Sermon February 7, 2021
I always say that any prayer we offer to God is a good prayer. I believe that God hears our prayers and knows what we need even though we may not say it correctly. But sometimes the prayers that we offer out loud can come out a little differently than we plan. Here are some examples.
One day, a young lady was asked to offer a prayer and she began, “I pledge allegiance to the flag”.
I always have the slight worry that I will say something wrong during the service. Here is an example of the kind of mistake that a priest can make. A priest once started a prayer by saying, “O God, the eternal water”.
Children can teach us important things about prayer, about how God listens and about asking God to help us in our worries. There was a church that was located a block from the train tracks. Every week, a boy offered the prayers. At the end of the service he would say, “and please bless the train that it won’t jump the tracks and destroy the church and kill us all”.
A man found some scribbles on the pew in front of him. He turned to his daughter and said, “don’t do that, Jesus doesn’t want us to draw on his bench.” So the daughter looked up and said “Jesus, can I color on your bench? OK, Thanks.”
God is always ready to listen to our prayers even when we think we mess up the prayer. Another way to pray is to turn to Jesus asking Jesus to guide our own prayers. We also can learn from Jesus for we know that he often prayed.
The gospel for today has so many beautiful messages about Jesus healing others and Jesus proclaiming the good news to all people. But I found myself drawn to this verse, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Why did Jesus go out to pray this time and what did he pray to God about?
We are told many times that Jesus prayed by himself. Perhaps the time we remember best is when Jesus prayed to God at Gethsemane just before he was arrested and crucified. We know that in Gethsemane he prayed that this cup would pass him but Jesus also prayed that he would do the will of God the Father.
We are not certain why Jesus prayed in Capernaum. I wonder if he just left to escape the pressure of the crowds of people asking for his healing touch. His prayer may have been that he would be able to deal with all of these people. I wonder if during this prayer time Jesus asked for help in deciding what he should do next. After his prayer, Jesus decided not to return to Capernaum but to go out to other cities in Galilee. Maybe his prayer was an expression of concern about how he could bring these people to God. He certainly didn’t want to simply be seen as a magical healer. I am sure that many of the people who were gathered around that house in Capernaum simply wanted to be healed. They didn’t want to change their faith or grow in their faith.
It is clear that the disciples were not focused on prayer at that time. They figured they had a good thing going. Jesus was very popular. Let’s go back and heal some more folks. That is the sign of success.
The prayer might have been a call for strength. I remember the time when a woman who was hemorrhaging touched the cloak of Jesus. Jesus knew something had happened because he was aware that power had gone forth from him. Did all of those healings cause Jesus to lose energy and did he need some time to rebuild it?
We will never know why Jesus prayed that night but we do know that having spent time in prayer, he decided on next steps and he acted with strength and energy. I believe the prayer time made a difference.
Just as Jesus may have had many reasons to come to God the Father in prayer, I encourage you to share everything with God. God will listen to everyone of our prayer concerns. Saint Ignatius wrote about opening ourselves in prayer. He wrote this,
'We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.' --St. Ignatius of Loyola
When we spend time in prayer and reflection, I believe it will make a difference in our lives. I offer two quotes of people who wrote about the importance of prayer. Saint John Chrysostom wrote this in the fifth century, Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness. --St. John Chrysostom
Fifteen hundred years later, C. S Lewis said this about his prayers,
“I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.” I think we sometimes miss the power of pray for us because we may think that prayer is meant to be a time when we pray for someone else.
Is it possible that through prayer we might find joy. I am reading a book called the Book of Joy and it was based on an interview conducted over five days with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It is interesting that these two men would write about joy. Neither man has had an easy life. Desmond Tutu struggled through all of the issues of apartheid in South Africa. He lived for a time in England. Upon his return to South Africa, he sent his children to school in another country because they couldn’t go to the school of their choosing in South Africa. The archbishop dealt with the violence in his country and overcame many illnesses including polio and tuberculosis. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet to save the lives of thousands of his countrymen and now lives in exile in India. For many years he has dealt with the challenge of trying to lead the spiritual lives of his people from a remote place in a climate where the Chinese government leads his former countrymen and whose government opposes his involvement in any way.
These two men who have suffered so much live lives of hope and joy. And together they wrote a book about it. Both of these men spoke about how joy is something we create from within. For Tutu and the Dalai Lama I think one way they do that is to spend hours each day in meditation or prayer. I think even short times in prayer will make a difference for us.
Tutu believes that joy is much bigger than happiness. Happiness is seen as being dependent on external issues while joy is not. Being joyful does not save anyone from hardship or heartbreak. Rather we can prepare ourselves so that if we find more joy in our lives, we can face and deal with suffering. I believe that when we spend time in prayer and meditation we can find God’s peace and that peace will help us find joy.
These two great men also shared that our greatest joy comes when we seek to do good for other people. In fact, the Dalia Lama offered a meditation that we can offer for friends who are struggling. The key steps begin by thinking of the loved one who is suffering. Then we reflect on the fact that just like you and I, they wish to overcome suffering and to be joyful. Next ,we inhale and take on their suffering. Finally, as we exhale, we imagine sending that person our love and compassion and our joy. Those steps can be repeated. Perhaps our joy can grow as we seek to give joy to others.
As I think about Jesus offering prayers in Capernaum. I imagine that he must have felt that no one would leave him alone. More and more people wanted to be healed through his amazing work. Jesus had to run away and hide so that he could spend time in prayer. Even then, the disciples searched for him determined to get him to come back and heal more people. It is as if they believed that healing was more important than prayer. But Jesus knew that prayer was first for him.
May we always search for time to pray. I believe that the more we pray the more things we can accomplish, the more people we can help and the better we will feel about ourselves. Perhaps we will even find the inner joy that the Dalia Lama and Desmond Tutu spoke about. Amen.
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