7/28/13, Yearning For God

Genesis 18:20-32, Colossians 2:12-14, Luke11:1-13

Over the course of our lifetimes, I expect that each of us has experienced changing seasons of what we thought prayer meant and how we should do it.  My parents first taught me to pray as a child by taking me through rote mealtime and bedtime prayers.  To pray was to thank God for what was good, ask God for what I needed, and wish blessing on those I loved. 

But as I got older, life’s socializing forces and religious education altered my perspective on prayer.  It seemed now that God wasn’t interested in my chatter about all the simple childhood things. I had to talk to “him” about serious matters on a regular schedule, in a certain formal way, after having made sure that my sin was confessed.  Communication with God became more of a guilty religious effort than a gentle and happy conversation with Spirit.  

What is prayer anyway?  Most of us define prayer with some variation of the phrase, “prayer is talking to God.”  But that has always seemed lacking in depth to me.  Recently I came across Marcus Borg’s definition of prayer in his book, Speaking Christian.  “Prayer is an expression of our yearning for God.”    Yearning:  That resonates with me!  According to the dictionary, yearning is an intense feeling of loss or lack and longing for something.  It can also mean to be filled with compassion or a warm feeling. 

Yes--- that’s it.  That is what prayer is about.  We yearn for God. We long for the emptiness within us to be filled with the compassion of the Divine.  We long for the warm feeling of knowing that we are loved and therefore, we can fully love in return.  We can cherish all the good this earthly life offers to us even as we take on the burdens that life imposes. 

Today’s reading from Genesis details the story of Abraham’s persistent request to spare a few people from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  His close connection to the Divine allowed him to perceive that their sinful lifestyle would bring its just consequences, but his compassionate heart led him to plead mercy for the few righteous people in the cities.  I believe that Abraham’s prayer as a man yearning for God was an expression of God’s own desire to be merciful even as natural consequences of sin had to happen. 

In the gospel reading,  Jesus offers the example of the friend who wakes up his neighbor in the dead of night, knocking persistently to request bread to feed his unexpected visitors.  This friend’s persevering effort demonstrates that the compassionate heart of God is reflected in us when we keep trying over and over again to accomplish that which Spirit has told us needs to be done.  But notice that the neighbor finally provides what has been sought.  Both the friend who asks persistently and the neighbor who provides represent the work of God within people.  God makes the need known and God fulfills the need!

 Made in the image of God, we humans bear within ourselves God’s yearning for wholeness, for the Kingdom of heaven to be realized on earth.  It is our task as bearers of God’s image to keep asking, seeking, knocking.  We must be persistent in our efforts to persuade the powers of religion and government that changing the injustices of the world is necessary and possible. But in the end, it is our own little-by-little active responses that will make the difference.  Richard Rohr cites the core principle of The Center for Action and Contemplation:   “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” We must simply DO what it is we sense is needed in the situation that has come to our attention.   To ask for change and to be the change: this is ALL PRAYER.

Those of you whose hearts are touched by people in McMinnville who are hungry for both food and fellowship have been prayerful activists by serving at the Soup Kitchen and Saturday breakfasts.  There are individuals among us who carry God’s desire for peace and do something about it by participating in peacemaking conversations worldwide.  We know of local doctors and nurses moved by the needs for medical assistance in poverty and war torn nations.  They volunteer time and skills and finances to do what can be done.  This is ALL PRAYER: seeing the need and becoming the answer to the need.

It seems to me that the lesson Jesus was teaching is that WE HAVE THE CAPACITY TO BE THE ANSWERS TO OUR OWN PRAYERS. 

 In the past, we have thought of God as a third person, somehow distinct and detached from us. We prayed to this bigger-than-life-beyond-this-universe force as if “IT” was a power that responded to our helpless pleading with a kind of magical changing of circumstances.

 But now that we know that everything in the universe is interconnected, we can begin to think of our experience of yearning for the Divine as the Divine’s own expression of itself.  You and I are part of the wholeness of Divinity that has been longing since creation to present itself as the expression of pure Love.  God is this pure Love.  Now we are beginning to understand that the light and the darkness of such Love has material form in humanity.  Jesus is, for Christians, the revelation of what such Love looks like.  The image of God in Christ is in us too.  It is what we yearn to see fulfilled. It is that image of love towards which we direct our prayers.

This boggles the mind.  We are beginning to comprehend that human beings have so much more freedom in relationship with God than the past religious perspectives have given us.  I wonder if this freedom and wholeness is what the disciples saw in Jesus when he prayed.  Did they sense in him the seed of yearning that was in themselves?  Is that why they asked him to teach them to pray?  

The first verses of today’s passage from Luke give us Jesus’ answer to that request. We say the Lord’s Prayer routinely as a prayer of worship and petition, but the elements of this prayer can be considered Jesus’ simple outline of what he thought was most important for people to know about their relationship with God and how to live it out in this life.  In this prayer there is no asking God to save our souls after death.   It is all about living well in the present world. 

My own meandering thoughts on the Lord’s prayer as Luke presents it are offered briefly here. However, I have also included an mp3 link to a homily given by Marcus Borg.  This homily is essentially the chapter on the Lord’s Prayer in Borg’s book, Speaking Christian.  He presents it with his usual organizational excellence and auditory clarity.  If you are a person who likes to dig deeper into biblical teaching, you’ll appreciate this.   http://explorefaith.org/audio/sermons/borg_070327.mp3

Please pray with me:

    May the Divine Presence bring us to a more complete understanding of how we bear the image of Christ into the world as the answer to our own prayers.  We offer ourselves in faith to the God of Love, asking that we be transformed into that which we are created to be.  Amen

    (Luke 11:2-4, The Inclusive Bible)  Jesus said to them, "When you pray, say, 'Abba God, hallowed be your Name!  May your reign come.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins (debts), for we too forgive everyone who sins against us; and do not let us be subjected to the Test.'


 “Our Father” (Abba God):  Relationship with God is intimate, personal, affirming. A good father or mother is naturally a source of warmth, loving assurance, and provision that can be trusted, one that we would freely call Abba or Amma (papa or mama.) Just as we emerged in image of our biological parentage, so are we an emergence of the image of God.

Holy is your name”: Among the dictionary definitions of holy are “specified or set apart for a religious purpose; regarded or deserving special respect or reverence.” We inherit the DNA of sacredness, being set apart for “whol-ly”purpose.   As expressions of God-ness, we are holy too. 

 

“Your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven” : It is the human task to bring Divine wholeness into being on earth as it is imagined in the Divine mind.

“Give us this day our bread”: We recognize our interdependence with creation and humanity. What we need is here for us to use, but we should demand no more than our fair share of provision.

“Forgive us our sins (debts)”:  Forgiveness is liberation from the ties of the past.  It means freedom to pursue a renewed self and a renewed way of life.  Each of us should liberate others even as we seek our own freedom to be all we can be.

“Do not put us to the test”: We recognize the fact of human brokenness and our longing to be free of its destructive force.   If circumstances that expose us to our temptations can be avoided, the wholeness that we seek for ourselves and God’s kingdom will be promoted. 

By Sandi DeMaster