September 18, 2016 – Prayer

Pentecost 18    September 18, 2016   Psalm 145, Romans 1:8-12, Ephesians 1:15-19, 3:14-19; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5, 5:16-18; Philippians 1:3-11, 4:4-7 Prayer

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Anytime we welcome a new member, we say together these words from our Hymnal: “As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation… We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church – by our prayers – our presence – our gifts – and our service – that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

The first of the vows we make as members of the body of Christ is prayer – our promise to remember and hold all the church and one another in prayer. And…

Naming prayer first in our vows is no accident. Prayer, in the deepest sense, is the beginning of our life of faith…

Following the example of Jesus, who is truly God and also truly human, we remember how Jesus prays and teaches us to pray. Jesus spends the whole night in prayer before calling his first apostles (Luke 6). Jesus goes often to quiet places to pray. He teaches us to pray – giving us the words of the Lord’s Prayer (in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11). Giving us also a string of parables about how to pray.

A man bangs on his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night, asking bread for a visitor who shows up at his door unexpectedly. The neighbor refuses help at first. But because his neighbor won’t stop knocking, eventually he will get up – Jesus says, even in the middle of the night, and give him what he asks. So ask – seek – knock – Jesus says, and consider: If you, who are not so good (Jesus said it not me) know how to give good gifts to your children – won’t God who is good all the time, give God’s best gift, the Holy Spirit – to you? (Luke 11.)

Jesus also tells a parable about a widow who petitions an unjust judge, badgering him till the judge gives up and gives her justice. And won’t our gracious God do better than this unjust judge? Jesus asks.

Jesus prays and teaches us how to pray – persistently – with expectation that God hears and God is good… And in the book of Acts we see the early church, taught by Jesus, gathering together in prayer, again and again…. In nearly every chapter of Acts we see and hear the church at prayer.

Late in Acts, as the apostle Paul says goodbyes to churches he won’t see again (Acts 20, 21) he and church members kneel down together in prayer with tears of love for one another…

And today as we hear the words of God through the apostle Paul, again and again we hear these same themes of mutual love – persistence in prayer – holy expectation – doing everything we do in the spirit of prayer, with thanksgiving.

Always thanking God in all our prayers – always remembering each other in prayer.

Even when Paul hasn’t met church members yet, as with his letter to the church in Rome – he hasn’t been there yet when he writes – still he’s heard of their faithfulness – and he’s already thanking God for them in his prayers… Knowing, as he says here in Romans – our faith is strengthened by each other. Faith grows best in the good soil of the garden of beloved community.

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel….” Paul writes in the first chapter of Philippians. Writing to the churches in Rome, Ephesus, and Thessalonica he says much the same. And we’re all called to remember each other in prayer like this. Because together we are the body of Christ…

We may not always look exactly like what we think Jesus ought to look like. We may not always feel overwhelmed with joy, thinking about ourselves and our fellow believers. But I’ve been reminded, reading the journals of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker – I think I bought this book because of its title – The Duty of Delight – one of her frequently-used-phrases – a reminder to herself – and now to me – that it is a duty to cultivate joy as part of our Christian witness. And as Dorothy Day also writes in her journals – reminding me again – it’s the devil who tries to show us the worst in others. It’s the Holy Spirit who shows us Christ in others…and…

Again and again we hear in the opening chapters of most of Paul’s letters many variations on this theme of ‘I thank God as I remember you in all my prayers…’ The word “remember” here doesn’t mean just remembering names and faces – though of course we always try to get to know each other, much as we can. But the word remember as its used here – (and it has this meaning more obviously in the original Greek) – is about re-membering  – with a dash between re and member – holding together, bringing together in our prayers, all the members of Christ’s body, the church. Asking God to make us whole, together… Something God is actually very heavily invested in doing… And wants us to be also.

In Thessalonians closing chapter (our fifth reading) we hear:  “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.” If we can’t remember much else today, here’s our text messageable-shorthand-summary of almost the whole message of prayer…

Except to say – as we pray without ceasing… our prayer will continue to deepen… As will our thanksgiving…

And as we pray without ceasing…. Our lips don’t have to be moving…

Silent prayer works. Silent prayer can go deep. (Jesus tells us not to use many words in our public prayers.) A few words are usually enough: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name… ” “Lord Jesus Christ be merciful to me.”  “Lord, please help.” And… “Thank you Jesus. Amen.”

Remembering always to say our “thank you’s” early and often to God. Giving thanks to God is the foundation for all prayer.

Prayer is most basically conversation with God. Everything we say to God can be considered a form of prayer. (Even shouting and hollering to God, like Job, is prayer. Just don’t let that be the last word said…)

Yet for the church to be all we’re supposed to be… Our prayers should always be rooted and grounded in the fertile soil of holy scripture.

For there is great power in the word of God. Power that often goes untapped.  Too often we read scripture too little, too quickly, or even not at all.

When we read holy scripture prayerfully – all the prayers in and through God’s Spirit that have gone into the writing, reading, and hearing of scripture through the ages can come to life anew in us… When we read the word of God prayerfully,  faithfully, persistently, expectantly… new creation happens. (It does take practice.)

Lectio Divina – a Latin phrase meaning ‘divine word’ – is an ancient way of praying the scriptures.  I encourage us all to try this. Just start with the seven readings we have in our bulletin today. One a day for each day of the coming week. Start today: Do a reading lectio divina style each day. Pray silently or aloud – asking God to open hearts and minds in the hearing of the word. Read the word aloud. Pray again in silence – again asking God to speak to us through the words of scripture…

Read the reading a second time aloud. Pray again, now in silence. Do this again, a third time, prayerfully… Try doing this reading and praying in different ways – sometimes alone, sometimes together with someone else. Take turns reading. Sing one of our responsive songs for each reading…

Mostly just pray and read… Pray and read… And notice prayer deepening… with prayerful practice…

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The word of God tells us to pray without ceasing. Everything we do should be done in prayer…

As our scripture readings today tell us –

Pray with thanksgiving to God under all circumstances.

Pray to keep growing in the knowledge, power, and love of God.

Pray for Christ to live in our hearts through faith…

Pray to be filled with the fullness of God…

These and all the prayers we hear in Scripture are all for our instruction in practical holiness. All for our mutual encouragement in the building up of the body of Christ on earth… Remembering –

Jesus teaches us to pray – with all the church everywhere – remembering one another in all our prayers – bringing everything and everyone to God in prayer… Not because God doesn’t already know our every need…

But because God has designed us in the image and likeness of God… to love and support – and give and receive help from one another…

Because God wants intimate, loving communication with all of us –

And God wants us to communicate in love with each other…

So all the world can see the love of God at work… In the love Christ’s people have for each other…

Till all who can ever even remotely possibly be reached… will say together with us – in the power of the Holy Spirit –

Thanks be to God.

Thanks be to God.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.