First Presbyterian Church

THE PROBLEM WITH INSTRUCTION MANUALS (October 28 Sermon)

I Kings 8:22-26, 52-61
Luke 11:1-13

A pastor had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his back yard and was too afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed it, offered warm milk, but neither to no avail. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car, and the other end to the tree and moved it slowly, it would bend the tree enough to reach the cat. That plan was working until the rope broke and…boing the poor kitten sailed out of sight. He walked through the neighborhood asking his neighbors if they had seen the kitten with no luck. The only solution left was to bow his head and pray sincerely, “Lord I commit this cat into your care,” and went about his business. A few days later while in the grocery store, he encountered one of his parishioners who walked by with a cart-full of cat food. Knowing they had no cat, he inquired as to their large selection of cat product. The woman explained, “You won’t believe this. My daughter has been bugging me for months about a cat. Finally I told her that if God gave her a cat, I would let her keep it. She went to her favorite spot in the backyard and said a prayer that God would see fit to bless her with a cat. Now, Reverand, you aren’t going to believe it, because I wouldn’t if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, but right out of the blue sky came a kitten with it’s paws spread out and landed right in front of her. We’ve always believed what you’ve said about praying until the Lord answers your prayers and believe me, that really works! More than likely we haven’t prayed for an animal to enter our lives in such a dramatic fashion but certainly we have prayed just as seriously and just as ferverently as that little girl. But too often we pray and pray and nothing happens and we grow frustrated. Our scripture begins with the disciples frustration about prayer and their request that Jesus give them a model. There weren’t any classes for which they could sign up (Effective Prayers 101, Quick Answers For Emergency Praying or 15 Prayers Guaranteed to Win the Lottery or Find a Mate). The disciples were clueless so they asked Jesus for a quick lesson, “Teach us to pray.” In turn he gave them a prayer that we pray 52 Sundays out of the year (which has the potential of becoming rote and routine and lose it’s meaning. A foursome of golfers was on the golf course when a funeral procession passed on their way to the cemetery. One of the men took off his hat, stood at attention and wore a somber expression until the procession passed. The other 3 were stunned and one observed, “I didn’t know you were so respectful of the dead,” to which the first replied, “I felt obligated. After all we would have been married 37 years the 15th of next month.” Prayer is what leads us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with God and with one another. One of our major questions about prayer is why it seems that we pray and pray for something and often that particular thing never comes. Maybe we pray to be healed or to find a new job or that a relationship would be improved but month after month and prayer after prayer – perhaps that prayer goes unanswered. Doesn’t it say, “Ask and I will give, seek and knock and you will find that for which you are looking.” But in fact the opposite happens. Isn’t God like a holy waiter of sorts in which we lodge our request, wait patiently and, if we’re faithful enough, the answer is supposed to come! When the disciples ask for that primer “Lord, teach us to pray” and are in turn given that prayer that we, ourselves, continually recite Sunday after Sunday and soloists sing beautifully at many weddings. Two things rise up as key to what Jesus was talking about when he gave them this model prayer. From that prayer, he emphasizes relationship and secondly, fellowship. Those are key ingredients in what makes prayer effective, successful and productive. Abraham Twerski writes in the book I’d like to call for help But I Don’t Know The Number about his experience of praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. He felt good about his prayer. That is until he saw a blind man escorted to the wall. He touched the rippled stones with his hands, kissed the wall and began his prayer. He spoke informally to God, telling about the things that had happened and asking God to bring real peace to his friends and family. At one point he stopped and abruptly said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Lord. I already told you about that yesterday.” Here was someone who spoke to God directly in normal conversation and was almost apologetic in taking God’s time unnecessarily. Such is the relationship God so longs for us to develop through our prayers. I so remember the teenage years of our two. First were the long periods of silence then there were the all too frequent occasions of 1 and 2 word answers. Both were detrimental to developing deep relationships with the persons we helped bring into the world. Imagine how God feels when we go for long periods without engaging in conversation with Him. Imagine if we just told God about our day, about our mail, something we read in the newspaper, or even about a TV show we enjoyed. Those are the things of which deeper relationship is formed and those can be viable opportunities for us to talk with God. After all such topics are in some way the “daily bread” we talk about, think about, and spend our time with. The Lord’s Prayer discusses forgiveness, which is the foundation of any relationship and guarantees that when you can forgive others, then you yourself can in turn be forgiven. Relationship as evidenced through prayer is shown best in light of the scenario presented. It’s after dark. In fact it’s so late, everyone has already turned in. But the neighbor has had unexpected company and has nothing to feed them. Please get up and give me something to serve. But it’s late. But if I get up to get you food, it will wake up my entire household. Relationship is often not convenient – neither are the things we ask in prayer. Relationship is often an imposition – sometimes like the prayers we pray. But God, couldn’t you just once? Just this time. You see, other than relationship, prayer is all about fellowship as well. Fellowship with God and fellowship with each other.
Another prayer was prayed at another time long before the Lord’s Prayer. It was prayed by King Solomon when the Temple was dedicated. I remember the dedication of a new church when I was a teenager. The church had outgrown the old building bought a few years before. There was no parking and no room to grow. So across the street a large plot of land was bought to build a new church and school. It seems like it took forever. Members pitched in to help but finally it was finished and the dedication day was set. Important people were invited from all over to pray-speak and well-wish. But I remember the prayers. Oh, Lord, thank you. We dedicate this building. We dedicate ourselves.
Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple is important in understanding prayer. Even in those situations where the people have flubbed, Solomon asks the Lord to pay attention to their prayers. This is no small feat given the fact that Solomon has described the Lord as one whom not even the highest heaven can contain. Then he talks about the promises God had made to Solomon’s father and how God remembered those promises. Would you believe a prayer, which would credit a promise God made to your family a long time back and thank God for keeping that promise. How is that for relationship? God I remember that promise you made when I got married – You kept it and I thank you for doing that. And the promise when my oldest was born and when my youngest got married. Thanks! The dedication continued as Solomon asks God not to leave them – that they keep God’s words close to them, that they keep the commandments and that God would continue to be near them. Relationship and Fellowship – together as a people solidified through prayer. That’s what happens here. It is what is built here. Relationship and fellowship are made stronger through our prayers together.
Some have shared concerns with me of late that relate to the relationship we have with each other and with our fellowship as a church family. The concerns shared are that we are lacking community. There isn’t the closeness that we once felt. In fact some have said it is not only discouraging when they leave but actually depressing. It is depressing to look around and see the massive amounts of people who used to be here but no longer are. It is discouraging that we aren’t reaching new people. It is worrisome that we would be about calling a new pastor when some don’t believe that we should be focused on the future when it we were honest, perhaps we couldn’t be very positive about the future. The misunderstanding was there that we were looking for a full-time pastor and feeling that wasn’t in any way a wise decision. In fact, I have clarified the need based on my own work week with the committee and recommended that the church be in search for a part-time pastor (70 % – 2 ½ days in office plus Sunday). The concern was that we should be more in Hospice mode reflecting an unsure future. In fact last summer the Session voted to adopt a 3-5 year plan which reorganized the number of Elders and Deacons required in the bylaws. (When I came (9 elders and 9 deacons (8 deacons). Last years nominating process indicated that everyone who was asked to serve a 3 year term as elder declined and the 2 who were asked to serve as deacon said yes to their 2nd 3 year term. But the new bylaws, to be more indicative of how many people we actually have/need, calls for no less than 3 for each and allows them to serve 1 year terms for up to 6 terms. We have found that committees don’t work well. We have found that limited time task forces with a start/end date are what works. We have an abundance of people who will help with a project but few who will be in charge. (For example – the 4th part of the 3-year plan calls for using the church as a place where the community might find office/meeting space here). We asked for a point person to be the contact for our church. No one stepped up to serve.
*We are a congregation with more retired folks that working folks.
*We are a congregation with lots of tired folks who want the option of travel
*As a congregation we must guard against apathy. Apathy is a disease. Apathy says, “It’s someone else’s turn. Someone else will step up. Someone else will keep the nursery. Someone else will attend coffee hour. There isn’t someone else. We don’t have people to which we can hand off. We won’t die by running out of money. We will die by not having enough people. We will die of apathy. Apathy happens when we don’t have people who will step up to be the point person in being our church contact for a community agency who may want to use our church for office space. Apathy happens when an entire class of elder is not named when no one will agree to serve.
?What do you want to happen? What do you think will happen? Every week you see the same product of worship. Maybe you haven’t been concerned. Maybe you haven’t sensed the desperate situation. Hospice? Close the doors? Presbytery owns the building. God owns the church. What do you own? You own the belief that prayer works. You own the faith that it will be through relationship and through fellowship that our prayers will be answered. If you give up – then there is nothing a new pastor can do. When you give up prayer won’t work. If you give up – even God is helpless. So really it’s up to you through the faith you show in your prayers as the family of faith. “Teach us to pray” the disciples said. Will you say the same and be changed by those prayers!!!!