Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

The Gift of Prayer

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 18 September 2016 by the Rev. Ewing W. Carroll, Jr. The scripture readings that day were Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13.

Maybe you remember last week’s passage from Exodus 32, where Moses asked God, “O Lord, why does your anger burn hot against your people?” The passage from the prophet Jeremiah in today’s Hebrew Scripture recalls another time when God was so displeased with the Israelites. Their worship of foreign idols and neglect of the poor both angered and saddened God.  Listen again to the final verse of this passage: “Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?”

In childhood times, some of my friends and I loved singing the old African-American spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead.”  But jokingly we would often change the word balm [like Tiger Balm Oil] to bomb So we sang, “There is a bomb in Gilead…Boom!”  Little did we know then that today, such bombs remain present and hurtful – throughout the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq.

I doubt any of us want to receive a bomb.  But we do love to receive presents, gifts. Right?   Chinese New Year’s laisee packets; Christmas and birthday presents; and special gifts on special occasions.  Occasionally, you’ve received a gift and said “thank you so much” and then asked yourself “What in the world am I going to do with this?”  So you put it away and forgot about it.  Or gave it so someone else?  Today’s epistle lesson in 1 Timothy is about a gift.   One of the most priceless, precious and useful gifts we could ever receive; the gift of prayer.  And if you are at all like me, one seldom used; and when used, not very well.   In many ways, this gift of prayer, is God’s answer to the question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?”  Yes Mr. Jeremiah there is – and that balm is the saving love of Jesus Christ.   Who in turn gives to us the gift of prayer.

Last month our Revised Common Lectionary reading included the passage from Luke where a disciple asked Jesus about prayer. He didn’t ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  NOT “Lord, teach us HOW to pray.” Rather “As John taught his disciples.”  Today’s Epistle lesson begins with strong advice and encouragement to the young pastor Timothy, to make prayer a vital part of his daily life.
Today’s hymn “It’s Me, O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer” is a reminder of our need to be more serious about our prayer lives – both individually and corporately.  Not our parents, not the pastors, not the church stewards, choir, S.S. teachers – well, yes them too.  But it’s ME.  You and I - standing, sitting, kneeling, driving, running  - however - are all in need of God’s gift of prayer. Let me invite you to say with “Lord, teach me how to pray.”  What gifts of prayer does God give to us? Let me suggest three.

The Gift of Boldness.  Today’s letter to Timothy begins with these words, “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone.  That’s real boldness. Today’s Gospel talks about a dishonest manager – who acted so boldly – but dishonestly.  Jesus then urged his listeners [and you and me] to be equally as bold in honesty and faithfulness.  And that includes in being bold in our prayer life.

One afternoon a woman told her office friends that beginning tomorrow, she was going on a diet.  No more cake, pies and puddings.  The next day she came to work with a HUGE chocolate cream cake.  “Wow, what happened to your diet?” they asked.  “Well, when I passed by the bakery this morning, I saw this cake in the windowSo I said  ‘Lord if you want me to have this cake, let there be an empty parking spot right in front of the bakery’.  Well, you know what? I drove around the bakery 14 times; and then on the 15th time there was a vacant spot right in front of the bakery!”   Boldness or an excuse?  You be the judge.

Timothy was reminded that in all circumstances, to be bold in prayer, including praying for everyone – not just the people we know, love, respect or like.  That ALL, includes those individuals, nations, and systems that we find enemies or dislike. Whether it’s one time around the block – or a million times, God invites us to be bold in prayer. 

The Gift of Patience. We live in such a Fast Food world.  News of terrorists bombings, murders, attempted overthrow of governments; natural and human disasters – the list is longer than a dragon’s tail.  There is no longer tomorrow’s news – we see it unfolding right before our eyes, NOW.  Patience now seems to be a sign of weakness or ancient history.  We prefer microwaves to slow cookers – whether it’s food or prayer.

Our prayer, “O Lord, thy will be done.” often includes “and give me patience ---- now.“ Don’t be confused – patience in prayer is not idleness.  It’s not selfishness or disinterest.    Recall John Wesley’s words, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet.” God’s gifts of prayer include boldness and patience.  They also include gratitude.

The Gift of Gratitude. Our prayers often express more about disaster than delight; more about grief than gladness; more about sadness than serenity.  How strange: we seem more comfortable praying in times of danger and difficulty; as though the only way to reach God is with a 999 emergency call.  Let’s be clear: however, whenever, wherever we pray, God always hears; always responds; and always provides.  According to God’s will, not ours.  And for this we are grateful.

Martin Rinkart, a pastor in the German Lutheran church, was born in 1586 in Eilenburg, a small town in the mid-eastern part of today’s Germany.   During the Thirty Years War [1618-1648], Eilenburg suffered untold religious, political, physical and economic turmoil.  Famine and disease were rampant.  People were daily dying by the hundreds.  There were four Protestant pastors in Eilenburg; one fled to a safer place; two died from the plague; Rinkart was the sole surviving pastor.  During the War’s latter years, in one year alone, he conducted some 4,500 funerals, including that of his wife!  And yet Rinkart could pen these unbelievable words of gratitude that we sang at the beginning of today’s worship:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices…
And ending with these words:
 All praise and thanks to God…whom earth and heaven adore;
 for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

I wish for you today God’s amazing and incredible gift of prayer. Pray with boldness; pray patiently and always pray with gratitude – with your hearts, hands and voices.  Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, September 18, 2016

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