Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

February 15, 2015

Matthew 6: 1, 5-15

“How Do You Pray?”

 

 

“May God bless your hearing of our lesson from the Gospel of Matthew this morning.”
Matthew 6: 1, 5-15

1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

“May we open our hearts to a deeper understanding of these ancient words.”

 

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During the years while I served as the pastor, at the North Congregational Church in Middletown, New York, I was asked to be the chaplain for the local fire company in the neighborhood of the church. It was actually the tradition of that fire company and that church that they would share the same pastor. Over the years I developed a fond respect for fire fighters. I was always asked to lead a simple ceremony at the services of members when they passed from this life to the next. They also would have an annual ceremony within the context of our Sunday worship. It was very moving. I can’t bring you to fully experience what I did – but I would like to share with you the Fireman’s Prayer to help set the mood of our discussion this morning.

When I am called to duty, God…
Where ever flames may rage…
Give me the strength to save some life…
Whatever be its age…
Help me embrace a little child…
Before it is to late…
Or save an older person from…
The horror of that fate…
Enable me to be alert…
And hear the weakest shout…
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out…
I want to fill my calling and…
To give the best in me…
To guard my every neighbor and
protect his property…
And if according to your will…
I have to give my life…
Please bless with your protecting hand…
My Children and my wife. /Author Unknown/

The sincerity of that prayer is crystal clear if you have ever seen a fire fighter in action. So when I or anyone asks you how to pray remember to start with the word sincerity. We must pray sincerely. Jesus says to us: “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases.” Empty phrases, filler words, fancy smooth words; glorious beautiful words, none of these are worthy when we speak with God. Our Heavenly Father wants to hear our sincerity! Save the polished phrases for that next public speech you write!

Most of us know the Lord’s Prayer, but are we sincere when we say this? In our scripture lesson this morning we find Jesus as he introduces this prayer to the crowds and his disciples. Jesus starts by saying: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When we slow our minds down and allow ourselves into the thoughts of this prayer as we say the words, we can more easily work at fully comprehending the prayer and ultimately increase our level of sincerity as we say the words. “Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s right; God is in every facet of our journey. It takes a bit of humility to get into this next sentence. “And forgive us our debts,” (And it takes compassion to finish it.) “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” If we want God to have mercy on us, we must show it to others. We must be sincere when we pray. /Matthew 6: 9-12/

Are you confidence that God hears your prayer and are you convinced that God will indeed answer it! Ask yourself this question:
If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without God’s notice, is it possible that we can do the things we do and go about doing each day, without Gods help? In the scriptures we are told that: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. /Matthew 10:29-31/

Two frogs jumped in a pail of cream – after many attempts to get out one gave up and drowned, but the other kept on swimming and finally found itself sitting on a pail of butter – and then easily jumped to safety. /Author unknown/ Clearly, it is crucial that you not give up, before God answers your prayer. Have a little perseverance, determination and resolve! If you asked God for help, trust that God shall and then stay with it! Keep talking with God about it! If you ask a friend for help, you don’t then ‘just give up’ and not wait for their response! Reflecting on this a bit we may want to consider the question: When do we pray, in the morning? Shall we pray before and yes even during and at the end of meetings? And let us pray most certainly at night, before we close our eyes in sleep. One clearly apparent time to pray – is most certainly before events and times when we are in peril or trouble; and yes even in those moments when we are being tempted to do something we know we ought not to do!

Be deliberate about picking a time in the day that you’ll pray and or meditate with God. Remember, be humble always keeping in mind that humility, true humility, is believing in and witnessing to and ultimately wanting to live the truth! That’s right ‘humility is truth’ this is a simple definition that is attributed to the words of St. Therese of Avila.

What about praying before meals? Hear a short story about a man who entered a restaurant to eat. Before he began eating his meal he bowed his head to pray. The table next to him decided to make fun of him. So one of them turned to him saying: “Say buddy does everyone where you come from do that before they eat?” He thought long and hard and then looked up at the man and replied, speaking slowly and clearly: “everybody but the pigs,” the man said calmly, “pigs don’t pray.” /Author unknown/

Prayer is a two way conversation; I think we as adults all know this. We also know, as rational adults that prayers can be answered with yes or no and every variation in between. We also know from experience that prayers are only going to be answered when we do our part, and they will not be answered when we don’t do our part. Let me give you an example. You pray sincerely and even with perseverance to God every morning to guide you and to give you the strength to do certain things. Perhaps you are trying to improve your lot in life and are seeking a better job. Then you go about your day without taking the steps necessary to move forward in your prayer. In essence, you don’t make the effort, you do not even sign up for the training class, the one you need to qualify for the new position; the new position which you have not even applied for! No, you have got to take the action necessary to move forward! God will assist you just so long as you are willing to make the effort and take the action necessary!

By the way, meditation is a form of getting to know God better, and if you’re not sure you need to get to know God better then maybe you need to take time to reflect on the reality of life. So let’s talk, we all know that at some point, out there, the end of our life here on earth awaits us. Who among you would ask “who is going to expire, who is going to pass on from this life to the next?” No one will ask the question because we know that ultimately we are all going to depart this life, at some point. Nothing I say to you will ever change that. Sure some of us are foolish enough to ask: “But when will it happen to me?” Be thankful you don’t know when. I don’t think many of us could handle it! You don’t really want to know your fate ahead of time. Yet, the day shall come, so let’s work at preparing to meet our God, face to face. Therefore, it’s reasonable and prudent to take some time to prepare by ‘talking with God’ on a regular basis. Let us continue to develop and improve our relationship with God, by making time every-day! We can start by simply sitting down and meditating in God’s presence, striving to know more about God. /The author of these thoughts are unknown and numerous./

I truly believe, that Jesus meant for us to live in a state of prayer. I mean, think about it, if we were consciously striving to be in conversation with God – as often as we are with each other – wouldn’t that make a difference? Calculate out the minutes or hours a day you sit, stand or are on your phone, chatting with someone. Now calculate how much time you set aside to just talk with God. See my point? Many of us will find there is a big gap in this assessment. If we each make an effort to balance this comparison, what a great stride we could make in our communal and personal relationship with God. With a stronger conscious contact with God – imagine how much better equipped we will be to handle the realities of human life that we encounter everyday!

You know and I know that conversation is not always easy, no matter what mode of communications you use. It’s the same when we talk with God, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, talking with God can be hard, just like ‘person to person’ talks can be difficult at times. In my journey as a pastor, I have been forced to learn and ultimately be reminded of how hard it is to talk with someone who is in a coma, or someone who has suffered a stroke, or an Alzheimer patient. Many of you know exactly what I am talking about, you talk to that individual praying that they can hear you, yet they don’t talk back to you. As the days lead into weeks it gets harder and harder. At the same time it may begin to feel like God is no longer listening. Yet, just like a negotiation for peace between two opposing groups, like the Israelis and the Palestinians, to stop the conversation is not a viable option, no matter how difficult and unproductive it seems at times. We are taught to persevere and continue to talk, stick with it and continue to pray.

What we need to remember about prayer is that it will not change God – but it will change us. People who spend quality time praying, talking with God, every day, find that their faith gets stronger and their awareness of God’s presence in their life gets stronger every day. Also, if we remember to thank God for the good days, in other words: be grateful for the sunny and beautiful days, we will then be better equipped to discuss those overcast and cloudy days. The time to improve your relationship with a neighbor is – before you need to borrow a cup of sugar or ask for their help in an emergency. Now is the time to improve your relationship with God. Don’t wait until all other channels of communication are shut off.

Amen.

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