Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pentecost 22-C, 2013: Let us pray...

Lectionary: Genesis 32:22-31;Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

The Lord be with you! “And also with you…” Congratulations! We have just prayed a reflexive prayer. When Episcopalians hear this invitation, we respond. We don’t think about it – we just do it. We allow the phrase to be for us a signal, to call our attention to our community and enter together into the presence of God. It’s reflexive, and it’s prayer.

There are lots of types of prayer. Our Book of Common Prayers lists many of them on page 857 (if you ever want to study them). There is adoration, which is prayer that has no goal except to enter into the presence of God and just let the love flow from God to us and from us to God.

In prayers of praise, we enter into the song of heaven that constantly glorifies God. In our prayers of thanksgiving, we acknowledge, to ourselves, to others, and to God, our awareness of God’s many blessings: for the fullness of life, for our redemption, and for the Love that sustains our every breath. In penitential prayer we confess our sins, promise to amend our lives, and listen for how to make restitution (where possible and appropriate) for our sins.

In our prayers of oblation we offer ourselves: our time, talents, and gifts, for the working out of God’s purpose in the world. In intercessory prayer we bring before God the needs of others, entering into the eternal reality promised us and lending our love to their needs. Our prayers of petition do the same thing, bringing our own needs to God.

In corporate prayer, we gather together and offer ourselves to God as a community of faith. We feed our minds with Holy Scripture, our bodies with Holy Communion, and our souls by living the reality of our interconnectedness. We do this regularly to heal ourselves from the divisions the world teaches us are “real” and “true.” They aren’t real or true.

What is real is the Love of God that binds us to one another, to all creation, and to God. What’s true is that God desires reconciliation of the whole world, and we are part of that grand plan. Jesus made this our eternal reality, and as a result, our very lives are prayer.

Prayer changes things. I truly believe it affects the world, and I truly believe it affects us.

This is what we see happening in the story of Jacob in today’s Old Testament reading. The bottom line of this story is: Jacob is praying and the end result of his prayer is a new identity, which he resists.

How many of us can identify with prayer in which we are struggling, fighting against the new thing God wants us to do, the new place God wants us to go, or the new person God wants us to be?

Sadly, what we often offer to God is what I call the I’ve got this prayer. You know, the one where we try to bend God’s will to ours, having figured out on our own the way things should be. In this kind of prayer we’re the only ones talking, and we’re rattling off our list of things we’d like for God to do or to change.

Then there’s what I call the bail-out prayer: ‘Lord, if you do this one thing for me, I promise I’ll go to church every Sunday, pay my tithe, and be a good person.’ If (when) that ‘one thing’ doesn’t happen, then what? The bargain is off. We don’t go to church, we don’t pay our tithe, and it’s all God’s fault… God is dead to us - until the next time we need a bail-out.

All the while, God waits… watching over our going out and our coming in, being the shade at our right hand and keeping us safe (as the Psalmist says), until we finally choose to enter into the Presence of God in humility and total trust. There God transforms us, and through us, the world.

Prayer is a discipline – a strength we build by practice. Setting aside time to pray alone every day and praying in community every week are important habits for the living out of our God-given purposes. But these habits are especially helpful when we find ourselves in crisis, whether it’s a crisis in our lives, or a crisis of faith.

That’s when our discipline of prayer carries us through, even when we don’t know what we believe anymore. And when we are experiencing the hardest of times, the emptiest of dark nights, the prayers of our community join with the prayers of the company of heaven to uphold us until we emerge victorious again into the light of Christ.

This is affirmed by St. Luke who begins this gospel story saying: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”This parable is called the parable of the unjust judge.

It’s a strange story in that it seems like Jesus is comparing God to the unjust judge who refuses to give the poor widow the hearing she deserves, and is guaranteed by law, until she wears him out with her complaining.

Is that how God wants to be in relationship with us? No. In fact, the opposite is true: Jesus is contrasting God and the unjust judge.

When the judge finally grants the widow’s request, it’s only to serve his own need to make her go away. God, however, will act quickly to grant justice because God cares deeply about us – even the “widows” among us whom the world judges as unimportant, annoying, good-for-nothing. God wants to be our God and wants us to be God’s people.

The way of God and the way of the world hardly ever agree. That’s why we are wise to heed St. Paul’s advice to be steadfast in believing and guided by Scripture. It’s why we need to remember Jesus’ words that we should pray always and not lose heart.

How do we pray always? It seems like an impossible task. But I think we are better at this than you might think. All we have to do is remember that we pray when we rest quietly in the presence of God. Centering prayer is a wonderful tool for this.

We pray by reading Holy Scripture. I recommend a daily practice of lectio divina and/or the Daily Office.

We pray using Rosary beads, walking a labyrinth, or contemplating an icon. Watching a sunrise paint the sky we’re filled with an awareness of God’s majesty, creativity, and tender love of creation. That is prayer.

When we sing hymns to God or listen to music that inspires us, we enter more deeply into the presence of God, and that is prayer. When we joyfully tend to mundane tasks grateful for the gift of life and the ability to work: that is prayer.

When we cry out in pain or hear the cry of another and our hearts ache, we are sharing the suffering of God – and that is prayer. When we wait faithfully in darkness, feeling no real connection to God or anything else, even that is prayer, because it is into the darkness that the transforming light of Christ breaks most dazzlingly.

Prayer is the way we go from knowing about God to knowing God. When we enter into a deeply prayerful relationship with God, we find that God’s desires soon become our desires. We begin to notice that our will submits more easily and more quickly to God’s will. And we are grateful for this because we realize how steadfast and faithful God’s love really is – so we can trust and follow God.

It is in prayer that we experience our absolute oneness with God, one another, and all of creation, and we recognize that this is what is real; this is what is true. The things of the world that divide us (power, money, privilege, position) begin to look ridiculous in the context of the Love that is in us, the Love that connects us and makes us one.

The Lord be with you. (And also with you.) Let us pray… (the Prayer for the Human Family; BCP, 815)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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