Thursday, May 5, 2016

National Day of Prayer

I was invited to be the speaker for Buda's National Day of Prayer (05 May 2016) breakfast for city employees, hosted by the Buda Ministerial Alliance. Here is the sermon:

Today is the National Day of Prayer.
All around the country, people of faith are gathering to pray together.
That’s a pretty amazing thing.
People of various traditions, various creeds, backgrounds, and languages
            gather together to pray this day.
Together we are called to pray-- for our nation, for leaders, for our cities, towns, communities.
In Buda, we gather for breakfast to honor and pray for our city employees.

Generally speaking, praying doesn’t seem that hard.
I know many people who pray without having to think much about it.
On the other hand, some people don’t pray because they’re not sure how to do it, what to say.
When I was a child, my brother often asked me to pray on his behalf,
            because he was sure that God would listen to me better than God would listen to him.
I don’t know why he thought that, but I am happy to report he says his own prayers now!

So the idea of praying isn’t that hard, but HOW are we to pray?
What are we to say when we come into the presence of an awesome God,
            who longs to hear from us?
And how are we to pray for something as diverse and ambiguous as a whole nation?
In a time of discontent, in a time of election, in a time of violence,
            in a time of mistrust of people and of institutions—how are we to pray?

Sometimes we know what to say.
We know what we want, and we ask for it, or maybe even demand it from God.
Sometimes we don’t know what we do want, but we do know what we don’t want.
Sometimes we don’t have any words for our prayers,
            and sometimes our prayers are set to music.  
We don’t all pray the same, and we don’t all pray for the same things.
Yet we are urged by our forebears, whose stories we know from scripture, to pray.
Pray in silence, pray aloud, pray alone, pray with others, pray without ceasing.
Tell God some things, ask God some things.
Abram, Rebekah, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Peter, and other biblical ancestors prayed to God—
            it seems to be a good thing to do!  
And so, we pray.
We tell God what’s wrong.
We ask God to bless, to heal, to give wisdom and guidance.
We ask for protection, for trust, for respect across differences.
Sometimes we tell God exactly what we want and how we think God should do it,
            and sometimes, perhaps in our better moments,
            we let ourselves melt away and entrust it to God, however God will handle it.

But prayer is more than talking at God.
It’s even more than listening to God, which for me is the harder part of prayer.
Real prayer is becoming so intertwined with the Divine that we start to resemble God.
We are made in the image of God, and when we pray, we are empowered to live a godly life.
The theme verse for today from Isaiah 58 commands us to “shout out, do not hold back!”
Pray, yes, and fervently, without ceasing.
But the rest of this chapter puts legs on our praying, shows us what prayer looks like in action:

Isaiah 58   Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.
3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

And so on this National Day of Prayer, we are gathered to pray.
We will spend an hour here, eating, praying, knowing we are friends.
But then what? What will these prayers mean this afternoon, or next week?
Isaiah sends us out not to pray, but to BE THE PRAYER—
            the grace, the peace, the justice, the food, the liberation, the hope, the healing of God.
Yes, God hears and answers prayer, and often it is through us, the beloved children of God.
We are reminded that we do God’s work in this time and place by these beautiful words
            based on ancient Jewish teachings:
            “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.
            Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now.
            You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Indeed, we are a world in need of prayer.

Thank you for the prayers you offer, and the prayers you are. Amen. 

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