Lately my Facebook feed has been jam packed with prayer requests. There aren’t many political posts because I’ve unfollowed everyone who shares a constant stream of political rants and raves until after the November election! I highly recommend you do the same. It makes Facebook a much more enjoyable experience! The prayer requests that appear on my newsfeed are from family, friends and even strangers who are going through difficult times. I’m always happy to take a brief moment and pray for that person before moving on to another post.
Other prayer requests that appear on my newsfeed involve tragedies that are happening in our nation and our world: Pray for Orlando. Pray for Nice. Pray for Turkey. Pray for Munich. Pray for the families of the police officers who were killed in Baton Rouge. Pray for the families of African American men such as Philander Castile and Alton Sterling who were fatally shot by policemen. And so on and so forth.
Lately, these kinds of requests have been appearing on my newsfeed in overwhelming abundance. I find myself struggling with exactly what I should be praying for. It’s fine to pray for those who are suffering and have lost loved ones. I know how to do that. But, somehow, this doesn’t seem like enough. I find myself asking, “What good does it do for me to pray for these situations while I sit here and do nothing to change the circumstances that give birth to these kinds of tragedies.” I feel like my prayers need legs. I know God hears my prayers but I’m beginning to think that God would be much happier if I was an answer to some of those prayers. Do you understand what I mean?
If you’re not on Facebook, I have no doubt that you also receive prayer requests from family and friends through other forms of communication. You also have access to our Prayer Bookmark which appears every Sunday in your bulletin. I’m sure you are praying for these people, whether you know them or not. If you’re not on Facebook, I’m certain that you also hear about what’s happening in our world through newspapers and magazines, TV and the radio. These situations cause you to turn to prayer as well.
Maybe, just maybe, you are asking the same question I am: “What good does it do for me to pray for these situations while I sit here and do nothing to change the circumstances that give birth to these kinds of tragedies.” Maybe, just, maybe, you feel like your prayers need legs, too. However, the sheer volume of tragic events that are happening in our world make you feel powerless and insignificant.
Thankfully, for all of us, today’s gospel lesson is jam packed with sayings about prayer. While it’s impossible to cover all of them in one sermon, there is much here that is very helpful to us when it comes to the subject of prayer. As our gospel lesson begins, Jesus had spent time apart by himself in prayer and meditation or a combination of both! This is a regular activity for Jesus and he encouraged his disciples to do the same. There are several places in the gospels where it mentioned that Jesus went to a “deserted place by himself” in order to pray. [Mt 14:13, Mk 1:35, 6:31, Lk 4:42, 5:16] I don’t want to skip over the significance of this detail because I think it’s vital to our health and well-being.
Over the past two weeks, Australia was that “deserted place” for me. I define the word “deserted” not as “solitary” but as “away from the worries and responsibilities of life.” We know from the gospels, that Jesus had lots of people tugging on him nearly every moment of the day. If it wasn’t the crowds asking for healing, it was the disciples who asked one question after another. Jesus knew that it was important to spend time apart from our day-to-day lives. This time recharges our batteries and gives us a fresh perspective.
Australia did that for me. Every day, Gary and I, along with our friends, Immersed ourselves in the beauty and wonder of New South Whales. We petted wild kangaroos and were serenaded by Kookaburras each morning. We saw one breath-taking vista after another and discovered plants we had never seen before. We went whale watching in Nelson Bay and tasted sumptuous wines in Hunter Valley. All of these experiences, and many more, had a restorative effect on both of us.
I also took a technology sabbath, leaving the church cell phone with Jennifer. I only checked Facebook once a day in order to write about our adventures and check in with my family. During this time I also heard the news of sorrowful situations in our world such as Nice and Turkey. But my time apart remedied me that in spite of the bad things that happen our our world, there is much that is good and beautiful and wonderful. These are the kinds of things a 24-hour a day news cycle rarely covers, unless it involves cute cat videos!
So Jesus got it right when he took time to go to a “deserted place.” We would do well to follow his example. For me, it prevents us from giving into despair and strengthens our faith in God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding steadfast love,” even when bad news surrounds us on all sides. When we take the time to go to a deserted place, it also changes the way we pray. St. Paul says in Philippians 4: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is the benefit of spending time apart from the worries and responsibilities of life.
As our gospel lesson continues, Jesus teaches his disciples the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Later this morning we are going to pray the Aboriginal version of it because it is beautifully poetic and makes us think about exactly what we are praying. This prayer is a sermon series unto itself. But the one thing I’d like us to notice this morning is that Lord’s Prayer, as we know it, begins and ends with praise: “Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed be thy name.” “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” It is a “praise sandwich” where praise is the bun and all the other petitions are the meat and the toppings.
What this tells us about prayer is that if thanksgiving and gratitude are not a part of it, we’re doing it wrong. If all we do is give God a list of wants, need and complaints, we’re doing it wrong. One of my favorite Christian mystics, Meister Eckhart, put it this way, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” Thanksgiving and gratitude need to be a part of our prayer life. If we do this consistently, I believe it changes the way we pray.
The final stop on our trip through today’s gospel lesson involves three words in the last verse: “how much more.” In a nutshell, Jesus is telling us something about the nature of God that should be fairly obvious: God loves us. God hears our prayers. God desires to bless us. He tells his disciples “Is there anyone among you who, i your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” The answer he is looking for, of course, is a big resounding NO!
Our parents, no matter how flawed they may be, or how flawed we are as parents, want the best for their children. Parents want good things to happen in their lives. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. I know there are abusive parents out there. But Jesus is making a generalization here, so work with him! If parents, who are less than perfect, want the best for their children, HOW MUCH MORE does our heavenly Abba want the best for us. This does to mean we will get everything we want. God does not indulge whiny children. Instead, God hears our prayers and is there to pick us up when fall and comfort us when we are facing difficulties in life.
We need to trust that in spite of all the horrible things that are happening in our world, God’s kingdom is here also. God is working behind the scenes to bring about resurrection and new life. God stands in solidarity with those who are oppressed, terrorized and abused. Therefore, our prayers have to involve more than words. They have to have feet on them because we are the Body of Christ. We are Christ’s visible presence in the world/. We are the answer to a prayer that someone else is praying today whether we know it or not.
The book of James states it this way. We could easily substitute “prayer” for “faith.” the sentiment is the same: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ And yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, And I by my works will show you my faith.” [Js 2:14-18]
Friends in Christ, there is obviously a lot more I can say about prayer but I need to save it for another sermon. What we take from today’s gospel lesson is a reminder to take time apart from the worries and cares of the world. When we pray, we should always include petitions of thanksgiving and gratitude along with our cares and concerns. Finally, we need to remember that sometimes our prayers have to have legs on them, along with caring hands and a compassionate heart. We may very well be the answer to someone else’s prayer today, shining whatever light we can into the dark corners of our world. This is the most beautiful form of prayer we can ever practice! Amen.
Written by David Eck, Copyright ©2016.