The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12
July 24, 2016
The Rev. Glenn Chalmers
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
The brilliant scientist Albert Einstein was once asked what he thought the most important question was. His answer may be a bit surprising.
He thought the greatest question to be asked is this: “Is the universe a friendly place?”
Einstein explained: “…if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly.
“If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe’, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.
Einstein was clear where he stood in relation to that most important question. And I think it goes to the heart of our Gospel lesson today as well. Both make it clear that “God does not play dice with the universe.”
“Teach us to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. And Jesus does just that.
The words he offers are among the most familiar to us. Regardless of our religious backgrounds and our different traditions, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is a fixture in our liturgy; it is one of the touchstones of our faith.
When you pray, Jesus taught, say… “Father…”
With that first word, that most important question posed by Einstein gets answered. Father, a translation of the Aramaic Abba, is not a formal term but a familiar one. It is roughly the equivalent of saying Daddy or Papa.
It conveys a relationship of trust and love.
As if it were not clear enough in uttering that one word, Jesus makes it even clearer: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Prayer is about relationship. Prayer is about trust.
“Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.”
Our focus is on God. On a kingdom where peace and justice prevail. Our own situations and our own needs are put in the context of something so much greater.
This attitude… this stance… cannot be overstated. How often we see prayer being used as nothing other than the attempt to get God to do something for us.
Each night a little boy and his mother say prayers together. One night after they were finished, the boy’s mother asked him why he prayed that Naples was the capital of Italy.
Because, the boy said, that’s what I put down on my test.
“Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Again, relationship lies at the heart of how we should pray and how we should live.
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we having the passing of the peace. This is a reminder that as God forgives us, so we forgive one another. Generosity is God’s gift to us. It is our gift to one another.
“And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
We are aware of our limits. Cognizant of our vulnerability.
“Teach us to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. He responds with words that have been uttered down the centuries. Words spoken out of a relationship with a God who desires the best for us. Whose will and whose kingdom comes first and foremost. And whose generosity we pray becomes truly our own.
A New York Times bestseller written by Elizabeth Gilbert carries the title, Eat, Pray, Love.
This book is about a women’s search for meaning in her life. Assuming that she could not find it where she was, she took off on a whirlwind adventure through Italy, India, and Indonesia. She finds that the basics of life – eating, praying, loving – were in her life all along. The journey that truly mattered was the inner one.
Gilbert writes that “the search for God is a reversal of the normal, mundane worldly order. In the search for God, you revert from what attracts you and swim toward that which is difficult.
She adds: “You need to learn how to select your thoughts (and prayers) just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.”
I believe that that is the essence of today’s Gospel – the familiar prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples and to you and me.
It is a prayer but more than mere words. It is a statement of faith. A way of life. A way to eat, pray, and love.