Please join me as we share this prayer…
It would be easier, God,
To stay with what we know,
To take only well-marked paths
To familiar places
In our heart and soul.
But if we are to come to you
Then we must leave behind
The comfort of what we already know
And accept your invitation
To journey into your infinite mystery.
Take our hand,
Guide our steps,
Give courage to our heart and soul.
Prayer is the habit that we focus on this week. I can hardly start a sermon on prayer without inviting you to pray throughout the sermon. I invite you to adjust in your seat and assume a comfortable position. You are welcome to find some place in the room to look other than at the pulpit. You don’t have to look at me. Let the words of this sermon be a prayer for you. An invitation to engage the divine with a new commitment starting today. If you let a question drift in your mind let it be, “How do I want to change my practice of prayer?” To help with this I have put some images up on the overhead that will rotate. These are just here for you as a way to contemplate. Take time during the sermon today to look around to use this time to relax and feel the presence of God.
Luke 6:12-19 NRSV – Retold during the service.
12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
If this is the result of prayer, then everyone should have prayer in their lives. Jesus goes up to a mountaintop to pray. Then he comes down and is inspired to select a twelve member leadership team without a second thought, preaches to a multitude, heals, helps resolve mental illness, and he may have been glowing in the dark from all the power dripping off of him. The gospel writer has now equated prayer to the same effect that our sun has on Superman. Jesus does everything, but fly away. When I read this passage my prayers seem to be lacking. Sometimes I wonder, “Am I doing this prayer thing right?”
Growing up in youth group here at St. Paul’s I remember dealing with this exact topic with my peers. We were meeting in Susanna’s place next door; the building had not yet been remodeled. The room we were in was is now the men’s bathroom on the second floor and the kitchen of the youth room. The walls had the fake wood paneling on them and we were sitting on second hand couches and chairs. The question posed to us was, “What is prayer?” This is a huge question upon which scholars, scientists, and theologians have piled the entirety of their careers to explain. In that conversation with a group of young people exploring their faith I found a simple answer, “Prayer is a conversation with God.”
A conversation is something we all can handle. We all have language we use to communicate with one another. Praying is sharing that same language with God. Through this analogy God becomes a being we can reach out to like a friend. Prayer within this context becomes a powerful relationship in which God shares in your reality and life like a close companion. This image of prayer is the same prayer that has changed the lives of Christians throughout the centuries.
The idea of prayer is not easy to explore as we are continually trained in scientific thinking. In this current era the notion you would seemingly talk or communicate with God, gets you marked as strange. Communicating with an un-describable, immeasurable, ever present spirit in a scientific age is what could be called crazy. For our scientific minds we have trouble justifying the importance of prayer in our daily lives. Communicating with an unknown quantity seems absurd. The only justification my scientific mind can come up with is that prayer is “good for blood pressure.” We have all heard that meditation and prayer is good for health. If we can’t get our scientific mind to let go, we can at least recognize these benefits.
I consistently meet people who are seeking a deep connection with something more, despite it not making sense to our scientific mind. Christian spirituality is about relationship and “conversation with God.” For most folks this becomes incredibly appealing if God is not a God of judgment, keeping tabs on you in the book of life. This is the “hanging judge” image that our guest speaker Bishop John Shelby Spong spoke of last week. This judge image of God is an image which Bishop Spong has found to be rather useless for Christians trying to create a faith ready to share God’s love with the world. If God does not have to be a judge, then the scientist in us generally has an easier time imagine the spirit of a God which connects us through love.
The gospel story today was not about seeing Jesus as superhuman, but recognizing the opportunity and connection found when we pray. Jesus went to the mountain top, to be in relationship with God. Then he came down and took opportunities to help the kingdom of God be present on earth. Jesus called people to spread the message of God’s love to the world. He provided acts of healthcare with the people there. He shared a message of hope with people who had lost the will to try and change the world. These are each things we as a community, working together can and have accomplished as prayerful living. These are things that as individuals we can take part in. Jesus is demonstrating to us that his prayer began on the mountaintop, but his ongoing prayer is happening as he descends the mountain. Prayer, our conversation with God, doesn’t just happen when we bow, but when we live faithfully.
We have a lot of big challenges facing us in the world today. Constantly in the media there are messages of things that seem insurmountable to solve: civil war, weapons, natural disaster, or a moral dilemma we don’t understand. We also have personal challenges to tackle in our lives: health, relationships, employment, and more. Whether our challenges are wanting to address huge crisis or solving a personal problem the hardest step is answering the question, “Where do I start?” The Christian answer is constantly pointed to in the gospels and the Hebrew Bible, prayer. Prayer is the place we turn to relationship with God, in hopes that through our practice we may see a larger purpose. For Christians we hope we can see an image of how to live faithfully.
Rabbi Jamie Kornold shares this image of prayer, ”Prayer is the tool I use to loosen the binds of my life and to submerge myself in a seal of calm and connection”
“Calm and connection” are also a way of stating that we see things in perspective with gathered thoughts. Jesus is showing us that prayer provides perspective on seeing what is possible to share and experience God’s love. I am not proposing prayer is the pill you take to gain massive perspective in your life. Instead I mean that prayer is the exercise by which you slowly over time build up the ability to see larger perspective and possibility in the world around you. In your conversation with God you create space for the possibility of God happening around you. Prayer helps us to see the possibility to do good work, God’s work all around us.
Prayer as conversation carries with it an assumption that prayer is all about talk. I do think prayer is about communication, but speech is not the only kind of communication we have. Think about it we communicate daily through writing, body language, acts of kindness, the actions we take part in, and by simply being alive. There are so many ways to communicate that I could never come up with an exhaustive list. Prayer is therefore limitless in its forms. The one piece I have learned though is that daily practice of some kind of prayer is when you start to notice its benefits. It is when you go about the discipline of prayer that you begin to see the world in new ways each day.
This idea of engaging prayer daily is not that you get down on your knees each day and say the Lord’s prayer. That is one way, but it may not be helpful to some of us. I find my prayer practices change as the routines of my life ebb and flow. Right now a simple prayer book read once a day is what my spirit has need of. During seminary my spirit required yoga as a form of prayer daily, because I did enough reading everyday. Wherever you are in life start with what feels natural…that is where God is ready to start conversing with you.
Take time now to consider your commitment to prayer. Where do you want to start from today? There is no perfect place to be or get to, but consider where God is calling you to be in prayer. Look at the card below and decide what you commit to today.
1. Adapted from J. (1999). God hunger. Sorin Books. Pg. 131.
2. Korngold, Rabbi Jamie S. (2011-03-21). God Upgrade: Finding Your 21st-Century Spirituality in Judaism’s 5,000-Year-Old Tradition (Kindle Locations 2042-2043). Jewish Lights Publishing. Kindle Edition.