Homily from service on July 24, 2022 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
by The Rev. Anoma Abeyaratne
Sermon preached by The Rev. Anoma Abeyaratne
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Are you having trouble praying these days?
with so much happening in the world and so many prayer needs swirling around us
prayer can be difficult, or even get left by the wayside altogether
Do you ever wish you could ask Jesus to teach you to pray
and then he would figure it all out and give you a response that would make your prayer life perfect?
Lots of people find it hard to pray even in good times
when times are complicated and confusing it affects everything in our lives, including prayer
if prayer is an easy and comfortable part of your life right now—you are richly RICHLY blessed
please have some pity for all the folks around you, stumbling along in the dark
I’m not talking about secular people who think prayer is ridiculous and brush it aside as useless
I’m talking about faithful people who know God and want a more meaningful relationship with God
but they think they don’t know how to get there:
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to pray for. I can’t find the words.”
Let’s push back on that.
You DO know what to say. Say what is on your heart.
You DO know what to pray for. Pray for what your heart desires
and if you can’t find the words, I have a secret for you:
the words you choose don’t make any difference
Prayer is simply a relationship with God.
how do we start a relationship with any person?
or how do we deepen and strengthen a relationship we already have?
sometimes we do it by talking in person or through messages
sometimes we express our feelings with an exchange of gifts.
sometimes we do it just by spending time together.
think of the most fulfilling relationship you have ever had
and if you have never had one, let yourself imagine what a fulfilling relationship would be like
It probably includes keeping in touch frequently. speaking honestly.
Offering trust and being trustworthy in return.
So if that’s what we do with human beings, how would we approach this with God?
keeping in touch: how often would you like to hear from a close friend?
once a year when they are in trouble and need something from you?
or every day or every week, sometimes just checking in over nothing,
just to show you care about each other
as for speaking honestly. that takes us back to knowing what to say.
you DO know what to say. say what is on your heart.
you might have to quiet down the rest of the world to listen to your heart
and get in touch with what is most important to you, so you know what you want to share.
and you do know what to ask for.
but lets face it, this is the hard one
most of us have asked repeatedly for various blessings and have been told no
but here’s an idea. you can keep asking for it anyway. if it’s what you want—ask! be bold!
ask for exactly what you want no matter how impossible it seems
and no matter how many times you have been told no
it is the realness and the authenticity of your communication that God wants
pray about being angry about not receiving the blessing you’ve been asking for all your life!
That kind of prayer is extremely powerful.
as for what specific words to use
some of you may have been shocked when I said, the words you choose don’t make any difference
especially after we just heard a gospel reading about the Lord’s Prayer!
yes, the words of the Lord’s Prayer are very important to the church
they are the center of any Christian worship service and a summary of everything Jesus taught
but this again is the biggest of all big secrets about prayer
God isn’t listening to the words, God is looking into your heart as you say them.
the most flowery perfect poetic prayer recited from memory without deeper attachment has no meaning
the simplest prayer said with trust and honesty means everything
Anne Lamott’s one word prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow.
Those are good enough
the alphabet prayer is another very simple one
it is especially good when your life is so complicated you really have no idea where to start
just say the alphabet. slowly.
and in between each letter, allow your mind to go where it will, as if you were with a telepathic friend
who did not need you to put things into words to understand what you are feeling
your heart will speak freely and openly and wordlessly
and it doesn’t even matter if YOU understand it—if you can just trust that God understands
the alphabet prayer has been known to move people to tears.
when the disciples said to Jesus, Lord, teach us to pray
and he knew they meant “give us the right words to say” and so he gave them powerful words.
and at the same time with all the rest of his ministry he taught them how to live a life of prayer
a life of being in constant connection and communication with God
a life of standing before God honestly, holding nothing back trusting completely
knowing that God hears and honors and responds to all prayers
whether we think they are good enough or not—whether we think WE are good enough or not.
that’s what it really means to learn how to pray
knowing that God hears your words & hears beyond your words and knows what words cannot express