Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Mike Turgeon A Summer of prayer: “Letting go” July 3, 2011
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30.
A Summer of Prayer
Let me tell you a story you already know.
A water-bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on opposite ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the water-bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments—perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been created to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."
"Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"
"I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to the master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do extra work," the pot said.
The water-bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path." Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, the pot still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without your being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.
The cause of greatest suffering in this story was that the cracked pot did not speak up sooner, that a conversation had begun only after 2 years of misery. The burden of shame he carried was unnecessary. The pot was maintaining only a partial view of life, and this partial view caused his downheartedness. His burden was converted to blessing only after he began relating to the Water Bearer.
If there is a sequel to this story somewhere, I pray that it is one where the cracked pot finds rest for his soul; that the big conversation with the water bearer begins to lighten his load, allows him to let go of his shame just a little bit; helps him gain better appreciation of his purpose.
This morning we begin the new series called A Summer of Prayer. Over the next 10 weeks of so, we’ll learn and practice ways that prayer allows us to engage with life and love at deeper levels.
You know, one of the most common experiences I encounter as a pastor is how often people express dissatisfaction with life, much like the cracked pot in the story.
Some are caught up in the routines of daily living, lamenting that life is passing them by, or has already passed them by. Some are consumed by the demands of job, family and financial obligation. For others, stress or boredom rules their existence. Still others are lost in frantic do-ing, staying busy beyond reasonableness. And the opposite, those who see themselves as paralyzed, lost in stagnation.
And in many cases, dissatisfaction is not merely a passing phase, but it becomes a way of thinking, a way of being, a way of life. Dissatisfaction diminishes our ability to discover God’s vision of life. When that happens, purpose and meaning start to seem out of reach, cynical promises that never get fulfilled. Life becomes a heavy burden, not a joyful journey.
In this condition, it is tempting to reach for an outside solution or a quick fix. We know the quick-fix stories sometimes better than we know our Bible stories. Do the names Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan mean anything to the people in this room? Of course they do. We celebrate the dysfunction in our celebrities; keep the spotlight on someone else--Please!.
When life is lived at the surface level, purpose and meaning become casualties. To pray is to open to inner purpose. You have two purposes in life, your ‘innie’ and your ‘outie.‘ Does that help put it in perspective?
Your ‘innie‘ or your inner purpose cannot be found at the outer level. Most erratic and destructive behavior results from trying to fulfill inner purpose by outer means. Your inner purpose has nothing to do with what you do, it has everything to do with what you are--your spiritual condition.
With prayer, you begin to align what you do with what you are. Outer purpose and inner purpose are both quite important for attaining joy in life, for living in a balanced manner. However, you must open to your inner purpose first.
I believe the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans, was referring to his effort to recognize his inner purpose when he wrote of his struggle. This should be familiar to many of us by now:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15
You ever been there?
Paul’s found his answer by doing what Jesus invites us to do today in our passage:
“...take my yoke upon you...”
That’s the tricky part. The yoke of Jesus Christ may feel quite uncomfortable at first. Quite likely, we have gotten used to the world’s wisdom where you are the center of the universe, you need never be accountable to anyone. Woe to anyone who dares to place a demand on you. Brothers and sisters, that is not a yoke, that is a set of shackles. That approach to life never acknowledges inner purpose or even outer purpose. It is simply unconscious.
There is no depth, no anchoring to a life lived wholly on the surface. It is unbalanced. Invariably, we find ourselves mired in dissatisfaction, fearful and anxious, awash in despair. Going through life as we do like willful, stubborn mules keeps us in an almost sleep-like state.
I suspect most us have either been sleep-walkers or have a family member who was. There is a marked difference between the sleep state and the awakened state.
Through prayer, by lifting our hearts to God, we enter the awakened state. Your inner purpose is to remain awake, to stay in constant relationship with God. That’s it, remain alert to God’s presence in your life--your inner purpose. Can you do that? I find it to be a full-time occupation.
The moral of our story about the cracked pot is that the conversation with the water bearer was a prayer. When his burden was too heavy, the pot’s heart broke open and he awoke. In that prayer, his outer purpose was revealed to him for the first time. By staying close to the water-bearer, by being who he was with all his flaws, good purpose was served. We don’t hear about the next day when the routine is repeated. Did the cracked pot stay in conversation? Did he choose to see his contribution to beauty as a worthy thing?
Praying is not something we think up in our heads, it radiates from our hearts. In the lifting, will you let go just enough to allow Jesus to fit his yoke upon you? At first, this yoke will chafe. How can it not, given what we are used to? His yoke, however, serves to keep us in step with him.
Walking with him, bound together in prayer, we have a chance to learn gentleness and humility, his prescription for soulful rest. Is the world in need of soulful rest? Is it willing to receive it? Are you?
Prayer is a practice
Prayer is a practice, not as in ‘practice until you get it perfect‘ rather the practice of awakening to God’s presence in the form of Jesus Christ. This practice of prayer begins at any time. I once heard it said, there are really only two prayers, “Help” and “Thanks.” I believe we could do worse than utter these two all day long.
As we enter into our time at the Lord’s table this morning, I want us to take a moment to answer a couple of questions regarding a prayer relationship with Jesus. Now, establishing a relationship with God, with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, is no different than a relationship with a friend. First, you must open yourself to the possibility. Without an openness, no bond will form. So let me have you re-settle yourself.
-What does your relationship with Jesus look like now? What do you want, if anything, to be different?
-How open are you to allowing Jesus to define a relationship with him?
-What, for you, does a first step toward Jesus look like?
Christ of the ages, we trust that your words are true, your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Replace our heaviness with the lightness of your gentle yoke. May a nearer walk with you bring humbleness into our lives. May we go forward no longer restless but peaceful, peaceful in the deepest way, the way of your true loving kindness. Amen.