Sunday 7th November
How do you pray? Where do you pray?
What do you pray for? Who are you praying to?
Who taught you to pray? Who are you teaching to pray?
Prayer can be difficult, it can escape our grasp, it can be time consuming or feel like it should be, it can be daunting.
But in some senses only because we’ve made it all that.
All of our readings this morning point us back to a fundamental point of prayer that we often forget, at the core of prayer is our relationship with God.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is just one part of a sequence of tales that show us 24 hours in the life of Abraham. He breakfasts with angels, maybe even the Son of God; gets promised a son and a nation and a global influence; intercedes for a sinful city and rescues his nephew.
A pretty testing day by anyone’s standards.
The small glimpse we get to see is Abraham interceding on behalf of the city with a God who is painted as angry and vengeful. And what God is angry about is thought to be pretty much a settled fact.
And yet, the background of hospitality and welcome that has framed the story so far is how we’re supposed to view the actions of the residents of the city.
Their lack of welcome and respect for the stranger not only goes against the way God later wants Israel to live, but actually goes against the conventions of the nations of the ancient near east.
Aside from all that, and despite the narrator emphasising the judgement of God, there is also a hint in our text that it is God himself who wants intercession to made for the cities, and it is Abraham that God wants to intercede.
The judgement and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is not a given.
God says “I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
And if not. AND IF NOT
In those three words lie Abraham’s hope.
And so he intercedes based on who he believes God to be, a God of mercy and justice. We know how the story ends, but the narrator wants to make it very clear that it ends that way because of the inhospitable actions of all the residents.
Abraham’s recognition of God as merciful, will soon become enshrined in God’s revelation to the Israelites and this image of God the merciful Judge is the one we know in Jesus Christ.
The God we believe in is the God we pray to.
If we believe in a distant, uncaring and vengeful God, then our prayers will take on that character.
If we believe in an intimate, merciful and caring God – a Just Judge- as Karl Barth put it, then our prayers will reflect that.
In the second lesson we are led back to a God of mercy, who is ready to be found by us, hear us and talk to us. Back to the beginning of praying with and in Jesus Christ.
A God who wants to be found daily in a living breathing relationship.
The question from the disciples comes out of relationship.
It comes out of seeing Jesus pray.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer is rooted in our relationship :“when you pray, say, ‘Our Father.’”
The rest of the prayer might have been designed for us to say as we do now, or it might have been guidance on the things we should pray for, praise, provision, forgiveness, perseverance.
More than anything this is an encouragement to prayer itself.
In his parable about the friend, Jesus exhorts us to ask, seek and knock.
Prayer is not a meek, contrived, and merely religious act, it is the act of human beings who know how hard it is to be human. Who want and need things, and feeling confident in their relationship with God are able to express their needs and desires, feelings, and thoughts.
The point of the parable isn’t that in our constant prayer we gradually wear God down to get our way. It is more that in our persistence we build our relationship with God and learn to hear what God is saying to us as we live in daily conversation with Him.
R S Thomas, the Welsh poet priest, picks up this persistency in prayer in the image of waves, in his poem The Other:
There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl calling
far off and a fox barking miles away.
It is then that I lie in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in the Atlantic – rising and falling, rising and falling
wave on wave on the long shore
by the village that is without light and companionless.
And the thought comes
of that other being who is awake, too,
letting our prayers break on him,
not like this for a few hours,
but for days, years,
How do you pray?
Who is the God that you pray to? and what is your relationship with Him?
How does prayer help you deepen and build that relationship?
How could you deepen that friendship in prayer?
The truth is there are no right or wrong way to pray, there’s formal and there’s chatting. There’s evensong and morning run.
The most important thing is that the relationship is personal to you, and that your prayer comes out of that relationship.
A ongoing daily relationship with the God who is our Father.
Where God is always more ready to hear than we are to speak, always more ready to give than we are to ask, always more ready to be found than we are to seek.