7/17/2016 All My Days: Intercessions

Preaching:  Rebecca A. Henry

Date Presented:  Sunday, July 17, 2016

Scripture Reference: I Timothy 2:1-6, James 5:13-18

Sermon: All My Days: Intercessions

 

Yesterday afternoon I returned with others from our mission trip to Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. Much of our time was spent at Harbor House, a ministry of our conference offering transitional apartments as well as two emergency shelters for women and families, the only shelter for the northern 5 counties in Wisconsin. In order for these emergency shelters to continue receiving government funds, they have to follow a policy in which no one can stay beyond 45 days. Sometimes this has resulted in people and families leaving very quickly and sometimes having to leave things behind because they have no place to go. When this happens, the staff have to move their things out to the garage to create space for someone else to move in, but they hold onto their possessions for 6 months in the rare case that they return for their items. As you can imagine with all the work they are doing and so much time passing, things in the garage get forgotten. Our big project for the week was cleaning one of these garages. It was a garage filled with boxes and bags of things to sort through, organize, and get rid of trash. It was a daunting task. Only as we worked it started to become personal; they weren’t just things anymore. We began to feel a connection with the people, getting a picture of their lives. Every night there was a story to share. Cheryl came across a bin where there were some clothes for a little girl and then a little boy. It was as she was then unpacking a woman’s shirt that she realized this was a bin for a family, and that she was holding their few valued possessions. As she came beneath the father’s clothes, she discovered a number of family portraits that had to be abandoned.

The next afternoon tucked back under other bags we discovered a big backpack holding the valued gift of a woman’s kit and kids’ kit, new sheets, some medicine. For those who saw the bag, all work stopped for a moment as we felt the weight of what we were doing, as we read an enclosed not, “This bag belongs to Tabitha. In case of emergency or upon finding this bag, please sent it to. . .” and then an address.

That evening, Diana shared a note she had found in the midst of her sorting, “I love you mommy and thank you so much we are so grateful for everything you do for us. I appreciate it.

I can’t wait to see you and take pictures and laugh, and for you to cook something delicious to eat!! You are beautiful.”

Every night there was a story to share with the group. Each time they struck me, and by the end of the week I realized these stories, these piles of clothes, reminded me of what I’ve heard about the Holocaust museum, of seeing piles of shoes, clothes, hair clippings. It was suddenly very personal seeing the reality of the growing epidemic of poverty in our country, of facing the question I often ask myself when learning more of the Holocaust: Would I have done something? Would I have offered shelter to Jews? Will I do something about poverty?

Every night we would hear a story and we would pray for the poor and homeless.

[Sing “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.”]

Only this week many within our group were struggling. Some were struggling with news of a family member having significant health issues. Others were living with the pain of being hurt and betrayed. Some were wrestling with hard, painful decisions. I was getting calls about a church in crisis. Throughout the week I could see members of our group listening and caring for one another. As I heard one person say to another, “It’s okay. I had my cry; now it’s your turn.” In this week of serving, we also cared for and prayed for one another.

[Sing “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.”]

There were moments in this week when we heard news of what was happening in the world. Tuesday we learned the devastating news of flooding in Northern Wisconsin and lives that were lost, and we prayed. On Thursday evening we heard about the terrorist attack in Nice, and we prayed and we talked. We talked about the world and elections, and someone said, “We need Jesus. I would vote for Jesus.” And in those words was a prayer.

[Sing “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.”]

That’s when it really hit me, the importance of these three purple beads on our prayer strand – beads for intercession. Jesus wouldn’t want to be elected. That was what the Jews had been hoping for too. They were looking for a radical Messiah to lead a revolution, to help free them from all the oppression and troubles of being under Roman rule. Only Jesus wasn’t a political leader. He certainly challenged the political systems, but he wasn’t in politics.

Rather, Jesus came to show us a different way to change things. He came to show us we are connected to one another. He came to show us we are to be the body of Christ for one another. We are to care for one another as he would do, serving each other, meeting each other’s needs, giving of ourselves.

That is what impressed me about the church we stayed at, First UMC in Duluth. It is a church that looks a little different, but when they built it they wanted it to look like a beacon of light. It sits near the top of the hill, and when people look at it they see a beacon of hope, but not just because of the building but who they are as a church. So many times in the week when I would tell people where we were staying they would not their heads in acknowledgement and say, “Of course you are. They are such a wonderful church. They do so much for the community. They are really active in social change.” Listening to the stories it was clear this was a church that not only worshipped and prayed, but allowed their prayers to shape their ministries.

That is what we hear Paul and James calling us to do in our readings. They are urging us to pray for one another, to want the best for one another, to trust our prayers have power to make an impact, just as Elijah’s prayers did. It is the power of intercessory prayer.

Our prayers for others aren’t meant to be a way of passing concerns off to God and wiping our hands clean of the concern. They are to keep us connected with one another, to realize our relationship with each other. Prayers of intercession help us not to forget one another, but be present with one another. When we pray for each other we remember the struggles others are going through, but they also open us up to hearing what God wants us to do. Our prayers can help us find answers about how God wants us to respond. They move us to be Christ’s presence for one another.

I was reminded of that when reading Ann Weems’ poem, “I See Your Pain.”

 

“I see your pain

And want to banish it

With the wave of a star,

But have no star.

I see your tears

And want to dry them

With the hem of an angel’s gown,

But have no angel.

I see your heart fallen to the ground

And want to return it

Wrapped in cloths woven of rainbow,

But have no rainbow.

 

God is the One

Who has stars, and angels and rainbows,

And I am the son

God sends to sit beside you

Until the stars come out

And the angels dry your tears

And your heart is back in place,

Rainbow blessed.”

 

When we pray for others it isn’t just about them. It’s also about us and how we can be open to Christ.