July 24 2022 How to Stay Spiritually Fresh  Luke 11:1-13

How can we stay spiritually fresh and alive and plugged into the power of the Spirit?  We rely on being able to do some things automatically, without thinking our way through them. Some things like tying our shoelaces, brushing our teeth or combing our hair are the result of skills we have learned so well that our bodies perform them without fail. Many of these things are habits we have developed so fully that we no longer realize we are doing them.  Even a week ago when we were on vacation.  It is amazing how being out of your normal environment for you morning routine can really throw you off. 

But in other parts of our lives, we don't want to be on automatic pilot or to rely on programmed skills or habits to get us through. In some situations, we need to give our full attention and demand that same degree of attention from others. Our kids can tell the difference between an automatic, "What did you do at school today?" and a parent's honest, authentic interest in the events in their lives. Friends can tell the difference between an automatic, "How are you?" and the compassionate reaching out of one soul to another.

It is amazing and amusing how we have convinced ourselves that God hasn't yet caught on to the difference between our expressions of genuine spirituality and our automatic, rote readings of the "Lord's Prayer." How many times have you recited the "Lord's Prayer" in worship, at weddings, at funerals, with your mind and your spirit on full automatic? The words are so familiar that we can be on "cruise control" for the entire prayer.

For too many people, in too many situations, the "Lord's Prayer" has become little more than a meaningless mantra, or even worse, a kind of "good luck" saying. How many really think about the petitions, such us “Forgive us our trespasses/sins as we have forgiven the sins of those who have trespassed/sinned against us.”  Thank God for some of you that God does not forgive you as you have forgiven and made peace with others.  We should forgive everyone that that done something to us. 

Today's texts, Luke and Colossians, go well together. They both talk about staying in the fullness and freshness of the Spirit. Jesus promised us that we could stay fresh and alive and plugged into the power of the Spirit. "Ask," he insisted, "and you will receive" not just some of us, not just those with special gifts, but "everyone."

In fact, Jesus gave his disciples their own prayer so that they might live a "wired" life being "wired in" to the Spirit. The "Lord's Prayer" was never intended to be a creed or a catechism, repeated exactly the same by all Christians at every stage of their lives. The "Lord's Prayer" is only a template, a blueprint, showing us how we can gain access to the power and love and grace God offers to us daily. Essentially, Jesus says, all we have to do is ask.

Admittedly, there is something compelling and comforting about a mantra. There are, and need to be, mantra prayers. Consider the quieting peace that comes from repeatedly reciting the "Kyrie" "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." To stay vitally connected to the Spirit, however, we must expand our understanding of a "mantra" and view it as the repetition of certain practices, attitudes and relationships, instead of just the recitation of words alone.

A Christian mantra, empowered by the spirit of the "Lord's Prayer," has at least three components:

1. Daily Scripture Reading. This does not mean books of scholarship about Scripture, or study guides and manuals for investigating Scripture, though these are key growth-agents in the life of faith. But prior to that is the ability simply to steep yourself in the Word through repeated readings of the Bible.

The men and women of the Old and New Testaments should not be strangers to us. They are our family. We are related to them in the faith. Daily readings soaked in the stories of our tradition will make for a stronger, fuller, richer faith. We can only remain spiritually "fresh" by conscientiously feeding and watering the roots of our faith. Scripture remains a miraculous gift of God because despite its antiquity, its misuse by the church, its abuse by its doubters and its overuse by literalists, it still speaks a fresh word from God to us every day.  This unfortunately is not something Lutheran’s are strong on.  I admit that I have not insisted enough about being in the daily Bible Reading.  In my last few years of ministry I will be more mindful of encouraging all of you to be involved in daily Bible Reading and devotion

2. Daily Prayer. The "Lord's Prayer" was not intended as a "daily prayer." It only points to the fact that "our Father" wants to hear from us every day. Jesus counseled his disciples to be persistent in prayer to the point of peskiness.

Some people are just creatures of habit.  They get up and they pray their daily laundry list of request hardly deviating from day to day rather than changing things up and looking for the answers to the prayers they said yesterday or the day before or a week ago.  This is not to say that we should not be persistent, but spontaneity is good as well.  It is fun when our granddaughters pray before means, because you just are not quite sure what is going to come out of their little mouths.  God wants that from you too.  Jesus encourages his disciples to go continually into God's presence in prayer. God, delights in our clamoring’s in prayer all hours of the day and night.

3. A Daily Relationship With Others. Reading the Word and praying to God are faith mantras we must exercise on our own, but we must also read, pray, and praise. If you can plug into a small group that is great, maybe you need to start one.  I know some churches, yes even Lutherans, who have strong small groups led by laypeople.  And of course there is the Pastor led Sunday morning Bible Study. 

Part of our spiritual freshness depends on opening up our hearts and spirits to the sounds and sights of other Christians. I can remember in college there were about 15 of us who would get together each evening for a small prayer group.  And perhaps it is a good "sign of the times" that prayer meetings are coming back into popularity again and yes, prayer groups among the faithful on the "Internet" do count!  

All Christians struggle to keep their faith fresh and vital develop favorite ways, personal mantras, that aid and sustain them in that task. The problem that I perceive as you look around the church today is that many have forsaken the fellowship of believers, of Bible Study, of a prayer life.  Those who remain in the church tend to think that all they need is worship on Sunday morning.  But the reality is that many who do come to church on Sunday are distracted in thoughts or responsibilities.  They do not just come and immerse themselves in the music, the Word and reception of the Sacraments. 

            So many people are focused on their physical health.  Maybe cancer and treatments, maybe a heart condition, maybe joint replacement like I am facing this week, maybe covid or eyesight or some other physical ailment.  People spend thousands of dollars a year to stay physically healthy by going to the doctors, gym memberships, personal trainers and the like.  How about your spiritual life, your prayer life can and will have an impact on all your physical conditions when you turn them over to the Lord and spend time in reading scripture, praying and enjoying the fellowship of other Christians praying for you. 

            Oh, don’t if you are thinking that this message is for everyone else today and not you.  If you think like this then this message is definitely for YOU and YOU alone.  Spend time everyday in the Word and Prayer.  AMEN