Sunday, June 10, 2018

Year B Proper 5 2018 Dangerous Prayers

Year B Proper 5, 10 June 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Dangerous Prayers” 

1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20 
Mark 3:20-35 The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”  Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Not sure why my mind has wandered here with this morning’s readings, but it has. God laid this on my heart for this morning, and I pray it speaks to you. 

That word choice is intentional, because it is about prayer that I am speaking today. I heard a phrase recently, and that may very well be the catalyst of today’s sermon. “Be careful what you pray for, because God may just give it to you.” 

God loves us, and wants what is best for us. But, if we are hard-hearted and obstinate, God loves us so much that we may get what we ask for instead of what we need.  
The Israelites wanted a king, they wanted to be just like everyone else all around them. They wanted to let go of this loose tribal confederacy that was “judged” instead of “ruled.” Even in their celebrations they asked God to bless what God had already said would be problematic. To the prophet God said, “They have not rejected you, they have rejected me.” It broke God’s heart. But he gave them what they asked for, to everyone’s detriment. 

For years and years, people prayed for and awaited the long-promised Messiah. Mary even “held all these things in her heart” about who he was. But what they prayed for and what showed up were in conflict. Jesus’ own mother and brothers thought he was crazy, or that he might be. And the religious scholars who claimed that they knew something about God said that he was from Satan.   
The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 
After so many hundreds of years of praying for the Messiah, they would not know him if he were a snake that jumped up and bit them.  

Praying is a dangerous, but necessary, part of our spiritual life. We do not realize that our prayers may be the most potent thing we can do. 

In working with people on communication skills, there is a back and forth that often takes place.  

One person says something, and the listener is asked to say back what they heard. Often this is where the breakdown happens. What is parroted back is incomplete, wrong, or containing things that were not said. Prayer is like that. It is a way for us to interact with God and say what it is we are hearing. In the communication workshops, it can be immediately resolved. But it is not that way in our prayer life. We may put out what we think we heard, but it is in living out our life where we can see evidence of our misunderstanding. 

I think today’s lessons teach us a few things: 
  1. Pray. Just pray. God wants us to share what is on our hearts and minds. 
  2. When you pray, be honest with God. If you want a bright shiny red bike, ask for it. And then God will work it so that your blue bike is fine, and give you ways to help you see it. Or, maybe it is time for a new bike, and that will be revealed. 
  3. When you pray, expect God to answer. I have heard God answer in three ways: 
    1. Yes. 
    2. No. 
    3. Not yet. 
  4. When we pray and get an answer, we have to be open to God’s answer. We may not get what we want, but we can be assured that we will get what we need if we go with God’s answer. 
Think on prayer this way. It is an open and honest discussion with God. We are like a toddler and God is like a parent. Sometimes we just rattle on and on without letting God get a word in edgewise. Sometimes we ask for something we say we want, but we should not get, like an ice cream before dinner. Nothing is wrong with ice cream. It is about timing, and size, and need. Before dinner, No. After dinner, maybe some. 

The Israelites asked and asked for a king. God knew better. God also knew that God would need to be there to help pick up the pieces. That is what love does. God loves us at our best and at our worst. Prayer is how we interact and share in this relationship. 

Prayer is an invitation by God to step up and give a higher perspective to us. “Not my will, but thine.” Jesus said it, and we can and do at times. Prayer, too often, is seen as telling God what to do. Nope. God is not Santa Claus where we can take our list and expect it all. Prayer changes us for things, more than it changes things for us. We need to step up and see things from a broader, and grander point of view. Once again, prayer changes us for things, more than it changes things for us. 

The harshness we may hear when Jesus seemingly rejects his family who has come to see what on earth is going on and if the crazy rumors are true. “Who is my family?” Jesus asks.  

Here I think he is actually modeling the line he gives to the man who must go home to bury his father. “Let the dead bury the dead.” Is he saying here that we need to break familial bonds and identification? No. Absolutely not. 

What he is saying here is that our understanding of what it means to be family, in caring, nurturing, supportive relationships needs to be expanded. In the Mark telling of this story, it is not that they come to speak with Jesus, they  come to take him home, “because he is beside himself.” Jesus, you have gone plumb crazy and we have come to bring you home. You have lost it. But Jesus then says, “Those who do the will of God are my mother, and sisters, and brothers.” Mark 3:20-35  In Matthew, the author replaces God (from Mark) with “my Father in heaven.” He is claiming his first identity as a child of God before he is a child of Mary or Joseph. When I do wedding ceremonies, I tell the bride and groom that they are now each other’s highest earthly priority. And I truly believe that. I also believe when Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his okaying of you, and everything else will fall into place.” (Glenn Hinson paraphrase, a seminary professor I had.)  To be the best husband and father and priest and me, I need to put God first. And then “my cup runneth over, ...and surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” But Rock, you may be asking, he sounds so rude to his family. And that is why they made sure that they wrote this down. It went head to head with cultural expectations, and in so doing it reframed the conversation. Who are my family, the ones I care for and take care of? The ones who seek out and do God’s will. Those, those are my family.   But think on it, one of his last breaths was used to tell the beloved disciple to behold his mother. Even from the cross he made sure that his family responsibilities were taken care of. Jesus is framing the question into one from a higher level. That is what he came to do, and enable us to do.  

In our prayers, may we truly move beyond the infantile, “Gimmeegimmeegimmee.” May we step up to a higher level, and see that what God wants and what we want can and should actually align. That is what Jesus is going for, and it can be our aim. When you pray, be careful what you pray for, you just may get it. Amen 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! Thanks for wanting to comment. Please add it here, and after a moderator reviews it, it will be posted if appropriate. Look forward to hearing your opinion.
Blessings, Rock