Saturday, April 30, 2016

He Carried Me Away

Maddie is coming home this weekend.  Rhys comes home in three weeks.  The world changes yet again.  It won’t be as dramatic as the first time they came home.  That was world changing in almost incomprehensible ways.  I was not prepared for that.  I thought I was prepared, but wasn’t, not really, not for the transformation that was before me, before us.  That was seismic, cataclysmic, never to be the same again sort of scale.  This one will be ... an adjustment.  Like finding someone in your pew at church.  Oh, you think, but that’s where I usually ... Well, hmm, I guess I’ll ... adjust ... survive ... make do ... sitting over here.  

Maddie asked the other day if we were excited that she was coming home.  I said yes, and then realized that excited didn’t cover it all.  Yes, of course we’re excited to have her home safe and sound, to hear all her adventures from her semester in Europe, excited that she is a part of us again.  But also uncertain, who will she be?  Every time she goes away she comes back herself, but not quite.  Or herself and something more.  So, what will this chapter hold for her and for us.  We’ll be the family we have been, except we won’t.  None of us are the same.  And that’s good!  That’s what is supposed to happen.  But it doesn’t mean I’m not a little nervous about it.  

Rhys graduates from college in a few weeks.  Sorry, had to sit and stare at that sentence for a few moments.  It seems incomprehensible to me.  It hasn’t been that long since his world was Thomas the Tank Engine, or books about hyenas.  Has it?  Years you say?  Wow.  Where did they go.  And no he isn’t sure what he’s going to do.  Graduate school is in the plans, making some money, spending time away from academia so that he can go back to it with new enthusiasm.  It will be feet on a path that leads who knows where.  Somewhere.  Away, I know there is that, and I’m OK with that.  I think.  It is what is supposed to be.  He has a life to live and his world will be bigger than me, than us.  It already is, I know.  There is excitement about that too.  And concern.  Yeah.  

It’s what is supposed to be. I know that.  It’s just that I’d like to know.  You know?  I’d like to know that the path they put their feet to is a good path.  A path that will lead them to a good place, a happy place, a satisfying, life-affirming, soul enriching place.  I believe in them and in the God that shaped them and gave them into our care.  I believe in the minds they have cultivated and the hearts that they have grown and tended.  I am amazed at them both and trust that they will find their way.  But still.  I’d like to know.  To stand on a mountain and look over the promised land they are about to enter.  So I could know.  And maybe relax just a smidge.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. ...  22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day-- and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
          22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Amen.  It just seems like you need to say Amen after reading a bit of Revelation.  Not necessarily a word of agreement.  But a liturgical act, a response drawn from the sense of being in the presence of something you can’t quite understand but somehow know is significant.  It’s why you whisper when you walk in a cathedral even though there isn’t a reason to do so.  It is why you stand silent on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or the skywalk from the Willis Tower in Chicago, or the bank of the Mississippi River or ... well, you fill in the awe inspiring vista you’ve encountered.  

The Book of the Revelation to John is an awe-inspiring work of literary art.  Amen seems the least we can do in response.  “Thanks be to God!”  That might work too.  An acknowledgment of the gift, of the vision that is provided, even when it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Revelation is the book that comes to mind when hearing that quote, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain – “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me, it’s that parts I do!”  There is plenty here that stumps full-time, life long biblical scholars.  And yet there is also plenty that a child could grab hold of without too much trouble.  The beginning of the book is like a splash of cold water to our sleepy faith, a two by four upside our dull discipleship.  And then the end of the book is a warm comfy bed we just want to crawl into and pull the heavy blankets over our longing for home.  It’s the middle bit where things get wonky.  Kinda like our lives.  It’s in the middle bits where we’re not too sure about things, we’re apt to lose our way, or at least to lose our grip on where we’re going and who we’re called to be.  And the only solution is to get carried away.

John was carried away, repeatedly it seems.  And so he gave us this vision.  He used a language we don’t know all that well anymore.  And no, I don’t mean ancient Greek.  I mean the apocalyptic language of codes and symbols used to communicate something profound and - believe it or not - ultimately comforting to the people who first read this book.  But to us it reads like the script to a Wes Craven film or a Stephen King novel.  At least until we wade our way through the rivers of blood and find ourselves in the last couple of chapters of the book.  

John reminds us he was carried away.  And now placed on a mountaintop to view the end of all that is.  Not the end as in time, it’s all over, that’s all folks.  But the end as in the destination, the vision of what we are heading toward, what we are trying to emulate as we follow the path that Christ trod for us.  Heaven, that’s where we’re going, that’s where we’re bound.  

And what we find is restoration.  God restores paradise.  Not as a garden, but as a city.  As a habitation for all the people.  Restores.  There is a garden, but it is there to feed and to heal, not to test and to challenge.  And in the garden there is a river, crystal clear waters of life, the living waters that Jesus promised the woman one hot and thirsty day outside the Samaritan city of Sychar.  Go back a few chapters in Revelation and you’ll see the waters are poisoned, dispensing death.  But here is restoration, refreshment, life.

The kings are restored.  Now they can bring their glory into the presence of the greater glory that is the Lord.  Earlier they were diminished, destroyed, darkened.  But now restored they enter into God’s presence with rejoicing.  And with them the nations they represent walk in the light of the Lord.  Just like Isaiah promised, just like they all promised, those who spoke the Word of the Lord.  Restored.

It also strikes me what isn’t there.  What heaven is lacking.  Did you notice?  No temple.  Because the temple is the dwelling place of God and now God is present everywhere, no need to locate that glory, it’s all around.  No sun or moon, because the light is everywhere, no need to gather it into one place when it can be in all places.  No night, because night was always the place of the absence of God, and God will never be absent again.  No loved gates because there is nothing to trouble us, nothing to disturb us, and all are welcome into the dwelling place of God.
There is more, more there and more not there.  More that John saw, but maybe that is enough.  Maybe all we need is a glimpse to carry on carrying on.  Maybe once in a while we need to get carried away so that we can be reminded that we are heading somewhere.  And then come back off that mountain and put our feet on the path that winds ahead of us in ways we cannot see.  But we trust.  We rejoice in the journey because we trust the destination.  And we celebrate the companions on the journey.  I’m excited they’re coming home.  Because we’re all heading home.  Together.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

So That You May Be Healed

New York.  That’s where I was last week Rochester New York.  I know there is a Rochester Indiana.  And probably Rochester a lot of places. A quick internet search shows that we are surrounded with states that have a Rochester in them.  We can probably assume even further out, but I’m not that interested in finding out.  The point is I told everyone who reads this that last weekend I was in Rochester instead of in my pulpit in Fort Wayne Indiana.  But I didn’t say where.  A few read on to see that I flew there, so they assumed it wasn’t Indiana.  But they didn’t know.  And they wondered.  

My bad.  I should have given more information.  I could have said no one asked, but that’s a little disingenuous.  I was asking for prayer.  I should have been more specific.  Should have trusted, should have shared, should have informed.  OK, it seems a minor point, but it might be revealing of a deeper issue.  We’re afraid to share too much information about ourselves, our lives, our hearts, our hurts and our joys.  We’re afraid, or hesitant for lots of reasons - we think no one cares, or that someone will take advantage of us, or that we will be seen as weak, or we just don’t wanna.  Who knows what the reasons are.  We are private people.  We keep to ourselves.  Faith is personal, we believe, just between me and God.  Never mind the constant scriptural witness that tells us faith is a public, community, shared experience.  Our culture tells us to keep it to ourselves.  To go it alone, to bear our own burdens, to keep quiet.  

It’s a seductive call, this desire to go it alone.  Self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-actualized; these are all valued in our culture, goals to be reached, traits to claim.  They look good on a resume.  Any of us can see this as the ultimate way to live, Dependent on no one, beholden to no one.  And a certain amount of this self stuff is good.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m proud of the independence of my children.  They are growing into adults who are complete and content in and of themselves.  But I also pray that they know they need others, need me and their mom, need friends and loved ones, need a community of faith.  And above and beyond it all, they need the indwelling Spirit of God without whom they will always be searching, be incomplete.  

What if, just supposing, what if we all knew that our health and well-being was wrapped up in the health and well-being of every other child of God?  That might change our attitudes toward health care, not to mention intercessory prayer. Or actually, to mention intercessory prayer.  That’s what we’re about this series, mentioning prayer.  And it is what James is about in our text for today.

James 5:13-18 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

James.  The Epistle of Straw.  Luther called it that.  He was upset about the fact that James wanted followers to do something.  He was light on just believing, Luther thought, seemed to imply that salvation was based on what you did and not on the grace that comes through faith in the resurrected Christ.  Works righteousness, that’s what Luther thought, and others who frown at James seemed to think.  I think he was wrong.  I know, who am I?  Luther launched a reformation that changed the face of the Christian world.  Who am I to challenge him?  Well, it’s not just me.  I’m nobody.  But we, the community of faith we, are somebody. 

What I think they were wrong about is simple.  The accusation that James claimed that salvation is based on works is not a careful reading of the text.  In fact, I think James would say the opposite of that.  He would argue that our works are based on our salvation.  See what I did there?  His argument is that if our faith hasn’t made a difference in how we live our lives then do we really have it?  Do we really understand it?  Has it seeped into every corner of our being and now we walk with a skip in our step, we greet the world with a smile on our face, we offer a hand with a hope of a better tomorrow.  We are called to live optimistically.  Called to trust that the tomorrow God has in store is better than the todays that the world can offer.  And because we hope, we are able to pray.

That’s how James ends his whole letter, with a call to prayer.  But there are some fascinating statements in these verses that we sometimes slide over.  Verse thirteen simply says pray always.  Whatever our circumstance we should offer it up to God.  Bad stuff?  Lift it up to God.  Good stuff?  Lift it up to God.  It’s just a given of the life of faith.  We include God in our conversations.  We seek God’s help, we give God thanks.  It is just who we are.  I can almost hear the “duh” at the end of verse thirteen.

The next verse gets a little more specific.  Are any sick?  They should call for prayer.  They should call.  We don’t want to impose.  We don’t want people to know our business, our weaknesses.  If someone stumbles on my hurt, then ok, go ahead and pray, but don’t let anyone else know.  James envisions a different kind of church.  One where we demand prayers from the community.  Call folks, say get over here and pray for me!  

In that culture the sick were to be avoided.  Jesus scandalized even his own followers by embracing a leper.  The sick are akin to outcast, until they can prove they are well again.  But James says, no the sick have authority.  The authority to call on the church to come and pray.  To lay hands on, to anoint with oil - you can’t do that over the phone.  You can’t do that from across the room.  They should call the elders of the church, the leaders who should be leading by example, the leaders who show the whole church how it ought to be done.  This isn’t just the prayer team, this is everyone, it’s the kind of community we should be.  Don’t be sick alone, call the church.

Why?  Because verse fifteen.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  Wow.  That verse has a lot in it.  But not what we might assume is in it.  First of all some have seen an implied connection between sickness and sin.  While that was a common belief at the time, we know that it isn’t necessarily the case.  Illnesses have many points of origin, a lot of which are accidental.  But the verse points out that they have a similar effect, both illness and sinfulness separate the community and there needs to be reconciliation.  That’s the connection, not a cause an effect.  

The trickier point, however, is the implication that if the prayer is faithful enough then the sick person will get well again.  But if you look closely, it doesn’t say that.  The prayer of faith can save the sick.  Sozo in Greek, sometimes means physical wellness, but also means spiritual well-being.  Save the sick.  We save someone who is ill by including them, by remembering them, by telling them they matter to us and they matter to God.  Our prayers save them and remind them and us that God will raise them.  Maybe off the sick bed, maybe from the grave, raising is raising.  It isn’t what we want, many times, but it is the promise.

But the part that caught my eye the most is what follows.  Not the Elijah part, which simply says “See? Prayer works in amazing ways!”  But the second person part.  The passage begins in third person - they and them.  In verse sixteen it become personal.  You! Confess your sins to one another, pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  You may be healed.  But I’m not sick!  But someone is, someone in the community is sick, is in need of your prayer.  And you are not whole, you are not well, not healed as long as any are sick.  My wellness is wrapped up in yours.  Your wholeness is wrapped up in mine.  As long as there are sinners to redeem and the sick to be made well, we are not healed.  So it is in my interest to know your need, and in your interest to know mine.  

Righteous means faithful to relationships.  We pray righteously when we remember we belong to others, when we remember that our well being is dependent upon those for whom we pray.  We are righteous in our prayers when we praise God first, lift up others second and confess our sinfulness and need for a savior last.  That kind of praying is powerful and effective.  In whichever Rochester you find yourself.


Saturday, April 9, 2016


“Pray for me.”  It was a text out of the blue.  A friend of many years who lives some distance away, told me part of the story.  Not all the story, but part.  Enough, I’m sure he believed, for me to pray.  So I prayed.  Have been praying since that text.  I asked him if he has anyone to talk to.  He said yes, and listed a umber of people.  I was relieved but also troubled.  He reached out to others, he asked for hands on help, for real conversation from them.  He only asked me to pray.  Only pray.  Granted those others were closer to him, could sit down with him and talk face to face.  I am hours away.  But still, I could have ... I dunno ... done something.  Something more.  Pray for me.  That’s what he asked.  But I wanted to do something ... more.

Prayer is our last resort.  There’s nothing to do, might as well pray.  We really want to help, we really want to contribute to making things better, but all we can do is pray.  Maybe next time we can be part of the solution, instead of just sitting on the sidelines.  Maybe next time was can make a real difference in someone’s life.  But for now, I suppose, might as well, just pray.  Just pray.

I can’t help but feel that Jesus had a different concept of prayer than that.  Healthier, perhaps.  More robust.  Prayer is not a last resort, it is the sharpest tool in the box.  It is the one we turn to first.  The one that sustains and transforms.  The one that makes a real difference in the world.  It is What sustains us and strengthens us, what reminds us of our mission but also of the resources available to us at any time.  Just by speaking a word, just by calling on a presence.  The world is changed.  Really?  

Matthew 6:5-15 5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew says that Jesus put this prayer in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.  His Summa Theologica, if you will.  His final paper for Professor Schubert Ogden’s Christian Theology class.  (Excuse me, I just had flash backs and chills running up and down my spine.)  This prayer, implied in the placement, is the definition of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  If we claim this prayer – and the warnings surrounding it – if we pray this prayer, no, if we live this prayer, then we will be followers.  

Luke says a similar thing with the placement of the prayer.  In chapter 11, the disciples approach Jesus and say, “teach us to pray.”  Some commentators say that they weren’t looking for a lesson on prayer, but for a prayer that they could keep in their pockets, a prayer that would identify them as His followers.  It was a secret handshake, a code phrase that would identify who was in and who was out.  

Well, maybe.  Maybe it was a sign of the followers. Or maybe it was a plea.  They saw him in prayer.  They knew that He didn’t do anything without praying about it first.  That He began every day in prayer, that He ended every night on His knees before the One He called Father.  Maybe they were hoping it was in the technique.  If we just knew how, if we had the formula then we could get as much out of spending time in prayer as He does.  All we get is sleepy.  So, they asked him and He gave him this prayer.

Whether it was in response to a question, or a part of His thesis, here it is.  A simple prayer that we remember and recite and say so often we’ve stopped listening to it.  Stopped realizing that we are tearing down the world as we know it and building up one more like the one God intended.  Stopped noticing that we are making a commitment in this prayer, that we are aligning our priorities with the Kingdom.  Stopped understanding that we were putting ourselves in a place farther down the line than we are used to wanting.  Stopped admitting that this prayer that we pray in our sleep sometimes is admission of failure, of brokenness, of the great need for a savior.  This prayer shakes the foundations of the world every time we pray it.  And we often yawn our way through it.  Ho hum, here we go again ... Our Father ... Our - a sense of community, we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than we can see with our eyes, something we can only grasp through faith.  Our - it’s not just me and my needs and my hurts and my wanting to be fed, to be filled, to be blessed.  Our - it’s about us together, with friends and family, but also the stranger and the enemy, the ones who don’t look like us and think like us, the ones we enjoy and the ones we hide from.  Our - we are joining a community, a movement when we pray this prayer, we can’t escape with thinking it is an editorial we that really means just me.  No, that won’t work any more.  Our - we’re in this together.  With the one who called us children.  Our Father.

Our Father - no matter how well our earthly fathers measured up to this ideal, no matter how well we who are called father fill those shoes, we are told to call on the Father, the father of the fatherless, the One who wants to gather us like a mother hen gathers her chicks.  Our Father – this isn’t some distant, unapproachable, incomprehensible, nameless power of the universe, “use the force Luke!”  No this is personal, this is intimate, this is the One who knows you.  Jesus’ instructions say so try to dazzle with words, don’t try to pull the wool over the divine eyes by flattery, the Father knows us already, knows our needs, knows our hurts, even the ones we hide from the world, hide from ourselves, we are known.  Already known, and yet loved.  Still loved.  The Father, who loves like a Mother, knows and still claims, still calls, still wants to hear from us.  

But wait, it all sounds so conditional, a trade off, do this then that happens.  At least that comes out at the end.  If you forgive then you will be forgiven, if you don’t then you won’t.  So there!  Take that!!  Conditional?  So, in the end we are bargaining with God?  Better shape up, better measure up, or else.  Or is Jesus giving us a truth here, not a law?  Is He trying to help us understand that we are indeed a community even as He and the Father are a community that we call Trinity?  That just like He and the Father are one, we are one in the spirit with God and with each other.  And if we refuse to live in community, then we won’t have access to the fullness of grace.  That if we hold ourselves apart, wish vengeance on those who have wronged us, look down at those not worthy of us, turn away from the one who needs us, then we can’t – not because God withholds it some how, but because we can’t –  experience grace for ourselves.  Because we are not in a grace receptive position.  The same walls we build to keep the riff raff out, the same shells we create to keep us from crossing paths with undesirables, keep us from receiving what God longs to give us; forgiveness, grace and wholeness.  

Our prayers tear down those walls.  Real prayers, prayers of humility that are directed toward God and not the people around us.  Jesus isn’t saying that we can’t pray in public anymore.  How could we be the community of “our Father” if there was no such thing as corporate prayer?  But He is saying stay focused on God.  Pour out your heart to God, not on saying a prayer to impress.  

Teach us to pray.  So He does.  And perhaps the most important point of all is hidden in the way Jesus talks about prayer.  You notice?  He doesn’t say if you’re going to pray.  He doesn’t say if this seems like a good idea.  He doesn’t say if you’ve tried everything else.  No, the only if is the condition of our hearts.  But he says over and over, whenever.  Whenever you pray.  There is an expectation here.  When, not if, when you are praying, He says.  Whenever.  Kind of like, whenever you breathe.  Whenever your heart beats.  Whenever you pray.  Whenever. 


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Without Ceasing

It’s Spring Break week here in Fort Wayne.  At least our end of town.  Gray and cloudy and 35 degrees at the moment, Spring Break.  No wonder a lot of folks are heading out of town this week.  Going to search for a Spring in which to break.  Which also leads to the other designated nomenclature for this weekend: Low Sunday.  

Some argue that the designation “Low Sunday” comes from the usually low attendance on the Sunday after Easter.  One online dictionary actually stated that it was called Low Sunday because of the relative unimportance of the day after the grandeur of Easter Sunday.  Seriously?  There is a kind of let down after major celebrations, isn’t there?  A “now what” feel to it.  A shrug of the shoulders and a same old, same old back to the treadmill kind of vibe.  Attendance will be lower than the heights of last Sunday, there won’t be as many musicians, not as much celebration, the smiles will be even rarer, the glad to see you’s more infrequent.  Low Sunday.

We’re kind of feeling low this week at Aldersgate.  We had an intense and powerful Holy Week with the highs and lows of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, accompanied by stellar performances by our choirs and musicians, from a deeply moving Good Friday cantata to a cheer producing Easter celebration.  I am so grateful for the commitment and dedication, not to mention the abilities and gifts of the Aldersgate Music Department.  But we weren’t allow to rest in that high point for long.  We had three funerals in succession in the week following Resurrection Sunday.  Three grieving families, surrounded by a church who was grieving too, three funeral dinners served three days in a row by another amazingly dedicated group of Aldersgate servants, served with compassion and precision and love, comforting families who had traveled for long distances to grieve a loved one.  I am grateful for the service of our funeral dinner women.  But it was tiring work, hard work, and wearing on grieving hearts.  

In addition, we have a long time staff member, who served Aldersgate, from children and youth to the whole family, served well and with love, going above and beyond her job description in ways that most don’t even know, who decided that she needed to enter a new season in her life and concentrate on home and family in a deeper and more profound way.  I was, needless to say, shocked by her decision, and I must confess didn’t handle it well.  I was more focused on the loss to the church and staff and less on the celebration of her changing focus of personal ministry, more on fearing how to fill the gap and less on respecting her decision.  And our communication in those last few days did not go well and she felt cut off and abandoned, misunderstanding some of my words.  I deeply regret the exchange and would give anything to be able to redo those conversations.  Low Sunday.

We have those moments, don’t we?  Where communication seems difficult, if not impossible. Where what is in our mind and our heart seems stuck there because of the words we choose and the emotions we wrap around them.  It’s a delicate thing, something we take too much for granted, this communication thing.  How many movies do we watch and think if only they would talk to one another?  How many books do we read and find the plot is entirely based on a false assumption that never gets corrected because people won’t talk, and people won’t listen.  Our political process these days is more about talking about or talking at and hardly ever talking with.  And almost never listening.  Marriages suffer when communication lacks, long term friendships whither and die when the conversation dries up, teamwork is impossible when the willingness to speak and to listen is lacking, when hurts are nursed privately and misunderstanding is compounded by repetition with those other than the principal parties.  A difficult, delicate, yet oh so important thing - communication.

And we struggle with it.  No wonder prayer is so hard for us.  Oh, not the formalized, ritualized, reading the lines in the bulletin, repeating the words we have memorized since childhood.  We can do that, we can pray.  But can we Pray?  Pray like Paul, as the song goes?  Pray like our lives depended on it?  Because they do.  Our life anyway, the life we were created to live, the life we long for in the depths of our hearts.  The life that begins when we speak a word to the Word, when we say yes to Jesus, the resurrected one, the living one.  When we start a conversation that literally changes our lives for the better.  For eternity.  The conversation that saves us.  Redeems us.  Reclaims us from the brokenness that we’ve become used to, from the way things are to the way things ought to be.  We’re created to be.  It starts with a conversation.  

1 Thessalonians 5:12-25 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 25 Beloved, pray for us. 

Did you know that First Thessalonians is considered to be the first book of the New Testament written?  Some of the first words that got written down were about this conversation we’re supposed to be having with God, but also with each other.  There is a whole lot in this passage, most of which we are simply going to set aside for another time.  So that we can concentrate on the one part, the conversation.

We are launching a prayer series for April here at Aldersgate.  There is a series of videos as companions for the series and can be found on the Right Now Media site that everyone at Aldersgate has been invited to be a part of (if you haven’t gotten your invitation yet, let me know and I’ll get you hooked up).  But videos are actually a youth series with a variety of young people talking about this conversation that they are trying, sometimes not so successfully, to have with God.  And Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love, is the Bible study leader.  There are four videos in the series and the first is “The Purpose of Prayer.”  

Why pray?  That’s the question that is before us this first week of our prayer series.  What’s going on here, in this act of praying?  And how in the world does one do it “without ceasing”?  That seems insane.  JD Salinger wrote a book in which one of the characters tries to follow this instruction literally, and even when she is in conversation with someone else, her lips are moving to the words of the Jesus prayer, over and over and over.  Needless to say it is ... annoying, to say the least.

What did Paul mean?  In this passage we have a description of the Christian life as lived in community.  This is how we treat one another, this is how we keep focused on God, this is how we climb to the heights Christ calls us to climb as His followers.  And it begins and ends with a call to pray for others, for those in leadership, those in servant roles, those who help us reach for all these aspects of love and life.  And in the middle is the injunction to pray without ceasing.  Meaning that we are always on.  We are always trying to connect, trying to communicate, trying to love.  To love God and love neighbor, you know, the easy stuff.  Always.  Prayer is communication, prayer is entering into the presence.  And it reminds us that we are always in God’s presence.  Without ceasing.  Our whole lives - the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures - are lived out within conversation distance of God.  So, keep praying.  Even on Spring Break.  Even on Low Sunday.

Low Sunday isn’t low because it is unimportant.  It is actually Easter again, the Second Sunday of Easter.  In the Catholic tradition it is called Octave of Easter.  Eight days later.  Octave.  The Anglicans changed it to Low.  Maybe thinking it was an octave lower!  They were singing in a lower range.  I don’t know.  In 2000, John Paul II changed it to “Divine Mercy Sunday” which maybe sounds better than Low Sunday.  Any of us, all of us could use a little more mercy when we pray, when we communicate, when we talk to God and one another.  Mercy, forgiveness is one of those things only happens when we care enough to communicate, care enough to talk, care enough to pray.

Open those lines of communication, even when it is hard, even when it needs to begin with an apology, even when your heart is broken and you are full of shame, even when you have been wounded and wonder if you’ll ever walk without a limp again.  Pray without ceasing, to and with God, with one another.  Pray.  Don’t stop.  Please.