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[Sermon] From Prayer to Practice

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + June 23, 2024 + Unfolding the Prayer: Our Needs

In the concluding sermon of the 'Unfolding the Prayer' series, Pastor Hector explores how the final petitions of the Lord's Prayer inspire us to love our neighbors and ourselves. Drawing on personal anecdotes and reflections, he emphasizes the transformative power of these prayers in guiding us from mere words to actionable compassion and self-reflection. This message encourages us to integrate prayer into our daily lives as a practical tool for nurturing relationships and personal growth, embodying the essence of Christian love and service.

Sermon Transcript

Automatically generated captions from YouTube, lightly edited for readability by ChatGPT.

Grace to you and peace from God, ABA, Father, Mother, Creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our sibling, our Savior, and our friend. And the people of God said, Amen.

So, as I said, we are coming to the end of this series. We began with ABA and the relationship that God has with each one of us. It is that word that sets the tone for the rest of the prayer. Then, after that, we talked about God's nature and God's reign—a name that is hallowed and a reign that is unfolding and embracing us.

Today, we conclude with what I told you are often defined as the petitions in the Lord's Prayer. So, I was thinking about prayer—prayer in general—as I was speaking with our young worshipers about prayer. How often, why, and how long? Prayer is about when do we pray?

I believe that in our lives, we encounter turbulences—moments of crisis and moments in which we feel disrupted, disoriented, confused, and we wonder. We wonder and seek refuge in prayer. Has that happened to you?

Unfortunately, sometimes we try our hardest, we try the best that we can, we try as hard as we can, and prayer comes at the end as the last resort. Sometimes, it's the first thing that we do.

I was reading an article written by an author in England. He is an elder in one of the churches in England, and he was talking about his experience in a flight in an airplane. He says that as they were flying, they hit this turbulence. The airplane started going, like, you know, hundreds of feet up and down and shaking. Have you been there? How does it feel? Awful.

So, he was talking about that moment. It was very interesting for this person, an elder in a church, that people started to pray. In that moment, have you done that? Some of the prayers that he heard people were praying were, "Help! Save us, God! Please don't let us die or don't let me die." He went on for minutes like this, and several times during the flight, they finally landed. They got to the baggage claim, and when people were standing there, everybody was quiet. Everybody was looking at each other in a very weird way because each one of them had heard their own prayers.

Sometimes, as I said, things like that need to happen to remind us that prayer is an option that we have as Christians. Sometimes, unfortunately, prayer becomes the tool or the way that we want to use to face the challenges, the turbulences, or the disruptions in our lives.

Prayers sometimes go to extremes. As I said earlier, I am sharing with you some stories from my personal life, not because they are better or because they are the only way to express it, but because that's the way that I have experienced prayer. I invite you to think about your own experience and when you have been moved to pray and how you have gone through those moments of experiencing that prayer.

Prayers are extreme. When I was growing up in my home congregation, which was more conservative theologically speaking, we were expected to pray long. The longer you prayed, the more blessings you could get. There were these days when we signed up for prayers on a Sunday morning, and the entire congregation was supposed to come and pray for the entire Saturday. You had to come and pray and sit for hours. Sometimes, I ran out of my list of prayers and I would say, "Well, it has only been 10 minutes, so I need to come up with more reasons to pray."

I need to confess that I made up some prayers that probably were not prayers originally. Sometimes, I fell asleep, and I don't know for how long because sometimes the same people were there, and sometimes there were some other people when I woke up. I remember one time when I heard a big bump during the prayers. Someone had fallen asleep and fell from the pew to the ground.

At the end of the prayer, as we went out, there was a sign-up sheet where I had to write my name and check how many hours I prayed. The more hours I put there, the more proud I was of myself for praying. I kind of dismissed and despised those who prayed only three hours because I was there for three and a half.

That's one extreme that prayer can go to. The next extreme experience I found in prayer was when I was in seminary. I remember one of my classmates told me he was very sick. He had a cold, he was sneezing, coughing, and feeling awful. At the end of the class, I prayed for his healing out of my sincere desire for him to feel better. In the moment I finished praying, his reaction was, "I'm healed! I'm healed! I feel better! I feel better!"

That hit me hard because when prayer is taken as something done just for the sake of doing it but not believing, it is something to think about.

Lastly, another experience I had with prayer that made me think about this whole question of what it means for us to pray and to ask things from God was when Jane and I were invited to a congregation that did one of these prayer campaigns. Hundreds of people from different congregations came together, and they were praying intensely. These were prayer warriors. There was one pastor’s son who I knew who was diagnosed with cancer. The man, a young man in his 30s, was lying on the ground, and a number of people from the congregation were laying hands on him and praying intensely, even in tongues.

The prayer was so intense. They were so persuaded, so convinced that these prayers were going to save him and cure the cancer. But a few months later, we learned that this young man actually died. The question then for me, and maybe for you, is: was prayer enough? Was their prayer wrong? Was my prayer wrong? Does God really answer our prayers?

Jesus says, "Keep asking, and it will be given to you." Later in chapter 11, verse 9, in this chapter that we are reading through, my siblings in Christ, we live in this culture that proclaims independence and individualism, where we believe in self-reliance and fighting hard. If you want, you can, and just follow your heart, and you will achieve it. But the truth is that you and I also live in a world where there is temptation. When I talk about temptation, it's not the type of temptation that my wife asked me about when we were on top of Mount Pilchuck last Friday.

I’m talking about the temptation when we start feeling that we are better, as I felt better than others who prayed when I was young in my home congregation. The temptation for piety and pride that is actually the opposite of what the Lord's Prayer invites us to do. A piety and pride that separate me from others and make me believe that I have to earn God's favor. The unforgiving posture towards others that left me at that time.

I'm not saying that we don't need to pray or that we shouldn't believe in prayer. Jesus himself tells us, "Pray so that you will not be tempted" (Luke 22:46). St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians, "Pray without ceasing." Prayer is important in our lives, but I think we need to reflect on what these petitions and what we are asking and praying for are about. Praying for bread, praying for forgiveness, and keeping us from temptation are pleas to realize that our lives are enfolded in ABA's reign of love and divine compassion. These pleas are our desire for not becoming stumbling blocks for others or preventing others from experiencing the unfolding reign of God.

The Lord's Prayer, my siblings in Christ, is a declaration of who we are. It is an opportunity to confess who God is, how we are part of God's reign, and a declaration of the assurance of God's provision for us every day in our lives. When we pray, "Give us the bread of tomorrow, forgive us our sins, and lead us not into temptation," we are asking God to reign in us and guide us.

I believe that Jesus is changing our perception—that we do not have enough, that we are not forgiven, and therefore we cannot forgive others—and to overcome the temptation that leads us to a compulsive reaction to fix and direct God in how to run God's kingdom. In doing that, we work against the very nature of God's reign and God's purpose for all people.

To conclude, unfolding the prayer reminded me of the Lord's Prayer that I invite you to fold and unfold every day in your life. I hope that in this series, we have learned to reframe the Lord's Prayer from the rigidity of thinking that the way we have learned, the way it is written in our books, is the only way. You and I have the freedom to speak with ABA—from fixation on words to an intimate relationship with God and with one another, from disposing of the old ways and old vocabulary that some may use in saying the Lord's Prayer, to the openness to see this prayer unfolding into new ways of saying it, reciting it, and living it out.

Move from this laundry list of things we want to seek, joining God's reign as a child that depends on ABA's new order of life. I would like for us to experience the Lord's Prayer again. I would like to invite you to do two things. First, open your bulletin to page five, grab a pencil or a pen, and pay attention as I invite Lori to once again tell us the Lord's Prayer in American Sign Language. Look at her, follow or try to follow the movements of the prayer. Observe, repeat the words in your mind as you watch the movements, and let this prayer really enfold you. Reflect on how this time spent together reflecting on the Lord's Prayer has brought a new perspective, a new approach, or a new way of what the Lord's Prayer is in your life.

In your bulletin, write down a word or two or draw something that comes to mind as you observe and experience the embodiment of the Lord's Prayer. Let's look at Lori and open our hearts to the Spirit to hear those words.

[Silence while Lori Schmidt signs the Lord's Prayer]

Take a moment, reflect, and write a word or draw something.

How the unfolding and unfolding of this prayer is inviting us to speak with our God, ABA, Father, Mother, and Creator.

Take a moment to turn around and tell someone next to you one or two words of what this prayer inspires in your heart. Share what you wrote or drew.

Talking to one another is talking to God. I didn’t write anything because I don’t have a pen, but I still remember.

Begin praying with one of the most basic words in a child's vocabulary: ABA, for God in Jesus has come to dwell among people. Amen.

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