Prayer’s blessing

All is good’ on the Ottawa River at Arnprior (photo by Martin Malina, July 2022)
audio for ‘Prayer’s Blessing’ by Martin Malina

Nina is 100 years old. She lives in the same building where my mother resides. And my Mom told me recently about how two women in their senior years of different backgrounds who never met each other until this year, came to be friends.

The daughter-in-law of Nina had approached my Mom with a request. She said that Nina wanted to talk to someone “about Jesus”. 

So my Mom found Nina one day, sat down beside her, and introduced herself. Nina nodded and affirmed their unity in Christ. “Lutherans and Mennonites, we’re in the same boat.”

“Would you like me to read something from the bible?”

“Oh yes!” exclaimed Nina, “Psalm 23 is my favourite.”

After reading the Shepherd’s Psalm, these two women of faith sang “Now Thank We All Our God” in German, prayed and concluded their time together with the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. A common prayer that spanned centuries, cultures and the globe, brought them together in faith.

“How then should we pray?” the disciples asked Jesus two thousand years ago.[1] And Jesus taught them these well-known words that have united Christians from diverse backgrounds ever since.

It is true, whenever I provide bed-side, graveside, and wedding services today for people I have never met, there is no other spoken prayer in existence that unites us more than the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father …” Even those who have not been at Sunday worship for years can still recite those words by heart.

Simply saying those words that Jesus’ taught, simply saying them outloud with others, is an act of faith and an act of worship that unites us in Christ.

But the basic form of the Lord’s Prayer is not by itself in this Gospel text about prayer. What immediately follows are examples Jesus gives of particular situations that illustrate the nature of prayer which is not confined exclusively to a formula of set words. Prayer isn’t just the Lord’s Prayer, as important as it is. Prayer isn’t just some automatic ritual we robotically mouth. Nor is prayer just saying the right words.

The examples of the friend asking for bread in the middle of the night, of children asking for a fish or an egg—these reflect the context of prayer: that it is always practised in relationship, friendship, love; that it is a matter of the heart and our interior state; and, it is practised in faith, trust, persistence and action.

“Prayer,” writes Richard Rohr, “is being loved at a deep, sweet level.” [2] People who pray always say, “Someone is for me more than I am for myself.” Prayer is grounded in this deep intimacy with God. And this blessing of prayer is available to all people regardless of our unique backgrounds in faith. How so?

In this text from the Gospel of Luke, we encounter the first time that Luke promises the Holy Spirit to all people.[3] Remember Luke is the author of the Pentecost story from Acts chapter 2 that we read every year on Pentecost Sunday—when the Holy Spirit was given to everyone in dramatic fashion. But here in this text early in Luke, it’s the first time we get this notion that the Holy Spirit is promised to all. To those who ask for it, God will give this good gift. 

Why is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, such an important gift—the most important for which to ask God?

Because the message of Christianity is that God is with us in Jesus. And we humans are inseparable from God. The Holy Spirit intimately unites us with God, and with each other, in communion. Prayer, then, is the primary way we connect with God, and where we find unity with one another in Christ. 

I began with a story about my Mom making friends with someone who was 100 years old. Well, I asked her recently about something I needed help with—recalling another relationship several years ago now. When another woman of this congregation was a young girl who came to church with her brother and parents.

My Dad was the pastor here at the time. And he made it part of his ministry to be well stocked with Werther’s candy in his office. And every Sunday that this young girl came to church with her brother, the two of them would stand at the door of my Dad’s office waiting for a gift they knew they would get.

And my Dad would faithfully deposit one or two little candies in each of these children’s outstretched hands. 

Almost twenty years later this girl is now grown up. And Julia is in church today with her fiancé. And wouldn’t you know—I don’t have just a couple little candies to give you today. I have a whole bag!

[And there’s more to come!]

[1] Luke 11:1-13

[2] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003), p.131,134,135.

[3] Matthew L. Skinner, “Luke 11:1-13 Exegetical Perspective” in David Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C Vol 3 (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p.291.

1 thought on “Prayer’s blessing

  1. Reading this at midnight, can’t sleep.
    Uncomfortable after knee replacement surgery.
    Thank you for this beautiful message.

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