Rev. George Miller
“Clouds of Prayer”
01 13, 2013
Once upon a time there were two men stranded on a dessert island. There was nothing to eat and no chance of rescue, so with nothing left to do but pray, they prayed.
One of them, Andy, was a gambling man so to make a game of it he said “Let’s see who God answers.”
So the men pray, each going to their own corner of the island. That night they each go to bed, hungry and alone, with no chance of rescue.
The next day Andy wakes up to coconuts at his feet. He gets up, cracks one open, drinks the juice and eats the meat.
He looks over at his island mate and says “See, God has answered my prayers.” The other man nodded his head, smiling at him.
That morning the two men go about their day, seeking shelter from the sun, saying their prayers, going to sleep.
The next day Andy wakes up to find a beautiful woman has washed up on the shore and she’s everything he could hope for.
Andy looks at his island mate and says “See, God has again answered my prayers.”
The other man nodded his head, smiling.
They go about their day, finding shelter from the sun, continuing their prayers. They go to sleep; Andy no longer so alone.
The next morning Andy wakes up and lo and behold, there is a rescue boat ashore, saying they have space for two people.
Andy wraps his arm around the woman and says to the other man “See, God has answered my prayers yet again!”
Sure enough, the other man nodded, smiled, and continued to smile as Andy and his mate walked up to the boat.
But Andy was a bit troubled.
He can’t figure out why, when having received absolutely nothing, the man was smiling, and continued to smile.
So before getting onto the boat he turned around and asked: “I don’t get it. Why are you smiling? You didn’t get food. You didn’t get the girl. And you’re certainly not getting rescued.”
To which the man responded “Because God has answered all my prayers.”
Andy was confused. “What do you mean by God has answered your prayers. You don’t have a single thing to show for it.”
“That may be true,” said the man, “But what I asked God for was that he would answer all your prayers…”
…Christianity is a most mysterious experience…
A few weeks ago we celebrated our belief in an incarnate God who would dare come to us in the form of a child.
In a few months we’ll celebrate our belief in a God who could and would resurrect the man that child became.
Then, a few weeks later we’ll celebrate our belief in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was likened to tongues o’ fire.
Let’s be honest here: fantastical and mysterious is our faith indeed.
Who? What?? Why??? How???? Really?????
Among the mysteries is the notion of prayer.
Unlike bread and wine, unlike a cross or an empty tomb, prayers are not tangible. They are not something you can see or touch.
Prayers are not made up of mortar or stone: things you can hold and physically build with.
Prayers are not a type of currency, a coin or a check or a credit card you can use to get what you desire when you desire it.
Prayers are invisible and abstract. Some would even say the concept of prayer is illogical.
Yet others would say that prayers are…transformative…
Prayers are mysterious, but just because we don’t know how they work, if they work, it does not mean we have to let go of them.
After all, Jesus, who we are called to emulate, followed a life that was rich with prayer.
We got a taste of this in today’s story. The crowds of people have come to John to be baptized in the wilderness.
Jesus is among them. After he is submerged in the water, he prays. As Jesus prays the heavens open, the Spirit descends and God says “You are my son, in whom I am well pleased.”
…Like I said- mysterious…
Last week we discussed how Matthew means “Gift of God” and how that knowledge can enhance our reading of Matthew’s Gospel.
Today we have some more information to share. Luke is the Gospel that contains many “mosts.”
Luke shows Jesus at his most hospitable. There are more scenes of Jesus eating a meal and talking about a meal then any other Gospel. (Good thing Jesus did all that walking!)
There are almost more scenes of Jesus being radically inclusive: children, foreigners, the lame, outcasts, Samaritans and women.
Not to mention Luke features Jesus talking the most about the poor, either in his giving of the Beatitudes or the stories he told.
So in Luke, Jesus does the most meal sharing, he does the most class-line crossing and he is shown at his most socio-economic conscious.
Anyone here wish to guess what else he does more in Luke then any other Gospel?
In Luke we witness a Jesus who not only teaches about prayer, tells stories about prayer, but also spends a lot of his time in prayer.
Before he breaks bread, he prays.
Before making difficult decisions, like who to call as his disciples, Jesus prays.
While facing difficult experiences, like his night in the garden or being left for dead on the cross, he prays.
With all this information, what can we surmise Luke is trying to tell us?
One guess is that a fully-realized Christian life is a prayerful life.
Look at how Jesus lived. He prayed and he prayed and he prayed. He supplicated, he begged, he communed, he asked with confidence.
If Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, takes time to pray, so should we.
…Now, I have to pause right here and be honest with you, because in many ways I feel like my own prayer life is next to nil.
Sure, I say prayers in church and before meetings and in hospital rooms. But in my own life, in my own space?
When things are going good, you’ll hear me give God a quick “Thank you.”
When things are not so good…well, you’ll find me curled up on the couch watching the Cooking Channel.
So I will be the first to admit that my own personal prayer life could be much more…prayerful.
Perhaps a key in doing so, is to look at Jesus’ own example in Luke.
There are at least three things we see.
First, Jesus’ prayer life allowed him to have greater communion with God. It opened up their relationship, making it more… relational.
He isn’t afraid to call God “Poppa” and to approach his requests like a child to a loving parent that he trusts.
Perhaps having this kind of loving, trusting relationship with God is what allowed Jesus to live a life of radical hospitality that was so extravagent and welcoming to all.
Second, Jesus’ prayer life gave him a sense of direction. Like a compass it helped point him towards where to go, what to do, who to make his disciples.
Perhaps having this kind of guidance-seeking relationship with God is what allowed Jesus to be so socially conscious, to reach out to and speak about the poor and marginalized.
Third, Jesus’ prayer life gave him strength. How else could he have faced all the ridicule and opposition?
How else could he have found the courage to consummate his calling on the Cross?
Perhaps having this kind of empowering relationship with God is what prevented him from worrying what others thought and from trying to please everyone.
Perhaps it is what allowed him to pray, as he was dying, “Father, forgive them. For they don’t know what they are doing.”
In conclusion, referring back to the story you heard earlier, in some ways it can be said that we are each shipwreck survivors on the island of life, trying to get by.
My guess is that Luke would tell us to do what the men in the story did: to pray.
Not just for ourselves, but also for the sake of one another.
How do prayers work? Well that remains a mystery.
But if Luke goes out of his way to show us a Jesus who is not only the most hospitable, the most inclusive, the most socially conscious and the most prayerful, there has got to be something to it.
If Jesus Christ could pray, then we as Christians are to pray too.
Who knows? Just as his prayers opened up the heavenly clouds to made a way for the Spirit to descend on down, perhaps so will ours.
Amen and amen.