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A New Way to Pray

woman in field, lifting her hands in prayer

[Editor's Note: This post is based on Rev. Jane's Sermon from May 15, 2022.]

He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, `Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

- Acts 11:13-16

Changing Tastes

Growing up, there was one dinner, that I absolutely hated. Whenever my mom, would make fish for dinner, I have memories of complaining and refusing to eat, and crying at the dinner table about how terrible this meal was and how I couldn’t possibly eat it. It wasn’t until I eventually moved away from Ohio, living on the East Coast and for a short while in France, that I began to even try fish again.

I lived with a host family in France, and my host mother made fish often. Mostly because my French was terrible but also because I didn’t want to be rude, I couldn’t tell her how much I despised fish, so I started to eat it. I don’t know if my palate changed, or fresh fish cooked in butter in the south of France was just better than anything I had tried before, but slowly I realized I wasn't just tolerating fish, but actually enjoying it. It wasn’t very long before I was trying sushi, and calamari, and oysters too.

It’s funny to realize that our mind and our preferences can change. It can even be a little embarrassing to admit that we have changed. That our long held beliefs, or ideas, or practices have shifted in some way that not only changes us, but also changes how we see others.

When the Holy Spirit Moves

This is what happens in the story we hear in Book of Acts today. Peter acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is on the move. Calling him and the disciples of Jesus, who had been mostly Jewish in the beginning to connect with non-Jewish people (who they called Gentiles).

In the ancient world, it was unheard of for Jewish people to eat with non-Jews. Their customs and ways of eating were different, the kinds of food they ate were different. These customs were the way that God had called them to live faithfully in the world for generations.

It was a challenge for the early Jewish followers of Jesus to understand how to share life much less meals with Gentiles. And Peter was no different – he wants to share the good news of Jesus, but how can he go into a Gentile home and share a meal with them?

Peter then shares a vision he had not just once but three times God sent this vision to convince Peter. He saw a sheet with animals of all kinds came down and God urged Peter to go and eat. Peter says I have never in my whole life eaten anything unclean, but the voice says, “what God has made clean, you must not call profane.” And Peter reflects “The Spirit told me to go with them and not make a distinction between them and us.”

This is a watershed moment in the early church, it recounts a miraculous change of heart, and acceptance of a new way to be in relationship with God. The community of God’s people has expanded and the spiritual practices of this faith community are changed, inspired by the Holy Spirit and in response to the context Peter finds himself in.

God is always looking for ways to draw us together across the boundaries that divide us.

Uniting Across Boundaries

God is always looking for ways to draw us together across the boundaries that divide us.

As we see the news of another mass shooting, rooted in hatred and white supremacist ideology, we too are called to look for ways to change our hearts and minds, to allow God to draw us together as one people, and to stand up for those who others are ignoring or hurting.

The Holy Spirit reframes our understanding of who belongs and how we can share our faith with one another in the real world we live in. We are not called to live in the past but to engage our faith in the living God—a God who is active and responsive in our time. A God who offers us a faith that has the capacity to expand our understanding, adapt our spiritual practices, and even at times change our minds as the Holy Spirit inspires us to hear God still speaking and revealing God’s unfolding vision of the kingdom.

In the Revelation to St. John, John of Patmos has a vision of his own, a new city descending from the heavens, the old world passing away and a new one coming into being. And a voice says, “See the home of God is among the mortals, God will dwell with the people…See I am making all things new.”

Although we often read this passage as hopeful, as the time to come when all things will be made right…this passage also reminds us that this newness also asks that we allow the old world to be co-mingled with the new.

I want to acknowledge that this isn’t easy. Peter certainly struggles to understand what is happening. As a Jewish man, he understands the world in one way, the way he was raised, the way his people have practiced their faith for so many years. Why is God revealing this new way?

And I just want to acknowledge this still happens to us. Not just when we get a new cell phone and have to learn how to work it. This happens in our spiritual lives as well—those of us living today, have spiritual practices and customs and things we were taught growing up and they are what we know and how we understand the world.

And I am here to say that God is still in the business of inviting us to change our minds.

New Words, Same Spirit

“Wait, did someone change the Lord’s Prayer?” I have heard a few of you ask me this question over the last few weeks. Maybe even if you haven’t said that, you are wondering about it.

The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer contains many of the prayers and liturgies we pray as a church. If you look up the Lord's Prayer, you'll find two options for how the Lord’s Prayer is to be prayed.

Mostly, these prayers are very similar, they say the same thing, with slightly updated language.

Just like we no longer use the King James Version of the Bible in worship, the authors of the prayer book, offer us both the traditional prayer forms, and more contemporary ways to pray, recognizing that language continues to evolve over time to meet the needs of future generations.

I also like to remember that Jesus who taught this new way of praying to his disciples did not teach them the prayer in Elizabethan English. He probably taught them this prayer in Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew.

It was a new way for his disciples to pray, different from the Jewish prayers that people prayed at that time. He taught them to pray in their everyday language. The prayer has been translated into many, many languages over the centuries and the prayer sounds different depending on who is praying and where you pray it. But, it remains the same prayer.

Now like many of you, I grew up praying the traditional Lord’s Prayer and I find the thees and thous a comforting and poetic way to pray. It is beautiful and familiar, like coming home to curl up in a favorite chair.

But during the season of Easter, Jesus appears to his disciples in surprising and new ways. We understand that sometimes God shows up in unexpected places, words, and experiences. We are invited to be on the lookout for a God who calls us forth anew. To listen and learn to pray together new prayers and try on new spiritual practices.

We can (and will) return to the more familiar forms, but as a church and a people of faith, we want to remain open to the new ways that God’s Spirit is moving among us.

I invite you to pray this new form of the Lord’s prayer with an open mind, and to smile as we stumble learning this new way of praying together. Be gracious with yourself and one another, and invite God to speak to you in some new ways.

May our hearts be opened to God’s Spirit moving in our time. Amen.


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