prayers. Praying it slowly line by line. Allowing each line to speak to us in some way.

Our Father in heaven
What does it mean for God to be our Father? Who else is God’s child? What does that mean for how we treat them?

Hallowed be your name
Offering God our worship. Joining Mary in the Magnificat: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my saviour.

Your kingdom come
Where are the signs of God’s way of doing things, the Kingdom of God, in our world today?

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. As St Paul says, I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Give us this day our daily bread
We thank God for feeding us with the Body and Blood of His Son Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. But why are we fed, when there are people who do not have enough to eat?

And forgive us our debts
None of us are innocent of wrongdoing. We come to God asking for forgiveness, and we receive it. As the 1st letter of John says, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

as we also have forgiven our debtors
Christ on the cross forgave those who crucified Him. Can we do the same?

And do not bring us to the time of trial
Jesus prayed that the cup of his torment be taken from Him. It was not. Where was God in Jesus’ suffering? Where is God in the suffering of people today?

but rescue us from the evil one
The world is full of evil. Evil causes pain and suffering but with God all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well.

That saying of Mother Julian of Norwich “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well” was one of my grandmother’s favourite prayers.

How then should we pray?

Even as my grandmother got older and frailer she didn’t stop praying for everyone on her list. As she went from a chair to a bed, the list went with her.

As her voice began to fail others prayed for and with her. In the days before she died, I sat by her bed and said Evensong. She lay and listened, and prayed.

Her daughter, my mother, was with her when she died. My mother is not someone comfortable with making up prayers on the spot. But she felt called to pray out loud for her mother. What could she pray?

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever.

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