Lectionary Reflection for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
July 24, 2016
So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10
Here we are again, preparing for another Sunday of preaching, teaching, leading, and praying. Yes, don’t forget that last item on the list: Praying. Sometimes I think we ignore or neglect that which should be at the forefront of all that we do to prepare, to proclaim, and indeed to draw breath each day. I wonder in times like these when there is so much heaviness, pain, suffering, hate, and fear, why prayer doesn’t receive a more prominent billing in the grand scope of things.
True enough, we see memes that remind us to pray for whatever the most recent tragic hashtag happens to be, and then people respond angrily that we should quit praying and, for heaven’s sake, do something. Prayer is seen by many folks as the expected, low impact, easy-peasy cop-out approach to countering the world’s ills, sort of a feel-good, easily digestible religious pablum rather than a heavy-duty meaningful response. Sadly, there is some truth to that response. For some folks prayer has lost its luster, appearing to have no effect on the problems and woes of our world. Instead it is either a rote response or a piteous whimper in the path of utter destruction. We bend and shimmy like shallow-rooted pines, our fragile faith ready to snap loose from solid ground at the next provocation or tragedy. Where IS God in all of this mess? We prayed for peace didn’t we? We prayed for hope didn’t we? We believe that black lives, blue lives, LGBTQ lives, and life in general matter, don’t we?
Lord! Help our unbelief. Give us the gift of faith. Make us bold to pray as you have taught us. Let us be as persistent as Abraham in our petitions. Help us to root deeply into Christ and not be swayed by passing fancies and competing claims for our time and attention and energy. Yes, we have an action problem, and we are failing to address deep problems of loving our neighbor, working for justice, doing mercy, and walking humbly with God; however, we also have a prayer problem.
Why? Because the fruitful actions of a faithful disciple always, always grow out of fervent and frequent prayer. Check out Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request for a “how-to guide to prayer” in this week’s gospel lesson. Ponder deeply the petitions Jesus outlines. Let them rest on your tongue and cover your heart with God’s good will rather than your own weak attempts. Don’t rush through the words at lightning speed. Hold onto them and trouble them like a smooth glass marble or a polished worry stone. Savor the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s desire to give us that which is good and life-giving.
Then, especially if you’re of the “once-and-done” prayer school, check out the Old Testament lesson where Abraham in effect bargains with God for the life of the wicked city of Sodom. Abraham asks God to spare the city if only 50 righteous souls can be found, then 45, or only 40, and 30, or 20, and finally 10 souls. Abraham does not relent; he continues to plead and bargain with God to spare the broken whole for the sake of the few. How often do we pray and contend with God for the love of neighbor and good of the whole?
Maybe you are one of those fierce prayers, a disciple whose knees are bruised or calloused from spending so much time in conversation with God. I suspect, however, if you’re like most mainline American Christians, your knees are in no real danger of damage—at least not from hours spent in prayer.
Dear friends, it’s time we get really bold in our conversations with God, time that we prayed like we believed it, time that we expect God to respond. Our world cries out for lament, for prayer, and yes, for action. We need action desperately, but we need action that is rooted in faith, centered in prayer, and grounded in Christ. This week’s lessons and the current state of the world give us fertile ground for sowing seeds and modeling a way forward. I will be praying for you, dear colleagues in ministry and partners in faith. I will pray that the Holy Spirit descends upon you and those whom you serve, igniting your hearts, your words, and your actions with divine fire and light and grace. Blessings on your bold prayers, proclamation, and participation.
How about singing Psalm 138 this week? One option is Rory Cooney’s “Psalm 138: On the Day I Called.” Here’s another option from Dale Schoening’s Metrical Psalms (to the tune of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”). Remind worshipers that the psalms are wonderful to use for prayer. Encourage congregants to spend time this week singing and praying Psalm 138.
Consider this week’s epistle reading (Colossians 2:6-19) with your youth. I like to use Eugene Peterson’s The Message. The writer is telling his audience to quit “studying” about how to be a Christ follower and start “living” like one. We aren’t to become sidetracked by people who want us to adhere to various rituals and practices as the one true way; instead, we are to live into the identity we have already been given in Christ. We are to stay connected to him so that we continue to be nourished and are able to grow in faith and action. Invite youth to consider ways our culture (and even people of faith) try to complicate their lives or promote another vision of discipleship. If you’re looking for a song, try “Tree” by Justin Rizzo. Here’s a link to chords and lyrics.
Lord, Teach us to Pray
You’ll need the entire congregation’s help with this children’s message. Before worship set up a table or two and secure volunteers to help congregants fill out prayer slips that can form a paper chain. For the black slips, choose five different colors of paper and cut them into 2-inch wide stips (2 x 8.5). Set up five stations to match the five petitions Jesus teaches in today’s gospel lesson (Luke 11:1-13). You might name the five petitions this way: Praise and thanks to God, Make the world right, Give us what we need to live, Forgive us & help us to forgive others, Keep us from evil and from making a mess of things. Invite congregants to write prayer petitions in one or more categories as they feel called to do so. Collect the prayer petitions in a basket and bring the filled basket with you to the children’s time. Meanwhile have prayer kits made for the children with strips of the same colored paper, an explanation, and a pencil or marker. Place the contents into paper lunch bags or baggies and decorate with a label and/or stickers. Talk to the children about how Jesus teaches us to pray what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Explain to them that this is the version Luke recorded–five basic categories of prayer possibilities. We always start with thanking and praising God. We pray for the world to be a better place like God wants it to be. We pray to have enough to eat and what we need for each day–not greedy. We pray for forgiveness and the ability to forgive others. We pray to keep us from doing bad things and from evil. When we all pray together, we have a powerful chain of prayers lifted up to God. Tape the congregation’s prayer requests together to form a chain. Let the children help you by making shorter chains that can be joined into one long one to wrap around the base of the altar or at the altar rail. Give them a prayer kit to take home to use with their parents this week. Tell them to keep it in a place where they will see and be reminded of their prayers. Finish with the Lord’s Prayer.
Photos: Hernan Pinera and nanny snowflake, Creative Commons License, and © Christy Thompson – Fotolia.com. Thanks!