The Rules of Prayer: Looking Beyond Ourselves

A sermon preached at the Congregational Church of Grafton UCC on November 13, 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

There’s nothing easier than thinking of yourself as a Christian, especially as we so often define that word for ourselves. And that’s ok. But if you want the full benefit of following the way of Christ, there’s more to it than just giving yourself the name.  It’s like the difference between dating and marriage.

Last week, we took the first step in the difficult part of being Christian: recognizing that we can’t do it all ourselves, that we need help to make it through the day.

This week, we’re diving a little deeper, to help us get comfortable with the idea that there’s more to all this than just what we want.

Christian faith is pretty clear, and even easy, when it’s just me and my Savior. Jesus is really understanding, non-judgmental, accepting and gracious – even when I don’t spend much time with him. And it’s pretty easy to do what seems right to me, and know it’ll all be ok with him.

But then add in community, and it all get so complex and messy. Community is part and parcel of the Christian way; though it is harder, it’s also more rewarding.

Living in community is more challenging because it pulls out of our own self-centered orbit and requires that we think about and deal with – not only our own desires, or even the desires of our friends, but with the needs of the community and the wider world.

As we grow in our ability to pray, we’ll deepen our commitment to praying more for what the community needs than what we want. We’ll be drawn out of our own selves, our own experiences, expectations, wants and desires.

Jesus tells the story of the sower…who went out to sow seeds.

  • Some of his seeds fell on the path. They were never going to sprout. Some got eaten, some were destroyed.
  • Some seed fell on rock, it died for lack of water.
  • Some fell among thorns, and got choked out.
  • Some fell on good soil, grew and prospered.

There’s any number of lessons which may be taken from this story, but for today, it tells us that there are ways to be which can look good, but for differing reasons do not prosper.

So we can go through the motions, like the sower, but pay no attention to anything in our lives, and the gifts of faith do not prosper.

Or we can pay attention enough that the seed of faith sprouts, but then it withers and dies because it’s not nurtured at all.

We can pay attetion, and nurture it, but then allow the realities of life to choke it out.

We can pay attention, and pay attention, and pay attention… and grow more and more deeply into relationship with God and one another.

Lives change, and sometimes it feels as though that change happens by the minute. Happy and receptive one minutes, it can feel as though we’re nothing but rocky ground the next.

Sometimes we’re so captive to our own troubles, our own concerns, that nothing else can flourish.

And then comes those times when we are able to move beyond our selves, to see and hear the need of the community within which we live, and reach out to them through the power of prayer. Because prayer changes things.

But that’s hard. It reminds me of a devotional written some time ago by professor Mary Luti:

Mother and child in the supermarket. The boy’s two-ish. Squirmy. In the cereal aisle, Mom’s tension rises. When he rips open the Cheerios, she’s had it. She yanks the box away, plunks him in the carriage, and wheels him to the register before he can summon a sound.

 And I’m thinking it’s terrible to be two. You want what you want when you want it, but you get what adults think is good for you and convenient for them. You can manipulate them to a point, but your power’s limited by size and weight. They can always toss you in a cart like a head of lettuce and wheel you away.

No wonder children like playing grown-up, bossing each other around. They think we’re free, that we just will things, and everything we want leaps from the shelf into our carts. They don’t know yet that to be in charge of yes and no is more terrible than being two.

 They don’t know about the tyranny of choices, the terror of decision, and unintended consequences. They don’t know that we’re never not at the mercy of other people’s ideas about what’s good for us and convenient for them. They don’t know that at any age, without warning or consent, rogue events can yank dreams from our hearts like a fed-up parent in a grocery store. Even if you’re 6’5″ and weigh 240, life can still toss you around and wheel you away.

 Here’s truth, consolation, saving grace: In life and death, and in every tossing, we belong to God

Here’s more truth: the more we practice reaching out to others, paying attention to who they are, what their frustrations are, what their needs will be, the better we will be as well.

We had a national election this week, and there are a lot of people hurting today, a lot of people scared. There was more vitriol in this election than I can remember in decades and it has not stopped with the election. It’s a time when we might well be consumed by our own reactions. And it’s a time for us to also reach out, to extend the hand of community to those whose fears are overwhelming, to offer them our prayers, to together comes to a sense that “tho the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

The first rule of prayer is to “ask for help”.

And the second rule is to “get outside ourselves”.

All so that we may strengthen our faith, increase our trust in God’s empowering presence, and be a strong witness to what it means to “be the church” in this community.

Amen.

© 2016, Virginia H. Child

Author: tobelieveistocare

I am an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, having served as a settled pastor for over thirty years. I play classical mandolin and share my home with a cavalier king charles spaniel

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