This morning’s sermon begins just before minute 33.
I’ve been back for two weeks but still the crash of the waves seems near. There is something about the rhythm of a beach that re-arranges my heart, mind and soul. I lose all track of time. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the popular novel Eat, Pray, Love. When away, I eat, love, pray, run, read, swim, read some more, eat ice cream, help with the puzzle, eat even more – rinse and repeat!
The crash of the surf is my “white noise” and the horizon – meeting of sky and sea- presses upon me – it is my “thin space.” The place where heaven and earth, spirit and, mind and soul touch one another – luminous, holy and vulnerable: this loosening of space and time brings things up that I have avoided – insecurities, fears, and tensions.
I never want to leave the beach.
But you know as soon as I drive up Compton it feels good to be home. As soon as lunch on the Monday of the first day back – I am back into my routines and I know that I have been refreshed.
It is a luxury and a privilege to go on vacation. Many cannot afford it. So I am grateful. Thank you!
Time away shows me that I need to shape a part of each day to vacate and make space for the holy. I need to search out for those thin spaces in the day to day, where I become more aware of God’s presence.
I believe it is of great importance for each of you to make sure that you too are creating spaces for vacation even if not away, even as you change diapers, or drive to work, or care for someone, or try to save the world, or just make it through one day.
For us to be any good at what we do; for us to protect ourselves from burnout; for us to find a balance in life, for us to not think too highly of ourselves or too lowly; for us to stay on the beam when the foundations are shaking, for us to stay on the path and stay centered we have to find this prayer time, the time to make time, space – quiet, stillness, openness. We have to pray. As Martin Luther wrote: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
By prayer I mean whatever helps you align yourself to God; what is true and good and holy. There is no one way to prayer and it is not about the words. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit interprets our sighs and our groans.
But just as you should align your car tires if you want drive straight (forward!) so too should you align your lives with the spirit of the living God so that you can stay on the path of the upward way of Jesus Christ.
You have to put yourself in that space of beauty and vulnerability, of risk and openness. To, “Be still and know that I am God,” as the psalmist puts it. Prayer is not about changing God’s mind, it is about renewing your mind so that you can be aware.
Many of you are activists. Our history as a church is grounded on social action. It is who we are.
But what makes us unique as church and different then a non-profit social action network, or good cause, is that we are grounded in the holy power that comes from God through prayer.
Think about this. You and I presume to have the ear of the Creator of the Universe; we assume that we can connect to a power that listens and gives a darn and responds and is present when we call upon her name and seek his power.
Prayer has been central to Jews and Christians from the earliest times: from 1st Chronicles 16:11 “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually.” Psalm 4:1 “Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.” Jeremiah 29:12 “Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”
Jesus was so busy but he would sneak out sometimes and go off into the mountains to pray and to clear his mind and re-connect with the God he called “abba” “daddy.” And you and I claim such intimacy: God as “mommy” or “daddy”.
Prayer is a mystery.
Sometimes I pray for things that don’t work out and my heart is broken.
I get perturbed when someone says they prayed for the tornado to miss their house – which it did, but alas their neighbor’s house got destroyed.
I can get angry when some are explicit in judging faithfulness because your prayer didn’t come true.
I am beyond exasperated when after another mass shooting, some politician sends “thoughts and prayers” but then do nothing.
I “get it” when Ann Weems writes a prayer entitled “I’m not going to pray for peace anymore.” “I pray that all the God talk will take bones and stand up.” Amen.
Reminds me of what Frederick Douglass once said: “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs!” What you pray for you better be ready work for.
The thing about the prayers of Jesus that we have is that they are so real – he prayed: “please remove this cup from me, but not my will, but thy will be done.” This was his prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. He didn’t want to die, he wanted a miracle – to be saved from what he was going to face.
His prayer gave him the strength to push off into the current that was going to take him to his death and to the world’s salvation.
This example of Jesus helps me when I am praying through a difficult time. I may not get what I want but I hope I am part of something redemptive.
I may not get what I want – but that doesn’t mean that God is not present. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “Prayer does not change God but it does change the one who prays.”
Jesus told his disciples to pray for anything in his name and it would be given. That is a high-level prayer, because sometimes you don’t get what you want, the cancer is not healed, life is not restored, and we learn the hard way that prayer is not a wish list, or some magical incantation.
But I do trust that my deepest needs, and deepest sighs, and deepest longings will be responded to if I cultivate the patience to receive it. God won’t give you a snake if you really need a fish. A door will be opened. A trust is developed that: “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Prayer makes you aware.
Praying for the hungry and oppressed at least makes me more mindful. My praying may move me to do something. I prayed for one of you and the Spirit told me to give you a call and arrange a visit!
When you took a prayer request from Grace Uhle last Sunday with a name of a person from the pantry – you are lifting a name of a precious child of God into the light of God’s love and there is great power in that.
It is hard to stay angry at the person you are praying for.
Jesus gave his disciples a very simple yet radical prayer of realignment. We call it the Lord’s Prayer and what we read in Luke is as close as we get to the real words of Jesus.
He reminded them that God was holy and not to be boxed in – God is God, we are not. That puts things in perspective.
He told them to pray for God’s kingdom to come – not just in the by and by, but in the here and now – each moment we can be close to God. And we know what the kingdom of God looks like: the powerful will be brought down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up. There will be a great leveling – the hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty! Wow!
He told them to ask for enough for each day – not more, not less – sufficient. And what we pray for ourselves we must help others achieve too – sufficiency. So there is a social call for justice and equity – everyone with food, everyone with health, everyone with education, a living wage perhaps, everyone with a job.
He told them to check themselves and not strut their own stuff – to be aware of our own brokenness and sinfulness and to forgive others. None of us has the truth! This drives us to a level of compassion for others and ourselves that re-arranges everything.
He reminded the disciples not to ask for trouble, or to get ahead of themselves thinking that they could, by their own power right every wrong – I believe that was the temptation or the trial Jesus was talking about. The temptation to think it is all up to me, or us, or we are the only ones with the truth. Because the evil one wants us to become a tribe: isolated, judgmental, and ultimately ineffective. This is a prayer for humility and community. It is the spirit of Ubuntu that Eric preached last week “I am because we are and we are because I am.” We can’t do much alone.
So as we move forward into September and beyond – align yourselves to God.
We are in the midst of much exciting change, but change brings anxiety.
Pray for the Co-Pastor Nominating Committee – trust that God is about to do a new thing. Be open, breathe deeply, look for ways that God’s justice, love, mercy and compassion are being lived out in your life and in our collective lives.
Remember nothing is good or bad until God gets through with it… we do our part, but you and I are not in control of the results – that is such a freeing thought.
Your prayers do not cause God to act. Rather, praying causes you to be aware of God in action and may cause you to act because you are now aware.
Your prayers do not bring God to any place where God is not already present. Rather in prayer you bring yourself to the place where God already is – right here, right now.
Thy will be done! Living the radical prayer!