Sunday, July 26, 2020

JUSTICE: Praying in the Spirit

Prayer is essential to seeking justice, righteousness, goodness, and fairness, for ourselves and for others. 

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26, KJV)
These are the words of Saint Paul as recorded in his letter to the Romans in the Good News translation. Justice begins with prayer for us as Christians anyway, and we would want to encourage everybody to begin there. Because in prayer, we face ourselves honestly in the presence of the almighty. And then we get an opportunity to pour our hearts out before God. And then we have the opportunity to receive guidance from God as to what we can do to change whatever that is on our hearts and how God might work with that, to bring about the transformations, some of those being within us and some of them being things that need to change in our relationships and in our society.

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on July 25, 2020 
for Briensburg UMC

And so prayer is a very important part of seeking justice, righteousness, goodness, things to be fair, fairness. We have all these different concerns and issues going on at any given time in our lives. Sometimes the things that are more pressing for us are less pressing for somebody else. And sometimes it's the other way around. But given all in all, there's always something going on that needs to get prayed about and something that's on our mind, something that especially if we are trying to follow Christ in compassion and empathy, then we're going to have concerns, burdens that we need to bring to the Lord. And as the song says, leave it there, bring your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
Sometimes those burdens just seem impossible even to define or articulate. And I think we're going through that as a nation right now, and as a church, and in many of our other kinds of ways that we relate to each other, organizations, and groups, and communities. Because of on top of the other injustices that have already been present and under the surface, and then those that are coming to the surface and quite visible ways, and then on top of all that is this Coronavirus epidemic, pandemic stretching around the world and adding extra layers of burden and of heartache to everyone in all kinds of different ways. To some measure, all of us are affected by that pandemic.
And so all of these together, then, in addition to whatever we've been struggling with personally, ourselves, along the way with ... They all kind of go together into a big melting pot of things that we just don't really know what to do, sometimes, or how to manage. But God knows. And so we want to look with confidence to God when we pray. What Paul is telling us here is that a lot of times we don't even know how, where to begin. We have our prayer list. We keep putting our friends and family and their friends and family on our prayer list. We lift them up and we just have one thing after another.
And so how do we manage that? And when sometimes we don't even really know what to ask for, we just have to pour it out and trust that the Lord will sort it all out. And that is, I think what Paul is promising here. There are many ways for us to pray. But all of them invite us to cast our burdens on Him, as the Psalm has said, for he careth for you. So wherever the burden is, and how heavy it is, or however light it's like what Jesus invited us in the great invitation, let him carry part of that burden. Let him shoulder part of that responsibility, yolk yourselves with Christ. Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden.
Some of the burdens are burdens of sin and guilt that we carry in our own lives because of things that we realize, in terms of justice, things where we have not been fair, where we have been unjust in our own dealings, are unfair in our relationship with other people, not just necessarily recently, but maybe decades ago, we might still carry some of that burden. And for other times, all the way in between throughout our lives. Well, that's where this other invitation that's given in Isaiah, it's God's invitation given by the prophet Isaiah.
"Come now and let us reason together," saith the Lord. "Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be like wool. Though they be crimson, they shall be white as snow." And signifying that the washing away of that red signifies the blood, in the New Testament, the blood of a lamb, but in the Old Testament, and in this case, particularly the blood that represents the heartaches and pain that we have caused lots of times, maybe even people that we love and care about. And our contribution to the sins of society, and to the injustices that have been built up over the years from one generation to the next and become a part of the systems that we live in and work in.
And so what God is offering to do is come together in a conversation, not just one, lots of them, and gradually just wash that all away to where it's gone. Cleaned it up, clean up our personal lives, clean up our institutional lives, get rid of all the injustices and all the other things, too. But we're focusing on the injustice part of it these days and as a theme for this season.
And so, and from that perspective, we want to do something about all that. And how can we, if we don't even know what it is, sometimes? We just know it's there, and we hurt, and we ache, to do better, and to be better, and for the world to be a better place for everyone. And so all of that I think is what Paul is addressing when he said that. We just don't always know how to say it, we just have groans and utterances. And there's all kinds of ways that we pray and sometimes are more formal, and sometimes are less formal. But one part of it is that we pray with our hearts and we pour our hearts out. And so sometimes we may do that with just the size, and the tears and the feelings and thoughts that come randomly to our minds as we just let it all out.
When Jesus was talking about that kind of prayer, which he practiced, also. He practiced all these other kinds. He practiced, sometime he prayed in public in the Bible, sometimes often by himself. And that's the kind where he recommended going off by yourself. In the Sermon on the Mount before he gave the Lord's Prayer, he said, "Go off by yourself and make sure you're in a spot where nobody even knows you're praying, much less can hear what you're saying, because then you have the freedom to just let go, and you don't have to worry. God loves you. So you don't have to worry about if God is going to be upset because your sentence structure, or your vocabulary, or the ways that you are trying to express yourself. And there, you can even pray almost like in your own prayer language. However you feel like expressing your issues because it's just you and your maker. And you're not really telling God something he doesn't know."
Because this is the same one that we just talked about earlier last week, and when we talked about that, the spirit beareth witness to our spirit, that we are the children of God, this same spirit who comes in and attaches within us bears witness to us. So we're the children of God also is the one who is interpreting our prayers. The same one that raised Jesus from the dead and the same one that is bringing life to our even mortal bodies, the same one who convinces us to stop sin, and righteousness, and of judgment, the same spirit who empowers us to be witnesses and to love as Christ has loved us. All of these and much more, this same Holy Spirit is there to help us in our prayer time.
I think that's pretty good news just by itself. Stands alone, not counting all the other blessings of the faith that we have. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus gave a pattern for us that we can use in thinking about the kinds of things we want to pray for in that personal time. He also gave that as a prayer that we can share in unison with each other and with Christians of all different beliefs, and cultures, and backgrounds, and languages and everything else. We can belt that together into one great prayer of God's people, the Lord's Prayer.
And if you look at all, everything that's in that, Lord's Prayer, those are all things that are common to all of humanity. So there's nothing in the Lord's Prayer that would prevent us from sharing those, at least [Joe's 00:11:46] issues, with anybody who prays however they pray, and worships however they worship, and believes however they believe, and a part of whatever religion they're a part of or no religion. Those are issues that we share in common with all of humanity, so we can pray for everybody that way, and they can pray for us, too. And we can pray together with them, find ways to pray together.
And so that's a beautiful aspect of all of the way that the Lord wants us to pray and in the spirit. So when we pray in secret we have certain liberties that we don't have any other place. We don't have to worry about anybody judging either the issues that we're praying about, or the way we're praying, or the feelings that we're expressing. Because sometimes some things really hurt and it's hard to express those. And we don't want everybody always just leaning over our shoulder when we're talking to God about the things that are going on in the depths of our hearts. Even whether it's something we ache for ourselves or for somebody else that we love and care about that they're going through. It's a absolutely confidential moment when you go apart, close the door and pray.
And we pour our spirit out and we may laugh, we may cry, we may talk with words that nobody else would understand, that aren't even intelligible to us. You don't want to encourage this too much, but we might even argue with God sometimes until we kind of get it settled because Jacob did. He got his hip out of joint for the rest of his life. So keep that in mind. But yet, again, he wrestled all night with the Lord until he got the blessing to. And in that prayer, which was all by himself, out in the middle of nowhere, it was just a pile of stones that he had set up. And he had one that he used for a pillow. And that was where Jacob's Ladder comes from. And he saw the angels ascending and descending that we sing about still in Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine.
And that's what that time in prayer is really meant to be, a place where we're cleansed and where we're transformed. And then we're empowered to cleanse and transform our whole life, our whole situation, our relationships, our church, and our community, and our family, our country, our world. And we can make a difference when we start in that sweet, sweet hour of prayer. Let's hear this view, then of the spirit coming along to help us, coming right into and interpret whatever, however we're expressing ourselves as an invitation to step aside, to spend the time with the Lord that we need in private, in person, spirit to spirit, heart to heart, and pour ourselves out. Praying always in the spirit with all supplication, as Paul often invites in his letters. 
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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