Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Summer of prayer: “Intercession” August 7, 2011
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.‘ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus.
But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.‘ Matthew 14:22-33
Summer of prayer: intercession
Intercession may be a five dollar word, but for our purpose it means simply to pray to God on behalf of others. Not as in, ‘you need prayer and I don’t,’ that’s not it. And likewise, praying on behalf of others is not an exercise in taking another person’s agenda, saying I know what you need better than you do, or better than God does. That is just as badly off target.
Rather, intercessory prayer for the world beyond our immediate vicinity acknowledges that when we pray, we never pray alone. Has that occurred to you? To some of us, of course it has, that is Prayer 101. To others of us, it may be a new perspective.
It’s kind of funny, but everything we need to know about this kind of praying, intercessory praying, is contained in the first word of the most important prayer we pray as followers of Jesus--the Lord’s Prayer. We pray, ‘our’ father, or ‘our’ creator, not my father or your father, my creator, your creator. Our. Nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer do we find the word “I.” That is because prayer is not a solitary practice. In fact, life itself is not a solitary practice. In every part of life, we belong to something larger than ourselves.
To be honest, I feel a little silly even saying that phrase, we belong to something larger than ourselves. Putting that aside as a faith statement for a minute, only a hundred years ago, when the world was mostly in agricultural settings, the family farm and all, our connection to a greater good was more obvious. Don’t get me wrong, fragmentation is not a new thing, we always have and always will struggle with coming together in peaceful, productive ways.
Still, it is tempting to build walls around ourselves, especially when the world can act so mean. How did the world become a place of such meanness and bullying, anger and violence? Why have those characteristics become such common currency? What happened to consideration and cooperation, tolerance and respect? Good questions, and part of the answer is we choose, you and I, one by one, to act the way we act.
To suppose that I stayed the same and the world turned nasty, forcing its ways upon me makes me a victim, powerless to do anything against turbulence I encounter. That was not the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, right here to his disciples, and to you and me:
“Take heart, it is I, be not afraid.”
If I only choose to see the world as mean and nasty, of course I’m going to be afraid, wall myself off, try to pretend the world is ‘population me.’ This is why a prayer life, staying alert to God’s presence, is so vital. Prayer is like a doorway into heaven on earth.
When Jesus came, he ushered in this new system, the kingdom of heaven on earth. Because he came, now I get to choose between his system, a system of love on behalf of others, especially those who would do me harm, and the world’s system of self and sin and cynicism and isolation.
Do I find it easier to align myself with the world’s ways and values? Do you? Of course we do. Life is always, in fact life is only about choosing between the easy way and the road less traveled.
But that’s not what I want to talk about this morning.
This morning’s scripture does a good job of dramatizing how to go about conquering our fear of following in the right direction. The stormy Sea of Galilee on which the disciples’ boat is perched is the perfect metaphor for worldly chaos. That Jesus would invite Peter out onto the treacherous waves speaks loud and clear about following Jesus despite fear and doubt.
I want to focus on the part of this passage that we usually pass by in order to get to the juicy, dramatic parts, where Peter acts the fool.
“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.”
This is not unique to Matthew’s Gospel. Time and again Jesus carves out space for relating to God in prayer. And the most startling part of this image? The fact that he does it by dismissing the crowds. In the middle of his ministry, he takes a time out, not to abandon those who are in need of what he has, but because of them, on behalf of them. You can be sure he is praying to ‘our’ father. His task was to bring God’s presence onto earth, and not just for a visit but to completely transform the way that the earth does business.
Folks, even in complete solitude, we remain part of a living community. Our prayers reverberate through the connective fabric of life. Prayer honors the deep, unseen connections that place us in kinship with all living beings.
This corrosive illusion of isolation and self-sufficiency that the world would have you sign up for is just not true, perhaps the biggest lie of all. How would we ever get through even one day without the help of others? Can you grow all your own food, build your own home, weave the cloth for the clothes on your back? Each moment of our lives is dependent on countless others.
intercessory--on behalf of others
When we pray, even when lifting up our own needs and yearnings, we also pray for grace, joy and the alleviation of suffering for all beings. When we approach prayer with this intercessory attitude, prayer takes on power.
The all too predictable prayer says “thanks” for everything that feels good and “would you please do something about” everything that feels bad. In a spirit of intercession, we give thanks in everything,’ not for everything, but in everything.
In good times, bad times, no matter the time, it is occasion for prayer. As we sang earlier and as we find in Ecclesiastes:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time for war and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 1:4
Was the writer an optimist or a pessimist? Was his glass half empty or was it half full? Life is not perfect, nor is it devoid of redemption and grace.
In Westerville, Ohio, Professor John Franklin Smith taught speech and dramatics at Otterbein College until he reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy.
“I loved my students,” he said, “and I think they loved me.”
He couldn’t imagine leaving the students behind. So when he was forced to retire, he just kept working at the college. He worked on for fifteen years--as a janitor in the gym.
“During my years as a professor,” he said, “I’d walk through here and see the man cleaning the floor. I knew what a mop was and what a bucket was. It was hard work at first, but I got into it. It is necessary work and I try to do it well.”
When asked which was more rewarding, being a professor or being a janitor, this eighty-five year-old man smiled and said, “I think I’d have to say every age in life has its own compensation.”
For everything, there is a season. In every prayer, there is a communion of the living. Jesus came to teach us through his life, death and resurrection that the connective fabric of life is not meanness, bitterness, anger, violence or fear. Those actions destroy life’s fabric.
Love, down to the smallest detail, is what knits us together. Our prayers reflect this. When we dismiss the crowd, it is not to disembody ourselves from it, but to stand more deeply with Christ in the middle of it.
It is fitting that we speak of intercessory prayers on behalf of others given that yesterday began the memorial week marking the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan with nuclear weapons.
Let’s be clear, man has always chosen to convert blessings into curses. Since creation, we have continually chosen to employ technology and intelligence to create more efficient ways to destroy each other.
Until Jesus came along, that was the only system in place. Good guy beats bad guy, everybody loses. In Jesus, heaven came down to earth, and now we are all worthy of God’s love. It is still up to us to choose which system under which to live.
Wesley covenant prayer
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.