STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JUNE 20, 2021
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Call to worship: Psalm 42 selected verses
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
I remember how we went together in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
all of us celebrating God’s festival.
Hope in God,
for we will praise him again, our help and our God.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
Hymn: As the Deer
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God of purpose, God of power,
You created a good world for your pleasure
You created humanity to worship you and walk with you
When we turned away from you; but you came after us
You entered our world as Jesus of Nazareth, who taught us a new way and gave us new life.
We praise you.
Through Jesus, you call us to build your kingdom, share our hope, serve our neighbour, and love our enemies.
Through Jesus, you allow us to come into intimate communion with you.
We praise you.
We confess that when it comes down to it, it is all about us.
We are our own idols, the centre of our personal universe.
We do not honour you, worship you, or serve you.
Our prayers are demands, and our desires are commands.
We think you exist for us, instead of the other way around.
Forgive us. Sit on the throne of our hearts, so that we may put you first in all aspects of life.
We remember all who worship today. Grateful that we are part of a body we bless our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we come to worship today, give us clean hands and pure hearts and faith-filled spirits, so that we may exult you, our one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon James 5: 16
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.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord Jesus, as we approach the scriptures, help us to remember that prayer requires us to listen more than we talk. Speak to us and let us hear your word. Amen.
Acts 4: 23 – 31
Luke 22: 39 – 46
Message Being the Church – Praying
Prayer – the ability to pray and the opportunity to communicate with God, is one of the greatest gifts God gives us. God honours us by allowing us to pray. Prayer shows us the depth of God’s love. It is given because God wants a relationship with us, God is willing to listen to us, God desires to answer our prayers. Prayer is an ingrained human instinct – as natural as eating or breathing. Everyone, even staunch unbelievers, pray in their most desperate moments. An atheist I know had a problem that was affecting his ability to function. He confided, “Don’t tell anyone, but I prayed about it.”
Regardless of God’s generosity, people are skeptical when it comes to prayer. Reading through the internet, I came across many caustic “jokes” on prayer like: Homeopathy and prayers work in the same way – they don’t. And “What’s the difference between prayer in church and prayer in a casino? In a casino, you really mean it.” An editorial on CNN reads, “Thoughts and prayers” has become a meaningless phrase. In one highly-shared meme, “Thoughts and Prayers” is imprinted on the side of a garbage truck. Another meme shows an empty van. “Excellent news,” it reads. “The first truckload of your thoughts and prayers has just arrived.” To the voices behind the dark humor, the persistence of “thoughts and prayers” is the real joke.” That, of course, is because praying is equated with “doing nothing.”
I don’t know why people feel the need to be so angry – if you don’t like prayer, just don’t pray. However, it’s not surprising that many people have a cynical view of prayer. That’s not because prayer doesn’t “work”; it’s because we think of prayer as something that ought to “work”. People think of prayer as a financial transaction. God is a bubble gum machine where you put in your nickel (your prayer) and out pops a gumball (the answer you want). Or God is a 24-hour McDonald’s Drive-Thru where you place your order, drive around the corner and within seconds what you asked for appears. Some years ago now an extremely popular, “New Age” book called The Secret came out. In it, the author encouraged readers to tell the “universe” your desires, and “the universe” will give it to you, because this impersonal “universe” is like a genie, just waiting to fulfill your wishes. The problem is that God isn’t a bank machine, existing just to spit out money (or health, or romance, or solutions). Prayer isn’t about getting “whatever you want”. In fact, prayer isn’t about us, at all.
In the popular Netflix series, “The Crown”, King George VI tells Prince Philip, “She [meaning Elizabeth] is the essence of your duty”. It takes Prince Philip a few years to accept this. In a later scene, Prince Philip tells Princess Diana, “Everyone in this system is a lost, lonely, irrelevant, outsider apart from the one persona that matters…you seem to be confused about who that is.” In an analogous way, people, even Christian people, are confused about who it is that matters. Life isn’t about us, it’s about God. We are not the essence of God’s duty; God is the essence of our duty. God is unfolding his will, a plan for human history, often called his reign, his realm, his kingdom, that is bigger than any one of us. What we want is secondary to what God wants.
You may be thinking: What about God seeing the little sparrow fall? What about God knowing the hairs on my head, and my words before I speak them? What about God carving me on the palm of his hand? Or Jesus dying for me alone? All those things are still true. God’s love for us is beyond our grasp. And it’s because of that love, that God sees, knows, hears, cares for, and has died – and risen – for us. As Jesus said, God does want good things for us, but what we want isn’t always what’s best. We think that because God loves us, our requests should be answered how we want, when we want. What kind of parent would God be if he allowed us to run the house and have anything we want? That doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, in fact saying “no” to our children can be a great sign of love. More importantly, what we want doesn’t always fit in with God’s objectives or God’s will. God loved Jesus, his “son, with whom he is very pleased”. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begged God to find another way to fulfill his purpose. He pleaded to be spared the horrible suffering ahead of him and a brutal death on a cross. God said, “no”. Although Jesus had faith and his request was good for him and deeply heartfelt, it didn’t fit God’s plan, a plan which included death, but also included resurrection. God could save Jesus, or he could save humanity. God said “no” to Jesus’ prayer and “yes” to our salvation. If God said no to Jesus, how can I demand that God say “yes” to all my desires? Our desires are secondary to God’s desires.
In the book of Acts, Peter and John had been making quite a stir in Jerusalem, telling the story of Jesus’ arrest, death, and resurrection to bring hope to anyone who would listen. It’s recorded that 5000 people had become believers. The Jewish leaders were annoyed with this. They thought that by killing Jesus, they’d heard the last of him. So they had John and Peter arrested and held overnight. The next morning they met and decided to release the prisoners. Peter and John went back to their friends and reported what had happened. They gathered to pray. And the content of their prayer is interesting. They did not pray God would keep them safe. They did not pray that they would avoid trouble or conflict. They did not pray to stay out of prison or be kept alive. They prayed, “Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4: 29 & 30). They prayed for fearless confidence and for power to perform healings, miracles, and wonders. They prayed for opportunities to speak of Jesus. They prayed they could be a blessing to others. And why did they do that? Because they were eager to share the message of salvation with people and to bring glory to the name of Jesus.
The early Celtic Christians referred to this as a “Lorica” prayer. Life in 300 A.D, was hard. It was not unusual for people to die at young ages from disease, famine, war, childbirth, pestilence, and plague. Death was real and often imminent. Such attacks made the Celts aware of the power of evil. They believed evil principalities and powers were at work in their world and in their own lives. They also believed that Christ was infinitely more powerful than Satan. Still, they were aware of the need to be discerning and to remain true to Christ. They rooted themselves in the Holy Trinity and focused their thoughts on God throughout their days, with every task they did. Many of the Celts had a spiritual practice of not asking for good things solely for their own benefit. They would say prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving and they would ask for good things for others. Because the Celt’s understood themselves as servants of God’s advancing the Kingdom, they reasoned that if they were to die prematurely, their calling as an individual would go unfinished. So, they prayed for God’s blessings, not for their own sake but for the sake of the Christ’s Realm. They asked for the gifts of God’s blessings so they could be a blessing to God. Here are three examples of Lorica prayers 1. Let me live to complete the work you have placed in my heart. 2. Let me live until my season of worship is complete. 3. Let me live long enough to bear a saving word to those outside of your grace. In a Lorica prayer every request for our betterment is not so that we can be healthier, bolder, richer, loved or more amazing for our own benefit. Every prayer is made so we can live for the glory of God to build God’s kingdom and bring people to salvation in Christ. So you wouldn’t pray to be out of lock down because it’s making you crazy; you would pray for lockdown to end so you could engage your neighbour with the hope found in Christ. One wouldn’t pray to be healed of a broken arm so you can scratch your back; one would ask for healing so you could feed the hungry or play the piano for hymn sings. One wouldn’t pray for a beautiful voice so you can go on American Idol and get famous; one would ask for a beautiful voice so you could worship God. One wouldn’t pray for wakefulness so you could party or even study all night; one would pray for wakefulness so you could keep watch with Jesus in his time of need. This is what Jesus intended when he encouraged us to pray, promising, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14: 13).
Faith is often a word that we associate with prayer. If we have faith God will give us what we want. For many people this means if we pray really hard, the genie will appear and grant our wishes. Others may feel that if we pray forcefully enough and long enough, only then will God take us seriously. We need to consider that Jesus prayed until he was sweating blood, and the answer was still no. Deep, intense times of prayer certainly have their place in our relationship with God. Humbling ourselves before God and confessing is an act of faith. Seeking God’s direction over a period of time so we can do his will is part of being faithful. Praying intensely for the health of our church so we can help others find abundant life and fulfill our purpose as a worshipping congregation is a sign of our faith and love for Jesus. But faith, and praying with faith, includes other aspects, it is also about being dedicated to serving Christ. It is confidently trusting that God has a purpose for your life; God is eager to see you fulfill it and will help you do so. It is the conviction that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14: 6) and the world is lost without him. It is the assurance that living for God’s kingdom is living well. It is the sincere desire to please God in every aspect of our lives. If we are pure in our motives and we have a faith that trusts God and desires to please him, if that is our way of approaching all we are and do, certainly God will do whatever we ask. Why wouldn’t he?
In some ways, the prayer cynics are right. Prayer isn’t something that “works” or doesn’t work; prayer is living in relationship with God. Sometimes God doesn’t fulfill our dreams and wants, and that can be hard to understand and hard to accept. And too often people in casinos pray with more fervency than those in church. But when we are filled with a sense of purpose, when we genuinely want to serve our neighbour and when we are so in awe of God that we want to glorify him with every aspect of our beings, when we put God’s will before our own, the Holy Spirit hears our prayers and responds. In the book of Acts, while the disciples were praying for boldness, “the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence” (Acts 4: 31). It is my prayer that our prayer will be to be filled with fearless confidence in Christ so that we can be the people and the church God needs us to be.
Silent prayer and reflection
Father God, we offer you our gifts praying that they would be used for your purposes. May our lives become prayers to you. Amen.
Hymn: Take Time to be Holy
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
God of Grace, we thank you.
We thank you, Father, that in a world filled with wounded people, dysfunctional homes, and broken systems, you have not given up on us. We thank you Jesus for dying and rising for our salvation. We thank you Spirit for being at work in us and through us.
We thank you that are lives are filled with so many blessings. Your mercy is new each morning and you give us a fresh start. Every breath we take is a gift that confirms your generosity. Every movement we make is a reminder of life. Every morsel we eat is a sign of your providential care. Every person we meet is an opportunity to share your love. Every time we worship, we are given the opportunity to say thank you.
We pray Lord, that you would strengthen us and give us courage to be your church so that we may be a sign to others of your saving grace. Make us fearless in telling your message. Bless us with gifts so that we may be your healing hands for others. We remember every congregation in our Presbytery. Today we pray for Rani and his ministry to newcomers in our city. We pray for people who are seeking employment, that you would provide for them so they will know you are a God who hears us and cares.
We pray for our indigenous people in northern Ontario that are fighting against covid in their community. Help our country to respond with compassion and provide for these particular needs, so that healing and reconciliation may move forward, and your kingdom may come.
We pray for our nation as Canada Day approaches, help us to turn from what was evil in our past and help us to remember what was good, particularly the values rooted in scripture and the teachings of Jesus so that we may be a country that honours you.
We pray for our armed forces, that those who have been victimized would find justice and that changes would reflect a desire to turn away from abuse to recapture the dignity of living in your light.
We pray for our world powers and their leaders, asking that aggressive countries would turn from their pride and ambitions, so that people can live in peace and seek your face.
During this time of CoVid, we pray that people would comprehend how little control we have and realize our need for you, so that they may return to you with thanksgiving in their hearts. We pray for those who are ill.
We remember those we know and love who have physical, emotional, financial, and other needs. Provide for their needs according to your will so they may fulfill the calling you have for their lives.
Hear us now as we pray together saying…
who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.
Hymn A Child’s Prayer (new)
Invitation to Mission
We go out from here in prayer
Filled with faith
Worshipping, confessing, asking, and thanking,
To the glory of God.
Benediction May the Triune God bless and keep you, now and always. Amen.