sermon August 23- PRACTICING HOPE

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
1 Kings 8: 22-30, 41-43
22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
27″But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.”
41″Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 — for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm — when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

Luke 11:1-13
1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: ” ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ‘ ”
5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,
6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’
8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?
12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Why do we pray the words, “Thy Kingdom come…”?
We pray them because the sufferings of this world are sometimes unfathomable.
We pray them because we want a better life, we need a better place, and we want God to bring it NOW.

But then I have to ask- because it has been asked of me- why do we pray at ALL, if the sufferings and injustices and cruelties of the world persist, despite our devout and earnest and even desperate prayers?

Why pray, when the daily bread, and the kingdom, are still somewhere on the horizon?

Before I answer, I need to confess. My prayer life is not what you imagine.
I do not pray every evening, nor every night, nor before every meal.

I pray, but my prayers are not disciplined nor scheduled.
My prayers are connected to the strange inner world where my thoughts take me, and to the outer world that throws itself into my line of sight and hearing.

So while there was a season in which I took morning prayer walks, praying for people and circumstances that came to mind as I walked through school or town, now I pray when I hear an ambulance, or see a waitress overburdened with work, or pass a homeless person sleeping in a doorway. I pray when I meet a new teenager in KRYF, or when I hear an inmate at KCC talking about their release date.

I pray over posts I see on Facebook, and over scenes I read in a book. The reason I pray is to stay in practice, so that it becomes a discipline of my heart and mind. I pray hoping for results, but my prayers are more than that.

Prayer is the voice inside of me that KNOWS the problem is too big for me, too big for you, too big for all of us together
Prayer is the voice inside of me that refuses to give in
Prayer is the voice inside of me that KNOWS that when we give in? The world turns cold as ice and dark as a stormy night
Prayer is the voice inside of me that keeps the candle lit
Prayer is the voice inside of me that prevents me from turning away from Hope, and going home to a place that can never be my home

Now Jesus prayed every day, as nearly as we can tell it was early, every morning. His disciples were of the habit of sleeping in, but they noticed something: the power of his deeds and the truth of his words was connected to his prayers. So they asked him to teach them how.

Usually when we talk about that lesson, we focus on the prayer that eh taught them to say. But there was a parable that was the conclusion of the lesson, and when we boil it down, it was a simple premise: just do it, and don’t stop.

When a need arises, and you can’t fill that need- pray.
Pray, no matter what time it is
No matter how silly it looks
No matter what answer you get
Pray. Just do it.

So pray, when your children are hungry.
Pray, when the roof leaks.
Pray, when the person you love is dying
Pray, when you cannot stand whatever it is-
Injustice, war, homelessness,
Insult and injury.
Pray. Just do it.

The truth is, HOW we pray or WHEN we pray, or even WHY we pray are not as important as THAT we pray. But we make excuses for NOT praying by saying we don’t know how.

Just do it, because doing it is like running. It changes us, even if we don’t win the race.

Prayers is the practice of hope and perseverance in spite of the circumstances and in spite of the perception that the door is not being answered, that the prayer is not being heard. We practice because we believe God MUST hear our prayer, and we practice because we belief that God intends good, and not evil. So prayer BEGINS with our belief and trust, and prayer MAKES STRONGER that same belief and trust.

There is a woman named Sue. I assure you, Sue is a very real woman. She grew up in South Carolina, studied nursing, got married, gave birth to a daughter, and got a job as a nurse. At age 30, she came to her birthday party at the family dinner table and announced, “I am going to become a writer.”

Not that she knew ONE THING about writing.

She took a little class, and one of the first assignments was to write a story and send it away to a magazine- which reminds me that the first step I took when I decided that I wanted to run a marathon was to actually ENTER one, and tell all my friends publicly.

Anyway, back to Sue- she wrote a very simple story, about her first Thanksgiving as a married woman, and sent it to Guideposts magazine. They printed it, and then they hired her to write for them, and sometime later she wrote a full-blown novel that became a bestseller and then a movie. Her full name is Sue Monk Kidd, and the novel was The Secret Life of Bees. More recently, she wrote another novel, The Invention of Wings, but along the way she has written a full dozen books, and the first thing she did after deciding she WANTED to write was to start writing.

So pray. Just do it.

Exercise, and see how the exercise changes your heart and opens your eyes.

Author Kathleen Norris, a Presbyterian Elder in South Dakota, practiced and studied prayer at a Catholic monastery. One of the lessons she gleaned on prayer came from a monk who lived for years in constant pain, confined to a wheelchair. She writes, “From him I have learned that prayer is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you cannot imagine. To be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you have been given instead of always grieving for what might have been. People who are in the habit of praying- and they include the mystics of the Christian tradition- know that when a prayer is answered, it is never in the way you expect.”

Well, sometimes it is. One man in town is in the habit of calling me and saying such things as, “Pastor, I’m calling to ask you to pray for someone to come help me unload my truck.”

You better believe his prayer was answered.

In fact, he called me yesterday, and asked me to pray. But since he was in Hydaburg and I was here, I was not the ANSWER to his prayers, I was merely the person who practiced with him.

So pray. Just do it.
Believe that God can change things, that God WANTS to change things,
That God’s INTENT for the world is good and not evil,
Peace and not war,
Beauty and not tragedy,
Life and not death.

So pray. Just do it.

Six years ago this week pastor Keith Anderson and I started visiting the youth detention center. One time in those years I met a middle-school girl inside, who could not sit still. She told me her brothers and her mom and a good many of her extended family were in jail, and some of the crimes were violent and gruesome, and she expected to spend her life in jail. Nonetheless, she smiled broad and constant. I prayed for her and for her life. Time goes by, I saw her today, working steadily and happily at a place where I frequent, so I prayed again, that this not be a pleasant interlude in an otherwise wasted life, that she find a stake that is her own in this life that we share together.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

Therefore, let’s practice.
Please repeat after me:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Bring your Kingdom NOW
Give us our daily bread
And remind us to share.
Lord, we are knocking on your door.
We know the hour is late.
We know you are busy.
But the world is hungry,
And we need your help.
Forgive us our sins
And twist our arms
Until we forgive others.
And lead us way from temptation
And into your Kingdom,
With the doors wide open.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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