Praying to God

The fifteenth day after Pentecost
Proper 19
September 13th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103:1-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can find these readings here.

        At the end of our prayer service this morning, we’re going to pray something called “the Supplication.” This is a short liturgy from our prayer book that’s used at particularly rough times. As the rubric says, it’s to be used especially in times of war, or of national anxiety, or of disaster.

        We’re not at war, but our nation is certainly anxious. All week I’ve had friends and family contact me from Texas to New England, asking me if my family and I are alright, if our church is alright, and (and this really touched me) if there’s anything that they can do. They want to help, they want to do something to help, in the Church we’d say that they want to be the hands and legs of God, bringing life and hope to those in need.

        And you know, I’ve kinda been feeling the same way. At the beginning of the week, when our local fire started, I was kinda concerned. The sky was orange, my allergies and asthma started acting up, and Helene and I started thinking about what we’d do if we had to evacuate. And while the local fire is still a concern, we’re not at the edge of our seats, our cars packed, waiting for the call to get out. Our fire is much more manageable than the ones going on up north and to the east of us. In this place of relative safety, I want to do something to help.

        What can we do? Well, there’s a lot of things that we can do. We can donate to the Red Cross and other charitable organizations. We can give to the bishop’s discretionary fund, which is probably the quickest way to get funds to those churches in need. And when things begin to settle down, and people start returning to towns and homes that might have been destroyed, people will need a lot of help rebuilding. And their hearts will need our strength and our fortitude to help them pick up the pieces and begin anew.

        And, of course, there’s prayer. This morning, while there are fires going on right now, when people are packing up their homes and cars right here in Oregon, we’re sitting in our church and praying the supplication. Now, I’ve heard some people ask me, not here, but I’ve heard folks saying, “Okay, great, prayer’s just fine, but I don’t want to just pray. I want to do. I want to do something hat will matter.”

        And, you know, that’s good. It’s good want to help out. It’s good to feel the moving of the spirit to go to those in the most need, to donate time and money and goods, to help those who are without. In doing this we are listening to the call of Christ and following him in his ministry. For in Christianity, we don’t just naval gaze. We don’t sit around just working on our own stuff, hoping for some vague spiritual renewal and health. No, we go out of our doors, our red doors to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit, and bring the healing power and love of God into the world. That is one of the calls of the Gospel, and that is one of the axes upon which we structure our lives.

        But there’s also prayer, and prayer is never “just prayer.” Prayer is not a bunch of nice words that we say to make us or maybe someone else feel better. Prayer isn’t a private hope that things turn out well, and prayer isn’t completed only when we get off our rears and do something in the world. Prayer itself is one o the ways that we help. It’s also a call from God. It’s also a Christian responsibility. Praying is also living the life of Jesus Christ.

        But prayer isn’t magic, either. When I pray for St. Martin’s in Shady Grove, or their deacon Allan, who you all might remember from my installation two years ago, when I pray for him and his church, it’s not my words making things better as if I’m casting a spell. I’m not making a wish when I pray, like Pinocchio made a wish to be a real boy, or Aladdin made a wish to be a prince. Prayer isn’t about us. It’s not about how much effort we put into it or how much spiritual muscle we flex when we say the Our Father. Prayer is about healing, because it’s about God.

        We learn from the Bible and from our lives as Christians, that when we pray, God listens. God may not answer those prayers directly, for whatever reason, but God will still answer those prayers with his presence and with his Life. You see, prayers aren’t yes or no questions. Prayers to God aren’t like automatic teller machines, where if you push the right buttons and have your passcode, money will come out. Prayer isn’t like a teenager asking his parents if he can use their car, or a young kid asking if she can have dessert even though she didn’t really do a good job finishing her dinner.

        Prayer is the presence of God in our lives. Prayer is the turning to God’s presence, and this is always the answer to our prayers, for that is the purpose of prayer. We hear in our Psalm this morning about this same healing presence, how God separates us from our sin as far as East is from West, that God loves us as a parent loves a child – deeply, openly, and for eternity. And it is in prayer that we turn to that love, turn to that mercy and understanding, turn to those open arms that are welcoming in ways that wish we could only see in our dreams.

        So let’s pray. Let’s pray, knowing that what we are doing is leading to health and salvation beyond any of our knowing. Let us pray because God has offered us that health even though we’re not all that great at living good, healthy lives, but God loves us anyway. Let’s pray because when Paul says to pray always, he doesn’t mean that we should be reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over and over again but that we should live prayer, because we are Christians, and that’s what Christians are called to do. Let’s pray because people out there need us, and they need God, and prayer is, with Christ, the gateway to Heaven. Let’s pray because Jesus prayed. Let’s pray because it was God, and no other, who taught us what it means to truly, truly love.

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