Saturday, May 23, 2009

A sermon on prayer

The Prayer of the Disciples

The image is a familiar one, often used as a punch line of a joke but the discouragement is real. Children against the wall during recess waiting to be picked by one of the kickball captains. Finally we get down to two, one of them will be picked and the other one we be relieved begrudgingly by the other team as the unwanted consolation prize. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine today’s scene from acts in this light. The disciples have one spot to fill and two candidates. Matthias and Joseph are standing against the wall both with beads of sweat dripping from their brow. Knowing that at the rolling of a die one will be given glory and the other will be forced back to anonymity. The truth is friends that even though Matthias won this coin flip we do not hear of him again. This leads me to believe that this is included in the history of the early church not to draw attention to the people but to the process by which they were chosen. And I am not referring to the casting of lots. We need not be impressed by the rolling of the dice or flipping of a coin do decide such an important thing this may seem at best archaic and at worst foolish to a community that holds to democratic values where we enjoy having a voice and a vote.
However I think we’d be foolish if we thought we couldn’t learn anything from these dice throwing disciples. I think the effectiveness in their method was less in the wrists and more in the prayer.

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

I think these two simple verses are the key to understanding the significance of what happened in this room. This room of disciples and the apostles called to lead them were so prayerful that even an act as random as a game of chance became something through which God acted and spoke through. The absence of any further information may lead us to assume that the right choice was made, and I believe that shows us that God answered the prayer of this community. A community as we read through Acts that was prayer-saturated. A characteristic that all communities of those who call themselves Christ’s disciples should strive for. Perhaps this can be where our democratic values hinder more than help. In the midst of everybody’s voice and vote we may forget to listen to the one voice that should drown all of the others out, the voice of God. Not that God never speaks through us but I think that it takes much intentionality on our part do be a people who welcome God’s voice to the conversation and seek to align God’s will with our own.
Prayer has been on my heart recently as I prepare to lead a study of the psalms and worked through the Lord’s Prayer in the last few weeks of confirmation. In these past weeks I have become more convicted that one of the ailments in many American churches is an absence of authentic prayer. Christian prayer is so much more than words spoken to God either memorized or extemporaneous. It’s not simply a conversation where we empty our hearts and hope that God is listening. Prayer begins as a conversation but in reality it is so much more.
What is it then you may ask?
Catherine Marshall wrote that
“A demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer…. Prayer is people cooperating with God in bringing from heaven to earth His wondrously good plans for us”

Likewise Augustine often prayed
Grant that we might seek never, never to bend the straight to the crooked. That is, your will to ours. But help us to bend the crooked to the straight. That is, our will to yours.

Brothers and sisters the prayer saturation that is modeled by the community in the Book of Acts and is greatly needed in churches today is a deep desire that God’s will is done in our lives in and the work of our congregations. It doesn’t begin with an invocation and end with an Amen. It begins at baptism and never ends. In the life of a disciple Thy will be done isn’t just a prayer petition but the driving force behind every prayer.
How blessed we are that we worship a God who has made himself so accessible; A God who longs to be in conversation with us and calls us to not just worship him but be a part of his saving activity on earth.
Brothers and sisters the last few Sundays we have heard a lot about things we do as Christians. We have heard encouragement to produce fruit for God’s kingdom. Today we are reminded that a lifestyle of prayer, the desire to see God’s will be done is the only thing differentiating our fruit from the work of the world. God’s voice turns the well intentioned deeds of people to the life giving work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray with me.

Lord God,
Lead us and guide us as we attempt to discern your will in the life of _____ Lutheran Church. Keep still our babbling hearts and human desires so they may be touched by your hand and inspired by your voice. We pray this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

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