Let Us Pray
Passage: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Date: September 23, 2007
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
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Right at the beginning of the Scripture reading from 1 Timothy, there's a call to prayer. It says, "I URGE you to pray". And so I've been thinking about my prayer life. And I feel compelled to answer this call that I hear in the scripture reading, and to urge that we all do the same.
I know that some of you probably have a lot of questions about prayer. Some of you may pray a lot. Others may not even believe prayer works, or is real. Some of you may not feel you really know how.
What I can tell you is that I have a lot of questions about prayer. And sometimes I wonder if prayer is really real. And sometimes I'm not sure I know how to pray. And yet I pray.
Sometimes a lot. And sometimes, I can hardly bring myself to do it.
I've read a fair amount about prayer, but that's not praying.
This morning I'm feeling the call, to just do it. And I hope you'll come along with me. And if you have doubts and questions, I hope you'll come along, anyway, doubts and questions and all.
Can you remember the most DARING prayer you ever prayed ? A prayer that was VIGOROUS and NERVY and said what you really felt. A prayer that you were almost embarrassed to pray - - NOT because you were asking for anything selfish - - or naughty - - but because you were so passionate - and honest.
Many of the models of prayer in the Old Testament ARE these kinds of prayers. Walter Bruggemann a professor of Old Testament - - takes Jacob as a model for prayer - in Genesis chapter 32. He says that at the CENTER of Jacob's prayer is the simple - direct - cry, to God : "deliver me !". It's not a soft prayer - - instead it's edgy.
And Bruggeman says that we pray prayers maybe too often - - that aren't that way. Instead - our prayers - are softened by our modernism or our weakened faith. / And when - or if - we do pray that way - we betray something - about our faith in God. / We have let ourselves come to think of God as NON-active. And when - we don't pray vigorously - we begin to think that God can't respond vigorously. But in response to that tendency - - there's Jacob. And we're reminded of a model for prayer - from the Bible - - - a model of DARING - vigorous - prayer.
Most prayer is prayed - in RESPONSE to something. Something - bad - or difficult - or maybe good - or surprising. Thinking about prayer in this way - helped me CONNECT this morning's Scripture readings to prayer. I began thinking about our RESPONSES. How do we respond to events in our lives ?
Three of the scripture readings for this morning, give us three possible responses: grief, anger, and a wake up call.
The Gospel reading describes a wake up call. There's a steward - who has been put in charge of his master's accounts. And when the master returns - - there is a kind of CRISIS. The crisis comes when the steward is ACCUSED of immoral behavior. / He is accused of cheating - and is told he will loose his job. / He gets fired. So -- how does he RESPOND ? He gets crafty. He makes deals with people. He's dishonest, but he also covers his back, so to speak. Of course the TROUBLING part of this parable - is that in the Bible - Jesus COMMENDS - the dishonest steward. Jesus says - good job. And the analysis of this is long - - and sometimes confusing.
The best that most people have done is to say that - - there is a kind of REVERSAL in the steward. He goes from being concerned with only RESOURCES - - - and goes to being concerned with RELATIONSHIPS. He goes from concern about MONEY - - - - to concern about PEOPLE.
Another way at this is to say - - in this world - - when we confront EVIL - - it's not good enough to be GOOD - - - we have to be WISE - and SHREWD. / Evil in this world is POWERFUL - - - and sometimes it takes cleverness - - to survive. / If we just were - - as clever about spiritual matters - as we are about our investments - - - imagine that.
I don't have all the answers to how to interpret this parable, but - - it seems to typify ONE kind of RESPONSE to a CRISIS. A kind of WAKE UP call, and a change of behavior.
Another kind of response - to life events - is GRIEF. To lament.And that's what Jeremiah is all about in the Old Testament reading for today. "My grief is BEYOND healing" says Jeremiah. "My heart is sick." "Is God just - - gone ?", it says in another place.
This is Jeremiah's LAMENT over Jerusalem.
And I imagine that God hears a lot of prayers that sound like this. / But I think that often - - this response - - is the response of someone who feels like they CAN NOT pray anymore. Many times when someone is making THIS kind of response - - - they are in need of OTHER people - to pray FOR them.
Another kind of response that is SIMILAR to this one - - is found in the PSALMS. It is ANGER. You read the words of Psalm 79 - you can almost FEEL your FIST clench. The Psalm says, "the BODIES of the SERVENTS have been given to the birds of the air - and there was no one even to BURY them". "We were MOCKED and DERIDED by those around us" "Pour our your ANGER on the nations - - - O God !!"
This psalm is in the tradition I began by talking about - - those DARING - - VIGOROUS - - Old Testament prayers. But I ALSO think - people who find themselves in this place - - like the lament are on the VERGE - of NOT praying.
And they remind me of the poem by Rilke - on the insert in your order of worship - called, "I'm praying again". As I read these words - I was reminded - that sometimes we pray just to find God again. That prayers sometimes - - call God back into the world.
What are NOT found in these readings this morning are responses of pure joy, and deep thankfulness. And there are certainly examples of these kinds of responses in scripture too: the woman who pours our ointment on Jesus' feet; the healed beggar who jumps, and leaps, and praises God. And these are wonderful responses, and I want to celebrate with you if that's where you are this morning.
But wherever you are, there is this call to prayer. The Scripture reading from the letter to Timothy - is a call to prayer. 1 Timothy says that God desires that EVERYONE may be saved. The word "ALL" comes up 4 times in 7 verses. And so this is our calling this morning. To respond to the events in our lives in prayer. And to include everyone in our prayer.
And so in the rest of the worship service that follows - - I hope we will respond to that call to prayer. / I urge you to join me, in just doing it.
In a few moments, I will ask you to find a partner, or group of three or four. Just turn in your pews one way or the other. And then using the insert in the bulletin, share just a little with each other. During this time, I encourage everyone to try to remember just one thing about someone else: one item for prayer. Then later when Jim prays, he will leave a space for you all, just to voice these prayers. You'll all do it all at the same time. Your voices will all go off like popcorn in the room. The point at that moment will NOT be to understand what everyone is saying, but to experience us - as a GROUP. Praying together to God - who we trust, can and will hear all our prayers.
I know this is a little different from how we usually pray on Sunday mornings here. But it is an attempt to model something that has been important for me. Having a few people hold me accountable in prayer. It's different from praying alone, and it's different from having a presider lead corporate prayer.
I have a small group that I pray with every few weeks. We have been meeting for more than 5 years. And I could not imagine my life without them now. Because of them, I show up and pray. I do it. Which I might not do if it were just me alone.
One of the first steps to praying for anyone - - is to find out WHAT to pray for. / And so you can to do that in your groups. / Just ASK.
The next step is very important: LISTEN to what they say.
And the next step - after you know WHAT to pray for - - is to DO IT. / The actual doing of it - is DIFFERENT than the finding out. / The actual praying - - simply saying it to GOD. / "Dear God - please hear this prayer of my friend - hear this prayer for - - - whatever it is".
During the pastoral prayer in a moment - - when Jim pauses - - that will be your opportunity to do this NEXT step - - of praying for the concerns you have just heard. Normally we are fairly silent when the pastor is praying. Today - - I expect to hear lots of voices. All at once!
So let us now - prepare - to respond to the call for prayer. To begin I will give you a minute of quiet, to consider your life events, as described on the insert in your bulletin. Consider your life, and how you respond. Maybe during that time you will want to read one of the scripture readings listed on the insert, or the poem. After a while, I will say "GO" and you will have a minute or two to share with one or two people around you. Then a BELL will sound, and we will all spend a minute in silence, listening for God. So let us begin by examining our life events, and prepare to respond to this morning's call to prayer from our Scripture reading for this morning.