Sermon – Proper 17 - Sept 1, 2019
Saint. Andrew’s, Marianna, AR
The Rev. Canon Renee Miller
“How to Pray, Part 7”
May the sacraments and the Word and the hunger of our souls meet, and lead us ever more deeply into the heart of God. Al-hamdu-lillah. Amen.
So, what’s the question? You should know it well by now! (What is the first thing you think of when I say the word prayer?”) Any new answers? Any new reflections?
Anne sent me a wonderful quote this week about prayer; “The first ever cordless phone was created by God. God named it ‘Prayer.’ It never loses its signal and you never have to recharge it. Use it anywhere!” That could serve as the complete sermon today and I could just sit down!
The most essential form of the Lord’s Prayer that we began with from the Gospel of Luke ends with this short prayer: “Do not bring us to the time of trial.” What can this possibly mean? We all know that none of us are spared trials in life. The version of the Lord’s Prayer we’re most familiar with has it worded as “lead us not into temptation.” God doesn’t lead us into temptation, so why would we ask God not to do what God doesn’t do anyway? Neither does God capriciously bring us trial. Most of the trials we experience in life are of our own making or simply the result of being human and living with other humans in an earthly and imperfect world.
Jesus included this phrase “Do not bring us to the time of trial,” when he was teaching the disciples how to pray, perhaps for 2 reasons. First, it may have been a prayer he prayed himself. He may have had some idea of the ultimate trial he would face and wanted to be saved from having to experience the inevitable. His words in the garden on the night before his death give some confirmation of this, “Let this cup pass from me.....nevertheless, not mine but thy will be done.”
Second, he may have taught this to the disciples because he knew that if he wanted to be spared a trial he didn’t want to face, the disciples, too, would want to be spared trials that were difficult, demanding, distressing.
I want to say here, however, that trials don’t need to be something big like crucifixion, or death by cancer. Trials can come in all disguises: a water pipe breaking, getting the flu right before we’re going on a vacation, having the car break down between Memphis and Hughes. Whatever interrupts our plans, or causes us disturbance and distraction can qualify as a trial and we would love to be spared from them all!
This takes us back to what I preached about with the phrase ‘Your kingdom come.’ I said that while we would all prefer not to have troubles; if we pray ‘Your kingdom come’ we’ll be able to stay in a place of peace even in the midst of trouble. That’s really the goal - not so much to be free of trial, but to remain ‘at peace in God’ in the midst of trial. So, when Jesus taught the disciples to pray ‘Do not bring us to the time of trial,’ he was affirming what he knew was already deep in their hearts -the desire to be spared difficulty in life. And, he also knew that sometimes --- such a prayer does indeed avert disaster.
Take one of my favorite guys from the Hebrew Scriptures (or what we know as the Old Testament). Good old Hezekiah. I’ve preached about him before because he’s so ‘preachable!’ Hezekiah had learned that he had a terminal illness and was going to die. This was a trial he did not want to face. He sequestered himself in his room, turned his face to the wall and wept. He didn’t want to die. He begged to be spared the trial. And surprise of surprises, his prayer was answered! God told Hezekiah that he would be given another 15 years of life. Imagine his joy at that news! In that particular case, the prayer to be spared trial worked in the way Hezekiah hoped. Of course, 15 years later, he was at the same place as before. Death would not be forever be kept at bay.
We might well ask, “Is this part of the Lord’s Prayer worth praying at all? If the trials are going to come anyway, if the prayer is only answered sometimes, and then only temporarily, why bother with it at all?” Let me suggest three reasons why we most definitely should pray : “Do not bring us to the time of trial.”
First, that prayer really does lie deep in our heart of each of us – even if we don’t acknowledge it outwardly. We might put on a brave face about some trial that we fear is coming our way (Southerners seem to do this by nature!) but deep inside we’re crying out, “Do not bring me to the time of trial!” Haven’t you experienced this when you had to face something you didn’t want to face? Didn’t you plead with everything in you to be spared? “Please, God, just this time. Just this once! I can’t face this! Please, please let this pass from me.”
If you think about it, “Do not bring us to the time of trial” is probably the most truly authentic prayer we ever really pray because it’s what we really mean. We are the ‘beggar’ before God. We are begging with every ounce of faith we have in us. God honors that kind of prayer because it’s intense and it’s real. It’s a true prayer of faith. Whether or not we are spared the trial as Hezekiah was, that authentic, true prayer deepens and strengthens our faith muscles. We are willing to surrender ourselves completely to God’s mercy. And that will always result in a transformed spiritual life and a stronger faith.
Second, we need to pray “Do not bring us to the time of trial” because it’s prayed in the context of the other short prayers of the Lord’s Prayer. It has balance — it’s doesn't just hang out there by itself. We’re not just praying it like a spoiled child screaming for another toy at Walmart. It’s prayed within the other prayers: ‘hallowed be your name,’ ‘your kingdom come,’ ‘give us our daily bread – our daily nourishment whatever that may be,’ forgive us and help us to forgive.’ Because it’s held with other prayers of hope and faith and surrender, it keeps us aware of the other important parts of God’s action in our lives. It keeps us focused on God being God, on the breadth of God’s kingdom of peace, on the many ways God may use to nourish us (even through trials,) on letting go of anger, the need to blame, and retribution. Yet, at the same time, it acknowledges the truth that we are afraid, anxious, vulnerable, unsettled and uncertain.
Finally, when we pray “Do not bring us to the time of trial” we are praying. Yes, when we pray it, we are praying. Meaning, we are not stewing, or worrying, or complaining, or asking our friend to fix things for us. We’re going to God. We’re getting in the habit of going to God. We’re doing what Vince and Steve said last week: We are praying more often and with greater confidence. We’re aligning with God – reducing ourselves to that single straight line with God.
Often we just silently worry inside about the possible trials and tribulations that could come upon us. We feel that somehow worry will keep the trials from actually happening. Then, once they have happened, we complain about them, thinking and hoping that our constant recital of them will somehow help us get through them. But, when we pray, “Do not bring us to the time of trial” we are bypassing all that useless emotional activity and going straight to the Source which is a much more useful response, because, when we go straight to the Source, straight to God, the relief we experience is instantaneous.
So, never be afraid or ashamed to pray “Do not bring us to the time of trial.” It is, quite likely, the fullest and truest prayer you will ever pray and it may just be the fullest and truest prayer within the Lord’s Prayer. Amen.