Saturday, July 24, 2010

Prayer is?

A reflection on Proper 12C Luke 11:1-13, St. James West Dundee,IL on the Feast Day of St. James.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in leading Vacation Bible School for a local parish. The lay leaders
who organized the VBS were excited to have 34 kids registered. Of these 34 kids 18 of them were Japanese, and 30 of the kids were under the age of 4, with most of them being around 2 years old.

My assignment was to lead the daily opening and closing worship which was comprised of a prayer, some songs, and a brief discussion about the theme of the day.

I knew, even before we began, that this would be a challenge with such a young and diverse group of kids....

did I mention that the Japanese kids and their moms don’t speak English?

The first day, as we gathered, was the epitome of holy chaos – crying babies, running toddlers, significant language barriers, and a trial and error process of figuring out how to contain this group.

Clearly my work had to be basic.

So I taught them that the sanctuary, the space around the altar, was not a place to run and play. This area
I said is a place to pray.

Then I said, when we pray we hold our hands this way.

Holding our hands in prayer became the symbol for becoming quiet and preparing to pray. Even the smallest of children could grasp the idea of holding hands and becoming quiet. We then prayed a simple prayer of thanksgiving.

The prayer was followed by some songs to familiar tunes including the old standby,“Jesus Loves Me.” Afterward the kids were off for their other activities.

We ended each day in a similar pattern of prayer and song.

Prayer anchored our time together at the beginning and end of each day.

Our Gospel reading this morning helps us understand the significance of prayer in our faith lives. In the reading Jesus has gone off to pray and realizing this one of his disciples asks Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Prayer, and in particular the Lords’ Prayer, is bedrock to our Christian faith.

Today’s story in Luke follows two other significant Sunday morning readings from this Gospel, each pointing us to understand, more deeply, a life of faith and discipleship.

Two weeks ago we had the Good Samaritan story and last week we had the story of Martha complaining about Mary. Combined with the reading today these three teach us something about discipleship and underscores Jesus’ primary teaching:
love God,
love self,
and love others.

Each of these, loving God, loving self, and loving others, weave in and through each other, creating the foundation of a life of faith – and the heart of discipleship.

We all know about the twelve disciples, the original followers of Jesus. One of them, James, is also your namesake. Today, July 25, we celebrate St. James and as such this is your “Feast of Title” day.

There were actually two disciples named James, one is known as James the Greater, and one is known as James the Lesser. This church is named after James the Greater. This James was the son of the Galilean fisherman Zebedee and his wife Salome, one of the women who followed Jesus to the cross.

Scripture tells us that James and his younger brother John were called to be followers of Jesus early in his ministry. Peter, James, and John were with Jesus during some important events, including the Transfiguration,
the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is believed that James did his primary mission work in Spain and therefore is the patron saint of Spain. He was martyred in the year 44, in Judea by Herod Agrippa I for being a follower of Jesus.

Like the other disciples James as not a perfect human being. He had a temper and is known to once ask Jesus who would be the greatest, who would sit at his right hand and his left, as if Jesus would one day be
a wealthy king.

Initially James misunderstood the concept of kingdom as God and Jesus intend it.

Through the incarnation of God’s love poured out in Jesus we come to understand that God intends for human beings to participate in the unfolding of God’s kingdom, through acts of love and compassion, bringing into one, the diversity of human life.

As Episcopalians, grounded in The Book of Common Prayer,our prayer-filled worship is the place where we
join our diverse body of people into one. To that end we believe that “praying shapes believing.” This is the title of a book written by a well-known liturgist and former professor at Seabury-Western, Lee Mitchell, and unpacks the significance of the Book of Common Prayer to shape our worship and our lives.

As Episcopalians our worship is grounded in prayer as a place that unites us, a vastly diverse group of individuals from a wide range of politics, ethnicities, cultural upbringings, and understandings of God and faith,into one worshiping body of Christ.

Each week for the 50 or 60 minutes when we gatherto worship God in song, and word, and prayer we are being formed as one body.

As we pray the Eucharistic prayer and share the body of Christ, the bread and the wine, we are being formed as the living hands and heart of Christ.

The most important element of this formation from prayer is to realize that the prayer is calling usinto a relationship.

We pray give "us" this day “Our”daily bread, not “my” daily bread.

It’s a relationship
with God,
with self,
and with others.

Sometimes we get hung up on the idea that prayer and church and worship and God is just about me, an individual.

But if we really listen to the words Jesus is teaching us we come to understand that it is about “Us” – you and me and everyone else.

The other important element of prayer, in addition to shaping how we understand who we are as the Body of Christ, is to build our relationship
with God.

And on that level prayer is personal.

As Christians we believe in a God of relationship, a God who is with us
through thick or thin, sorrow and joy. And the way we build that personal relationship with God is two-fold. The relationship builds through the support of a worshiping community like this one and through our own individual prayer life.

God wants us to pray in order to be in relationship with God.

God listens to us and invites us to listen to God in return.

I’ll be the first to say that at times this kind of prayer, the individual one, feels sort of futile. I often wonder, because I don’t get the things
I want, if God is listening or cares.

Again, the saints of the Church,those faithful believers who have gone before us, like St. James, help us with this.

From them we learn that getting what we want is not the way God affirms to us that God is listening.

Prayer is not like a vending machine in which God dispenses “correct change.”

Maybe the question we need to consider is not, “How” prayer works but
“who” prayer is?

Prayer is God.

Prayer is a relationship with God, becoming the Body of Christ.

Through the Holy Spirit prayer enlivens God’s love within us.

Prayer is the community that forms when a group of Japanese speaking moms
and their toddlers gather, along with a couple of English speaking middle aged white women, in a small Midwestern suburban church and give thanks to God for the gift of life.

(Portions of this sermon from notes on the text by Kate Huey UCC  and David Lose at WorkingPreacher )


Rev Dr Mom said...

I like your reflection on prayer, but I am even more impressed that you could pull off VBS worship with all those 2 year olds!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I love the way this closes. Prayer as a way to form community. I believe that.

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