– warning- I write my sermons as oral events– grammar is not my concern – more spoken wordishly. Also, what I write is not always exactly what gets preached.DON’T
BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF PRAYER. SERMON ON LUKE 11.1-13
July 28, 2019
I don’t believe in the power of prayer.
Now, before you get out, our modern day pitchforks and torches, your cell phones, and make that call to Bishop Erickson, hear me out.
No, I do not believe that the family that prays together, stays together.
No, I do not believe in prayer in school, if that it is organized, sanctioned or led by—teacher, principle, coach.
No, I don’t believe that the whispered prayers, the hand gestures, the winks, nods, and signs-of-the cross cause God to give touchdowns, homeruns, or holes in one.
I do not believe that the words of any prayer can actually do or change anything.
Prayer is not magic. Prayer is not some super-natural combination of jus the right consonants and syllables with any power. No, even the Lord’s prayer, words given by Jesus himself do not have the power to stop a bullet, kill cancer cells, or change politicians’ minds.
But as it says, not in the appointed 2nd lesson, but a different letter from Paul to the early church: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
I hope, that by this point in my little rant (I mean sermon) that the point is that the power of prayer is not in the words we say. In fact, studies show prayer can actually change the functioning and structure of the brain—that is if you pray for thousands of hours. However, it doesn’t matter—the same neuropathways change whether it is Roman Catholic nuns and monks who devote hours each day in prayer —reciting the rosary and the Lord’s Prayer— or if you are a Buddhist monk who meditates in another chant or in silence. This is one of the few times I’ll actually say this—the words don’t matter; the words aren’t magic.
Which BTW leads me to today’s, some would say, tangent.
I hope you noticed that the words we read from Luke’s gospel do not match those fo the traditional (and that of course depends on whether you learned any of the several traditional Lord’s Prayers.
Now to make sure that you haven’t check out of this sermon yet, what are the differences between what we read just a few moments ago, and traditional Lord’s prayers:
- no “our” or as in my PA Dutch accent — “r” —- in Matthew’s
- no “in heaven”
- no arts, this — those are hold overs from the King Jame’s langauge
- no your will be done on earth as in heaven — again Matthew
- we have sins, debts — no trespasses – both have that debt (and it really does have the economic connotation. humm wonder why we just talk about “sins”
- the doxolgy is not at the end
I haven’t mentioned the 2 other sources about Jesus, Mark and John’s gospel, because this “Lord’s Prayer” thing isn’t in either of those gospels.
So, if you ever wondered, when you first came to Village why does Village so seldom say the traditional Lord’s Prayer, and often uses alternate versions. It’s because, really, there is no THE Lord’s Prayer—even the word used for Father is different— the nice Abba (that some people use—the Abba prayer) is in Matthew — Luke’s word is Pater.
In other words— prayers (even the Lord’s prayer) has other words— yes, yes, the same meaning we could kind of argue (as long as we take money out of debts). but different words. And that takes us back to my point. The power of prayer isn’t in the words used but the intention and the use. And, you may have hopefully/perchance picked up on one of the key, most important aspects of prayer —that it’s consistently not about me.
In the first lesson we actually se/hear Abraham trying to lie out God’s promise to be a blessing as he is bargaining, pleading, praying for the people of Sodom and Gohmoorah, which and this is not just a random unimportant tangent— the sin was not homosexuality — according to Ezekiel 16:
49This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
It is greed. But they didn’t just tweet or have rally’s against strangers and foreigners—they perpetrated their greed through rape—and that is not the same thing as being LGBT+.
Words aren’t magic, but they are important.
The power of words is that they lead to action. Thoughts and prayers better lead to action. As you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spends at least just as much time talking about doing, living, loving —acting a disciple than praying about it. Just look at the parable Jesus adds in to the words — of course we’ve always interpreted it at being bold and persistent in prayer— but when the man needs food for his guest (notice again — it’s not for himself, but for a traveler), he doesn’t drop to his knees in prayer. He gets up and goes to his neighbor (remember this isn’t the world where there’s not a walgreens on every corner). The man goes to the place where he can get the bread— his neighbor. His words, his actions, his life is his prayer.
The kind of prayer that we do, and I’d like to share with you another story. A story of “liturgical direct action” —- this is from Sojourners — listen to the words of Rose Marie Berger: she writes:
I spent five hours as a guest of the U.S. Capitol Police last week. It was hot, really hot. And those plastic handcuffs leave bruises.
I was one of 71 Catholics arrested by the U.S. Capitol Police in the rotunda of the Russell Senate building in Washington, D.C., for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” while praying the rosary. My prayer was — and is — to end the warehousing of immigrant children in cages ….
We were in the Russell Senate building to pierce the veil of morally isolated political leaders who are caging immigrant children.
We were there because we actually believe in the power of prayer. “The public prayer of Christians,”
For Catholics, the rosary has long been a weapon of choice in wrestling with, correcting, and pushing toward the redemption of the powers and principalities.
While a few hundred people encircled the Russell rotunda, our “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” echoed down the long corridors of Senate offices. We replaced the traditional scripture of the five Sorrowful Mysteries with stories collected by a group of attorneys who interviewed more than 60 minors at U.S. Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley in June.
Certain lines from those prayers took on new meanings, such as “blessed is the fruit of thy womb” and “pray for us sinners” and “deliver us from evil.” I held the photo of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died of a bacterial infection after U.S. Customs and Border Protection took her into custody.
When the U.S. Capitol Police issued three warnings for us to disperse, most of those gathered stepped back behind the police line, but five stepped forward and laid down in the shape of a cross in the center of the rotunda. A cross of human bodies. Dozens more formed a eucharistic circle around this cross.
Our law-breaking band of Catholic lay people, sisters, and priests was not alone in our liturgical direct action. Earlier in the week, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 85, and nine others were arrested blocking the entrance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C., as part of a national movement in the Jewish community to shut down immigrant detention camps, particularly those holding minors.
“Pharaoh’s attack on children points toward a repeated tactic of tyrants who have planned genocide: Attack the children first,” said Rabbi Waskow. Jewish communities are taking action at ICE offices around the country, declaring “Never again means now.”
On the same day, the Trump administration issued a new policy banning people from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the text of this irregular rule, individuals entering the United States across the southern border will be regarded as ineligible for asylum if they passed through another country first and did not attempt to seek asylum there.
Simultaneous with the arrests in the Russell building on Thursday, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) gave a moving testimony from the floor of the Senate reflecting on the prophet Amos, the Good Samaritan in the context of the continuous threat of massive ICE raids across the country.
To promote the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, Kaine said, “[The bill] puts us in a position where as we are being directed to be good neighbors, including to people who are hurting, including to people who are suffering, we would be able to look ourselves in the mirror and look the world in the eye and say the United States believes that we are good neighbors and we are behaving in a neighborly way toward people.”
Police vans and holding areas are never comfortable. They are often humiliating and sometimes dangerous. But for Christians, studying the Bible in lock-up is a tradition formed in the early church. For the Catholic Day of Action, I chose a scripture verse from Lamentations to meditate on: “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord: Lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children, that faint for hunger at the head of every street” (2:19).
We sat for five hours, handcuffed, on metal folding chairs in the noisy Capitol Police’s open garage bay. With us was a 90-year-old Mercy sister and an 85-year-old Franciscan priest, and the sweat rolled off us like “water before the face of the Lord.” We were processed. We were fingerprinted. And I have a wristband with the name of my arresting officer tucked into my Bible.
Last week, I spent five hours as a guest of the Capitol Police. Detained migrant children are spending five weeks or five months in Border Patrol camps.
May our prayers, may our words, may our silence, may what we do, say and pray be liturgical direct action in our worlds and unleashing our lives to be powerful unceasing prayers to God. Amen.
Christ the King, 2011
I don’t have visions of dancing sugar plums (whatever those are) in my head, but we’ve already entered what is known as “The Holidays”. While I’m not ready for Christmas yet (heh in the church we haven’t even started the four weeks of Advent), I am so ready for Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, cranberries, egg nog, green bean casserole, fruit salad, filling, turkey, pumpkin pie, oyster pie. Yeah, I said it. Oyster pie. My family added oyster pie to our holiday feasts as a way to include my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, oh and did I mention I really don’t like turkey. And that’s what we want, choices. Thanksgiving is all about being thankful for a bounty of foods, in my case so much food that I can skip what I don’t like.
That’s how we like to live our lives with plenty of choices, of options so that we can skip over what we don’t like, and enjoy what we do. Just go to the mall, or maybe stay away at least this coming Friday. We have the choice of looks, do we want to be skater, urban, hipster, conservative, flirty, power suits, and then within those categories there are options galore.
Options, that’s what our political system is based on, our desire to have a choice of leaders. We don’t want to be stuck with a dud. I think that’s also at least one of the messages of what the Occupy Wall Street protests are about—we have options—we don’t need to have banks that are too big to fail, we don’t need to have a stock market and credit agencies determine the present and future, we don’t need to have some 20,000 or so more millionaires pay no/ 0 federal income taxes if the capital gains tax is ended.
We want options. And, if we’re being terribly and faithfully honest we want to choose our spirituality and our religious traditions. Several years ago a new label came into fashion among church leaders—church shopping. It’s when folks visit several different congregations (denomination unimportant) looking for the right fit, or looking for their needs to be met. Along those lines, if honesty is the policy of the day we need to admit that we even pick and choose in regards to our scripture. We value certain passages and stories over others. Mark Twain put it this way, “It is not those parts of the Bible that I do not understand that bother me. It is the parts of the Bible that I do understand that bother me the most.”
Take Jesus’ words in our gospel reading. In Matthew’s gospel, these words come as Jesus is wrapping up his time with his disciples, his enemies are plotting to get rid of him, to get rid of this inconvenient rabble rouser. And, I can see why. His words have as we like to say, comforted the afficted and afflicted the comfortable. He was always turning the tables. This morning it’s no different. We, especially us Lutherans with our Reformation faith, with our belief that God loves us and saves us through sola fidei (faith alone), this passage couldn’t have been on the Reformers (Martin Luther and others top ten). Here Jesus gives us a completely different picture–one where it’s not our faith, not our creed, but our actions that matter. It’s what we do for and with those who are the most vulnerable among us. It is being with the thirsty, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and oppressed.
The other thing about this is that these are actions that are done unaware, almost unconsciously, not out of religious devotion, not out of any desire to please God, but simply out of the goodness, or out of the pure need of the other.
Jesus redefines what and who is holy. It isn’t worship attendance; bible reading; it isn’t creed confessing; it isn’t check writing, committee serving, but pure compassion for the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the stranger, the exile, the immigrant.
And it doesn’t seem all that optional either.
Today, in many churches, not all is Christ the King Sunday. Unlike so many other feasts and festivals that are long on history and tradition. The designation of this day as Christ the King isn’t even 100 years old. It was created in 1925 by the Pope – Pope Pius the XI (11th). As he observed the world he was living in, a post World War I, a world on the verge of a Great Depression, a world becoming more secular (or in our terms – a world becoming more worldly) and with Fascists (ultra-nationalistic dictators) becoming more and more powerful. The Pope thought it was about time declare Christ as King—not Mussolini, not Roosevelt, not Obama, or Reagan, or Grover Norquist, or Walker, or democrats, republicans, not even capitalism. As Christians we are seriously limiting our choice. Christ is our King—means our ruler, our guide, our savior.
The choice we have is to admit it and live it. We don’t have the option of letting the Salvation Army be the only ones doing the most good. If Christ is really our king, Matthew’s words tell us what that looks like. There’s no avoiding it. Jesus just says if you say you follow me, this is what it looks like, this is what eternal life looks like. Jesus says, if you choose to call me Lord, this is what you and your life look like. For us there is no other option, in a world of so many, sometimes even too many choices– it’s that simple. Amen.