Jeremiah 31:27-34 & Luke 18:1-84
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
October 16, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about prayer.
Prayer is an interesting topic, especially for sports fans and athletes alike. I remember praying during a specific game back in high school. As I told the kids last week, I was the goalie for the field hockey team. Our team my senior year was neither good nor bad, we were just okay, if my memory serves we had about a five hundred record -- winning half and losing half of the games. I also remember quite a few ties. We were good enough to make the play offs my senior year. I remember that playoff game. We had home field advantage, my team was wearing their white uniforms and plaid blue skirts, I was in my blue goalie jersey with white shorts over all my padding.
It was the second half of the game and I was standing on the far side of the field, the area where the baseball field and field hockey field overlap. We were down 1-0, the other team had just scored on me. I was upset and I remember standing there on the field, looking up to the big blue sky and praying to God to just let us score one goal and tie it up. A minute or two later, score! God answered my prayer and we scored a goal! The other team captain came back to me to high-five and I told her, I prayed and asked God to let us scored and we did!
It seems athletes are always praying. You see football teams huddled in prayer before a game. Then there is the famous Tim Tebow, who was always kneeling on one knee and prayed during games. If you watched the Olympics this summer you surely heard a number of athletes after winning giving thanks to God, and we even prayed last week for our dear Red Sox to win a game.
Yet, does God answer our spoken prayers? If one athlete prays to win and does, did the other athlete not pray hard enough? Was it God’s will for that one person to come out on top? Did God not hear us last week when we asked for just one Red Sox win for Big Papi?
Prayer is a mystery but “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” (Luke 18:1). In our parable this morning Jesus is once again using a person who is on the edge of society to teach the disciples and us a lesson. Here we meet a woman who is a widow. The word for “widow” in Hebrew means “silent one” or “one unable to speak”, which gives this character even greater meaning. She is not just a single lady but she is person on the fringe, who in this patriarchal Mediterranean world is not allowed to speak on her own behalf, only men are allowed to play a public role. She certainly would not have been allowed to speak to a judge. “So this "silent one" is acting outside the normal bounds when she finds her voice and speaks up for herself.”
That is the power and purpose of prayer. This w.oman is the silent one, a person who is not seen, who is not allowed to be seen or to speak. Yet she does. She overcomes the restrictions placed on her by society and is persistent even when she is turned away. She keeps coming back until she is finally heard. And that is what prayer can do for us. The power of prayer can lift us out of our own selves, out of our bondage, out of our societal status, out of our limitations. Prayer allows us to reach others and reach God. Prayer allows us to be bigger than we are on our own.
Phyllis Tickle states that “Prayer is the sweetness within, prayer is the access to God, prayer is the greatest gift beyond Christ himself.”
Access to God. We are told in Genesis that God created us, women and men in God’s own image and breathed life into each one of us. As creatures made by God we too have a part of God within us. Prayer is what allows us to connect to that divinity within us.
This is why there are so many forms of prayer, from spoken, to written, to tying ribbons on a tree. Prayer is not limited just as God is not limited. One of my favorite forms of prayer is sitting in silence and noticing what is around me, I also enjoy praying while I jog. For me doing something with my physical body connects me to God in a way silent or spoken prayer can’t.
Prayer is also a connective activity. When we pray on another's behalf we become
connected to that person through God, and we become connected to God through that person. There is a new spiritual connection.
A couple of summers ago dear friends of ours lost their granddaughter to cancer. She was only 13 when she died. While I know her grandparents fairly well, I never had the pleasure of meeting this vibrant teenager. But our community prayed with tenacity for her. We created a prayer tree like the one here with blue ribbons, the girl’s favorite color. On each ribbon we also wrote a word of strength or encouragement for our dear friends. We rallied around this young woman and her family so when she passed away we all felt the heart wrenching loss. We felt this loss because of the power of prayer and the connection we did have with her through our God.
When we pray for one another, we are never alone. Prayer is a connecting force. It connects us to one another and to God which means it hurts when we perceive that our prayers are not answered. When we ask God to cure this young person of cancer and that person dies it hurts. It hurts when we cry out for peace and an end to violence yet more people are shot by guns every day. It hurts when all we want is safety for our children yet we have no control over what others do or say. When we believe our prayers are not answered it hurts. As Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “It hurts sometimes. But the more you see suffering and injustice around you, the more you pray, and the more you pray the more connected you are to that suffering, and the more connected you are to that suffering the more connected you are to the crucified and risen Christ.”
We witnessed this connection to suffering on Friday when over 100 people gathered for a peace walk in the East Boston neighborhood where two officers were shot on Wednesday evening when reporting to a domestic violence issue. This walk was prayer in action. A prayer of connection for a community feeling the divides between police officers and civilians, a community looking to connect one to another. And that is what prayer does. Prayer is connection and prayer is life sustaining. Prayer keeps us connected to one another and to our very own life. A life which comes from and is God. Prayer sustains the God within each of us.
Prayer comes in many forms and we all pray whether or not we think of it as prayer. The joyful expressions and “Ah-h-h-h!” as we watch fireworks in the dark sky on the fourth of July. The gasp and silence when you see a car crash or the most spectacular football catch. The deep inhale when the sunsets and the orange, pink, yellow and blues paint the sky. Or the beauty of a fall tree changing from green leaves to bright yellow and red and the beauty of it just takes your breath away. Prayer is also in the tears that come to your eyes as you sit with a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer. These are all prayers in their own ways. Connecting us to others.
While I have no idea whether or not God cares or answers our prayers related to sports, what I do know is that prayer brings us closer to one another and closer God. So pray often my friends and do not lose heart, for as the prophet Jeremiah tells us “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
 Kathryn M. Matthew, Sermon Seeds http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_october_16_2016
 Nadia Bolz-Weber Sojourners https://sojo.net/articles/prayer-and-persistent-widow