Keep on Prayin’ — Don’t Lose Heart

A Mark of a 21st Century Disicple

The adage taught in seminary states that whenever you preach a sermon you should do so with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I am still amazed at times by the serendipity of our appointed lessons and the times in which we find ourselves, because friends these times, they are a’changin’. As our political climate spins into darkness it is, I would argue, providence more than chance that gives us these words to reflect on this morning.  These lessons selected years ago by a committee in a conference room someplace that just so happen to fall on this particular Sunday (Proper 24, Year C if you’re keeping score at home).  Our Gospeler Luke writes, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” 

Photo Credit: Ian Sane Flickr via Compfight cc

The past ten days have not been our best here in the US.  I will not repeat or rehash all that has taken place—Lord knows we’ve heard enough already on 24/7 news stations and news outlets online—but I will say that it’s nearly caused me to lose heart.  To feel that our times have gone past the point of no return.  That no matter what happens come November 8, no one will have won.  Oh we will have a new President-elect, but the toxic mix of vitriol, hate, ridicule and distrust has seeped in to every corner of our lives, and we’ll be swimming in it for quite some time.

A sermon based on Luke 18:1-8

Which of course echoes the words of our newest Nobel Prize winner in Literature and some-time prophet, Bob Dylan:

Come gather ’round people where ever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a’ changin’!

It might be tempting to avoid the news all around, to unplug for the next three weeks, or to give in to the despair lurking around and think everything is lost, but that isn’t the way of Jesus.  And it’s not the way for us if we want to be his disciples.  We disciples are marked by our ability to pray and not to despair.

Which, if we are willing to admit it, is so very hard to do.  Jesus knew this about our human condition and so he tells us this parable to help us understand. 

There was a certain judge who didn’t care much about the opinion of God or of other people; he simply did what he wanted when it came to his life and his judgments.  A widow who lived in his town kept coming to him demanding justice against the one who had done her harm.  She didn’t relent, coming before him day after day making her request known.  Finally the judge had had enough.  “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”  But there’s just one thing, you can’t lose heart. You have to keep praying.

I’ve been struck this year in learning more about our Muslim neighbors and friends, and how they stop for prayer five times every day.  They may be working in the office and slip in to a quiet room or close their door.  They may be out running errands or at home or traveling, and they’ll stop to pray.  They’ll face toward the east—toward Mecca— and speak to God, declaring God the most Holy One, recognizing that God alone is worthy of praise and asking that they be able to follow God’s path.  They pray without fail; they come before God again and again, for God alone is to be worshipped and praised.  When we hosted the Iftar Celebration here in June, our Muslim guests and hosts made their way to the sitting room connected to my study in the Parish House.  They did so quietly, not wanting to make a spectacle of their prayers as we broke the Ramadan fast with them.  They just went off in twos and threes to pray, and afterward they thanked me for making the space available to them, for honoring their need to come before God.

I wonder what would happen here at St. Mark’s if we all committed to praying multiple times a day.  What if when we sat down at the breakfast table in our homes we gave thanks to God and prayed for our world. What if we decided together to pray the Daily Office, the Divine Hours, throughout the day?  Beginning with Morning Prayer, and then the shorter Noonday prayers.  Stopping at the end of our workdays with Evening Prayer and praying the nighttime prayers of Compline before going to bed.  If we did, we’d pray words like these every day:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen

Or at lunch time after we’ve had a sandwich we might request this: Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct and rule us according to your will, to comfort us in all our afflictions, to defend us from all error, and to lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

These familiar words of the Magnificat would ring in our hearts and mind as the sun goes down: [The Almighty] has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,  and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Or finally these wonderful words at the close of the day as we tuck our children in and climb in to bed ourselves: Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Prayers to sustain us during times when the water is rising.  Prayers allowing us to bring our cries for justice to God, seeking God’s help in our own times of need.  Prayers bringing us to a place of solace and comfort and care.  Prayers encouraging us to trust that God will not leave us or forsake us.

Our friends over at Forward Movement have rightly determined that it would be a good idea for us to pray during this season of the election, because that is what we as disciples of Jesus are called to do.  They are encouraging us to pray daily for the next few weeks on behalf of our nation.  Not that our particular candidate would win, but rather for justice to be brought by those we elect, for this nation to elect those who will work for our common good. For us to pray for peace in our world and also to pray for our enemies.  They began last week with their prayers, but our copy machine had gone down, so we join them now at Week 2 in Praying for an Election. Every Sunday a new set of prayers will be made available to you.

Additionally, our bishops have asked us to join in a diocesan wide prayer vigil in the 48 hours leading up to our National Election.  Beginning at 12 noon Sunday, November 6 through 12 noon on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, prayers will be said in and around our diocese.  At St. Mark’s will will hold an Election Eve Eucharist on Monday, November 7 at 7pm to remind us that regardless of political affiliation, we are members of Christ’s body shown in our sharing bread and wine at the table together.  We pray not for winners and losers but for sound government, peace and a nation that respects the dignity of every human being.  We will also open the church at other times during that time for prayer and mediation.  A schedule will be available in the coming weeks.

Finally, on my blog this week I’ll gather some online resources for prayer.  Many of us carry around these devices that can become distractions with so many games, but they can also help us deepen our faith, reminding us to pray throughout the day.

I finish with these words: do not to lose heart, either in these days or in the days to come.  Pray, regularly, for our country, for the ones in our society longing for justice and not finding it, for those you love, for our parish and for your own life that it would reflect the way of Jesus.  Take home the insert for this week and use it to guide your prayers.  Commit to pause throughout the day simply to remember how God moves and works in your life.  And may you never, ever give up, because God desires for there to be peace and justice in our world and in our lives.  Amen.