Saturday, September 24, 2016

In the Need of Prayer

1 Timothy 2: 1-7
Prayer is so important.  It’s good for your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body.  God likes it too!  Prayer is an ancient ritual from many faith traditions passed down from generation to generation.

During the summer this year the kids from Summer BLAST aka the Lego Club learned about the Lord’s Prayer.  They divided the prayer up into four different parts, discussed what it meant to their everyday lives and then collaboratively depicted it in Lego’s.  They are quite interesting; you can have a look at them upstairs in the council room.  The important thing is that they really took the time to learn about what they are saying when they pray with us together, the Lord’s Prayer.  One of the early changes to the liturgy that I made when I first came was to move the Lord’s Prayer to a place in the order of service before the children left for Church School.  This way they can hear it spoken and learn it so that it becomes a part of their early Christian experience and faith formation.   So that when they are old and in nursing care, when they hear that beautiful prayer they will be able to recall it when their memory has failed all else.

Let us hear now about prayer in today’s lectionary reading, from the epistle of 1

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
 Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Timothy, new pastor of a church in Ephesus, is given a lot of instruction in the two succinct books of Timothy 1 & 2.   If this letter is written in ‘Paul’s name’ in the late first century, as they believe, then a generation or two had passed from the scene.  Jesus hadn’t returned as they had expected and longed for and by now the apostles are dead.  And during that time persecutions had been a part of the early Christians experience.  It’s Paul’s way of reminding Timothy that God is the one in charge, not Nero, not the Roman Empire, not the pagans.  God.  And that they are to remain steadfast in the faith. 

We know that Paul is painfully to the point.  What we have just heard in these short seven verses is: pray often, pray for everybody, prayer is good, prayer pleases God.  With great proclamation this passage calls us out of isolationism and into the fullness of what it means to be a community of believers in the one God, in prayer, of what it means to be a church gathered in the world around us that is at odds.  We, OCC and all churches, synagogues, and mosques are unique.  We go against the pervading culture of spirituality that finds itself in autonomy rather than interconnectedness.  

Most people prefer to go it alone rather than be in community.  How often do you hear, “I’m not one for organized religion’ or ‘I prefer to pray to the big guy alone’? And while I believe that works for a while, how much richer it is when we can share our joys and concerns with one another. How much fuller it is to know that others are walking the same path as I am.  Maybe you’re not in step with me but we share the road, traverse the same hills and navigate the same valleys.  Interconnectedness is a hallmark of a caring congregation, and prayer is essential to its life. 

Each week that I read the list of people to be included in our Pastoral prayer, I am reminded of the depth, sincerity and earnestness of your prayer.  I know this list seems long and arduous to read sometimes.  But it’s not just a medical roster of folks who are sick, or a way to get the news out about a person or family, it is a way to actively do something before God on behalf of another human who shares your common lot.  We are very privileged to lift up to God heartfelt and loving prayers on the behalf of others and it is our duty.  Remember the first and second greatest commandments, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  Communal prayer brings us close in our walk with Jesus. 

Intercessionary prayer is what Paul is encouraging us to do.  Prayer shouldn’t be the last ditch effort.  It’s not like wringing your hands together and saying we’ll at least I can pray.  NO!  Intercessionary prayer should be first and foremost!  Our passage begins, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone.”  First.  Of.  All.   And it doesn’t have to be formal.

You know sometimes prayer can be rich and full of meaning and sometimes we just throw our hands up in the air and say, “God, I’ve got nothing for you today, just be with me or be with my friend”.  And that’s ok.  That’s a full and heartfelt prayer.  Prayer is not flowery words and promises that you can’t keep.  Prayer is not cause and effect, like if God’s having a good day then I’ll win that lottery, or I’ll get the boyfriend or the girlfriend I’ve asked for, or Leslie will beat that cancer.  It just doesn’t work like that. 

Things don’t happen because I pray.  But things can happen when I pray.  I am changed by the experience.  My heart is calmed and still and resting in the presence of God.  I am changed not by my words but by the intense emotions that reside within me can finally be released and offered to God in prayer.   In time and over time you will see and understand the profound meaning of prayer, and how it was answered if indeed answers are what prayer is about.

Remember the words of Jeremiah?  I tend to use them a lot, probably because I need to hear them!  God says to Jeremiah, tell the people, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will restore your fortunes.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

Jeremiah simply lets the people know that God gets it, God will protect them and that God will hear them and restore them.  And isn’t that what we ultimately want and need from prayer?  Assurance and restoration?

So we will pray to the one true God and to our mediator, Christ Jesus, together.  We will stand united in the need or prayer. 

I love when we end our meetings standing in a circle, holding hands and praying the Lord’s Prayer.  At that very moment our voices are united and we are one body in Christ.
No matter what went on in the meeting and how we may have disagreed or agreed with one another, no matter what we brought to the table with us from home or our lives, we are one and we affirm our love of God and our common humanity.   So let us now stand up and hold the hand of the one next to you as we pray very slowly again, the Prayer that Jesus gave us. 


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