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May 24, 2020

Prayer: It Will Move You

Prayer: It Will Move You

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: May 2020

Category: Prayer

Keywords: prayer

An old hymn encourages us to “take it all to God in prayer,” but do we really? Aren’t we taught a sort of sanitized faith in which we put on our best clothes and our nicest words to talk to God? The scriptural witness is actually quite different, far more raw, far more real. Accordingly, we should be direct and open in our prayers because we just might find that as much as God or reality might be changed by it, we too might be changed by it. We might find that movement to be in a direction that surprises us and is always in the direction of expansiveness, one relying on the power of Spirit, and not human displays of dominating power.
Today's Scripture

Acts 1:6-14

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

“Prayer:  It Will Move You”

I wonder what you would ask Jesus were Jesus to appear to you?  Would you ask one of the timeless questions, such as, “What is the meaning of life?”  “What happens when we die?”  Something more temporal like, “When is this going to end?”  I’m sitting here for the 9th week, wearing a collar…and shorts.  How long?  This is a form of the interaction the disciples have when the disciples encounter the risen Christ, well except for the shorts part.  When will the kingdom be restored?  Jesus responds somewhat mysteriously, telling them it is not for them to know the times or periods God has made.  Then, without warning, he is lifted into the clouds.

What’s interesting, or part of what’s interesting, is that it is then that the disciples go and gather in prayer.  Now what are they praying for?  They’ve already been given their non answer answer.  Are they trying to press for more details?  Are they trying to move God off God’s position?  That had been done before.  Or is it that possible that the disciples were seeking something else?  

People pray.  Even as organized religion declines in this part of the world, the vast majority of people report praying. I think the numbers are likely even higher because I count many activities others might not as prayer:  anything that one does to connect to a higher or greater reality, that centers one into another space, a wider or deeper consciousness.  Prayer isn’t only talking to God, and I see signs of what I would call prayer all around.   

There’s a labyrinth in the open space at the top of our hill.  

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Here’s an image from the center.

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This is some of the surrounding view

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-again show labyrinth-

People climb this rather steep hill to this vista, walk the labyrinth and leave these things in the center, as offerings.  The items vary:  a photograph, a stuffed animal, dried flowers, a coin or token, jewelry.  It’s prayer to me.  

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I don’t know what people expect when they offer such prayers.  Perhaps they expect intervention.  Perhaps they get it.  Perhaps they don’t, but enough times enough of us don’t get it and yet keep praying that we must intrinsically know prayer is not just some currency to feed into a vending machine God.  We don’t always get what we want.  We don’t always have taken from us what we don’t.  Not even Jesus had the cup removed from his lips.  When the disciples see Jesus whisked away into the sky and the white-robed figures appear, they ask what the disciples are doing staring up at heaven as if the answer is going to drop from the sky. 

Yet, they go and pray still, which says to me there is something else going on.  They are looking not only from some answer from beyond, but for some wisdom and capacity from deep within.  They were constantly devoted to prayer, it says.  They then go out in the world to be a certain kind of presence, presumably the kind they expect in the kingdom for which they have been waiting and yearning.  Something about their prayer puts them in motion in a particular way. 

I’ve seen prayer move people.  Once there was a church searching for a pastor.  All the search committee members were in agreement on the candidate, all except one.  This one didn’t want to be an obstacle, nor did they want to sacrifice their integrity.  It just so happened the regular mission trip to Central America came during this critical discernment time.  This person always went and so they did this time.  During the time, they went atop a mountain and they prayed.  They prayed and prayed.  They felt moved and a change of heart toward the pastor.  The pastor came and this man became one of his most earnest supporters and the ministry was successful.  (This was not about me, by the way.  I resorted to sending cold hard cash to the committee members).  

Similarly, I was once at General Assembly, the national meeting of the church.  In my committee we were debating something that’s not material here, but there was significant division in the room.  We deliberated and debated until about midnight one evening, only to return for a pre-breakfast session at about 6:00 the next morning.  The ringleader of the group that was on the opposite side I was a formidable fellow, very outspoken and sure.  That’s why I was so surprised when he asked to speak first that morning.  Bleary eyed, we sat there as he recounted what a long day and night it had been, and how he had gone back to his room and prayed.  He said his heart had been moved and he was ready to adopt the other position.   

I wonder if this image of prayer might be helpful to some who are confounded by prayer, confused about their misplaced orders to God who does not offer two-day delivery.  Prayer may move God.  I’m quite sure if done faithfully, it will move you.  I say faithfully not as a descriptor of piety, maybe not even in terms of intensity, but more in the sense of regularity.  It’s like a relationship.  It’s not so much showing up with flowers on a special occasion, as important as that may be.  It’s more just showing up daily.  Think how much time we put into the things we care about:  work, our families, a craft or hobby, our bodies with exercise.  We wouldn’t think a spare 15 minutes thrown at any of these once in a while would yield anything, why would we think so with prayer?

When the risen Jesus tells the disciples God’s timing is not for them to know, part of what’s being communicated is that they’re not in charge of how everything goes, and maybe in doing so he’s telling them they may be seeking the wrong thing.  Their persistence in prayer is not a sign that they’ve missed the message, but precisely that they’ve gotten it, that given the way the world is, they need to devote themselves to connecting to God and one another that they might discover the wisdom to navigate a world they would not choose, working to be a kingdom kind of presence in it which just might also change it.  

-Play video of me at labyrinth-

So here I am, now at the labyrinth, in a world I would not choose, in my collar and shorts, praying nonetheless, making the offerings of my heart in hoping it, too, might be moved.  Now, with this view, on this sacred spot, what would you offer?