October 15, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Readings: Luke 11, Phil 4
Today in our reading from Luke, we revisit the time when Jesus modeled how to pray for his disciples. Along with that prayer, which is perhaps the first common prayer we all learned as children, he invites them to persevere in asking God for what they want; it’s an important message to not give up, and to continue to show up and share with God our deepest hopes and concerns and joys. How we pray says much about how we see ourselves in relationship to God and it says much about how we understand God in our lives. Do we feel that we can be fully authentic in front of God? Do we ask God to take care of everything for us…or to give us the courage or strength or faith to help resolve things or to be people of faith for one another? In that spirit, let us pray…
Generous God, in abundance you give us things both spiritual and physical. Help us to hold lightly the fading things of this earth and grasp tightly the lasting things of your kingdom, so that what we are and do and say may be our gifts to you through Christ. Amen.
More than a year ago, I went to see the film Miracles from Heaven with my husband and our daughter Emma. The film is based on a true story of a family who live in Texas. Their ten year old daughter, Anna, suffers from a rare, incurable disease that affects her digestive system and her mother, Christy, becomes a fierce advocate for her when she brings her to Boston desperate to have her daughter treated by a specialist at Children’s Hospital.
It’s truly a beautiful and inspiring film and I would highly recommend it to you. In any case, the film shows how this family of deep faith grapples with a nearly impossible and hopeless diagnosis for their daughter. For a time, the mother has to stop attending church, because she is so upset by comments made by people in her congregation that perhaps she or her daughter was being punished by God for sins they may have committed. She really wonders about the power of prayer and whether she can feel God with her in her desperation.
For any of us who have struggled with a difficult situation for ourselves or someone we love, we too may have wondered if God is listening to our prayers…or we may have asked whether prayer really does help us. And why are some prayers answered while others seem to go unanswered. There is no doubt that prayer is a difficult topic, and yet, I imagine that most of us do prayer, and I hope that we have discovered a peace in sharing with God our deepest concerns, worries, and suffering as well as gratitude for prayers answered.
In the Luke reading today, we hear about when the disciples find Jesus at prayer. They are people of faith, and like many of us, they were likely taught to pray from early childhood, but when they see the strength, the power, and the wisdom in Jesus, they want to be strong, and full of power, and wise, too. Jesus responds to their request with the simple prayer that is so familiar to all of us, one that connects us as Christians. Jesus prays in an intimate, two-way conversation with God, and shows his disciples an example of prayer with a loving parent who listens to us, cares for us, forgives us, provides for us, and protects us. Jesus doesn’t speak in complicated ways. He seems to try to communicate the reality of God’s love to the people in terms they and we can understand; this is the language of everyday relationships, at their best and even at their not-so-best.
And here we see that this prayer of Jesus is not just a comforting, private little prayer to get us through our tough times and personal crises. This is the prayer of the community that later became “the church”. We’re called to live and breathe in complete dependence upon, and fully trusting in, the God who made us, who listens to our prayers and calls us by name, who shapes us into a community that prays together, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not just “give me,” but “give all of us,” not in the distant future, but day by day by day. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we’re called not only to form this prayer with our lips but to be formed ourselves by this prayer into a community of compassion and justice that works to ensure that all of God’s children have “their daily bread” – and all that that implies today, all that they need from the abundance with which God has blessed us. The prayer calls us to join in the building of God’s kingdom not up in heaven, but here, on earth: a reign of justice, of healing, mercy, and love. (Rev. Kathryn Mathews, UCC)
In the film, Miracles from Heaven, there is a beautiful scene near the end of the film that helps us see all of the ways in which this family’s prayers are answered. We get to see behind the scenes all of the quiet miracles which led to this family being surrounded by love and support; we see the people they met along the way who responded in small and large ways to help this little girl get medical care and that allowed her family to feel comforted by a community of love. The people they met along the way, often strangers, became the answers to their prayers and those people provided many small miracles that the family didn’t often even know were happening. I don’t want to give away the ending, but there is a dramatic scene near the end that you may have heard about in the news a few years ago. The child is home with her family and still quite sick, and while playing with her sister in a large tree in their yard, she falls down into the hollowed out core of that tree, and many first responders come to help with the rescue. First the mother and then her family and then many others who are there to help gather at the base of that tree and pray for this child’s safety. It is a deeply moving scene.
I hope that when you next recite the Lord’s Prayer that you may speak it with a new appreciation for those words that Jesus taught his friends. Each day, as we share our prayers with God, maybe we can be attentive to the fact that they may be answered in ways of which we are not aware, but the important thing is to continue to be in conversation with God, to be in relationship with God, in the good times as well as the times when we are most in need. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he tells the faith community there, “let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Chris Jesus.” This image of the peace of God beyond all human understanding is so powerful, because that deep inner peace is so often what we seek at all times.
I will leave you with this quote from Mother Theresa who spoke about what she called The Simple Path… “
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace”