7th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 18
July 31, 2011
The Dance of the Liturgy: Prayers of the People
“What’s up with that long prayer?” It was the title of a section of a pre-catechism curriculum I designed as a seminary project in Christian Education. I never got to write the whole curriculum, but I keep thinking that 5th and 6th graders might not be the only people who had that question. Why so long? And why in that place in the worship service?
If gathering as a community to sing praise and hear God’s word instead of sleeping in or playing golf seems counter-cultural, praying for the world is pretty counter-cultural, too. Splits and divisions and ‘my tribe, my family’ are so prevalent in the society that surrounds us. If you don’t agree with me, you must be wrong. If you are not my people, I don’t have to worry about you. Political posturing and diatribe is the currency of government these days and working together for the good of the larger society seems to have been lost in our struggle for independence and security.
Listen to Jesus: “You have heard it said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:43-45).
Listen to the Apostle Paul: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” (Phil 4:6-8)
And again: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 16-18)
What a privilege we have to bring our hearts desires and our longing for good government, good weather, healing, and comfort to God. What a claim we make when we gather into one praying body to ask God for anything! We come because Jesus has promised us that God always wants to hear our hopes and dreams. It is in John’s Gospel that Jesus says that if we ask anything in his name, he will do it. No request is too small, too personal, too hard for Jesus to grant it. He says that the Holy Spirit will come to abide with us, the Spirit of Jesus at work in our hearts and in our lives. Paul says that God’s Spirit prays for us when we don’t even know how to speak of what we desire.
So as we read the papers and our hearts break for starving children, families ruined by addiction, nations torn by war and people being blown up in the midst of it, we pray. When we despair of drought, or torrential rain, of species on the brink of extinction, we pray. When we realize that we are content to keep our love of Jesus and hope of life eternal to ourselves instead of speaking out to people who might just need to hear our story of salvation, we pray. When we remember those who have died in the faith and the legacy they have left us, we pray.
After we have heard Jesus in our midst in the Gospel, after we have heard the Gospel interpreted and opened by the preacher, after we have joined our voices in the ancient Apostles’ Creed, we pray. We pray beyond our own needs for the needs of those who preach the Gospel and those who still need to hear it. We pray for the earth, God’s gift of creation. We pray for the needs of those who suffer want and injustice, and offer our own service. We pray for the Spirit to guide and inspire our own ministry. We pray for those who are near and dear to us and need our prayers for strength and healing. We thank God for the saints who have gone before us, those who live in our memories and in our tradition. And we commend everything we ask to God’s loving care through the promises of Jesus our Savior. It is only through Jesus that we are free to come to the throne of God with our prayer. In his life and death and resurrection, Jesus won a place for us in God’s kingdom. It is though him that our meager efforts to offer praise and prayer are good enough, and it is through him that every promise God has made is guaranteed to us. It is our duty and delight, as the Great Thanksgiving says, to offer our prayer for God’s kingdom to come in our world. May we be part of bringing in that kingdom.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.