7th Sunday of Easter, year A, 2014 (preached June 1, 2014)
first reading: Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
second reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
gospel reading: John 17:1-11
There are SO many horrible things going on in the world these days. I wake up in the morning and I’m afraid to look at the news.
People gunned down by a hateful deranged man in California. A pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death for her faith in Sudan. Two teenage girls gang-raped and hung in India. Another girl in North Carolina beaten to the point of brain injury by her boyfriend.
The internet and 24hr news channels have made the world a smaller place, so we know fairly quickly events in the world – the good, but mostly the bad. It can get overwhelming sometimes and I just have to turn it all off – all the images that are coming at me – because I feel powerless.
But there are other stories that don’t make the news or internet headlines that we can’t turn off. The “stuff” that is happening closer to home – to ourselves, or the people we care about. I’m sure each of us has a LONG list of people in our lives that are going through tough times.
What can we do in the face of everything going on globally, in our lives, and in the lives of those around us?
There are ways we can help through organizations that provide physical relief to those who are suffering or in trouble, and we should certainly support those. There are concrete ways we can help our friends and loved ones who are going through tough times – a ride to the doctor, a phone call, a hand to hold.
But we also find another powerful tool in our readings for today. And that tool is prayer.
In our first reading, which recounts the Ascension of our Lord, the disciples, along with “certain women,” including Jesus’ mother Mary, returned to Jerusalem and were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
In our second reading we’re counseled to humble ourselves and “cast all our anxiety” on the Lord because he cares for us. How do we do this? Through prayer. And our whole gospel reading is only part of what’s known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.
Prayer. We don’t talk about it a lot. We just “do it.”
But once in a while it does us good to reflect on the gift of prayer, to remind ourselves how vital it is in our life of faith.
There are many ways to pray. We can speak prayers that are already written, as we do throughout our liturgy. There are prayers we can say before meals, special prayers that have been handed down from generations like, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” or “Lord make me an instrument of thy peace” – or of course the greatest prayer handed down came from Jesus himself in what we call the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father.
Then there are the spontaneous prayers that flow from our hearts in our quiet, and not so quiet, moments with God. Prayers said as we’re driving the car, walking down the street, watching the news, or before we sleep.
They can be long, when we have a list of situations and people to pray for, or they can be as short as the plea, “Jesus, help me!”
In a writing called, “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer for the Simple Layman,” Martin Luther addressed this very topic.
He wrote, “…take note that a prayer is not good and right because of its length, devoutness, sweetness or its plea for temporal or eternal goods…. Not your zeal but God’s Word and promise render your prayer good.”
Prayer is the way we communicate with God: the way we talk to God and feel God’s presence with us, and the way we listen for God to talk to us.
In our prayer time it’s helpful and wise to focus on four things:
1. giving thanks for our blessings,
2. interceding for others,
3. offering our personal concerns, and
4. listening in the quiet for God’s guidance and to feel God’s love and strength support us.
I’ve already said that prayer is the way we communicate with God, but it is also through prayer that we are connected to one another. We’re intimately tied to God and one another through Holy Baptism first of all, but in prayer those ties are strengthened, and we’re also able to connect with those who don’t know God at all, but still need God nonetheless.
When we pray we’re reminded of our common humanity, and of God’s utter love for each and every one of us. For none of us is too great not to pray, or too great not to be prayed for. Each of us is called to pray, and each one of us needs the prayers of others.
So there may be times when we may feel powerless in the face of all that’s going on around us, when in truth we have amazing power in our prayers.
Some of the situations we pray about may not change. After all, God is not our heavenly Santa Claus or a genie, existing to fulfill every wish. But perhaps even if the situations don’t change, our ability to COPE does.
I know from personal experience that when I’m going through a hard time, when I know that someone is praying for me, I am comforted and strengthened.
So while we may FEEL powerless in the face of some situations, in truth we have great power.
It may not be the power we want – we may not be able to cure the cancer, and we certainly can’t take away the agony of the parents of murdered children.
But we offer in our prayers OUR presence, the power of GOD’S comforting presence, the power of strength to persevere, and the power of shining God’s light of love into the darkest places of the world.