Saturday, July 29, 2017

Are Any Among You Suffering?

A siren broke the relative Saturday morning silence as I sat down to write.  Close enough to be heard, far enough to be uncertain of direction or even of kind.  Was it an ambulance racing to someone’s home where a fall had taken place?  Where a sudden malady has struck?  Was it a fire truck hurrying to salvage a house before it was consumed in fast moving flames?  Or to rescue a child who tried to climb through a fence that seemed wide enough at first, but then wasn’t?  Or was it the police? Heading to the scene, of an accident, or a crime, or both?

Our little town has been rocked by an accident that became a crime in a matter of seconds.  A car, out of control, driving recklessly, managed to careen over a curb, crash through a fence, and land in a yard, resting on its roof.  An office came upon the scene, climbed out of his squad car and stooped to look in the upside-down windows to see who was hurt and how he could help.  Then one of the occupants pointed a gun in the officer’s face and shot him, point blank.  

This was Thursday, worship night at Southport UMC.  I had been home preparing and then headed out to go back to church for the evening worship experience.  I left home around three, worship was at six that evening.  I found my way from the house to the church blocked from multiple directions.  I had to take a circuitous route to finally get there, much later than I figured, wondering what in the world was going on.  School had just started down here, so I thought it was quite a disruption for the first day of school.  

By the time I got to the office I asked the staff what was going on, and they told me what they knew. To an outsider like me, Southport is a part of Indianapolis, it’s a big city.  To those who grew up here, or who have made their home here for many years, it is its own thing, its own community.  The officer killed turned out to be someone we knew.  Not just a uniform on a big force.  He was in our church recently because one of the kids in the day care pulled an alarm, and though we called and said it was nothing to worry about, they said they had to check.  So they came and walked around. Took care of us.  Even though they didn’t need to.  They checked, stooped down to look in to see who they could help.

That evening I was approached by one of our worshipers who told me she was struggling.  She said that in 2015 she retired from the police force after twenty-one years of service.  She had heard that another officer, one in an accident earlier in the week, had died that day.  Then the shooting in Southport.  She was feeling cut off from the community of which she had been a part for so long. She was feeling unmoored in a dangerous world, drifting alone and hurting.  She scrambled for something, anything.  She said, “could we ... pray ... about all of this?”

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.

Worship is about God, not really about our needs.  Yet there was nothing more of God that night than to pray.  I set the sermon aside for a while and we just prayed.  We put ourselves in God’s hands in those moments and leaned into that embrace.  We poured out our sadness and our fear.  We offered up the uncertainty of a world of such suffering and such cruelty.  We admitted our anger and frustration and cried out for justice even as we were hoping for mercy and for grace.  

Then we tried to listen to James.  We liked that he was adamant about prayer in all circumstances. That he ends his whole, very task oriented, letter by telling us to pray.  Because we’re sick or because we’re well.  Because we’re suffering or because we’re cheerful.  We should pray.  Pray with the sighs of our hearts, pray with the songs of our souls.  We should pray.  And pray together, call on help when our own prayers seem to be bouncing against the ceiling, lost in the clouds above our heads.  We liked that there are tools to help in our praying.  We can pray with our hands, laying them on those for whom we pray.  We can pray with the oil of anointing.  Not because that makes the prayer better, lubricates the prayer machinery somehow.  But simply because it gives us something to grab hold of as we pray.  Something to do with our hands. We found James helpful for our praying.  Mostly.  Sort of.

Well, there was that bit where we stumbled.  Where we averted our eyes and furrowed our brows. When he seems to confuse praying and sinning.  Or sickness and sin, like our sickness is caused by our sin.  And we know better than that, having been raised in a scientific age.  We know about germs and disease and genetic time bombs, none of which are our fault.  It kind of makes us want to dismiss the whole thing.  OK, maybe in a healthy lifestyle choices kind of way our illnesses can sometimes be the result of our actions and our decisions.  But that isn’t what James is really talking about.  He’s thinking of a more direct correlation, isn’t he?  About divine punishment because of bad decisions, or even thoughts, right?

Or is he?  Is the link we read there not really there?  Is it that we’ve put it there, or those who have gone before us put it there and we can’t get it out of our heads?  What if it isn’t about a correlation, but about an effect?  The effect of illness and the effect of sinfulness is the same, or at least it was in James’s community.  Those who were sick were shunned, quarantined, set aside.  And so it was with those who were found to be sinning.  Just set them aside, excommunicate them.  That was the practice, some historians argue.  And maybe still is in a way.  We just don’t want those people around, those sinners, those unhealthy ones.  And what James is doing is trying to tear down that wall.  Trying to say that even the sick are worth our prayers, worth our time.  They should call the elders of the church, they should call on the community to come and be with them, anoint them, lay hands - yes hands - on them.  Touch.  Inclusion.  Sinners too, says James.  Don’t let bad decisions, bad choices, wrong values, separate us.  Pray for them.  Up close and personal.  Include them, invite them.  Be invited if you’ve separated yourself because you were afraid of what they saw when they looked at you.  Find a way back.  A way to accept the grace that the community wants to pour out on you. Come back and be prayed for.  Prayed over.

Though, we hate to admit it, James seems have more confidence in prayer than we do.  The prayer of faith, he writes.  The prayer of the righteous.  Powerful and effective.  The prayer of faith will save the sick.  Well, we think, sometimes.  We’ve heard of the rare occasion, the unexplained miracle (can any miracle be explained?  Isn’t that part of the definition?) When someone gets well, despite the predictions to the contrary.  James seems to think that is what we should pray for always.  Pray for and hope for and expect.  Sure.  Why not hope for a miracle?  

Yes, we ought to pray for miracles.  But not miracles tied to this life.  Instead we pray for the miracles that bring us home.  James actually doesn’t say that the prayer of faith will heal the sick, but that the prayer will save the sick.  Save them.  Which means inclusion in the Kingdom of God, it means inclusion in the community of faith.  Paul tells us that we were given the ministry of reconciliation. That’s our job, not miracles of healing, but miracles of inclusion, miracles of hospitality.  We are called to tear down the dividing walls and build up the body.

We are called to heal the community and not just the individual.  Or rather, we heal the individual by making sure they know they have a place to belong.  A place that cares for them.  A place that wants them.  A place that honors them when they step into a tragic circumstance for the good of the community at large.  And it seems to me that the way to honor the sacrifice of the officer who stooped to help someone in need is not to call for vengeance, but to continue to stoop ourselves.  Stooping is easy.  Just get on your knees.    


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Behold the Beauty

For the beauty of the earth, / for the glory of the skies,

It’s a dreary day.  Been raining off and on this week, and hot and humid, my windows are fogging up in the house, not even talking about the car.  And stepping out of the air conditioning makes my glasses fog up too.  Sigh.  Summer, they call it. Great.  It’s hard some days to acknowledge the goodness of this life.  It is hard to see beyond your own discomfort and to look at all the blessings that shower down upon us like the summer rain that comes from nowhere to drench the landscape. Dreary, dreary day.  

/ For the love which from our birth / over and around us lies;  

It’s a lonely kind of feeling.  No one’s out, so the world looks empty.  The familiar seems new and foreign.  It’s easy to question decisions and choices, to wonder if the path you’ve taken - or found yourself on - is really going to get you anywhere, besides a dead end or cul-de-sac.  

/ Lord of all, to thee we raise / this our hymn of grateful praise. 

And you begin to question whether anyone is there.  Anyone who cares, anyone who knows you or wants to.  Anyone worthy of praise.  A dreary day.  We all get them, regardless of what the sun might be doing.  The kind of days when nothing seems good, nothing lifts our hearts, when there is no beauty in the world.  The kind of days that make praying difficult.

For the joy of ear and eye, / for the heart and mind's delight, / for the mystic harmony, / linking sense to sound and sight; / Lord of all, to thee we raise / this our hymn of grateful praise.

We are in the midst of our prayer series.  We talked about the why of praying in week one - to maintain the connection between us and God.  We talked about the how of praying in week two - modeled on the Lord’s Prayer. New week we’ll talk about what happens when we pray - stay tuned for that, you won’t want to miss it.  But this week it’s a little different.  A little harder to pin down. Not so much nuts and bolts, how tos or what fors.  No, this week it is part of the “mystic harmony” that hymn speaks of.  It’s about the mood of our prayers.  The emotions with which we pray.  How do you feel about your prayer life?  Not how effective or how disciplined, but just feeling.  How do you feel when you pray?  

I know, an odd question.  Maybe not even that important.  Yet, we are emotional creatures, often driven by feelings rather than will.  So, if we are indeed to surrender all to God, maybe we need to surrender our emotions too.  And what better place to examine our emotions before God than looking to the Psalms.  A panoply of emotional outpourings.  Nothing is held back in those poems, hymns of praise and lament, of confidence and of fear, of faith and doubt.  

Psalm 27:1-14 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh-- my adversaries and foes-- they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 

4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. 

7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, LORD, do I seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

You can’t help but wonder if David was bi-polar.  He’s on top of the world one moment, and in the pit in the next.  He’s confident here and there and shouting for help, imagining the worst in the next.  I think that maybe there is something wrong with him.  He obviously suffers from being human.  And yet, and this is what makes David a man after God’s own heart, he brings it all to the throne of God. David doesn’t hold back, doesn’t hide his emotions, doesn’t wait until he is in a proper frame of mind before he offers up his praises to God.  He wouldn’t know a proper frame of mind if it invited him to dinner and a movie.  He just brings himself.  All of himself.  The only self he’s got.  The self of certainty and the self of doubt.  The self he’s proud of and the self he ought to be embarrassed about. It’s all prayer material.  All worship attitude.  All of it.  All of him.

How do you feel about your prayer life?  Not , do you think you do it well, or do you think you do it enough.  But how to you feel while you pray?  Do you bring your feelings into it?  That’s the question of the day.  Like David do you bring your whole self into the prayer moment? Offer up whatever is churning around inside of you, not even sure what it is or what’s going on in there, but it is real, it is raw, it is you.  All you. The you that is alive.  Hurting sometimes, joyous sometimes, but alive.  It is the living part of you that God wants you to bring to worship, to offer up in prayer.  You life, on a platter.  Hand it over and see what happens to it.

David knows what he wants to have happen.  And he shares it with us.  Verse four.  One thing I asked, one thing I seek after.  One thing.  Which is actually three things.  Or three parts of the one thing.  I want, he says, to live in God’s house all the time.  Every day.  Take me now Lord!  Is this a death wish?  A going to heaven hope?  No, its about being alive.  I want to live every day with God guiding me, with God claiming me, with the eyes of God and the hope of God and the confidence of God at work in me.  

And if I live alive, David claims there are things that happen in me.  My perspective changes.  My eyes are opened.  I can behold the beauty of the Lord.  No, it isn’t God’s Instagram account with all God’s selfies posted hourly.  But being able to see beyond the dreariness of the day and find beauty in spite of the darkness.  To dwell in the house of the Lord is to see the beauty of creation, to see the glory of every face created in the image of God.  It is to acknowledge God’s presence in everything and the preciousness of the world in which we live.  

As wonderful as beholding the beauty is, there is more, David claims.  Dwelling in the house of the Lord all your days also allows you to inquire.  Oh, good.  What?  Exactly!  It’s about questions.  It’s about knowledge.  Dwelling in the house of the Lord is a reminder that there is always more to learn. It keeps us from the thinking that we know all we need to know.  It opens us up to possibilities.  To more, to learn and to grow.  

What a beautiful day, right?  Even on our worst days, there is beauty.  That’s what our faith says. Even when we can’t see it, be trust that it is there.  And the more we worship, the more we pray, the more we are able to see that beauty, So, bring your whole self, your real self, your hurting and rejoicing self and lay it at the feet of the One who gives us life.  The One who loves us at our most unlovable and makes us worthy by grace.  Behold the beauty of the Lord.  Even in you.

For thyself, best Gift Divine, / to the world so freely given, / for that great, great love of thine, / peace on earth, and joy in heaven: / Lord of all, to thee we raise / this our hymn of grateful praise.   


Saturday, July 15, 2017


Grumpy old man alert!  I never liked the “whatever” language fad.  I don’t know if it is still in to say “whatever” in response to every comment. I hear it occasionally.  But still, I grumble.  It’s a disengaging word.  A disconnecting word.  An attempt to imply that nothing matters, nothing is of significance.  I just don’t like it.  But then, I’ve been known to utter it myself from time to time. When nothing makes sense, when there seems to be no solution, when frustrated beyond measure. Whatever.  It’s a good word to use, at times.  Better than swearing, I suppose.  Better than getting angry and lashing out.  Whatever.  Useful, perhaps, in some settings, once in a while, a little bit.  Sort of.  Whatever.

But I want to propose a different word.  Similar, but different.  Whenever.  I know, it doesn’t fit the context.  It isn’t as dismissive, as cynical as a good “whatever” can be.  But go with me here. Whenever.  It has that attitude, don’t you think?  It presents a similar sort of cavalier mindset, but on a whole different level. Whenever.  And the best part?  It’s biblical!

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.  Whenever.  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.  Whenever you pray.

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 whenever 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 don’t 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, July 8, 2017

Beloved, Pray for Me

Starting over.  A fresh start, a new start, a reboot.  Lots of good in such an idea, such a possibility.  On the other hand you can’t help but mourn what used to be.  The familiar was ... just that, familiar.  This new thing is scary, lonely, new.  So, which is it?  Which will we embrace, which will we encounter? Good or bad, happy or sad, gain or loss?  Both?  Maybe both.  Some of both, that’s how life works you know.  Take the bad with the good, they say.  Take it all and turn it into something positive, someone powerful, something transforming for us and everyone else around us, everyone we encounter.  Yeah, that’s the ticket, that’s the brass ring to grab for.  Make lemonade.  

Except that recipe always escapes me.  Just when it need it.  Just when biting down on the sourest of lemons and I need to think of sweetness and light, it escapes me.  And I’m stuck with the sourness. At least that is how it seems to happen to me more often than I’d care to admit.  My memory isn’t good enough to look for the light in the midst of the darkness, the hope in the midst of despair.  I mean sometimes I can do it.  But other times, the worst times, I just can’t. 

The good news here is that I’m not the only cook in the kitchen.  I’m not the only stirrer of lemon juice and sugar.  The best place to start any new thing is with prayer.  Prayer based in panic perhaps, in the fears of the unknown or the self-doubts and sense of inadequacy.  Prayer based in confidence and hope, on the other hand, in the joy and excitement of a new beginning, a new hope.  Doesn’t matter really which it is.  As long as it’s real.  As long at it’s you.  Prayer is the perfect place to start. It is ultimately the reminder that we’re not in charge.  It is the opportunity to put everything, our lives, our hopes and fears, our doubts and our confidence, not in our own hands, but in the hands of the One who is faithful.

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. 

I’m starting my ministry here in Southport with prayer.  An admission that on my own I can do nothing.  An invitation to partner with the community of faith in this place and to tap into the Source of all power, the means by which anything good might happen in this place, at this time.  I’m starting with a conversation about prayer.  So that we can both pray and talk about praying.  Which oddly enough is the same thing.  When we pray we are talking about what it is that is on our hearts, on our minds.  It is a conversation with the Creator of the universe.  Who, we’ve been told, is powerfully interested in us, in our hearts, in the depths of our souls.  Prayer is a conversation with God and with one another.  To pray is to talk about praying, and to talk about praying is to pray.  And it is, says Paul in our passage this week, as necessary as breathing.  As important and never ceasing as our heartbeat.  

First Thessalonians is considered to be the first book of the New Testament written.  This is where Paul chose to begin his ministry of writing.  And 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.  One small verse, “pray without ceasing.”

How does that work exactly?  Can we actually pray without ceasing?  Do our lips move constantly like some entranced shaman muttering an incantation, do we mumble under our breath as we go about the business of our day, forever disconnected from everything but the conduit of prayer to God? Well, of course not.  Well, then, what in the world did he mean?  

Look at the list.  It’s like a lot of Paul’s lists.  Complete.  Daunting.  Yet, exciting at the same time. It’s like he hints at a life that we have only barely tasted.  Rejoice always, he says, like that was even within the realm of possibility for us normal human beings.  Give thanks in all circumstances.  All? Did you really mean all, Paul?  Maybe you meant all good circumstances.  Maybe you meant all holy ones, all Sunday morning ones.  Maybe you meant ... But no, you said all circumstances. Incomprehensible.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Well, that sounds good, living at the level of spiritual excitement, power and glory, all the time.  Can’t imagine it, but yeah, let it happen.  I wouldn’t quench it, I wouldn’t pull back from that.  Unless there were other things I needed to do, you know.  I mean, it’s fine for a while, but really now.  Do not despise the words of the prophets.  What?  Those guys?  Come on!  Test everything, hold fast to what is good, abstain from every kind of evil.  Well, of course.  As a general rule, that’s pretty good.  That’s what we all want to do, plan to do, intend.  All of us.  All the time.  Except ... when it is necessary to look at the greater good and allow a smaller ... well ... you know.  Right?  

Frankly, it’s beyond us.  All of it, not just the praying without ceasing.  I mean that’s impossible, we admit that.  But the rest of it is just as impossible, just as outrageous.  On our best days we might get close, for a while, a short time, in specific situations, grading on a curve, close, kinda.  But, our best days are few and far between sometimes.  It’s just simply beyond us.  We might as well give up.  But before you do, take another look at the list.  The whole list.  Paul wraps it up, as he does so often, with a doxology, an expression of praise.  But it is more than praise.  It is a promise.  Take a look.

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. 

It isn’t up to us.  God will do this.  God’s Spirit, God’s grace, God’s love will be at work in us.  We are being sanctified.  It’s a process, we’re on the way.  Surrendering ourselves, bit by bit, inch by inch, until we hand our whole selves over to the One who is faithful.  The One, the only One who will take what we give and make it holy.  Make it precious.  

That’s what prayer is, in essence.  It isn’t asking for stuff.  It isn’t following a ritualized pattern of magic words that will, by our own efforts, turn us into something better than we would be otherwise. It is throwing ourselves into the arms of the One who loves us as we are, who accepts us and claims us and then loves us too much to leave us as we are.  Prayer is throwing ourselves into the arms of the One who will take out our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, knowing all the while that we will suffer because of that love infusion, but in that suffering we will truly be alive.  Truly alive. Like we always wanted.  Like we hoped for.  Like we prayed for.

But then, I added another short verse.  Most will stop at verse twenty four.  That finishes the theology, the exhortation.  The rest is just extra, just salutations and closings, the rest is just ... necessary. Beloved, pray for us.  Here’s real treat.  Even the praying we don’t have to do on our own.  The gift we were given is that we can pray for one another.  We can lift one another up.  We can lower one another through the ceiling into the very presence of the One who heals.  Beloved, and we pray for one another because of love.  Beloved, pray for us.  Not a last resort, but a gift of power and grace. Beloved, pray ... for us.  Please?  

The best place to start.  Shall we pray?