The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)
Sermon by the Reverend Jo-Ann R. Murphy, D.Min.
“The Lord is near to those who Call Upon Him”
Our summer reading group got started this past week. I wish more of you could join us on Tuesday afternoons, but it’s all right because we have this time together on Sunday mornings. Our reading Tuesday afternoon group is using a very readable book by the Jesuit priest James Martin. The book is called Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. But the book is just a springboard to launch us into the topic of prayer. Author Anne Lamott says there are only three prayers, HELP, THANKS, and WOW. I guess she’s right but even Icouldn’t stretch that to six weeks, and James Martin ‘s book is somewhat more comprehensive, so along with the Episcopal Catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer, we got our group about prayer launched.
I was blessed to be born into in a church-going family and I have been praying for as long as I can remember. Like many of you, I suspect, I first learned bedtime prayers and mealtime prayers. I don’t think I progressed much past “Now I lay me down to sleep ….” and “Thank you for the world so sweet …” for quite a while, but when I married into the Episcopal Church, I became aware of the power of corporate prayer, and I came to love the majestic beauty of the Hebrew psalms. Still later I grew into contemplative prayer and meditation - - two prayer practices I continue today.
In 1989 I joined the Order of Saint Helena, an Episcopal women’s convent. I try to make an annual retreat and I pray daily for my Sisters and they remember me in prayer.
One of the reasons I love visiting the Convent is that there are distinct times for prayer. They thread through the daily rhythm of life. At sunrise the Convent observes Lauds or Morning Praise. There are noonday prayers, vespers in the late afternoon, and Compline to close the day. St. Helena is one of the many blessings in my life.
Our prayer book definition of prayer is my favorite. The BCP says Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Prayer is responding to God. Did you hear that - - responding? God is reaching out to me. Me. God wants to be in touch with me!!! WOW is right!
And I respond with thoughts and deeds with or without words; thoughts and deeds … so pouring out my heartfelt pain or petition to God can be prayer and baking a batch of cookies to take to a shut-in or coaching a basketball game can also be prayer? Amazing. And what about protesting a prison execution or serving in a homeless shelter? That’s prayer, too? Who knew?
Another of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, reminds us that Jesus teaches us that by far the most important thing about prayer is to keep at it. The images Jesus uses are all rather comical. Buechner says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again (Luke 11:5-8). Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there’s nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair (Luke 18:1-8).
If persistence is the most vital thing about prayer then what happens when I hit a dry patch and doubts come and I can’t pray. Now I am getting very personal. All I can tell you is to discipline yourself to pray anyway. Pray whether you want to or not; pray when you are hypocritical, angry, faithless, or hopeless. Scripture tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26) and helps us in our weakness. Remember, you are responding to God’s desire to be in relationship with you.
Today’s Psalm reminds us:
THE LORD IS NEAR TO THOSE WHO CALL
TO ALL WHO CALL UPON HIM FAITHFULLY.
Our prayer lives connect us to the rest of the Body of Christ around the world; at any hour of any day, prayers are being prayed in some corner of the earth. Our prayer lives are corporate and personal but not private. As praying people we are part of the chorus of voices and hearts and minds of all people in all times and all places who have reached out to respond to God’s call to all creation.
To close, one of my favorite prayers was written by French philosopher, the Trapist Monk Thomas Merton.
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 REALY 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 THE 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 I WILL 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.