“Another Prayer Vigil?” John Henson
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, July 24, 2016
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“We don’t need any more prayer vigils” is what I heard one of the participants in a committee meeting say this past week. I don’t think that the person had anything against prayer or vigils but apparently believed that it’s time we do more than pray or light candles. As I thought about what she had said, I understood and agreed. But I also wondered if such a statement isn’t shortchanging prayer. We tend to think of prayer as passive rather than active, even something we do when all else fails. Could it be that we just don’t know how to pray?
That’s at the root of the question the disciples asked Jesus, as we have heard in Luke’s Gospel this morning. They wanted to know how to pray and saw Jesus as one who knew it better than anyone else. His prayers always had a great effect, and it was evident that God was listening to him. So Jesus teaches them a model prayer. It is one very similar to the one that we have already said here this morning and that we recite every Sunday together. Jesus followed it up with a parable to reinforce what he just taught and to make sure they understood the active dimension of prayer.
The parable is about someone who is going to have company and is not ready for them. Have you ever been in that situation? You have friends coming into town and don’t give you much warning. “Hey, we’re coming through town and can we drop in to see you?” As much as you want to see them, you are in a panic because your sink is full of dishes, your house smells like a wet sock, and your pantry is empty. So you go next door to your neighbor, who always seems to have everything possible for hospitality. That’s what the person in the parable did. It was late, but he figured his neighbor was still awake, so he knocked until he got an answer. After several knocks, the neighbor replies. The answer is not too kind, but the man in need persisted because he knew that he needed some bread and did not want to endure the shame of being an inhospitable host. After the neighbor shouts that he and everyone else has gone to sleep, he keeps knocking and asking and believing. The man’s persistence pays off as the neighbor finally gets up and gives him some bread.
What Jesus was teaching the disciples was not that God is lazy, grumpy, or slow to move. His point here is about the activity of prayer. It is anything but passive. He tells them that those who ask, seek, knock will find what they need. Prayer for Jesus is an activity of motion, and exercise that not only involves his thoughts and words; it involves his whole body. He makes his life a prayer, living it out with persistent movement. He teaches the disciples to do the same.
As we consider prayer in our lives today, we too find ourselves wondering just how to do it. There have been so many times we have prayed and wondered if anyone is on the other end of the prayer listening. And we have become so accustomed to these days to responding to crises and loss by saying you are in my prayers and thoughts. If we are praying as much as we say, then why isn’t our world getting better? Why is there still an ISIS? Why is there still racism? Why is blood still shed in the streets of our city? Why does our world not get any better?
Perhaps the answer to those questions, though they are complex, could have something to do with are not doing our part of prayer. Just how is it are we putting feet to those prayers? I wonder if God is at times extremely frustrated with our prayers. He provides the resources, the example, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to give answers to those prayers, yet we do not access them as we should. Think about it. We already have what we need as humans in this world to end racism. We already have the knowledge and resources to and terrorism. We already have the answer to ending gun violence in our neighborhoods. So what are we doing? That is what God wants to know.
I remember reading something William Sloane Coffin said in response to a question about where God is when children are starving, etc. I couldn’t find the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of how God asks, “Where are you?” In an article in U.S. Catholic magazine, he addressed the absence of God by saying, “I think Christians should stop blaming God for being absent when they are not present. They should stop blaming God for all the ills of the world as if humanity had really been endlessly laboring to cure them.” (William Sloane Coffin, “The Good News About the Broken-hearted Christian Blues,” in U.S. Catholic (Aug. 1986). Christianity)
This morning I invite you to think about the prayers that we have said in the last 30 days. Consider with me how God has already provided us with an answer. There is a blank sheet of paper in your bulletin. I invite you to take a moment and write one thing we have prayed for and how you see our church taking action and putting flash to that prayer. In just a few minutes as we passed the offering basket, please put the paper in the basket. Our ushers will gather those and I will make a list of them share with everyone this next week. I believe that out of this will come some concrete steps of application that will make a world of difference.
So maybe we do need more prayer vigils; the kind that you and I become and live out with the persistence of a man who keeps on knocking, seeking, and asking until he gets an answer. Until he becomes the answer.