Prayer and Action

You know, sometimes when I am preparing a Sunday sermon, I never get past the Collect of the Day! Some of these Sunday prayers in our Prayer Book so rich, and many are very ancient. Our one for today goes back to at least the 10th century. And they often contain as much spiritual wisdom and insight as the Scripture Readings which follow!

The Collect’s theme for today is prayer and action, and the relationship between the two. We prayed: “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…” The first part tells us the primary purpose of prayer — that we may know and understand what things we ought to do!

I’m afraid we too often understand prayer as telling God something we want done for us. We ask for forgiveness, we pray for others, we pray for ourselves. Sometimes it’s as though we think of God as some kind of heavenly Butler, just waiting around to fulfill our every need. But the truth is, prayer is not meant to change God’s mind. It’s meant to change ours!  We pray so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do!

That means that a good portion of our prayer time each day needs to be spent in reading and meditating on the Bible and other spiritual books, and in quiet and silence, learning about God and listening for God’s gentle direction and guidance for our lives. That’s prayer too! So that we can know and understand what things we ought to do.

Secondly, our time spent in prayer and worship is meant to recharge our spiritual batteries so that we can rise up from our knees and get about the task of doing what God wants us to do out there. As the Collect says, as we know and understand what things we ought to do, that we may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them!

Our First Lesson today (Amos 7:7-15)) describes the prophet Amos following what he understands as direction from God in confronting the king who was oppressing his people. Amos has such confidence in his vision of the plumb-line that he even takes on the court-appointed priest, Amaziah, who tries to stop him from carrying out his mission.  He says, “O seer, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary…”

But Amos says, “I am no (professional) prophet; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, (but) the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Amos prayed first, and that gave him confidence to follow through even in the face of opposition.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:14-29) tells a similar story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom at the hands of another king, Herod Antipas. We know that John was a man of prayer because Jesus’ followers once wanted him to teach them how to fast and pray like John the Baptist had done for his disciples. John fasted and prayed in the desert so that he would have the grace and power to speak truth to power and challenge Herod, not only to clean up his tangled marital relationships, but to stop oppressing his people and keeping them in poverty.

And finally, St. Paul begins his Epistle to the Ephesians (1:3-14) today with words of prayer, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” He goes on to say that “…he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” Why? So that “we might live for the praise of his glory!” Again, Paul counsels prayer so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do, and then have grace and power to accomplish those things!

It’s become quite fashionable these days for politicians when confronted with the now-commonplace incidents of gun violence, or some other devastating human tragedy, to say that they are sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. This, whether or not it seems likely that said politician has uttered a serious prayer in decades! In recent months, some of those victims and families have suggested that the politicians keep their thoughts and prayers to themselves and get about the business of doing what we elected them to do:

And that is, to find solutions to these problems – whether it’s the scourge of violence, the immigration mess, or the increasing gap between rich and poor here and around the world, or environmental concerns which threaten the planet. I must say I have some sympathy with those sentiments! Keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself! And get about the business of solving the problems!

Of course that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for victims and survivors! But if we think that is all we need to do, that pious utterances and assurances on cable news networks absolves us of our responsibility to be about the hard work of making this world a better place, then perhaps we had better pray again. And to pray this morning’s Collect:

“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…”

So, spend your prayer time this week more in listening for God than talking.

And then, rise up from wherever it is that you pray, knowing that you have the grace and power to accomplish whatever it is that God wants you to do.

For that is God’s promise!

 

 

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