Aug 28th, Does Prayer Really Work?, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Aug 28th: Does Prayer Really Work?, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
In the service where we’re focused on prayer for our prayers today. I want to remind us that Anne Lamont said we only need three prayers. In fact, a prayer is something that you find difficult. You struggle with what words to say. Ann Lamont said only three prayers are necessary. And I want to add a fourth prayer. The three prayers are wow. Thanks, help. And I want to add where. So this morning in our prayers and maybe this can be a practice of yours every morning begin with wow. Abraham, heschel said the spiritual life is to live in radical amazement. What stops you in your tracks and just makes you go wow? When you kind of think of your life, when you think of the world, when you think of this incredible place we’re surrounded by, what makes you go wow. And think of those things right now, wow. And then thanks. A grateful heart is a peaceful heart is a loving heart. It’s been said that it takes courage to grieve, and it takes a special kind of spiritual courage to be grateful in the midst of our grief. So right now, what are three things, perhaps even in the midst of your grief, that you’re thankful for?
And the third prayer? Help. Let’s start with those people who are in need of help. Let’s start with the people in our world and near us who are in need of prayer. And I invite you to think of perhaps a place in the world or perhaps think of someone you care about who is really in need of prayer. And just imagine those people or that person being enveloped and surrounded and held in the light of Christ’s healing love. And how about you? What is your prayer for help? What do you need? Where are you struggling? Where are you experiencing pain, fear? And take a moment to imagine the healing light of Christ’s love surrounding you and holding you and just be present to that light. So Ann Lamont says, begin with wow, then thanks and then help. And I want to add a fourth where we often pray, god in your mercy. What if we became the very mercy that we’re praying for? What if we became the presence of God’s mercy in the world? So where is God leading you today to be the presence of God’s mercy? Just take a moment, be open to the nudging of that spirit.
Where can you be the presence of God’s love? Where is God’s love needed around you today? Where will you go today to bring a little bit of hope and goodness in the world? Wow. Thanks, help.
Where may it be? So.
Far we charged be Thy name, thy kingdom caught as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our death as we forgive our dead. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the.
We’Re continuing our summer worship series on questions. We based our summer sermons on the questions that you submitted, and one of you submitted the question, what happens when we pray? Does prayer really work for something so common and central to our faith? Prayer is mysterious. There’s a marvelous little book called Open Secrets by Lutheran pastor Richard Lischer about his first church in a small town in Illinois. And Leisher describes how prayer can be really complicated. Amy Frydens, an 8th grader in his confirmation class, was confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. Now, an evangelist and self proclaimed healer was coming to St. Louis, and Amy wanted to go see her. Amy came to Lisha, her pastor, to talk about it and see if her pastor thought that this was a good idea. Now, the evangelist healing services you probably have seen this. Featured piles of discarded crutches, canes, braces, wheelchairs. So it was clear Amy was going praying for a cure. Now leisure debated what to say. Should he express his serious doubts? Should he tell Amy he thinks this particular faith healer is a charlatan? But he thought, really? Who is he to make that judgment?
Who is he to puncture Amy’s childlike trust? Amy was praying for a miracle. I mean, who hasn’t prayed prayers like that before? Or who hasn’t at least wondered about it? Yup, prayer is complicated. Lutheran pastor Nadia Boltz Weber reflects on prayer this way. She wrote, I used to think prayer was like a quarter you put into God’s vending machine and God would release the gumball you wanted. Like prayer is handing God some kind of wishlist, and if you’re a good little boy or girl, then God will make sure you get the present. But she went on to say, but now in my life, I mostly pray for my friends and family, and I pray for the pain and the violence in this world, and I pray to not be a jerk. And even though I’m not always sure, I’m really not always sure how prayer works. I know that when someone says they’re praying for me, it matters. It makes a difference. So I’ve started to think, she wrote, I’ve started to think that prayers are less how we might get what we want and more how we can give ourselves to God and bring more of God into this world.
When we pray for someone, we become connected to that person through God, and we become connected to God through that person. And she wrote, Maybe these threads of prayer which connect us to God, into one another, and even to our enemies, is how God is stitching the torn fabric of our broken humanity back together again. Jesus grounded his life in prayer. What’s really fascinating is that if you read the Gospels, almost every major move that Jesus makes is first preceded by a time of prayer. I mean, Jesus prayed before his baptism. He prayed before he called the disciples. Jesus prayed before. And while reaching out with a healing touch, jesus prayed before feeding a large and hungry crowd with a small, small piece of fish and some bread. Jesus was found praying in sweaty agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed with an utter sense of abandonment on the cross. In fact, the very last words of Jesus were a prayer surrendering his life into God’s hands. But it wasn’t just the dramatic moments. We’re told several times in the Gospels that Jesus often gets up while it is still dark and goes away to a place alone to pray.
Day in and day out, Jesus opened his heart to God. Jesus made himself present to the divine love that was always present to Him. And it gave him the strength, the wisdom, the boundless love that he needed. Now, the disciples watched, they watched this daily discipline of prayer and they were curious. They saw in Jesus the presence, power and peace of God flowing freely. And they noticed this rhythm of prayer flowing into action. Flowing into prayer flowing into action. The disciples saw that it was prayer that opened the heart of Jesus to God’s heart. So one day they asked their teacher, lord, teach us how to pray. Now, I don’t think the disciples were actually asking about the mechanics of prayer. I don’t think they were asking about give us the ABCs of prayer, Jesus. I mean, they’ve been taught the rituals and mechanics of prayer from a very young age. I think what they were saying to Jesus, show us your heart, we see you. Show us how we too might connect to God’s heart. So what a prayer is being present to the divine love that is always present to us. What a prayer is losing ourselves in God’s heart so that we might become a channel for God’s love to flow in and through us.
The disciples said, Lord, Lord, teach us how to pray. And Jesus said, pray this way. So what if the prayer that Jesus taught, the prayer that we’ve actually come to know as the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer we recite most every Sunday, what if that prayer that Jesus taught was never intended to be words that we memorized to recite on a Sunday morning? What if Jesus was actually teaching, teaching this prayer as an orientation of the heart, as a way of being a channel of God’s love, the flow in the World I met Rupert in my previous church. I served in Chicago. Now, Rupert was this extremely successful lawyer. When he retired, he could have chosen to travel the world and enjoy the fruits of his success. Instead, in his retirement, Rupert devoted his time mentoring and supporting kids and the toughest, most violent, most drug infested neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Rupert volunteered at the YMCA at least three times a week. He would just hang out where the kids play basketball and just be available for conversation. No judgment, no strings attached. Understandably, his family and friends feared for his safety. They tried to convince him that, Rupert, you’re wasting your time.
Those kids are just laughing behind your back. And Rupert would say, if my heart is available to those kids, it means God has one more option to love them that God wouldn’t have if I wasn’t available. Now, Rupert, he told me he didn’t really know how to pray. Praying wasn’t really his thing. But before he would go to the playground, he would always pray the only prayer that he knew, the Lord’s Prayer. And he would pray that prayer as a way to center his heart in the heart of God. The Rupert was a steady presence at that playground, and eventually, trust was established. Conversations began to take place. Rupert ended up mentoring dozens of those kids. He helped them find jobs. He helped several of them actually graduate from high school. Rupert provided full scholarships for a handful of young men who were destined to life in a gang and likely death at a young age. Right before he died, I gathered with his family. Rupert had been in hospice care for a few weeks. He hadn’t opened his eyes or communicated in probably over three days. His time of transition to more life was near.
We gathered around Rupert. We are holding hands. I thank God for the sheer gift of Rupert’s life, for the blessing his life with so many other people’s lives. I thank God for the love from which we can never be separated in life or death. And I then told his family how rupert told me how he would pray, how he would pray the Lord’s Prayer before he went to that playground on the South Side of Chicago. So I invited everyone to join me. We’re holding hands as we prayed the prayer that Rupert prayed a thousand times. We started our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. And when we got to the part, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. To everyone’s amazement, Rupert opened his eyes wide, and he slightly raised his head. And you could see him mouthing every single word of that prayer with us. When we finished praying, Rupert closed his eyes. He transitioned from this life to more life a few minutes later. Wow. That prayer wasn’t words he memorized to recite on a Sunday morning. That prayer lived in the very depth of Rupert’s heart.
Rupert lived that prayer. It helped me understand those words from the Apostle Paul, where he said, Pray without ceasing. Honestly, I don’t know how prayer works. I do know that I begin every single morning lighting a candle, and I sit with a list of names of people in need of prayer. And many of you many of you have been an R on that list. If I’m honest, I don’t always know what words to say. I don’t always know what to pray for. So I hold each person in my heart and I imagine them. I imagine you being surrounded and being held by the healing light of Christ love. I don’t know if that makes a difference or not. I do know that it changes me. I do know that there have been more than a few times when I’ve been nudged by the Spirit to call or to visit someone, and it always seems to be just at the right time, as if I became part of the answer to the prayers I was offering. I don’t know how prayer works. I do know there are over 100 people in this church who are part of our prayer team and lift up your prayers every single day faithfully.
I do know that these prayers anchor us in God’s love. I know that these prayers strengthen our community. I know that these prayers deepen our care for one another. And maybe that is one way God is stitching the torn fabric of our humanity back together again. Do you remember the story Pastor Lischer told about Amy, who wanted to go to the evangelist healing service? Well, Lisa writes, the next time I saw Amy, she was still in her wheelchair, as cheerful as ever. I had worried that going for the cure, praying for a miracle, would leave Amy disillusioned and bitter, as if a child with cerebral palsy is brimming with illusion in the first peace. But then you never go broke risking everything on God. The act of trusting is itself a replenishing activity. Trusting makes for greater trust, not disillusionment. Amy taught me that. Or should I say I learned that from watching Amy smile. Amy prayed for a miracle, and to be honest, I noticed a change. I noticed a change in Amy. She seemed more prepared to think about the future in a wheelchair and to just get on with it. Amy became more vocal about her condition and more assertive.
She told us her dad shouldn’t have to carry her up the stairs of the church. She demanded the trustees build a ramp. She announced plans to become a counselor. And by the time she was in her first year of high school, she had already found a college with a program she wanted. So Lisha wrote, I was the one who doubted. I was the one who lacked trust. Amy, she prayed. She trusted. She opened her heart to God. It may not have been the miracle she wanted or others expected, but it was a miracle nonetheless. And part of that miracle is how my life has been changed. The disciples noticed that when Jesus prayed, the presence, peace and power of God flowed in and through him. And they said, Jesus, teach us how to pray. And Jesus did. I’m going to suggest we pray the prayer Jesus taught together. And as we pray these words, just imagine opening your heart for God’s love to flow in and through you. Prayer may not always change things the way you want or expect. But when we open our heart to God, we are changed. And maybe that’s the miracle we all really need.
So pray with me. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our daily bread. 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 for ever. Amen. May it be so.