What do witchcraft, prayer and Jesus’ disciples have to do with Abner Kravitz? Hopefully what you are about to read will make more sense than that question!
Do you remember good old Gladys Kravitz, a character from the 1960’s sitcom, Bewitched? She was the one who was always looking out her window at the house across the street, the Stevens’ house, in an attempt to catch Samantha, the witch, red-handed in the act of performing some of her really wild witchcraft. Most of the time when Gladys peeked through her blinds, she was not disappointed. She would most often get a real eyeful.
Now, at the outset, I need to say that Gladys is not the member of the Kravitz family that I really want to discuss, no. For the purposes of discussing the Gospel assigned to Proper 12 Year C, I would like to introduce Abner Kravitz, a generally very quiet man with one very interesting habit. You see, Abner had learned with extreme precision how to totally ignore Gladys, all the while reassuring her that he was listening to her every word.
Gladys could be looking out her window right as Samantha was in the middle of turning some frog into a prince or making things like cars and houses disappear, and all the while she would be telling the whole thing in great detail to Abner who would usually be sitting at the table reading a paper or watching television. All he ever said, and without ever looking up, was, “Yes, dear, whatever you say, dear.”
By the time Gladys managed to lure Abner over to the window to look, the action at the Stevens’ house was over and everything was restored to normal. And so, of course, he never really believed her. As far as I know, Abner never did see any of the magic that was right there outside his window. He just said, repeatedly, “Yes, dear, whatever you say dear.”
Our Gospel appointed for today, caused me to reflect on how much like Abner I am sometimes; oh, not when it comes to my wife and family or my friends, but when it comes to God. This Gospel is clearly about PRAYER; it’s about how we commune with our God, and as I pondered the Gospel this week, I found myself consumed with a haunting thought! Do I ever converse with God in clever disguise? Do I ever pretend to be listening to God while in my heart I’m really saying or thinking something like, “Yes God, whatever you say God.” Have I developed some bad habits that allow me to ignore God whenever it’s comfortable to do so?
Now I want to say at the outset that I’m not meaning in any way to attack a formal style of praying. I’m an Anglican, a Christian rooted in common prayer. What I do want to attempt is an exploration of where we are mentally and spiritually when we pray. I so often find myself standing right there with the disciples as they ask Jesus, with an almost child-like expectation, “Lord, teach us to pray.” These same disciples had been with this unusual man from Nazareth for many months now. They had witnessed him looking up to heaven as he healed the sick. They had watched him talk about God as though God was just a breath away, and just before the events of today’s Gospel they had witnessed his transfiguration amid the cloud and light of divinity.
At the opening of our Gospel, we are told that Jesus was just finishing up his prayers as these disciples looked on. Wouldn’t you love to have been there, just to have seen the expression on Jesus’ face as he prayed to his Abba, Father? The disciples had watched Jesus act time and time again out of an intensely intimate relationship with God, and I believe they wanted to have that same closeness. So, they ask Jesus, “Please Lord, teach us how to do that.”
Now I think it’s very important to note here that Jesus’ disciples did NOT ask Jesus to teach them a PRAYER! No, they asked him to teach them HOW to pray, a very important distinction I think.
Prayer in the Jewish mindset never just meant saying something to God. It always carried with it the idea of profoundly ENCOUNTERING God. The first purpose of prayer was to meet the Holy one, to confront and embrace the Almighty One.
When Kathy and I were in Israel at the West Wall of the temple, we noticed that as the people prayed there they moved their bodies. They bobbed their heads and shook their shoulders and bowed at the waist over and over again. The reason? To show that they were in the presence of a living, moving, breathing God whose Spirit is as alive as the wind and as close as the air we breathe. As I went down to the wall to pray, I was struck by the number of people who were leaving, having finished their prayers, with streams of tears running down their cheeks. The kind of tears you see on the faces of people who are in love!
What the disciples were asking Jesus in our Gospel was to show them how to enjoy this encounter with God, and Jesus begins with the two most important words in the Bible regarding our Spiritual life: “OUR FATHER.”
It’s important to realize here that Jesus did not offer these two words as a STANDARD formula for beginning a prayer. The standard Jewish prayers usually began with the words, “Blessed are you Lord God, King of the Universe.” What Jesus was saying, in effect, was to attempt to commune with God not as a king removed from his Kingdom, not even as a “Lord” removed from his household, but as a LOVING PARENT! Jesus was saying, “Go ahead, dare to think of God as Dad.”
Now putting aside all the discussions around “Inclusive language” and “Gender specific terms for God” for a moment, what Jesus is saying here is that we should approach God as one with whom we can confide, as one who loves you as their own, as one to whom you can make requests, unload upon, and complain to. Jesus is asking us to think of God as a brother or sister, or a wife or husband, to think of God as a “soul mate.”
In the Book of Genesis for this same Proper 12, Abraham can be found arguing, or at the very least negotiating with God. I submit to you that sometimes one of the ways you can tell two people are in love is not by how peaceful they seem to be, but by the intensity of their debate. One of the questions on the Pre-Marital Awareness Inventories that I used to give to couples when they were in pre-marriage counseling asked: “Conflict in marriage is a good thing, yes or no?” As you might guess if one or both answered “no,” we were in for a lengthy discussion. The question is designed to point out that in love conflict is inevitable, and depending on how you dealt with it, it could very well be a positive.
You see the problem with Abner Kravitz is he never really argued with Gladys. He just responded, “Yes dear, whatever you say dear.”
If you’ve never debated with God, then I heartily recommend you give it a try. God wants to be treated like a REAL PERSON, because God IS a real person. I really don’t think Jesus cares about the specifics of our address to God as much as he cares that we never treat God as one who is simply tolerated.
I would also add that I don’t think you have to say anything to be praying. Sometimes the best prayer is the quality of your living offered back to God. Sometimes the best prayer is to dance with God and then to return the joy of the dance back to the Lord of the Dance!
I think we should be able to talk with God as you would talk with the neighbor over the fence. I think in giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus was trying to put an end to whatever ways we might communicate with God that are similar to the ways Abner communicated with Gladys. It’s all about the quality of the relationship.
There was once a priest passing through his church in the middle of the day. He stopped in front of the altar so that he could see who had come in to pray. Just then, the door opened, and a man came down the aisle. The priest frowned one of those almost hidden frowns as he saw the man hadn’t shaved for some time. His shirt was shabby, and his coat was worn and frayed. The man knelt, he bowed his head for a while, and then he walked away. Each day that followed, at noon time, this man would come in to pray. He only knelt for a moment with his lunch pail in his lap. With each visit, the priest’s suspicions grew, with robbery being his main fear. He decided to stop the man, and he asked him, “Can I help you with something?” The old man said that he worked down the road. Lunch was a half an hour, and lunchtime was his prayer time. “I only stay a little while, see, ‘cause the factory is so far away. As I kneel here talkn’ to God, this is kinda’ what I say:
I just came again to tell you, Lord, how happy I’ve been, since we found each other’s friendship and you took away my sin. I don’t know much of how to pray, but I think about you every day. So, Jesus this is Jim checking in.
The priest felt bad about his motives, and he told Jim that was a fine prayer. He told the man that he was welcome to come and pray anytime he would like.
The minister knelt at the altar. It had been a long time since he had knelt there. He felt his cold heart melting with the warmth of love as he met Jesus there. As the tears flowed, he decided to repeat old Jim’s prayer:
I just came again to tell you, Lord, how happy I’ve been, since we found each other’s friendship and you took away my sin. I don’t know much of how to pray, but I think about you every day. So, Jesus this is just me checking in.”
It was past noon one day, and the priest noticed that old Jim hadn’t come to pray. By now the priest had begun to look for him. As more days passed without Jim in his usual place, the priest began to worry. He went to the factory where Jim worked and was advised that Jim was ill and was in the County Hospital. The priest went there and inquired about his new friend. The nurse told the priest that they couldn’t understand why Jim was so happy. She told the priest that Jim’s smiles were contagious, but she didn’t understand why because he had received no cards, no flowers, and no visits.
When the priest sat down next to Jim at his bedside he said, “It must be hard, Jim, not having any friends coming to show that they care.” Old Jim looked almost surprised and with a winsome smile, he said, “The nurse is wrong, she couldn’t know that all the while every day at noon He’s here, a dear friend of mine, you see, he sits right down, and he takes my hand, and he leans over and says to me:
I just came again to tell you, Jim, how happy I have been since we found this friendship, and I took away your sin. I always love to hear you pray, I think about you every day, and so Jim, this is Jesus checkin’ in.
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