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Based on the Scripture readings:
Psalm 130
Luke 11:1-4
Colossians 1:3-12

2007 September 23
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Praying Well = Praying Much

A wonderful theologian named Gunther Bornkamm says that the essence of all Jesus' prayers comes down to one three-word phrase: God is near.

Another thinker, William McNamara, says that the core of our prayer is "wanting God."

If it weren't for my own prayer life, in times of searching and injury and fear, in times of joy and hope and social passion, I wouldn't be here today. I would not be the Christian that I am, would not have gone to divinity school, and I would not have made it this far in marriage and parenting and life without prayer. Yet God is near, and I want God.

But as I look back on the five-plus years that I've been here, I have preached or offered an after-hour program on prayer only seven times. That is to say, roughly once every thirty-eight weeks, and frankly that's not amazingly impressive to me.

So this year I ask us as a group, once a month, to do what Jesus calls "casting our nets deeper" and pause and pray as a central part of our worship and communion.

We always enter worship with prayer and offer pastoral prayers each week, but we'll do more, too: pausing to make sure that everyone can share their voice somehow and embracing the silence that allows us to listen and hear God as well as praying for this world.

Our world needs deep prayer. I don't think that it is a vestigial curio on Christianity or extraneous and optional for us. Prayer is part of full health and life, and I think that many, many of us know just how to do it very well and that others of us don't have all of the models and inspiration and Back to topeven time that we need, and I want to pursue that this morning.

But I want to do something more than talk about prayer today: I want to pray together more.

Let me pause right now. Let me ask you to step out of sermon listening mode, great though that is, and literally sit in the way that allows you to feel peaceful, and try to suspend stimulation for just a moment, which could mean closing your eyes, and let us pray.

Be with us, bountiful God of creation. Be with us, merciful God of justice. Be with us, God of children and our own childhood, God of seniors and our own wisdom. God of the free and God of the imprisoned, God of the fearless and the frightened, of heaven and horrors and hope, be with us now in Christ's love. Be with us and guide us to trust each other in this moment, and to trust you, and to grow. Open our hearts, as we welcome you in. For we want you, we want you. Amen.

Henri Nouwen, a contemporary saint and a devoted priest and pastor, wrote about how distracted he got in prayer. He just couldn't focus, he says, and other thoughts kept coming into his head.

Mother Teresa wrote of how after she left her 20's, she never really experienced God's presence in prayer very much. Her world was so busy and hard.

Now scores of researchers and medical doctors write about double blind studies where prayer influences depression, blood pressure, and even bacteria. They examine long-distance prayer and its material effects. They say these effects are measurable. Then why did my brother die at birth, and why did my mother die in my arms unexpectedly? I prayed for them. Because prayer does some things but not exactly everything. Yet to me, something is far greater than nothing.

If prayer is wanting God, when do we want God? When we are alone? When our nation is in danger? When someone is ill or afraid? What about at times of joy and celebration? Back to topWhat about to crown our success and satisfaction?

There is an old saying that there are no atheists on the cancer ward. What about the corporate board? Doesn't prayer make a difference in private need and public practice? Shouldn't it?

To me prayer is intensely personal, absolutely social, and unquestionably political: all you need to do is read the Gospels to find that.

There is a great story from religion professor Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki that brings together all of these elements. It's about her journey in prayer many years ago.

Suchocki tells about the days of the anti-apartheid movement addressing South Africa. She says used to pray regularly, constantly, for justice and well-being there. Then one day she was called to be Dean of a seminary in Washington DC, just as faculty voted to demonstrate at the South African Embassy. Brand new, she wanted to respect the faculty vote, but she was terrified that this meant civil disobedience and almost certain arrest. She says inwardly she was horrified and felt neither bravery nor courage, even on the day of the demonstration, yet she did feel professional embarrassment. But she pondered that in South Africa it meant torture and imprisonment and death to demonstrate, which was more than embarrassing. When the teachers all got to the embassy, she was told to go first, as Dean, and held the petition to deliver at the door. Again she was scared. She was arrested and fingerprinted and then released, wondering finally what difference all this had made in the end. Five months later, as Dean, she was the one to receive a letter from a pastor in South Africa, thanking them for what they had done. He had read of the action at the protest, which had given his congregation new courage and boldness to know that across the oceans, other Christians stood with them in prayer. And they fought on.

Suchocki says that the easiness of her prayer became a hardness of action, and by God's grace part of the story of healing creation. Prayer matters. Be careful what you pray for, she says. Back to topGod may use you as a channel to unleash divine well-being. We become part of God's rolling waters of life.

I have a quote on my desk, and frankly it may be from me because it has no other attribution. It says that prayer is to faith what original research is to science.

I have trouble praying sometimes, though. I get distracted. I may not get the vision or the answer that I wish. But I always, always feel lighter, more integrated, more hopeful, more graced, literally healthier after I pray.

And there is a great deal that deserves our prayer. Christians can pray boldly and regularly for peace on earth and good will to all. Christians can pray for the earth that is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. We can pray for this church to grow, not because of numbers but because we need depth and energy for service and the wisdom to live diversity. We can pray for Newton, not because it is poor, but because it is busy and complicated and worried and rich. We can pray for JP and Roxbury and Needham and Watertown because they are our homes, and we want God there. We can pray for our enemies.

Jesus prayed for God's Kingdom, for daily bread, for interpersonal forgiveness, and for freedom from temptation. Paul prayed for faith, hope, and love. We have plenty of material. Let us take time now, and let us pray, too.


Copyright 2007 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.
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Parent page ] Sermon "Sacred Vessels" ] Sermon "No System to Save" ] Sermon "Entitled to be Thankful" ] Sermon "Welcome Food" ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] Sermon "A Change Agent" ] Sermon "What is Sabbath" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] [ Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "Free from Fear" ] Sermon "To Carry Each Other" ] Sermon " With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Healing Prayers" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Offering Up Thanks" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "A Summer Day of Renewal" ] Sermon "A New Thing" ] Sermon "Breath of New Life" ] Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "Expanding the Body of Christ" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Turning to God" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ]Back to top