Sermon for July 28, 2019
I want to begin this morning’s homily with an invitation – I invite you to consider your happiest, healthiest relationship. The relationship that you experience as mutual, loving and vital. Now, I invite you to consider what oneelement of that relationship keeps it evolving? Our happiest and healthiest relationships are not stuck in one place, rather, they evolve and grow as we grow, adapt as we change.
My theory this morning is that communication is the key to nourishing those relationships you have just considered. Communication in whatever form, but communication — which begets connection, which begets empathy which begets difference or conflict and ultimately offers resolution – communication, the fundamental building block for any successful and flourishing relationship.
Nearly any job description posted to attract new employees includes the requirement for Good Communications skills. As Anoma proclaimed in this morning’s gospel, we have the disciples asking Jesus to teach them the skills they need to communicate with God.
Luke’s gospel has many examples of Jesus going off to pray, or being observed praying. He prays after his baptism and after curing the man of leprosy. He takes the disciples up a mountain to pray. He prays as he considers who should be his disciples; and in Luke’s gospel, we have Jesus praying for his executioners at the cross, “forgive them father, for they do not know what they are doing”.
Jesus prays for help in making decisions, he prays for others as well as himself, and this morning, he teaches his disciples to pray the roots of the Lord’s prayer, honoring God’s name, looking forward to God’s kingdom, asking for our daily needs to be met, asking that our sins be forgiven, pledging to similarly forgive those who are indebted to us, have sinned or trespassed against us and to stay with us as we face trials or temptations.
The Lord’s prayer is a pretty powerful roadmap — one that will be said by millions of people around the world today and every day, and this morning’s gospel offers a wonderful, mid-summer opportunity to consider our own prayer lives and communication with God.
(We have a series of challenging gospels ahead, so taking this week’s opportunity to enhance or attend to our internal prayer lives will be vitally important as this summer progresses!)
When I was a child, I had a bronze plaque in my room of praying hands with the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer on it. I recited those words most nights, way before I understood the part about “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” My bedtime prayers evolved as I grew older, to include requests for God’s intervention on the weather or tests, for adults to get along, for happiness and peace to invade a busy and chaotic home, for relief for the global suffering that I learned about in school, and finally as I was preparing to head off to college, I would frequently pray to better understand God’s invitation and expectation for my life and work.
Prayer offered connection and company, even when I didn’t know the right words to say or to describe feelings or summarize experiences. God already knew, and the act of quiet contemplation and prayer helped my own insight and provided an opportunity to understand what God wanted me to do.
At the height of the AIDS crisis, I would pray fervently and frequently for healing for the dying. My desperation included pointing out to God that He had healed Lazarus, so why not the person for whom I was petitioning? Eventually I was so heartbroken and angry at God that I found I could not fold my hands in prayer. I still went to church and prayer services. I still participated in the rituals of church, but my internal prayer life was pretty desolate and barren, devoid of the warmth, reassurance and connection I had experienced before. My theology assured me that God’s love had not changed, but I had.
I literally would sit or kneel and grip the top of the pew ahead of me, or fold my arms , my hands disconnected and angry – but obvious only to me and to God. During that year of divine disappointment, I asked others to pray on my behalf. I would go to the healing desk on some Sundays and ask for my spiritual isolation to be lifted. I wanted to feel God’s loving presence.
Someone suggested that I pray the Doxology – Praise God from whom all blessing flow….or other familiar words and eventually my dark anger and disappointment lifted. Cracks of God’s light and love would seep in during quiet and contemplative moments.
On the other side of that time of darkness and disconnect, my prayer life was richer, more mature and more complete. I’d danced with God through a difficulty, and come out a stronger, more experienced believer, with a deeper more detailed and nuanced understanding of God and my relationship with the divine.
What about your prayers? Are you like most people who hunger for a deeper and more active prayer life? Estimates are than more than 60% of ordained peoplereport a desire for a richer prayer life – and it is in our job descriptions.
Each Sunday we recite a number of prayers together and are offered the opportunity to connect to those ancient words that Jesus taught his disciples to pray as we prepare for the Eucharist.
We have prompts all around this parish for entering into prayer. There are prayers etched in these beautiful stained glass windows. A prayer web at the back of the sanctuary that invites you to join in specific prayers, or to add your own. We have Books of Common Prayer in each pew, and pardon the quick commercial for the BCP, but are you aware of the extraordinary range of prayers included in that book? From prayers for social justice, and peace to prayers for people who live alone and prayers for rain, they are lovely words and sentiments that you can pray at any time.
Similarly, we have pamphlets at the back that even include instructions on How to – you can grab one of the booklets called “Ten Ways to Pray” or “Teaching Your Children to Pray” as reminders.
If your prayer life is currently limited by time, I encourage you to grab one of the Forward Movement booklets on your way out of church today. Each day there is a snippet of scripture, someone else’s reflection and then a direction for prayerful follow up, with terrific ideas of ways to engage in prayer that day. There are also myriad apps for your phone that will pop up with prayers to read and contemplate anywhere there is WiFi.
Perhaps you are simply not in the habit of daily prayers. If you want to create or enhance a daily prayer practice and don’t know where to begin – how about tethering it to some other daily activity. Do you walk your dog every day or are you in the habit of taking a walk yourself? How about reciting the Lord’s prayer during your walk or some of the beatitudes as you make your bed. See how prayer changes these routine experiences. Or try the Post Communion Prayer while you are brushing your teeth each morning. It includes the lovely, “send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.” A beautiful prayer to send us out into any day.
If you are perhaps, at a point in your life where daily prayer does not seem possible, or you too are feeling disconnected from God or the divine, I would remind you to keep coming to church so that you are surrounded by others who can pray for you. You might read Thomas Merton’s most famous prayer each day, which is a beautiful recitation of faithful uncertainty, availability, trust and reliance on God. He prayed:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
And if that prayer seems too much as the foundation of a daily prayer practice, I recommend the practice of one of my favorite authors.
Anne Lamott has written more than a dozen wonderful books and in one she describes a particularly bleak period of her life when the only prayers should could muster were: upon waking — “Whatever”…and at bed time, “Oh well.” Those count, offering an opening and availability to God to be with you and guide you during the day, and then a reflection, albeit a short evaluation of the challenges of that day. “Oh Well”….
God is listening, and hungers for a deeper more connected relationship with each of us – our pathway to that relationship flourishing is frequent and honest communication. Let us pray!
The Reverend Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Esq.
Sermon for Sunday 10:30 am service, July 28, 2019 || All Saints Parish Brookline || Proper 12 Year C || Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, 16-19; Luke 11:1-13