Prayer (June 17)

Matthew 6:5-15; 1 Timothy 2:1-10

Comment


“From the earliest days, the Lord’s Prayer has occupied a place of singular honor in the life and liturgy of Christian churches. Along with the creedal formulas, the Lord’s Prayer was part of the practice of the church which was reserved to those who were full members. The ‘handing over’ of the prayers to new converts was part of the specific Christian identification for the newly baptized. ‘Because the privilege of praying the Lord’s Prayer was limited to the baptized members of the church, it was called the “prayer of believers.” ’ Thus the Lord’s Prayer was considered to be one of the most holy treasures of the church. Indeed it was surrounded with such reverence that the early Christians began their prayer. ‘We make bold to say, Our Father.’

The place of honor is not only due to the origin of the Lord’s Prayer in the teaching of Jesus, but also to the breadth and depth of the content of the prayer. Tertullian (a third-century Latin theologian) considered the Lord’s Prayer to be a ‘brief summary of the whole gospel.’ A long tradition of theological and spiritual writings used the elements of the Lord’s Prayer as a way to organize and summarize the main elements of the Christian life. Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century theologian) wrote in his commentary: ‘The Lord’s Prayer contains all that is to be desired and all that we ought to avoid.’ In more recent times, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer asserted of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Every prayer is contained in it. Whatever is included in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is prayed aright; whatever is not included is no prayer.’ The Lord’s Prayer focuses upon the essentials of our prayerful relationship with God.”

(Inagrace T. Dietterich, Teach Us to Pray: Nurturing Christian Prayer, The Center for Parish Development, 1994, pp. 31-32)

Reading the Scripture

Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:

•    Lectio Divina is a prayerful reading of scripture, which would fit right in with the theme of this lesson. See below for a guide to Lectio Divina.

•    Audio:
o    The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o    Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the church office.)

•    Video:
o    The Gospel According to Matthew: The Visual Bible The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (Dramatized video movie, word for word from the NIV text, though this particular text doesn’t have much drama to it. Available from Keith or on this web page).
o    WatchWord Bible, New Testament on DVD is available in the library. (These videos display and read the text in Contemporary English Version with background pictures, video and sound. Not exactly dramatized or all that exciting, but could be another way to read the text.)

•    Cotton Patch version of Matthew 6:5-15
"And when you pray, don’t be like the phonies. For they love to stand up and pray in church and at public occasions; so they might build a reputation as prayers. The truth is, that’s all they’ll get out of it. But you, when you pray, go to your bedroom, shut the door, and pray to your Father in private. And your Father, who sees the inner life, will respond to you. And while you are praying, don’t jabber like pagans, who think that their long-windedness will get them an answer. Don’t you be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ever ask him. So here’s the way you all should pray:

                        ‘Father of us, O Spiritual One,
                        Your Name be truly honored.
                        Your Movement spread, your will prevail
                        Through earth, as through the heavens.
                        Grant us sustaining bread each day.
                        Forgive our debts as we forgive
                        The debts of all who cannot pay.
                        And from confusion keep us clear;
                        Deliver us from evil’s sway.’

            "For if you forgive men when they wrong you, your spiritual Father will forgive you, too. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your wrongs.”

Teaching Suggestions

•    Pray: I highly recommend praying this day. It would be a shame to study prayer without practicing prayer. Allow significant quality time for prayer during Sunday School this day with time after the prayer for reflection, debriefing, and processing the experience.
    Suggestions for prayer experiences:
o    Use the Lord’s Prayer and add to each phrase specific prayers relevant to your class, LABC, and our current context.
o    Lectio Divina
o    Daniel Wolpert has written a helpful book on prayer, Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices (Upper Room Books, 2003). In it he examines a variety of prayer practices. Each chapter ends with a group prayer experience using each prayer practice. For example, in the chapter on the prayer of Examen (examination), he suggests: Allow time for class members to “reflect on places where God has been active in their lives since our last meeting” (p. 84.)

•    Prayer Room: Visit our prayer room and tell your class about it. Located on the second floor of the sanctuary down the hall from the offices, the prayer room has comfortable furniture, an amazing antique piano, and some excellent devotional books including many classics of Christian devotion. While there, be sure to notice, on the fireplace mantle, the memorial to Jane Pixley, one of our late members who believedd in and practice prayer fervently.

•    The Teaching Guide (p. 37) refers to a poem, “The Brewing of Soma,” and the hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” On this web page I have posted a YouTube video of hymn being sung at Westminster Abbey and links to the words of the hymn and the poem.

•    Quotes on prayer and devotion: I have provided some of my favorite quotes from the classics of Christian devotion (see below).

Resources

I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons.

•    For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o    Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o    Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)

•    In Keith and Tommy’s offices:
o    The Gospel of Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington (Smyth & Helwys, 2006)

•    Daniel Wolpert, Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices (Upper Room Books, 2003). Available in Keith’s office and in the library.

•    Devotional books in the prayer room and Keith’s office.

•    Prayer: Being a Disciple Community, Keith Stillwell, unpublished

 
A Process for Lectio Divina

(1) Read (lectio): Hearing the Word
•    Read the Bible passage.
•    In silence listen for the word or phrase in the passage that speaks to you.
•    Be alert to your senses. What sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells does this passage elicit?
•    Resist the urge to analyze or critique the passage.
•    After reading the passage (or hearing it read) listen to God in silence.
•    Group members may share their words or phrases at this time without comment or discussion.

(2) Reflect (meditatio): Reflecting on the Word
•    Read the passage a second time. You might choose a different translation (and in a group process a different reader) for each step.
•    Ask God to speak to you through this passage and the word or phrase God placed on your heart. Meditate on what God is saying to you.
•    After reading the passage (or hearing it read) a second time, listen to God in silence.
•    Group members may share briefly (in a sentence or two) how they heard God speaking to them.

(3) Respond (oratio): Prayers of Response to the Word
•    Read the passage a third time.
•    What response is being called forth from you in this passage? What is God calling you to think, feel, do, or be? How will you respond to God?
•    After reading the passage (or hearing it read) a second time, respond to God in silent prayer.
•    Group members may share briefly (in a sentence or two) how they responded to God.

(4) Rest (contemplatio): Resting in the Word
•    Read the text a final time.
•    Allow the word to rest deep within you. Enjoy God’s loving presence. Reflect on the entire experience.
•    Rest in silence
•    Group members may freely discuss the experience.

(5) Return (incarnatio): Putting the Word into Action
•    Given this encounter with God, how will you now live? Maybe you will want to decide on one small thing you will do now as you return to the world; to your life?
•    Pray silently
•    Go live the word.

Favorite Quotes from the Classics of Christian Devotion


    By the Grace of God I am a Christian man, by my actions a great sinner, and by calling a homeless wanderer of the humblest birth who roams from place to place. My worldly goods are a knapsack with some dried bread in it on my back, and in my breastpocket a Bible. And that is all.
(The first paragraph of, The Way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, Translated from the Russian by R. M. French. New York: HarperCollins, 1965, p. 3.)

    You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
(Augustine, Confessions, A New Translation by Henry Chadwick. Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 3.)

Stretched out on my cot
I stare at the grey wall.
Outside a summer morning
Which is not yet mine
Goes brightly into the countryside.
Brother, till after the long night
Our day breaks
We stand fast!
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison: The Enlarged Edition, ed. Eberhard Bethge. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1971, pp. 355-356.)

    …what we have to do is beg like poor and needy persons coming before a great and rich Emperor and then cast down our eyes in humble expectation.
(Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, E. Allison Peers, trans. and ed. New Your: Doubleday Image Books, 1961, p. 88.)

    Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God, or of ourselves.
(Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer. London: Penguin Books, 1995, p. 121.)

    He plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.
(Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1969, pp. 19-20.)