How ought we to pray?

Lessons for Proper 12, Year A: Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

A…B…C…D…E…F…G…Listen to me, O God, as I recite the letters of the alphabet. You know what I think and how I feel. Take these letters of the alphabet and you form the words that express the yearning, the love for Thee that is in my heart. In the name of the ineffable mystery that is the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

„Robert, wir bewegen uns von der ersten Deklination, verstehst du es?“ the professor asked. „Robert we are moving on from the first declination, do you understand it?“

„Ja, ich verstehe,“ I answered. „Yes, I understand.“

I had decided to take something new when I started university so I moved on from the six years of Latin I had taken in Junior and Senior high school to try my hand at German. Oh, don’t you worry, I went back to Latin – I was kind of good at it. But German, not so much. That first semester of German, in particular, the professor would often look at me, with my somewhat blank stare in my eyes, and ask me that question, „Robert, verstehst du?“ I got through that first semester of German with the help of a great teacher and some interested classmates but German and I….well, we would never be best friends.

But during the first part of that first semester, whenever I was asked if I understood I would respond, „Ja, ich verstehe.“ The response was initially prompted because that was basically the only response that I could muster in German. I was all I knew. But it was also borne out of some embarrassment. I just didn’t want to admit that I didn’t get it.

Jesus asks the disciples who have heard his parables, “Have you understood all this?”

Without hesitating, the disciples respond, “Yes!”

Now, that “Yes” comes from the very same disciples who only ten verses back had asked, “Why do you teach in parables?” This strikes me as somewhat unbelievable. And considering two thousand years of church history with extended periods and frequent episodes in which the disciples, the church, quite clearly did not understood, and one can begin to sympathize with Paul who appears to get it right:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Romans 8:26

We do not know how to pray as we ought. Hear again this prayer by an anonymous author:

Lord of the Universe, I am a simple man, an ignorant man. Oh, how I wish I had the words to fashion beautiful prayers to praise thee! But alas, I cannot find these words.

So listen to me, O God, as I recite the letters of the alphabet. You know what I think and how I feel. Take these letters of the alphabet and you form the words that express the yearning, the love for Thee that is in my heart. Amen.

Have we understood all this?

If we are honest, we might say, “No, not really.”

Our God is a very frugal God. The time demands of the creation myth in Genesis 1 demonstrate this. And Genesis 2, even when a suitable partner was not found among the animals that God had made, he did not discard them but rather populated the earth with their kind. No, God does not waste…not one iota, not one jot or tittle. And God does not waste us either, not one iota of our life experience is laid waste by God. Each moment we live and breathe on this fragile Earth, our island home, God values and savors who we are and what we are doing – especially the work we do for God’s kingdom.

There is a hidden truth embedded in the Good News of Jesus, a hidden truth in these parables like yeast in dough. The hidden truth is that at the end of the day each one of us is the Pearl of Great Value. Through our Baptism, we are made God’s beloved. And to show how much our God loves us, he sends his only Son to walk among us, dwell among us, to show us the way of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

So much does God savor our life experience that he did not let us get away with killing his Son, his only Son whom he loves, but returned him to us, so that wherever communities of Christians gather in his name, Jesus himself is in the midst of them, calling us back to the God from whence we come: We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. We are God’s beloved.

May we please think of ourselves as Pearls of Great Value that are hidden in the field that is this world and for which God paid a great price: the ultimate price, selling all that he had to obtain us, to retain us, and to bring us home.

So precious are we in the eyes of our God that we really need to take time each day in our prayers to allow God the time to thank us for what we have done for God today. Every day we should sit in silence in prayer and allow ourselves to feel God thanking us for all that we do for God in this world.

Are we really capable of believing and knowing that God loves us that much? Can we feel like Pearls of Great Value? It is central to the life of faith to accept and receive God’s love – to know how much our God values us and everything that we do.

This is why all these kingdom parables are so important to us. They each point to the hidden-ness of God’s reign in our midst. They each suggest that the life of faith begins with something as small as a little bit of yeast or a single grain of mustard seed. And like the yeast, this faith of ours often remains hidden and unseen – unrecognized.

This is why the disciples ask Jesus for more faith before he sends them out into the world to continue the work of the kingdom. But Jesus replies, “You just need a little bit of faith. With just the smallest amount of faith you can move mountains. With just a little bit of faith you can raise the dead. With just a little faith you will do the things that I do, and greater things than these will you do!”

We do not need to do big and heroic things. Though in truth, as God’s own pearls of great value, every little thing we do brings a smile to God’s face. And the more we let God thank us for what we can do for God, the more confident and empowered we become as God’s own people. And soon the people around us and the people we meet begin to feel like pearls of great value as well.

It does begin with faith. But all we really need is faith as small as a mustard seed to make the whole creation new. To give new life to our own tired bodies. To put a smile on the face of a stranger. To plant seeds of God’s love throughout the neighborhood in which God has made his home.

How ought we to pray? Like the anonymous author of the alphabet prayer, we can recite the letters and leave it to God to put our thoughts together for us. But as Pearls of Great Value to God, we would do better to be still, and know that God is with us. In the stillness and in the silence, give God the time to thank you for who you are: God’s Beloved with whom God is well pleased. And allow God to thank you for what you have done for God today.

The life of faith begins with accepting God’s love into our hearts, minds, and souls. Without that, we are nothing. With God’s love poured into our hearts we become Pearls of Great Value


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