Monday, July 29, 2019

Sermon: "This Is How We Pray", Luke 11:1-4 (July 28, 2019)

(A message given prior to our "Christmas in July" celebration)


Since we’re celebrating Christmas in July this morning, I want to let the story speak for itself and leave plenty of time for Christmas carols, so I won’t talk for long. But it occurred to me that it might be worth first stopping to reflect on WHY we would read Christmas scriptures and sing Christmas music in July. After all, they feel distinctly out-of-place in 90 degree weather.

On the one hand, it’s important that we follow the liturgical calendar, the church schedule that tells us which Bible stories to read when. It’s an important tool for making sure we experience God’s story—our story—in a way that helps us better understand how God works in the world. The liturgical calendar teaches us that God hears our lament and faithfully answers us with rescue and salvation time and time again, and that our joy is more powerful when it comes in answer to a time of great longing. Life as God’s people is a life of call and response—at our best, God calls to us, and we answer; at our worst, we cry out to God, and God responds. The rhythm of the liturgical year echoes the rhythm of life in relationship with God: cyclical, dependable, and responsive. To everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV)

But in addition to the major celebrations that we look forward to each year, the liturgical calendar gives us another, lesser-known gift, the season in which we’re currently residing: Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is the liturgical season best described as “miscellaneous”. Unlike Advent and Lent, there’s no particular spiritual focus; unlike Christmas and Easter, there’s no particular story that we celebrate. And yet, Ordinary Time isn’t synonymous with “Summer Break”—it’s not just a time to read the “fun” Scriptures and to do creative and quirky things in worship (although it IS that, too). As author Alice L. Camille put it, “[The purpose of Ordinary Time] is grander than its name: maturity in Christian living.”[1] While Ordinary Time doesn’t have a prescribed focus like the rest of the liturgical year, it still serves an important purpose in driving our life in Christ forward and giving us the opportunity to dig deeper into the parts of our faith that sometimes fall by the wayside in the excitement of the other seasons. Ordinary Time is a season for figuring out what we need in order to grow in our faith.

Which brings me back to my original question: why should we spend this Sunday of Ordinary time celebrating Christmas? Especially since we already have a season dedicated to this story in the 12 days following December 25? Interestingly enough, even though we’re going off-lectionary in today’s scripture readings, I found an answer in the assigned passage for this Sunday. All over the world, churches who aren’t going “off-script” this week are reading these words from Luke: “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’” Hopefully, this sounds familiar to you. This is one of two places in scripture that we find the origins of the Lord’s Prayer (the other being in Matthew’s gospel).

People had been praying to God for centuries at this point, so why all of a sudden did the disciples feel like they needed new instruction in the matter? I think what happened is that, as they were forming a new sense of communal identity as followers of Jesus, they recognized the power of reciting and retelling words and stories and prayers and songs together as a community. When we share these same words, it reinforces our connection to one another and to God, who is both the subject and the object of our most cherished stories.

Understandably, this can appear somewhat strange to anyone outside of this community. As some of you know, my husband isn’t a much of a church person. In our conversations over the years, one of the explanations he’s given most frequently is that the idea of praying in unison with shared words makes him feel deeply uncomfortable. “It kind of feels cult-ish,” he tells me. I, of course, go on the defensive: “Well, it’s no different than saying the pledge of allegiance at a sporting event,” “Yeah,” he responds, “I’m not a big fan of that, either.”

I think the difference in our perspectives is the sense of obligation: when he sees corporate prayer, he sees a compulsion to say these particular words in this particular way—faith as coercion. But when I take part in familiar corporate prayer and ritual, I don’t feel restricted in the expression of my faith. I feel empowered, because there’s strength in choosing to be a part of a collective story, in repeatedly claiming these same words to help us learn and remember. In this way, repetition of our stories is itself a kind of prayer, one that unites, reinforces, and reminds us who we are and whose we are—something that's all too easy to forget.

Today, I’d particularly like to invite the children to stay in worship with us. Although many of us adults take these stories and this music for granted, I’ve found over my ten years of ministry that they’re not as familiar to our younger siblings in Christ as we might assume. Many of them don’t know the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” or recognize the familiar words of the angel: “Fear not! For I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!” So it’s our job as a community of faith to help them come to cherish these words and tunes the way that we do—not just because of the warm-and-fuzzy feelings that they evoke, but because they’re an integral part of their identity and their story, too.

For those of us who already have these words written on our hearts, listen to them today with new ears. Remember that “Maturity in Christian Living” doesn’t end on your 18th birthday, but is an ongoing, life-long project. Let us pray through the retelling of this precious story, and let us be transformed by these words that are both sacred to our past and still shaping our future. Amen.


[1] Camille, Alice L., “What’s the Purpose of Ordinary Time?”,

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