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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There was a 95 year old woman living in a nursing home who had asked for the pastor to visit her. “How are you feeling?” the pastor asked, as he sat down in the high back chair next to her. “Oh,” she said, “I’m just worried sick!” The pastor drew closer, “What are you worried about?” he asked. “You look like you’re in good health. They are taking care of you, aren’t they?” She looked up, “Yes, they are taking very good care of me.” He puzzled, “Are you in any pain?” To this she answered, “No, I have never had a pain in my life.” A bit exasperated the pastor asked, “Well, what are you worried about?” The lady leaned back in her rocking chair and slowly explained to him, her major worry. “Every close friend I ever had has already died and gone on to heaven. I’m afraid they’re all wondering where I went. I want you to pray about it.” Yes, so often in life our fears and worries drive us to prayer.
On Ash Wednesday, as we began the season of Lent, I encouraged the congregation to embrace a Lenten discipline, but instead of inviting people to give something up, I challenged those present to take on something new. In particular, I suggested that that we could all consider our prayer life and the treasure we have been given in the Lord’s Prayer. In that evening’s meditation, we reflected on the reasons that we prayer, and on the simple introduction, “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven.” This morning, I would like us to meditate on two new themes. First, when should we pray, and Second, the words, “Hallowed be Thy Name.”
So when should we pray? In the Roman Catholic tradition young boys and girls preparing for confirmation learn the following, “When should we pray?” “We should pray very often, especially on Sundays and Holy days, every morning and every night, in all dangers, temptations and afflictions.” Lutherans are never really taught when to pray. Instead, we are taught that when we do pray, we should hear a little voice whispering in our ear, “And what does this mean?”
There are of course, those who are convinced that prayer should be fixed to certain times and places. I am reminded of the two priests a generation ago who quarreled about prayer and cigarette smoking. The smell of smoke in the evening disturbed the one priest, while the other enjoyed smoking up to the very hour of his evening prayers. The two chose to resolve their quarrel by writing to the Holy Father and asking his counsel, but each chose to write his own letter separately. The first priest wrote, “Oh Father, is it a sin to smoke as you say your prayers?” The Holy Father dashed off a quick response, “Oh yes, it is a grave sin. Any act which draws you away from prayer is sinful.” The other priest, however, phrased his question in a slightly different manner. “Holy Father, is it a sin to pray while you smoke?” Once again the Holy Father dashed off his response. “By no means, is it a sin. Scripture encourages us to pray at all times and in all places. If you pray while you smoke, that is not a sin.”
But my friends, as I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, prayer is more than simply appealing to God with the right words and phrases. Prayer is about making your relationship right with God, so that he may be as close to you as a loving father. Prayer is allowing God to touch your heart and soul, and for you to touch the heart and wisdom of God. There is, however, no defined time when this communion of thought and word occurs.
Interestingly, this morning’s gospel teaches us that these holy occasions often happen in the least expected places. St. Mark tells us that immediately, after Jesus was baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan River, he was driven by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness. There, while living with the wild beasts, he was tested by Satan. St. Mark doesn’t describe Jesus’ temptations in the desert. He doesn’t portray the turning rocks to bread or leaping down from the pinnacle of the Temple. But at the end of 40 days, something was different about Jesus and he was prepared for the rigors of the work that was before him. God’s holy name had become a part of his ministry and mission.
Unfortunately, most of us are afraid of the wilderness- whatever that wilderness may be in our lives- the emptiness of a life on hold, a relationship that seems to be stealing your joy, a job that is heading to a dead end. It is difficult to imagine that the holiness of God’s name can ever be found in the wilderness, but my friends, that is the message of this morning’s gospel. God’s holy name is not limited to the vault of heaven. When we pray “Hallowed be Thy name, “holy be your name,” we are actually praying for a life giving experience in our own wilderness now. We are asking God to change our minds and ways so that we can be open to his holy ways. And when does this happen, you may ask? In confirmation, we learn Martin Luther’s response. He wrote, “God’s name is hallowed whenever his Word is rightly taught and we as children of God live in harmony with it.” I would state that God’s name becomes holy in our lives when we face our own limitations in the wilderness moments of life, and as we become ever more dependent upon God’s infinite grace..
St. Mark’s gospel suggests three occasions when we should pray that, “God’s ways and name may be made holy in our lives.” First, pray in your times of trouble, second, pray in times of indecision, and finally pray, in times of need.
Let us begin with times of trouble. A number of years ago, I led a group of high school students camping along the North Shore. It was known as the Great Northern Border Run. After our Sunday morning worship service, we loaded up the vans, and before we started off, we prayed that God would bless the week ahead, and keep us safe in our travels. We then piled into the vehicles and started on our way. Along I-35, somewhere between Hinkley and “nowhere,” one of the vans had transmission troubles. We limped along to the nearest rest area and started seeking help. Since it was late on a Sunday, help was hard to come by. Finally, through the assistance of some kind people who lived nearby, we got a hold of a car dealer who came and rented us another van, so that we could go on our way in time for our first night’s stay. Just as we were unloading that first night, the rain poured down on us. The following day, we journeyed to Grand Portage where we crossed a rough Lake Superior aboard the Wenona to Isle Royal National Park. Nearly all of the youth became sea sick. That evening, one of the students said, “I sure am glad we prayed before we left. I’d hate to see what would have happened to us if we hadn’t prayed!”
Those colorful events and the statement of the student reminded me that the answer to prayer isn’t always what we would have given ourselves, but it is most assuredly there in one form or another, if we are open to seeing it. God chose not to stop the van from breaking down, but God answered our prayers by providing good people who went out of their way to help us. God didn’t stop the stormy lake, but he provided a capable captain and a seaworthy boat. My friends, learning to pray in times of trouble is learning to see God’s hand in your life and to see his holy name in this world. In your times of trouble discover the thankfulness that will make you a new person. There may be moments when it is easy to miss God’s presence. But it is through the discipline of prayer that we are allowed to glimpse God’s leading hand.
Second, pray in your times of indecision. It may seem much more natural to pray when you are sure and confident of what you need, but the real benefit of prayer is in the foggy moments of indecision. It’s rather like the poorly edited church bulletin, “Don’t let your worries kill you off-let the Church help.”
In the American Civil War, many soldiers from the border States were uncertain for which side they would fight. Their families were torn as well as what they should pray for. This poem, written by an unknown Confederate soldier, reminds us that when we submit to God’s will in prayer, we may not always get what we ask for. Instead, we’ll get God’s best for us.
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for-but everything I had hoped for…
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
And finally, the story of Jesus 40 days in the wilderness teaches us that we should pray in times of need. This of course, may seem to be the most obvious time to pray. But my friends, it is also the most dangerous. You may be praying for God to intercede on behalf of someone who is sick. But beware. God may in turn ask you to do something for those in need. You may be praying for healing, wholeness, forgiveness, grace, peace and joy. But God may invite you to change your own heart. Yes, you may be praying for the poor and hungry, the needy and the disenfranchised, but he might ask you how you can be an instrument of change. That is the mystery of how you hallow God’s name. You cannot pray for peace in the world without becoming an instrument of God’s peace. You cannot pray for the world without being changed yourself.
In the wilderness moments of life, you truly glimpse and grasp God’s holy name. So do not be afraid of prayer and being changed. Do not be afraid of testing and wild beasts. You too, have the assurance, that like Jesus, God’s holy angels will wait upon you. Amen.