20 October 2013

This is a week to challenge one of our most basic Christian practices – prayer. But it is also a week to bring together two important things that prayer does for us – writing God’s law on our hearts, and opening us to the coming of God into our lives and our world. The potential for this mix of ideas is tremendous, and the possibilities it offers, not just for preaching, but for real, transforming encounter with God, are many. Those of us who seek to work for justice in our world cannot ignore the place and power of prayer that changes our hearts and leads us into true encounter with God.

As you worship this week, may your prayer be heartfelt, and may it overflow into every action, thought, word and interaction in your life.

READINGS:
Jeremiah 31:27-34: A prophecy of restoration, of an end to generational curses, and of God’s new covenant with God’s people – written on hearts, not stone.
OR Genesis 32:22-31: Jacob wrestles with God, is given a new name, and lives with a limp from that time on.

Psalm 119:97-104: A song of rejoicing in God’s laws and instructions and the way they guide and lead to life.
OR Psalm 121: God is a help to God’s people, the One who watches over and protects them day and night.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
: Paul encourages Timothy, in the name of the coming Christ, to remain faithful to the Scriptures and to teach God’s message faithfully at all times.

Luke 18:1-8: Jesus tells a parable of a poor widow who persistently asks a judge for justice, and he finally relents because of her persistence. Then he muses about whether, when he returns, he will find people of faith on earth.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
There are two related themes running through the readings this week. The first is that of God’s word written on the heart (Jeremiah), offering guidance and life (Psalm 119), as the basis for teaching and the Christ-following life (2 Timothy), and expressed in the parables of Jesus. The second is that of God’s coming to God’s people – in a night-time wrestling match with Jacob (Genesis), as a help and protection for the Psalmist (Psalm 121), as the coming judge (2 Timothy), as the God who comes to bring justice to God’s people in Jesus’ parable, and as the Christ who will return in Jesus’ musings at the end of the Luke passage. Of course, the idea of prayer is also found in many of these passages as well – and is, perhaps, what brings the other two themes together. On the one hand we long for God and seek God’s presence, God’s justice and God’s protection. On the other hand, God longs to come to us, offering us guidance and life through God’s word, God’s law, written on our hearts. In prayer we express our longing, and we open ourselves to God’s presence and purpose. As we pray, God’s word is truly written on our hearts, and the God of justice breaks into our human experience with justice, life and divine principles for full and meaningful living. The power of this theme of prayer as the meeting place for God and people is that it is not just the pray-er that is changed by the encounter, but the world in which the pray-er then lives and acts out the prayer each day.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION:  In the practical world of justice-bringing, prayer can feel like a rather impractical and ineffectual pursuit. If we seek to bring pressure to bear on leaders or groups with whom we disagree through prayer, in the hopes that God will somehow swoop in and bring about the changes we pray for, then we are little more than delusional, and our prayer is indeed impractical and ineffectual. If, however, we seek to be changed by God’s coming to us as judge, challenger and guide, if we seek to open our hearts in order that God’s law may be written on them, and we can live the justice we seek to bring, then our prayer is a powerful, transformative act. In this sense, no work of justice is complete without prayer. Interfaith dialogue must call us to pray together; engagement with political and social processes must be done prayerfully; protest action, where necessary, must express the prophetic nature of prayer; contribution and service must be clothed in prayerful awareness of God’s presence and purpose – or we just become another social upliftment movement. Of course, there is a difference between doing things prayerfully and imposing our form or version of prayer on those of other religions or faith communities. In this sense, prayer must also be engaged in sensitively and gently. No one can ban prayer from any aspect of our lives (even our schools), because we can always pray in our hearts, which is no less effective. What can be banned – perhaps legitimately – is imposing our way of praying on others in public gatherings or places. The true heart of prayer is welcoming, invitational, inclusive and compassionate, not arrogant, selfish, opinionated or exclusive.

LOCAL APPLICATION: In our local church communities it seems that prayer tends to take one of two places. Either we work with prayer a little like the spells and wands in a Harry Potter book – where we “wave” our prayer at situations and people, expecting God’s answer to be always dramatic and ‘supernatural’, or we ignore prayer almost altogether, apart from, perhaps, as a ritual practice within our Sunday services, acting as functional atheists as we approach our ministry and witness in the world. This week the Lectionary challenges us to engage with prayer in more meaningful ways than this. In the first instance, we are encouraged to wrestle with God in prayer, to allow our engagement with God to be a way of opening our hearts to the law of God which is to be written on them. This kind of prayer is a transformative practice that confronts our prejudice and self-centredness, while challenging us to allow God’s reign to be the reference for our living and acting. In the second instance we are encouraged to experience prayer as a true encounter with the God who comes to us, with the Spirit who fills and empowers us, and with the transforming acts of God in the world. In this sense, prayer is a way of discerning what God is doing among us and offering ourselves to cooperate with the work of God. These two realities – God’s word taking root within us and God’s coming to us are not separate realities, but are essentially one and the same experience, for which prayer is the vehicle. The question, then, is this: What is God doing (or seeking to do) in our churches and communities? Where do we see evidence of God’s presence, God’s coming, and where does God’s word need to be written on hearts? How can we cooperate with this work of God in ways that bring justice, grace, compassion and the reality of God’s reign into the lives of ordinary God-Beloved people?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Wrestling
Prayers
We Pray

Hymn Suggestions:
Trust And Obey
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
O Word Of God Incarnate
O God Our Help In Ages Past
O God Our Help (Link to album on iTunes – scroll down to track 4)
God Of This City (Link to YouTube video)
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
Hear Our Prayer
How Long?

Liturgy:
A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions
:
Pray With Your Feet
Psalm 121

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