There’s been so much going on in the world lately that I wonder if that makes it easier or harder to pray? Some people, when things seem overwhelming, find themselves turning to prayer almost automatically. Some people, when things are horrible, find themselves thinking, “why bother? God doesn’t hear my prayers anyway.”
The world seems to be going to heck in a hand-basket with several more horrific mass murders, flooding deaths in China, mud-slinging and the preaching of fear, a devastating heat in the mid-west, a wild-fire destroying homes in California, and who knows what kind of personal agony in the lives of people who suffer from any kind of disease and pain.
Lord have mercy! Are you listening? And do you care?
As much as I sometimes struggle with things, I believe down deep that the answer is yes, God does hear and answer our prayers.
I think God always answers, but sometimes the answer is not the answer we want. How do we live with that when the prayers are about healing a loved one with cancer…or bringing an end to violence…or getting a good-enough paying job to pay the bills? It’s not easy and I don’t have any easy answers.
We often, maybe usually, think about prayer as a rather passive activity…Praying and then waiting around until God answers or doesn’t answer.
My go-to-guy, Pastor David Lose asks, “But what if that’s not the case at all? What if prayer isn’t simply a petition I send to God but rather is part of a more active and full relationship with God. Prayer, from this point of view, is less like putting a message in a bottle – or, for that matter, in an envelope or email – and setting it adrift in the sea and more like the regular conversation we have with others with whom we are in relationship.”I love the prayer in a bottle image. And that is what I so often do.
Lose goes on to say, “I’ve wondered about this before, particularly when reading Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “pray without ceasing.” I don’t think the Apostle meant spending all day sitting with your hands folded and eyes closed. Instead, I think Paul imagined our whole lives – our thinking and acting and very being – as prayer.”
Our prayers to God ought to be bold and confident. That part we get pretty easily. But then we toss the ball to God and sit back and wait for an answer as if we are not part of the solution – or the prayer.
If we trusted better that God would answer us better than any parent would, maybe we shouldn’t just sit back and wait for an answer, but would get to living into the answer to that prayer.
So rather than pray for someone who is lonely, maybe you might go visit. Rather than pray for an end to violence, maybe you could campaign against the legality of military-grade weapons, or protest when police use unnecessary force, or go visit the police station to tell officers that you are grateful for their service and pray for their safety.
We’ve seen this happen this last week in Cleveland – when riots turned into block parties – thank God. In the firefighters in California who risk their lives to prevent a fire from destroying someone’s home.And us, when we make soup or a meal or donate school supplies to those who can’t afford them.
We hold the answer to prayer more often than not! We are the hands and hearts, tools and presence that God uses to answer the prayers of those who cry out in desperation and fear.
“Instead of asking God, “why did this happen,” and doing nothing, it also helps to ask God, “Now that this has happened, what will we do.”1 Perhaps we need to recognize our first instinct to say “why?” is legitimate, and then move quickly to “how do I help?”
It seems funny to me that this is the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, and Jesus just now to be teaching his disciples how to pray. They have been learning how to heal people, go out and share the Good News – even before it is fully Good News, they have been called and are being trained. And this is being done before becoming pray-ers. Pope Francis says, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”
Maybe that’s our task today during our Prayers of the People. As you pray, ask why? And then ask what you might do if you are the answer to prayer.
If someone is sick, visit. If someone has died, send a condolence note. If someone needs your assistance, help out.
My guess is you know what to do.
Thoughts for this sermon came from the Rev. Dr. David Lose and Victoria Shepherd found at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-10-c-shameless-prayer/
(C) The Reverend Patty Baker
St. Clare Episcopal Church