Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Risen Lord and Savior. Amen.
There’s a funny thing that happens when you become a pastor. All of a sudden you become the de facto prayer in most circumstances. I started seminary and suddenly I was no longer able to lurk by the mashed potatoes hoping to get the first spoon full, now I had to be in the middle of the room saying the table grace for all my great aunts and uncles.
As a pastor, on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself a guest at wedding rehearsal dinner and the father of the groom sidles over to me as I’m taking my seat and asks to me to say a little prayer. As an aside, I always chuckle when they ask for a little prayer, I think that’s code for don’t talk too long pastor, we don’t want the prime rib to get cold.
Then there’s any meal or meeting, and someone asks would anyone like to pray and then all eyes shift to me. Unless of course I ask the question, then all eyes immediately shoot to the floor. There’s this palpable mantra in the room, “Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.”
Prayer in general, but particularly public prayer, makes most people incredibly uncomfortable. They’re quite happy to leave in to the professionals, folks who use the “right” words and have a special in with the “big guy upstairs.”
For the record. Pastors don’t have a special in. We can’t do anything about the weather. And we don’t use the right words. In fact pretty often we use words that people only say in prayers, as though there’s some secret language that we’re supposed to use for prayer.
Inestimable, uphold, halls of justice aren’t really words I use on a daily basis but they show up regularly in the prayers I write. Why? I don’t really get it.
Part of the reason, if I’m honest, is that I don’t really get prayer. I don’t really understand how it works. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it does work. I’ve seen the scientific studies that prove the power of prayer in people’s lives.
I’ve been with people in moments of crisis and prayed with them and see it’s power. I don’t doubt for a second that it’s an important part of the life of faith.
But I’ve also seen prayers go unanswered. I’ve had prayers go unanswered. I know it’s not because people didn’t pray hard enough, or because they didn’t believe strongly enough. I don’t believe in a god that works that way.
I don’t think prayer is mechanistic or a spiritual quid pro quo. We say this, so God does that. I don’t think God is waiting for us to ask to respond.
I get that there’s mystery in prayer. I’m okay with that. But I guess what I struggle with the most is what’s my role? What I am I supposed to be asking for?
God do you really need me to tell you what I and everyone else around me needs?
Then we get passages like the one from 1 Thessalonians today where the Apostle Paul tells the church at Thessalonica to pray without ceasing, to pray always.
Here you have this early church community, struggling with the fact that their loved ones were dying, after they fully expected to have Jesus come back again in their lifetime. And they start to wonder, what do we do now? Is what we believed in, trusted in, in vain?
And Paul tells them to rejoice, pray always and give thanks.
And I find myself, reading these words nearly 2000 years later and wondering how? How can I possibly do this.
And I found this. I guess it’s an answer to prayer.
I find Richard Rohr’s reflections to be immensely helpful. Fundamental to the Easter promise is that the whole of our lives, all of who we are belong to God. In Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been set free from all that has us enslaved, all that us in chains, all that separates us from God and God’s love. In and through the cross and empty tomb, God gives to you and to me all that belongs to God, we are able to participate in the fullness of God’s life. Prayer as communion or connection with God and the world around us helps us to see and do that, it helps us to share in God’s life.
Of course, as Richard Rohr notes in the video, this is tough. It’s equal parts terrifying and exciting to think about each step we take, each word we speak, each breath we breath being an expression of the loving union we have with God in Christ Jesus.
We are human, painfully so at times. We still make choices, say things, do things that wound those we love and those God has given us to love. Far too often we live lives that are marked by discord and disconnection. But the promise of God is that it doesn’t have to be that.
Your life, your work, your family, your breath and your being are expressions of loving union you share with God in Christ Jesus. So in that regard, I can echo what Paul wrote to his church two millennia ago and say the same to you this morning.
Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Amen, thanks be to God.