Preaching: Rebecca A. Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, July 3, 2016
Scripture Reference: Psalm 118:1-9, Luke 12:22-34
Sermon: All My Days: Special Concerns
This week I had a conversation with someone in which I was both surprised and impressed with how open and revealing they were. Far more common is that people keep their guard up, limiting just how much they are willing to share, how open and deep they are willing to go in a conversation. The truth is that even when we do start to talk about our families or work there is often a limit to how much we share. We stay on the surface. Maybe we share that things are rough at work or that there are tensions at home, but rarely do we then talk about how it is hard or how we are feeling, what worries us or makes us afraid.
This week I found myself thinking about this when reflecting on our life of prayer. We often describe prayer as conversation with God, but how much time do we spend listening for God’s response and how much do we really share, how open and deep are our talks with God? Do we just name our struggles, the trouble we are having with finances, with work, with friends, or do we talk with God about why they are troubling us?
I think today’s prayer bead, concern, is inviting us to go deeper in our prayers with God. Even as we look at the prayer bead itself it is translucent, inviting us to see beyond the surface and down to the core where you can see the wire going through. It is a visible reminder to take our conversation deeper. Last week we named our struggles, but this week it is our concerns: what about the struggles you have named concern you? Why do they have you anxious and troubled? What are you afraid of happening? It is an invitation to open up so God can better know us, or probe more to the truth that we might better know ourselves.
When I was in youth ministry I planned 4-day prayer retreats. In doing so, I discovered a number of different prayer forms. One, called prayer dialogue, I think can be very helpful in guiding us deeper. One starts, for example, by writing or naming a struggle, and then pausing for a moment, asking yourself, imaging what God might ask or say in return. Then you add your next comment or response, before again imagining God’s response. For example, one might begin by saying, “God, I am really struggling in my marriage right now and am so unhappy.” God: “What makes you unhappy?” You: “It seems like we are either arguing all the time or that we don’t seem to be talking at all. There is not much in between.” God: “Why does that bother you so much?” You: “It feels like we don’t care enough to really spend time talking or listening to one another.” God: “And that concerns you because. . .” You: “Because I’m afraid we are growing apart and can’t find our way back together. That I love this person and want things to be different.” God: “Love is hard. It takes commitment and sacrifice, ding things you don’t want to do, but if you let me, I will show you the way.” And the conversation, as I’ve experienced before, can go on, going deeper and remembering scriptures and stories that God would want me to recall. It’s no longer just naming the struggles and why they are of concern to us. This prayer bead is taking us to the heart of the matter, where we find God.
The truth is that when we read this passage from Luke more closely that is what we experience happening. Jesus is very much aware of our worries and constant concerns to pay our bills, pay our mortgage, provide for our families, succeed at our work. They are struggles that fill us with such fear of being homeless or hungry, for we have heard enough stories of how quickly and easily someone can be without. We are afraid of what people might think if they knew how much we struggle. In reading this passage it is as if we are in conversation with God about our struggles and God says, “Life is more important than clothes,” only for us to say, “Yes, but we’re afraid of being naked.” To which God responds, “Look at the crows.” It is as if God keeps responding to our fears with one word of assurance after another, one example after another that God cares for us. In the end, when we get to the heart of the matter, there is the invitation to put our trust in God and the wisdom of God on living, “Your Father knows that you need these things. Instead be concerned with God’s Kingdom,” God’s ways. According to the Message, “People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things.” Indeed when we go deeper in our prayers, being honest and open about our fears, God meets us over and over again assuring us, “Do not be afraid. I will take care of you,” until we are finally able to put our trust in God.
That is what I appreciate about the words of Psalm 118. It embodies the very repetition that all of us very much need to come to that place of trust and confidence that we can depend on God with our concerns. “His love is eternal. His love is eternal. His love is eternal.” Saying it over and over until you can believe and live knowing, “The Lord is with me. I will not be afraid. The Lord will help me.”
Perhaps that is where John Wesley was right in saying we need to celebrate communion as much as we can. We need that constant assurance, that reminder over and over again. We do not need to be afraid for here on this table in the fruits of the earth, with bread and juice, with we are reminded God will provide for us and care for us. Here at this table we are reminded and assured that we do not have to be afraid that we aren’t good enough, that God doesn’t love us, that God won’t forgive us. Here we are reminded all are welcome. God loves us and forgives us. Here we are reminded we can trust God. Here we are invited to let go and put our trust in God.
There was once a man who was asked, “What did you gain by praying regularly to God?” The man replied, “Nothing. . . but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, depression, insecurity, and fear of death.” Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not gaining, but losing, which ultimately is the gain. When we pray for our concerns, when we open ourselves up, we do lose our fears, worries, anxieties and we find God, whom we can trust.